Tag Archives: fellaini

Down To Earth

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Well it had to happen sometime, didn’t it? When the draw for the CL group stages was made back in December, most people anticipated a bit of a pasting and that’s what we received at Old Trafford the other night. I’d suggest we shouldn’t be too despondent given what’s occurred over the last couple of months. It’s testament to the fantastic progress made that many people I spoke to felt confident going into the PSG home leg, so the 2nd half capitulation must have come as a bit of a surprise in some quarters. It was a timely reality check for all concerned, nothing to get wound up about. We’ve come a long way in recent weeks, but PSG are a top side whilst United most certainly aren’t still… despite recent appearances to the contrary. 

When you consider where we were in mid-December, what Solskjaer has achieved in such a short space of time is nothing short of remarkable. The players now look hungry and motivated, there’s a coherent game plan in place and for the first time in literally years, the man in charge seems to have a grasp of what our best starting XL is. To put all that in place within 8-9 weeks is a fantastic achievement. The players are happy, the fans are buoyant and results have improved immeasurably. Olé has made it all look easy when it most certainly isn’t. Our travails over the last 5 years have proven that beyond doubt. 

His first masterstroke was relegating Lukaku to the subs bench. Yes, we know he can score goals but as a mate pointed out recently, it doesn’t change the fact he possesses the touch of a phone box. He provided a couple of wonderful assists at Arsenal in the cup recently, but moments like that from him are far too infrequent. Mourinho spent a lot of money on the bloke and felt obliged to play him every week, which I can understand, but don’t we look so much better with players with a reliable first touch who can move the ball on quickly?

The other major Mourinho blind spot that’s been addressed is Fellaini, thankfully shipped off to China and out of our lives forever. I read so much utter crap about him in the immediate aftermath of his departure that it made me wonder if I’ve been watching the same player over the last 5 years. Firstly, I’m fully aware he scored 5 or 6 important goals during his time at the club. That doesn’t change the fact he was a bloody awful footballer who proved more of a hindrance than a help on the vast majority of occasions he was brought on as the much-vaunted ‘Plan B’ his deluded cheerleaders continually refer to. 

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It’s quite simple. I don’t care if a player simply ‘tries hard’. Of course players should try hard, it goes without saying. Viv Anderson ‘tried hard’, Colin Gibson ‘tried hard’, Alan Smith clenched his fists a lot and ‘tried hard’. They were still shite. Fellaini lumbered round, shinned the ball into touch and gave away fouls for the best part of his United career. His mere presence on the pitch prompted a brain-dead, lump-it-forward mentality that saw us dismantle a 20 year legacy of nuanced, pressing football in the final minutes of games where we desperately needed a goal. I’m sorry, he’s probably a nice feller and all that but I prefer to deal with the reality of what I actually witnessed time and time again. He was absolute rubbish and dragged us down to the level of a pub team at times. 

Once Lingard and Martial had been withdrawn due to injury, it didn’t take long for United’s fragilities to reveal themselves in the PSG game. Mata is no replacement for Martial when pushed out wide and Sanchez remains so hopelessly out of form that it now looks terminal. Given the miserable 12 months he’s endured since his much-hyped arrival, it’s difficult to see a way back for him from here. Solskjaer has done the right thing in taking him out of the firing line and limiting his time on the pitch, but whenever he’s briefly called upon it only provides further evidence he’s a completely spent force at this juncture. 

Much like Di Maria during his short stint at United, it clearly just isn’t working out. Unlike Di Maria though, there doesn’t seem to be any underlying domestic issue and he isn’t demonstrably agitating for a move away. Sanchez looks for all the world like a man that’s reached his peak career-wise who’s hurtling down the steep decline towards mediocrity as his long-trusted abilities elude him. I just don’t know what the answer is. Presumably I’m not the only one as I expect the coaching staff are pretty much stumped at this point too. Maybe his dogs aren’t settled? Perhaps the piano needs re-tuning? I’ve no idea to be honest. 

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Looking ahead over the next month, we’ve got some absolute belters coming up. Today we have the opportunity to upset Liverpool’s title challenge, there’s the return leg against PSG in a couple of weeks, closely followed by Arsenal away and City at home. Not wishing to sound dramatic, but a couple of months ago the prospect of that run of fixtures would have seen me tampering with the boiler and removing batteries from the carbon monoxide detector.

We won’t win each of these games coming up, in fact we will more than likely get our arses handed to us on a couple of occasions. That’s no problem, I can live with that. For the moment, I’m just content with the fact United have at least become watchable again. Football has become something to look forward to and each game no longer feels like a soul-crushing exercise in self-flagellation and excruciating boredom. Nice one Olé, that will do nicely for now. 

Copyright Red News – February 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

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Higher Ground

Greetings, fellow football enthusiasts! After a welcome summer off, August rolls round again and it’s time for another 10 months of ill-considered United opinion. All ready to go then? No, not really? Excellent, let’s do this.

