Tag Archives: ed woodward

Bring The Pain

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“And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain…” Sheesh, I wish. It’s still only February though, so we’ve got another 12 weeks of this absolute horror show to witness. The latest debacle in the ever lengthening list of debacles is (checks Google for spelling) FC Midtjylland. Anyone else heard of this bunch? No, me neither. Anyway they battered us. Of course they did – I mean, why wouldn’t they?

A few months back I decided to purge my life of a Sky Sports/BT subscription and invest in one of those little Android streaming box gizmos instead. It’s a pretty nifty bit of kit to be fair, as long as you prepare yourself for the fact that it only works 80% of the time and accept that some games are like watching the action in a strobe-lit blizzard… c/w 30 second pauses and a US commentary team. Given the current state of United, this can actually work out quite well. You end up missing at least 15 minutes of the game by messing about looking for a working link, and the regular pauses in play are often indistinguishable from watching the game at normal speed.

Anyway, last night was one of those occasions where I struggled to find a reliable stream, but the bits of the game I did see almost defied belief. To put it in perspective, the opposition were in the middle of their winter break and hadn’t played for 2 months – and had enjoyed only 1 win in 10 games before that. The Danish league, with no disrespect intended, probably files somewhere alongside Scotland in the ranks of Europe’s finest. United meanwhile, are slap bang in the middle of a campaign playing in what’s alleged to be the most competitive league in the world. Regardless of form or injuries then, this was as close to a ‘David v Goliath’ fixture as you’re ever going to find in European football.

Even allowing for a deflected, breakaway goal or an inexplicable defensive lapse, you would still have expected the obvious differences in fitness and match sharpness to be the Danes’ undoing. Point being that even if the ‘inferior’ opposition managed to land a few early body blows, fatigue would eventually set in allowing the gulf in class to become apparent. After all, despite a lengthy injury list, United still managed to put out a starting team containing 8 internationals. It should have been more than enough to despatch a team of minnows beaten 9-1 on aggregate by Napoli a few months back.

If only. Instead, it was another of those occasions where United completely failed to assert any kind of dominance on proceedings. For a team that sets out to play a low-risk, possession football, it’s absolutely remarkable how bad we are at doing the simple things like passing 6 yards and controlling the ball. If we could hold onto it for more than 10 seconds, the determination to rack up 10,000 passes per game might start to make some sense – but we are consistently useless at doing the basics. All this, combined with the clear lack of desire, spirit, belief… everything you need to be even moderately successful… well, it just isn’t there anymore. Whatever we had, we’ve lost it completely.

The weirdest thing in all this, is that no matter how badly things continue to unravel, it’s looking increasingly likely that Van Gaal won’t be sacked before the end of the season. Now whilst I don’t think he’s in possession of photos of certain board members in compromising positions, that possibility can’t be ruled out either. Seriously though, for all the criticism Woodward and his cohorts have faced over the last few months, surely it’s now clear that this hasn’t worked out as envisaged? I know Ed’s formative football years were spent leading the youth firm of Chelmsford City during breaks from boarding school, but there’s also a semi-competent business mind lurking beneath those pinched features of his.

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So why hasn’t Van Gaal been binned yet? Is there a full-on civil war taking place in the OT corridors of power as has been alluded to elsewhere? It’s a juicy story, yes – but the idea doesn’t quite add up. Are a section of the board really so Machiavellian that they’d attempt to dissuade the Glazer’s from making overtures towards Mendes re: Mourinho? Either based on a personal grudge or some deranged attempt to preserve Fergie’s legacy and keep the Co92 axis in place. 3 years ago the Glazers may well have listened if he and Sir Bobby were indeed making such noises, but after 3 seasons of Mogadon-tasting decline, it’s clear that any attempts at continuity – appointing a proto-Fergie in the shape of Moyes or priming Giggs as a long-term successor under the ageing Van Gaal – have flopped spectacularly.

Although Fergie and Gill still have a voice, and no doubt the ear of the Glazers, it’s still Ed and Dickie Arnold who are running the show day to day. Truth is, I find it hard to believe that the next manager of United hasn’t already been lined up and all parties have simply taken a vow of silence for the time being – namely in some well-meaning attempt to spare Van Gaal the indignity of the sack before a cosy ‘mutual agreement’ is reached at the end of the season. For all Woodward’s mistakes, and there have been numerous, I’m still soft enough to assume he’s quietly been making calls over the last couple of months, and not simply sat on his hands expecting to see his faith in Van Gaal rewarded eventually.

