Tag Archives: ed woodward

Something/Anything?

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Here we are again. Alongside the erratic form that has become the team’s hallmark in recent years, its ability to nosedive into a crisis every couple of months has become a constant. On the one hand, in recent weeks we’ve cruised to victory against Newcastle and Norwich and progressed in the FA Cup. More tellingly, we’ve been soundly beaten by Liverpool, City and Arsenal before the latest nadir of losing to Burnley at home. That win at the Etihad seems a long, long time ago now.

In the not too distant past, defeat to 3 rivals in a calendar month would have triggered a major inquest. These days it barely registers. It speaks volumes as to how far expectations have sunk that defeats are greeted with a weak smile from the manager and a shrug of the shoulders from everyone else. There’s no point blaming Solskjaer for the state we’re in, but his post-match interviews are now unwatchable.

Ole’s dogged determination to sprinkle sequins on dogshit seems to be working though. I’ve never known a time during my football watching life where in the aftermath of a trip to Anfield, some people you speak to seem almost enthused by a 0-2 defeat. “At least we had a go 2nd half.” Yeah, at least we had a go.

It appears we’ve made a similarly forlorn attempt at bringing in much-needed reinforcements during the transfer window. I don’t know what it is about this club, but whatever the internal process is for getting deals done seems to make an already tricky process even more convoluted. As per usual, strategy and long-term planning are unfathomably inconsistent. Back in August the club were briefing the usual suspects how they were irritated by the Fernandes rumours and simply weren’t interested. 6 months later, after his price has skyrocketed, United are suddenly all over him.

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This leaves you with the impression that the club’s recently overhauled system of player recruitment still isn’t fit for purpose. A global network of 52 scouts, football development staff, a chief negotiator… yet successive windows come and go with the same end result. For all Woodward’s bluster in explaining his bold new vision during the recent UWS interview, it still feels like United are highly dysfunctional in this area. We deliberate too long, there are regular about-turns on priority targets and there’s little evidence of a long-term vision barring the painfully simplistic ‘try to buy young and cheap’.

For the last 6 months we’ve heard Ole acknowledge the fact we need strengthening several times, yet another transfer window has passed without any noticeable improvement to the squad’s overall quality. The club keep making noises that a re-build is in progress, but I don’t sense any urgency or desire to make the key acquisitions we’re crying out for.

It was obvious last season that our main problem was the midfield yet we spent all summer pursuing another central defender. The January window arrives and negotiations for Fernandes commence. If they broke down because Sporting hiked the price unreasonably, why didn’t United simply move onto the next choice target? Instead we retreat, sit on our hands and wait for the charade to begin again in June.

At some point, the penny might drop that much of United’s activity during these transfer windows amounts to little more than posturing. The proposed re-build doesn’t have to take years. Clubs aren’t limited to 1-2 signings during each transfer window. If there was a genuine determination to improve the team, there’s little doubt the process could be accelerated. Just because Sanchez was a disaster, it doesn’t mean every future piece of business completed in January would be similarly cursed. You can only assume that contrary to what the club likes to project, funds aren’t being made available for players that we desperately need.

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I guess it all comes down to priorities. Whilst the playing squad is crying out for reinforcement, the club have instead taken on Neil Ashton (ex-The Sun) in a PR role. Rather than keeping this on the down-low, Ashton announced he was set to work for United on live television as he signed off from chairing Sky’s Sunday Supplement. It’s absolutely laughable. Within days, nonsense puff pieces starting appearing all over the shop. ‘Ed’s doing a good job ‘cos the share price is booming’, ‘United to beef-up scouting efforts’ etc, etc. None of this guff will placate the perma-sceptical fanbase so presumably it’s a vain attempt at reassuring potential sponsors all is well. Priorities.