Firstly, I’m going to start with a heartfelt apology to the UEFA Europa League, the much derided, slow-witted sibling of its Champions League big brother. I spent the vast majority of last season demonstrating zero enthusiasm for our participation due to being a time-served dickhead, before shamelessly diving onto the hype train just as the final approached. This was clearly a bit snide and I was proven very wrong indeed.

As anyone in attendance will testify, Stockholm was a Euro away classic that will live long in the memory. Not in terms of the game, that was a bit of a stinker in which we bored our way to victory, just in terms of the trip itself. Great people, great city, great result. Flying out of Manchester just hours after the atrocity committed at the Arena felt very odd indeed. Placed in the context of life-changing events like that, football is obviously meaningless. It did however present the opportunity for those present in Sweden to demonstrate solidarity in some small way, proving that life goes on and we won’t be intimidated from doing what we love.

Arriving home after zero sleep in 36 hours, I made the mistake of binge-watching a jumble of media reports from both the match and the aftermath of the bomb… and all of a sudden I was an emotional wreck; proud of the team for completing the set and immensely proud of the city for its immediate response to the attack. I know it’s only football, but you know what it’s like at European finals… you don’t win them very often and when you do it can all come flooding out. I dunno what to say in conclusion, just that winning the Europa unexpectedly proved quite a life-affirming moment. And clearly, that’s not a sentence I ever envisaged writing.

Anyway, onto current matters and how are we looking for the season ahead? The transfer window this summer has proven remarkable based on the sheer number of players we’d apparently agreed personal terms with. At some point in mid-June we were clocking one per day. Morata, Neymar, Perisic, Aurier, Rodriguez, Talisca, Fabinho… it was relentless. Ed Woodward must have been dual-wielding mobile phones like some kind of cocaine-deranged city trader to have had all them lined up.

Away from Fantasy Island, actual real-life completed business has been more steady with only Lukaku, Lindelof and Matic arriving thus far. Solid acquisitions there, nothing too ground breaking but there’s still plenty of time remaining for one or two more. Common sense suggests that prior to further additions, we’ll have to ship a couple out as only Rooney and Januzaj have departed up to now. As things stand it’ll be a surprise if Ashley Young is still here in September and Mourinho managed to break several thousand hearts by quashing rumours of Fellaini heading to Galatasary.

I’m close to giving up on this now. Quite how Fellaini continues to enjoy the confidence of successive United managers remains the great unsolvable puzzle of our times. It’s become a question that gives me sleepless nights. I watch closely, I look for clues, I’ve pored over all available evidence but I still don’t have a clue what he’s doing here. In times of weakness I’ve started to doubt my judgement, but I can’t get beyond what I consistently see with my own eyes. One day the penny might drop and I’ll be able to understand his appeal, but I remain utterly perplexed for now.

As much as Fellaini’s employment continues to baffle, Rooney’s departure wasn’t any surprise at all. As a staunch Rooney advocate over the years, it probably took me longer than most to admit the game was up. But Fergie (as always) had it right when he was trying to edge him out back in 2013, as the last 4 years have been grim viewing for the most part. It certainly won’t take Everton long to realise his performance level is more Stella than stellar these days. However, in years to come the Rooney I’ll recall won’t be the lumbering 2017 vintage, it’ll be the spud-faced nipper that was smashing it up week in-week out from 2004-2012. He leaves as one of United’s greatest ever signings and we should wish him well.

Being brutally honest though, I’m struggling to see how we’ve improved significantly on what we had last year. Lukaku will replace Zlatan, Matic will screen the defence a’la Carrick and Lindelof will probably take a few months to settle based on how nervy he’s looked pre-season. All in all, a serious title challenge appears beyond us unless there’s a spectacular improvement on how the team performed for most of last season.

However, this doesn’t mean there isn’t room for some optimism. It’s highly unlikely that Chelsea will repeat their relentless form of last term, especially minus Costa. Liverpool and Arsenal are still as shit as ever and I think City’s decision to change their entire defence in one fell swoop is going to hurt them despite their plethora of attacking options. So if Lukaka scores goals, Pogba kicks on, United manage a serious upturn in home form… well you never know.

I can’t help suspecting that we’ve still got a big one incoming. We’re massively lacking a fancy dan, creative type so it’ll be a surprise if we start another season with (shudder) Young and Valencia as our only specialist wide players. I’ve got a theory in any case. As Neymar has gone to PSG, there’s no way that Madrid will be able to handle not making a splash this summer so they’ll push hard for Mbappe now. Meaning… hello Gareth Bale. It’s happening, people. Imagine the Instagram likes? #baleisared #allhailkingmonkey #pleasemakeitstop

Copyright Red News – August 2017

www.rednews.co.uk

Let The Sunshine In

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What a difference a month makes, eh? It now appears very shortsighted of me to have spent almost the entirety of last month‘s column venting about the team’s penchant for conceding late goals before concluding we were heading towards mid-table. Clearly, this current upsurge in form wasn’t something I was anticipating any time soon… that’s what 3 years of spluttering form under Moyes and Van Gaal can do to a man, I guess. Oh me of little faith…

Instead of the regular kick in the balls, we’ve been treated to a month of football that has been a genuine pleasure to witness. Indeed, watching United has probably not been this much fun since the conclusion of the title winning season of 2012/13. For the first time in god knows how long, I’m looking at league tables and fixture lists again. Going to Old Trafford no longer feels like a chore and I’m actually making eye contact with people who want to talk about the game. Yes folks, this is big!