Now hang on a minute, this is more like it. As I’m writing, there’s news emerging that Mourinho to United could actually be a done dealio. Moratti’s sister has just rolled out of some dinner with Jose and worded the Italian press that he’s on his way to OT next season. Now she could be wumming them, just as he could be wumming her – but the noises are getting louder from pretty much every source in existence barring the club itself.

If it did transpire we were turning Portuguese next season, then I’ve no idea whatsoever if the appointment would prove to be successful or not. Mourinho’s last two gigs have ended on a sour note for a manager who’d previously thrived on forming close alliances his senior players. He is difficult (paranoid, monstrous ego, arrogant, capable of being a complete bellend) in much the same way that Ferguson was difficult and Van Gaal is difficult. However, in evaluating the current state of United, it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that we’re in desperate need of something, more precisely someone, to extricate us from this mire we find ourselves in.

C’mon Ed, don’t let us down here. It’s time…

Copyright Red News – February 2016

www.rednews.co.uk

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And Suddenly

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Well who would have thunked that then, eh? The blinding first half hour of the Spurs game, when United emerged with their most memorable passage of play in I dunno how long, followed by an equally impressive opening salvo against Liverpool. Same team, same formation, same level of performance. It’s probably 15 years or more since we went to Anfield and controlled the game, but we actually did it. Turned up, dominated possession, created chances, took a couple and won the match. At one point during that 2nd half, when we were 2-0 up and the sun was shining, I’m sure I was actually, ever so briefly, enjoying myself. It soon evaporated when Sturridge scored and we faced a nervy last 20 minutes, but that’s not the point. For a few precious moments, I had the distinct feeling that United were back.

It’s taken until March for Van Gaal to stumble on his preferred line up and it’s one that even the sagiest of sages couldn’t have predicted back in August – Falcao and Di Maria on the bench with Young and Fellaini full of confidence and justifying their continued selection. Personally speaking, I gave up on the pair of them months ago and was somewhat aghast at the fact Van Gaal was still persevering. Fair’s fair though – they’re worth their place at present. Fellaini is still one of the most ungainly players I’ve ever seen – a professional nuisance who looks alright apart from when he has to use his feet. As we saw when he was at Everton, though – when he’s on form and firing he can be unplayable. The footballing aesthete in me still finds him grossly offensive, but there’s no denying that he’s brutally effective at what he does best.

To counter the presence of Fellaini and Phil Jones (another who seems to spend much of his time on the pitch playing a different sport to everyone else), Van Gaal has finally seen fit to unleash Mata and Herrera in tandem and thus bring about this unexpected outbreak of shekshy football. Juan Mata is ace. He’s just bloody lovely isn’t he? He writes a blog every week in which he signs off with hugs, he explores the Peak District on his days off, he tweets monochrome pictures of Manchester’s architecture and he probably likes kittens too. I mean, if you were, you definitely would, wouldn’t you?

Herrera too is the sort of lad who’s more likely to be found wandering round the Whitworth rather than sparring with Phil Bardsley after too many Smirnoff Ices. Like Mata, he looks a smashing player who’s too often been overlooked this season despite impressing when called upon. Since Van Gaal maintains that players are picked on merit, then surely the last two games have shown that the pair deserve to stay in the side for the remainder of the season? Give them a run, see if the team continues to thrive… and if Fellaini’s elbows are required as a counterweight to their lightweight presence, then so be it. I can live with that – at least we’ve got midfielders playing in midfield now.

The victory at Anfield was topped off, of course, with a wonderful cameo by Steven Gerrard who managed less time on the pitch than he did giving his leaden-faced, post-match apology… in which he apologised to pretty much everyone in existence barring the bloke he actually stamped on. The anguish in Martin Tyler’s voice as Martin Atkinson produced the red card was fantastic. Having spent the proceeding 2 minutes furiously spouting every last cliche he could muster, Tyler could barely conceal his disappointment as his planned narrative for the remainder of the match vanished within 40 seconds of Slippy’s grand entrance.