You know things are getting really bad when stalwarts like Ashley Young are jumping  ship, rejecting a 12 month extension for the chance to join up with Lukaku and Sanchez at Inter. I could join in with the misty-eyed, hypocrites praising his commitment and professionalism at this point but that’s no fun, is it? I never liked him and I’d be a liar if I started pretending otherwise. That stupid thing he does raising both hands before every shit corner annoyed me as much as Valencia standing still with the ball at his feet when facing an opposition full-back. He stayed 7 years too long and I feel genuinely enthused by the fact he’s gone.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the level of toxicity surrounding the club is growing by the week. Audible dissent has been heard at OT for the first time since the Green & Gold days and the always tetchy social media crowd continue to fling vitriol around with wild abandon. This is not exactly a new development of course, they’re always on the verge of a fresh meltdown, but each poor result increases the bile a few more notches.

The latest bone of contention was talk of organising a mass walkout during today’s Wolves game, somewhat crassly planned for the 58th minute. Having seriously considered the idea for a few moments, I reached the conclusion that it just wouldn’t work. Even if 15,000 leave the ground, that’s 60,000 still sat there singing ‘You are my Solskjaer’ in implicit approval of what they’re watching. End result is we’d be doing Ashton’s job for him.

Finally, in case you missed it, Red Issue’s former Ed came out of semi-retirement last month and unleashed, via twitter, a scathing expose of the parasitic fancam clowns who have attached themselves to the club in recent times. It was quite something and a timely reminder of how they’re still sadly missed in United fanzine circles. You were left marvelling, as ever, at both the forensic research carried out and the sheer level of invective they specialise in. We can all try, but nobody calls out bullshit better.

Copyright Red News – February 2020

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Lost and Found

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Amidst the unabashed frivolity of the holiday celebrations, it can also be a time for sober reflection as we contemplate life without those we’ve loved and lost. This Christmas was set to be especially tough as there’s a (semi) popular lad at the club who’d been missing since the end of September. He was making sporadic posts on social media and was spotted in a couple of far-flung locations during his extended absence, but where was he? Thankfully, our prayers were answered as Paul Pogba turned up at last. Not on an exercise bike, a basketball court or dancing the Shaku Shaku… I mean actually in a United shirt.

What joy and relief we felt as he entered the fray at Vicarage Road as his erstwhile teammates cruised to a 0-2 defeat against rock-bottom relegation certs. He looked half-decent during his 20 minute cameo, prompting all manner of excitable musings from the xG virgins on social media. Am I being too cynical? Almost certainly. Maybe I should switch my brain off and pay attention to Raiola when he’s claiming his man wants to stay at OT and “win prizes”. I don’t think so. I expect the reality here is the human slug fears Juve/Barca/Madrid might have focused their attention elsewhere. This was nothing more than a vain attempt to build bridges and secure improved terms from United as a back-up plan.

Or, perhaps not. No sooner did Pogba make a return to first team duties, he promptly disappeared again. His “people” deciding there’s another problem with the ankle that now requires an operation – cue another few months of him flitting round the globe in a desperate rush to find match fitness. Even mild-mannered Ole looked completely exasperated when breaking the news during his post-match interview at the Emirates. I can’t say I’ve had enough of Pogba and his “people” now, because I lost all patience with them 2 years ago. If you’ve still got any faith whatsoever in this clown then I quite honestly feel for you at this point.

Following Haaland Jnr’s decision to move to Dortmund instead of Old Trafford, I suspect we’ve now reached the final stretch of Raiola’s influence on the current squad ecosystem. Fergie certainly wouldn’t entertain him, and it was clear in summer 2016 that Woodward was taking a huge gamble by ignoring past indiscretions and welcoming him and 3 of his players (Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Zlatan) back into the fold. Another of his charges, Lukaku, would arrive a year later.

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In some respects Raiola is no different from any other agent. He nurtures a strong relationship with each of his players when they’re young, he has extensive contacts throughout Europe and he’s focused on earning himself a few quid. He reportedly speaks 7 languages so he’s clearly not thick. That only tells half the story though. A line from Zlatan’s book provides an insight to how Raiola differs from the majority of his peers: “The guy wasn’t actually a mafioso. He just looked and acted like one.