Realistically, and this isn’t some outlandish reverse-curse attempt, we aren’t going to win the league this season. We’re too far behind and even if Chelsea do implode, there are better placed teams than us to take advantage. The thing is though, it doesn’t even matter. Crucially, it just feels like we’ve got something back that’s been missing for ages. Gary Neville suggested it was arrogance which is taking things a bit far I think, it’s more like we’ve regained a bit of belief… the team and the fans.

The Middlesborough game felt absolutely massive (okay, I know it was only Middlesborough but bear with me) given the manner in which we came back to win in the last 5 minutes. If this team does go on to achieve greatness in future, we’ll look back on that day as something of a turning point. For the first time since Fergie left, falling behind with 15 minutes left provided an incentive to do something about it rather than the sight of heads dropping at the sheer injustice of it all.

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There was no seismic groundswell where the whole stadium stood as one and willed the team forward or anything, such atmospheres just don’t happen at Old Trafford these days, sadly. But the sense of resignation that has greeted such scenarios over the last 3 years wasn’t apparent as the fans got behind the team, the team continued to press… and ultimately got their reward. Belief. It felt like a breakthrough moment, evidence that the penny has finally dropped and they’re evolving into a half-decent side. Where Mourinho and the team are at right now, they (and we) needed something like that to happen.

Anyway, I’m not getting carried away or anything but it’s all quite encouraging… and yes, perhaps the outlook isn’t quite as bleak as what I suggested a month ago. It’s still a work in progress (how many times have we said that over the last 3 years), but for now we look to have a settled team that’s gaining in confidence and improving by the week. Keep progressing in the cups, push on towards the top four and continue playing football that resembles something like the United of old. If we can maintain this current momentum and there’s a few more moments comparable with the Boro turnaround, then that’ll do nicely for the foreseeable.

It’s now looking fairly certain that this month will see the departures of Memphis Depay and Morgan Schneiderlin, two players who have been here 18 months but leave having abjectly failed to have made any kind of impression whatsoever. Harsh on Memphis perhaps, who at least provided some merriment with his gargantuan ego and spectacularly bad dress sense. Schneiderlin on the other hand, doesn’t even possess a personality to take offence at – he’s probably the beigest player to have ever played for Manchester United. The only thing I can recall him doing is looking like a Next Directory model, as I’m struggling to pinpoint a single, standout moment in any of his 47(!) appearances.

It’s hard to credit now that back in the summer of 2015, Memphis Depay was unanimously hailed as one of the brightest talents in Europe. Arriving as a prolific goalscorer from PSV worked well for Ruud, and Memphis came with a similarly impressive showreel and long list of suitors. His signing felt like a real coup at the time but it just never worked out. He didn’t have great pace, lacked a trick and couldn’t cross a ball to save his life. In other words, he was no improvement on either Ashley Young or Adnan Januzaj. Factor in his King of Rotterdam, Big Pimpin’ schtick and it didn’t take long for the realisation to dawn that he was more international class bellend than international class footballer.

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Anyway, it’s no great loss in either case and a move away looks to suit both Depay and Schneiderlin at this juncture. Thankfully, Everton still seem confident in the abilities of both so we should recoup a sizeable chunk of the fees paid for the pair of them. Fingers crossed they’ll go on to be a great success for the season’s remainder and buoyed by this, the scousers will return in the summer and offer us £25M to take Fellaini back too. Y’see? Done and dusted, everyone’s a winner.

Another who may find himself back at Everton in the not too distant future is Wayne Rooney, and hearty congratulations to him on equalling Sir Bobby’s record of 249 career goals for United. It’s been a long time coming for Wayne, as he’s finally reached the milestone about 2 years later than one might have anticipated – a once prolific striker nowadays consigned to a mere supporting role.

Mourinho deserves some credit for how he’s skilfully managed to solve the Rooney conundrum with a degree of sensitivity. Both Moyes and Van Gaal found themselves hamstrung by the fact he was club captain and a seemingly automatic first team choice, playing him despite his awful form and terrified of the implications of taking him out of the firing line. Mourinho meanwhile, played Wayne until dropping him became a no brainer – it was the kindest thing to do.

Rooney must know in himself that his career at OT is drawing to a close, yet I read something this weekend about United having an option to extend his contract by a further year. Do me a favour, as things stand it’ll be a major surprise if he’s still here in August given the fact he’s no longer a confirmed starter. Far from kicking off about it, you get the impression that Rooney is fully aware the end is nigh and is now content to be getting any game time at all. Whatever happens over the coming months, 13 years and all-time leading scorer at the club is an incredible achievement. In this red’s opinion at least, the plaudits being thrust his way currently are richly deserved.

Copyright Red News – January 2017

www.rednews.co.uk