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There’s no doubting that Gerrard has been a great servant for Liverpool over the years, but as a truly great player he falls somewhat short of the top tier. His career has coincided with both the era of the overhyped Premier League superstar and Liverpool’s decline from the game’s elite, so consequently he’s been lionised and feted by a generation of fans and ex-players desperate to see a return to their glory years. The Gerrard myth was finally exposed for all to see during last summer’s World Cup, when Hodgson made the glaring error of going with public opinion and making the bloke his captain and thus undroppable.

Contrary to Sky Sports’ legend, Gerrard is anything but a selfless leader of men who continues to inspire everyone around him just by frowning and looking serious. It’s a myth. Instead, I’d suggest that Steven Gerrard plays mainly for himself, and has done for years. He’s got a big heart, yes… but that’s part of the problem – all too often he’s relied on that rather than demonstrate a functioning football brain. The reality is that Gerrard is tactically ill-disciplined and fatally flawed as a genuine top-level player. Talented undoubtedly, but as far as Liverpool and England were concerned, too often a liability when the stakes were high and a cool head was required.

Talking of frowning and looking serious, Ryan Giggs has been doing an awful lot of that this last few months. Now I’m no expert on body language, but judging by Giggsy’s current demeanour, life as a key member of Louis Van Gaal’s backroom staff looks to be about as much fun as attending a child’s funeral. You dutifully sit there listening to the big feller muttering to himself, you watch as he makes notes on his big pad, you offer the odd opinion (which he probably ignores) and then when the clowns on the pitch somehow contrive to score a goal, you get rewarded with a slap across the chops for your troubles.

Now I’m not trying to shit-stir and this is based on nothing more than me speculating, but one is left wondering how long this current set-up is going to last. Despite Ryan never being the most expressive of personalities off the pitch (which I can personally attest to having been resoundingly blanked after letting on to him in the bogs at Cheerleaders in the mid-90s… not that I’m still bitter or anything), he just looks utterly fed up at the moment. Maybe it’s the comedown after playing for 20 years, maybe he was short of a better offer after not getting the manager gig himself, maybe it’s nothing of the sort… but something doesn’t look right.

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Whatever Giggs is thinking right now, his current job is surely still preferable to debating bed linen and shower fittings with Phillip Neville. Yes, the imaginatively named ‘Hotel Football‘ is now open for business and regardless of the fact you or I are unlikely to ever pay it a visit, it’s clearly going to make a shitload of money for the already minted class of ’92 proprietors. The incredible thing about this venture is that it actually exists. I mean, how on earth did they manage to get away with it? United employ departments full of staff tasked with exploiting the commercial potential of everything in the world yet they somehow miss the fact that a strip of land is ripe for development less than a minutes walk away. It’s absolutely absurd.

Every day as Arnold and Woodward drive to and from work, there it is just standing there…. reminding them, taunting them… it must be eating them up seeing all that money being poured into someone else’s pockets right on their doorstep. Next time Joel and Avi turn up you can bet they’ll be ushered in via Stretford Bridge so they don’t see it. Oh to be a fly on the wall at the next scheduled board meeting, “I don’t care about the fact you two idiots have found an official toothpaste partner in Zimbabwe, what the holy fuck is that thing doing over there?!”

Copyright Red News – April 2015

www.rednews.co.uk

Dig The New Breed

Dreamy

Hurrah! 3 points! At last a day where everyone stays out for a post-match beer rather than scattering off home in a sulk, AND you could watch MOTD without wanting to kick the telly in afterwards. Yes, I know it was only QPR at home but the win was a long time coming (131 days to be precise) and it felt like a large cloud had lifted. People were actually smiling, basking in the (very possibly premature) glow that we might just have turned a corner. I’m certain there’ll be more painful results to come before things are properly sorted, but medium to long term I’m sticking with the belief that we’re moving in the right direction again.

Despite the paucity of results throughout 2014, even by United’s exalted standards, off the pitch it’s been completely captivating. Whilst it quickly became apparent we picked the wrong successor to Fergie, it still came as a huge relief that Moyes was dismissed in such a timely manner. 5 months on, the buzz still hasn’t fully subsided that we pulled the trigger when we did. The board could have quite easily decided to give him another 12 months and we’d be facing another season of demoralising results with much the same demoralised squad. Instead, we’ve appointed a man who appears to know what needs to be done – who in a matter of weeks has instigated a long overdue overhaul of both personnel and the predictable tactics in place.