We can therefore conclude that Raiola fancies himself as a bit of a maverick. He wears jeans and sunglasses to meetings and probably quotes The Godfather trilogy like millennials know Harry Potter. He bought Al Capone’s ex-house in Miami, which is just about the most tryhard gangsta flex imaginable. For a self-styled loose cannon who’s unfazed when pitted against adversaries like Moggi, Berlusconi and Ferguson during negotiations, Ed Woodward was always going to be a pushover in comparison. This was never going to end well for United.

Aside from all the posturing, it’s clear that Raiola is singularly dedicated to each of his players and will do anything possible to orchestrate the most lucrative career path open to them – with a large emphasis on the word ‘lucrative’. Despite being involved in high-profile deals like Bergkamp to Inter (from Ajax) as far back as 1993 and Nedved to Juventus (from Lazio) in 2001; it was the hook-up with Zlatan back in 2004 that helped him realise his full potential in plundering the riches of European football’s 21st century transfer market.

Raiola wants his players to adopt the same mindset he himself possesses. Clubs exist to be exploited – until they have outlived their usefulness in terms of gargantuan bonus payments and a platform from which his clients can temporarily project their talents. Quaint notions of loyalty and longevity don’t exist because earnings are best maximised by instigating a move every 2-3 years. It was no exaggeration when I previously surmised that Pogba’s long-anticipated switch to Spain was being planned before he’d even re-signed for United.

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With the club in its current state, it’s extremely doubtful whether de Ligt or Haaland would have chosen to come here regardless of any agent’s influence. We’re a dysfunctional mess and any emerging starlets would be best advised to steer clear of M16 at present. However, I can’t say I’m too despondent about this state of affairs. Even if the club was on a secure footing, I’d prefer to avoid the de-stabilising presence of this fat little man whose sole focus in life is pimping out young footballers so he can eventually bid on another summer house in Florida.

It was still amusing to see Woodward scrambling to brief his regular press mouthpieces after news broke of Haaland’s ‘snub’. Yes, of course United pulled out of the proposed deal as they weren’t prepared to give into Raiola’s excessive demands. I mean, they’ve only paid him an estimated £30-£40 million in commission fees over the last 3 years. However, we’re now supposed to believe the club has suffered a sudden bout of fiscal modesty and no longer wants to risk being exploited.

Do me a favour. The fact is, United are the biggest, the richest and currently run by the daftest. This is why the club has been at the centre of numerous catastrophic transfers in recent times where we’ve repeatedly had our pants pulled down. Whilst Woodward remains in charge, United will continue to be at the mercy of leeches like Raiola and Pogba.

Copyright Red News – January 2020

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Through The Wire

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It wasn’t too long ago that a bad result could send your weekend into a tailspin and cause genuine doom and gloom, but seasoned observers are well past that stage now. These days we simply turn up, expect the worse and everything tends to play out as expected. There’s no point denying it or trying to accentuate the positives. The problem we have is due to being Manchester United, each anticipated bump in the road prompts a tidal wave of wailing and self-pity from the excitable online elements of our fanbase.

Nobody wants to badmouth Ole because clearly, he’s doing his best to succeed in an incredibly pressured environment. Turning around the fortunes of this football club has beaten better managers than him before and it’ll beat better managers than him in future. There’s no shame in that. The titanic is half-sunk and he was given couple of buckets and a box of sticking plasters to try and fix it. Meanwhile his star player has forsaken the mundanities of life at Carrington to instead spend the international break enjoying a panoramic view of Dubai’s skyline. No rush Paul, in your own time.

When Solskjaer was given the job on a temporary basis, his brief was to bring a demoralised squad back together and inject some joy into proceedings. There’s no doubt he achieved this, but unsurprisingly his players soon slipped back into old habits once the initial buzz had dissolved. This time last year, talk was all of ‘parking the bus’ and ‘not playing the United way’ as Mourinho relinquished control and seemed hellbent on driving the club into the sea. In truth, very little has changed over the last 12 months besides Ole’s stoic determination to put a positive spin on successive poor performances.

