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Mistletoe and Whine

Northampton Town v Manchester United - EFL Cup Third Round

As December arrives, the run of victories needed to signal that progress has been made is still proving maddeningly elusive. Form-wise, it’s exactly the same story as it’s been for much of the last 3 seasons – we win a couple, draw a couple, then there’s a demoralising defeat. Then the cycle starts again. And again. This team never gets as far as turning a corner as it appears destined to go round in circles indefinitely – we’re stuck on a merry-go-round of mediocrity.

One of the curious managerial ticks of Mourinho, besides the booting water bottles and getting himself sent off, is the fact he’s always treated the league cup with an almost unnatural level of respect. Walking away from OT after the West Ham league game last Sunday, the frustration of another draw was compounded by the surety that we’d batter them 3 days later. If only those brief outbreaks of free-flowing football witnessed in the Europa League and EFL Cup could be replicated in the league, eh?

Not a chance. The latest brace of squandered points again came courtesy of the team’s recently acquired habit of conceding within the last 10 minutes, this time directly as a result of Marouane Fellaini’s untimely introduction at Goodison Park. As I’ve stated a number of times previously, and I don’t say this flippantly, the bog-brushed Belgian is football’s version of the Ebola virus. He is a menace and he is dangerous.

Quite why Mourinho, like Moyes and Van Gaal before him, seems to view Fellaini as some sort of trusted lieutenant remains a complete mystery. With his first touch of the ball he passed straight to the opposition, with his second he stuck out a leg and gave away a penalty, then with his third he passed the ball straight out of play. This was the sum total of his contribution having presumably been sent on to add some composure and help see the game out. Composure? I honestly wouldn’t trust him to make a cup of tea without setting himself on fire. I’m not even joking.

If we’re looking for reasons why we continue to struggle, then one needs look no further than the fact that this clown has now racked up 100 appearances for Manchester United. I honestly have no idea how he continues to feature at all. Is he really, really good in training or something? Does his contract stipulate that he has to play a certain number of games? Does he possess incriminating evidence regarding the sexual predilections of an unnamed Glazer family member? Am I missing something? Just… why?

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Since January is fast approaching, it’s fair to assume that we’ll be active in the transfer market again in search of defensive reinforcements – this despite Ed Woodward stating unequivocally at the fans’ forum a couple of months back that there would be no new additions until the summer. Rojo, Jones and Darmian continue to look like disasters waiting to happen, Smalling and Shaw are forever injured… the only one who I’ve any real confidence in is Eric Bailly and of course no sooner is he back from injury, then he’s off to Gabon for the African Cup of Nations.

Antonio Valencia appears to be another Mourinho favourite despite being routinely average week-in, week-out. This is another part of the problem. Because his colleagues are so consistently error prone, journeyman trundlers like Tony gain an unmerited significance in the greater scheme of things. It’s a nonsense really, that an unspectacular winger who was initially moved back as emergency cover has now made the right back berth his own. Quite simply, he’s nothing special. He’s a great athlete, he diligently runs up and down, he makes tackles and he attempts crosses. Jesus, we may as well sign Micah Richards if being merely perfunctory is deemed acceptable.

Instead of signing another 2-3 players in January, it would give me more pleasure if we avoided spending altogether and instead binned 4-5 off the wage bill who are going absolutely nowhere at OT. Memphis, Ashley Young, Schweinsteiger, Fellaini… that’s just for starters. Let’s just get rid and start again. We can persevere with the remaining lot, try and drum some sense into them and if cover is required, farm the youth and reserve teams and let’s see who we unearth. It would be a gamble, obviously… but I’d rather see youngsters given a chance as opposed to bang-average senior pros who don’t have any future here beyond the end of their contracts.

Admittedly, there’s an element of ‘cutting your nose off to spite your face’ in this, but why not? For the last 3 years we’ve had a steady influx of new faces each transfer window and it’s got us precisely nowhere. We’ve spent about £300M at the last count and for what return exactly? We’re on our 3rd manager in 4 years, we aren’t playing any better and the squad is still littered with crap players. Enough’s enough.

It doesn’t matter if we finish mid-table because the way things are going, we’re going to finish mid-table anyway. What’s the point in finishing 6th and qualifying for the Europa League again? That’s doing us no favours whatsoever this year, if anything we’re at a disadvantage given how participation affects preparation time for league games. I genuinely think it would work to our advantage if we resisted throwing money at any further stopgaps, and instead focused on clearing out the dross whilst waiting for proper targets to become available in the summer.

Anyway, I think that’s me done for 2016. Fellaini, Brexit, Trump… it’s been an absolute stinker. Merry Christmas, everybody.

Copyright Red News – December 2016

www.rednews.co.uk

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Where Is The Love?

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With its constant interruptions to the domestic game, I’ve long considered international football a major irritation. Recently however, like the Ebola virus, it seems to have developed into a full-blown epidemic. UEFA, in their infinite wisdom, recently decided to increase the number of games required to book a place at Euro 2016. As soon as the season starts, it has to stop again so players can disappear for two weeks testing themselves against the might of San Marino and Estonia. Including the likes of Gibraltar presents lolz aplenty and the opportunity of a lifetime for the assorted firemen and customs officials who make up their playing staff, but it does little to enhance the quality or credibility of the competition they’re staging.