After a promising start and a tumbleweed strewn 6 week period in the middle of the transfer window, the last 2 weeks saw Woodward locate the chequebook and spring into action like a startled gazelle. Finally, the major surgery we’ve been in dire need of for the last 3-4 years was carried out. There were casualties, there were surprises, there were disappointments (nobody was stupid enough to buy Anderson, sadly) – but overall, the upshot is the squad now looks considerably stronger than it did at the start of the summer… ummm, apart from the defence.

Nani, Cleverley, Hernandez, Kagawa, Welbeck… all gone. Nani hasn’t had a good game in 3 years, Cleverley is loathed by pretty much everybody in the world and Hernandez, despite being a tremendous impact sub, never developed into a player who should be starting games. Shinji Kagawa meanwhile, so beloved of internet reds and Bundesliga hipsters, remained anonymous even on the occasions he was allowed play in his much heralded ‘special position’. Everyone has players for whom they afford a large blind spot, but in truth they’ll be few tears shed as a consequence of this bunch leaving the club.

Of all the departures, it’s the loss of Danny Welbeck that’s caused the most consternation, with Eric Harrison and Mike Phelan leading the voices expressing disappointment and suggesting the club is in danger of losing its “soul” or “identity” by deciding to move him on. Their argument possibly bears scrutiny in the light of an unprecedented £150M spending spree, but the brutal reality of the situation was best summed up by Van Gaal himself… Danny had 3 years to cement a place at United but didn’t reach the required standard.

He was close though, and Welbeck is a player with many qualities. As United’s football grew more pedestrian (almost reaching a grinding halt last season), he was the one who brought genuine pace to the team – which was especially apparent given the lamentable form of Young and Valencia. Despite his willingness to run the channels, Danny considers himself a centre forward… but as a striker he simply didn’t score enough. A great athlete, bags of skill and a selfless team player, undoubtedly – but forwards are ultimately judged on goals. Unfortunately Danny Welbeck had a record comparable with Peter Davenport’s – and despite flirting with 1980s-style results of late, nobody seriously wants a return to those days, do they?

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So rather than watching Welbeck toil relentlessly with a minimal goal return, we’ll have to put up with Radamel Falcao. How will we cope? This was a genuine Big Dawg signing of the type United have become resistant to in recent years, as we instead adhered to Fergie’s doomed pursuit of value in the market. A pursuit so misguided that it’s required a £200M+ outlay to begin correcting it over the last 12 months – and we’re still left with a lopsided squad that remains very much a work in progress.

Although Fergie maintained the Glazers were “fantastic” owners who never refused him a player, are we still supposed to believe the cost of servicing the club’s debt hasn’t adversely affected successive transfer budgets since 2005? If United had continued to invest in the squad at the rate they did pre-takeover (when we were regularly paying eye watering sums to cement a position as Europe’s most financially secure and successful club), it’s unlikely there would have been any requirement for the colossal-sized splurge that was witnessed this summer.

It’s only 4 years since Fergie described City and Chelsea’s spending as “kamikaze”, but that’s exactly what United have been forced to resort to in a bid to play catch up. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining as it was wholly necessary given the blindingly obvious deterioration of the squad – it just smacks of arrogance and complacency that it took so long for the penny to drop. If the club had continued with the policy of one or two ‘proper’ signings per year as opposed to taking frugal gambles on dross like Bebe, Obertan and Bellion, we would never have got into this mess to begin with.

In truth, United have always spent big money – whether it be Tommy Taylor or Denis Law or Bryan Robson or Rio Ferdinand. I fail to see why upgrading Welbeck for Falcao should be seen as evidence the club has abandoned its proud record of nurturing and blooding youth players. You could just as easily cite the recent emergence of Tyler Blackett and the non-arrival of a big name centre half as proof the opposite is true and the tradition is alive and well.

Signing the likes of Falcao and Di Maria isn’t a betrayal of Manchester United’s culture, I’d say it’s more a sign that Manchester United are now behaving like Manchester United again. Welbeck had a chance and came up short, so now James Wilson will get game time as a result of him leaving. If Wilson proves to be the real deal, then he’ll thrive here… and if he doesn’t, then in time another kid will get an opportunity. That’s how it has always worked, some make the grade whereas others fall by the wayside. It’s a ruthless business and it’s survival of the fittest. No matter what club, no matter what level – that’s football.

Copyright Red News – September 2014

www.rednews.co.uk