Looking back a few months, in what other industry would a manager be given a 5 month trial period then dragged in mid-way through this and awarded the gig full-time? I know the feel-good factor was in full bloom at that point but it has proven to be another disastrous decision based on crowd-pleasing sentimentality and short-term results. Be honest now, if Woodward had delayed the appointment for a couple of months, would Solskjaer have been given the nod after 2 wins in final 12 games of last season? Would he bollocks.

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Even during the honeymoon period, the team’s performance level remained patchy despite the brief upturn in results. The crescendo of this time was that spirited 3-1 win in Paris but let’s be honest about that, we were well and truly humbled over the two legs and were incredibly fortunate to snatch victory via a ridiculous VAR decision. Our season effectively ended that night and there wasn’t a sniff of progress in evidence throughout the remainder of the campaign.

Our position now isn’t down to Solskjaer, regardless of his actual merits as a manager or coach. I don’t think anybody wants to see him sacked, but we’re getting to the stage where it’s becoming something of an inevitability. He’s not here on an ego trip and he genuinely cares about the club, as did Wilf McGuinness 50 years ago. 5 wins in 23 games speaks for itself though, sadly. He never really stood a chance with the group of players he inherited.

The jungle drums are already beating with United ‘sources’ (Hi Ed!) briefing the Beeb that “we just need to get to January.” Excuse my cynicism, but what good is that going to do? We endured a dismal run of form from March to the close of last season and what action did it prompt? Very little. We shipped 6 players out in the summer but only signed 2 defenders and a youth prospect to replace them. Our position now isn’t surprising in the slightest. It didn’t need Coleen Rooney-level powers of deduction to conclude things would quickly unravel.

The best we can expect in January is signing an over-the-hill stop gap like Mandzukic or overpaying for the likes of Dembele at Lyon. Neither are good enough but we‘ll probably do it anyway just because it’ll keep the engagement numbers high and buy the next manager some time before we nosedive into our next crisis. There is little evidence of a plan or strategy to get us out of this, only non-demonstrable claims of having ‘faith in the manager’ and ‘patience’. There was no patience with Moyes, Van Gaal or Mourinho during similarly testing periods so it would be naive to think the OT board are suddenly impervious to below-par results and stilted progress.

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All indications are that despite claims to the contrary, the club in still in the process of making decisions we will come to regret in future years. Victor Lindelof recently secured a new contract after his agent leaked mentions of Barcelona’s vague interest in the hope of forcing United’s hand. What exactly has Lindelof done to merit an improved, long-term deal after signing a 4 year contract (with the option of an extra year) as recently as 2017? Over the last 2 seasons he has (very) slowly come to terms with the physical demands of the Premier League without ever looking particularly comfortable. As far as I can see, he’s successfully adapted from rabbit in the headlights mode to just about competent.

It’s this blasé acceptance of average performers that kept the likes of Young, Smalling, Jones and Valencia at the club for nearly a decade apiece. Whatever happened to striving for best in class and seeking out excellence? McTominay is another one who’s been talked up way beyond his actual prowess on the pitch. Do the McSauce zealots actually bother watching matches before proclaiming their boy Pirlo incarnate? McTominay is a perfunctory workhorse in a midfield that habitually fails to dominate and impose itself. Lung-bursting effort alone shouldn’t mean he’s considered a long-term solution. He’s in the team due to a chronic lack of options in that area.

The fixture list doesn’t bring any respite over the coming weeks. There’s Liverpool today followed by 4 away games in the space of 10 days including trips to Stamford Bridge and Belgrade. Unless things improve dramatically Ole could well be gone before the end of the month. Matchgoers have shown incredible patience over the last few months, just how long will Woodward exercise similar restraint?

Copyright Red News – October 2019

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