The growth of the Champions League and the financial muscle of the G14 elite has resulted in a situation where international football can no longer be considered the pinnacle of the world game. Appearing at a World Cup or Euros might be a great honour for individual players and the tournaments still present a marvellous spectacle for fans worldwide, but for actual quality of football the Champions League wins hands down. One assumes that UEFA aren’t unaware of this fact, so rather than see power slip further from their grasp into the hands of the clubs, they’ve attempted to cement their position as the game’s true power brokers by imposing an even greater hold over the fixture calendar.

Rather then scheduling an increased number of irrelevant matches, it’s a shame that UEFA didn’t consider a ‘less is more’ approach. To ensure the long term health of the Euros they’d have been better advised to cull a few under performers from the qualifying groups rather than adding more. By all means give the likes of Gibraltar or Liechtenstein a shot, let them earn a place via a preliminary knock-out or something. Do they really merit a place in the qualifiers proper when you’ve already got the likes of San Marino competing with a slightly less-than-stellar record of 1 win in 123 internationals? It’s an absolute farce.

UEFA’s justification for the increase in numbers is, unsurprisingly, down to money. They care little about the concept of overselling and damaging the prestige of the product, everything is geared towards filling up TV schedules with day-after-day of football and shifting additional advertising space to their network of sponsors. “The pie is growing and so far we have generated 40 percent more revenue than before”, explained UEFA general secretary Gianni Infantino. Well that’s just smashing isn’t it? Who cares about the influx of utterly meaningless fixtures clogging up an already crowded schedule since they can now cream an extra few million off the likes of Sony and Coca-Cola for the foreseeable future?

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With that rant over, it’s on to another person fully aware of the riches that modern day football can bring, Wayne Rooney. It’s a bit of a strange time for old Wazza at present: 29 years old, freshly installed as captain of club and country and set to become record goalscorer for both – yet he appears to be losing support rather than gaining respect. It’s no longer just United fans tired of his errant control and contractual shenanigans who have lost patience, there’s now a growing clamour from the wider football public to see him dropped from the England team too.

With United, despite not being in agreement, I can at least see the point of view of those who insist he should have been overlooked for the captaincy and no longer considered an automatic first team choice. Rooney committed the cardinal sin of asking to leave the club (x2) and it’s true that in many games he seems to be in a terminal slump. Leaden footed, a shocking first touch, the over reliance on switching play by pinging the ball 40 yards out to the wing – his ability to lose possession whilst under little or no pressure defies belief at times. When he’s bad, he’s really bad.

But… and this is a big but… I’m still completely convinced that United remain a much stronger team with Rooney in it. Despite no longer possessing that electric burst of pace he had as a teenager, despite his penchant for giving the ball away – Rooney still makes a huge contribution to the cause. It’s what he still does now, it’s what he’s always done. You might wish him and Paul Stretford had got their move to Chelsea, you might think he’s a fat scouser who’s a disgrace to the shirt, you might simply detest everything about the bloke – but you can’t deny he’s not still a top player for Manchester United. He just is.

I read something the other week suggesting the captaincy was too much of a burden and he was now trying too hard, evidenced by him lambasting Tyler Blackett following one of goals at Leicester – apparently an effective leader shouldn’t be doing such a thing. What a load of nonsense. Rooney has been dealing out regular bollockings for the last 10 years. Last season, as results got worse and most senior players failed to show for the manager – Rooney remained on side. He was still talking, he was still cajoling, he was still contributing when others had made it pretty clear they no longer fancied it – that’s why he’s got the armband now.

Even when he isn’t playing particularly well, there’s still ample justification for Rooney keeping his place. Or, to put it another way, a Rooney bad game is worth more to the team than a Van Persie bad game. A growing consensus suggests he’s past it, but (and I’m sorry to have to resort to this) the stats don’t suggest that’s the case at all. Anyone bleating about Rooney would probably be quick to tell you that United or England would be better off served by somebody truly world class, say, for instance, Sergio Aguero. Well actually, (statto glasses on) it appears that since 2011, Aguero has played 93 games in the Premier League and scored 56 goals with 23 assists. Rooney’s record during that same period is 96 games, 59 goals and 32 assists – hardly the record of someone who’s no longer making a telling contribution.

Though gripes about Rooney’s form are nothing new at Old Trafford, quite why England supporters have decided to jump on board is something of a mystery – at least at United we have credible alternatives up front or in midfield. At international level, it appears to be more a case of Rooney bearing the brunt of fans’ frustrations with an ongoing lack of success; and the chronic dearth of players capable of challenging his nailed-on starter status. Is it really fair to blame Rooney for the current generation of England players being so incredibly average? Did Ronaldo get similar stick from the Portugese nation for earning astronomical money yet failing to carry their team beyond the World Cup group stages?

Given that England’s alternative is to call up the likes of Andy Carroll, Darren Bent or Rickie Lambert, I’m pretty sure Rooney will get plenty more chances to play and miss shedloads of chances before eventually surpassing Sir Bobby’s record of 49 international goals. The nation can then unite in belittling the achievement due to 90% of those strikes being against San Marino, before he then resumes scoring the goals that will make him the leading scorer in United’s history too – another milestone that’ll be greeted with seething resentment/complete indifference by many supporters.

Sometimes in the dead of night, when he wakes on a Luis Vuitton mattress stuffed with £50 notes, suffering with heartburn from eating too many burgers. Wayne probably takes a swig from his can of Fosters, scratches his head with nicotine stained fingers and thinks, “why do I bother?”

Copyright Red News – October 2014

www.rednews.co.uk