Tag Archives: manchester united

Ex-Factor

I wrongly assumed that the carry on with Pogba over the last couple of years would never be eclipsed but the situation with Ronaldo this season has been incredible. Honestly, I underestimated the lad. We all knew he was a rampant narcissist with a few screws loose beneath the carefully sculpted public image, but I never realised the true extent of his derangement. I always suspected his return to the club would go pear-shaped but the way everything unravelled from August onwards was spectacular. Fair play to him. Although his best days on the pitch might be behind him, he remains top entertainment off it.

It’s both incredible and depressing that even in the middle of a World Cup there was no bigger story anywhere in sport. Ronaldo is that colossal a public figure that his global appeal transcends that of both his club and his country. Indeed, both him and Messi enjoy a level of fame that has probably outgrown the game of football itself. The only thing comparable is probably Michael Jordan back in the 1990’s. Ronaldo attracts a sizeable fanbase who probably haven’t even watched a single minute of the World Cup. I don’t know why this phenomenon occurs, but it does. People really like famous people, I guess.

I’m not sure how people can become so attached to individual players. I completely understand how you can develop a lifelong bond to your club, or that your country’s national anthem might stir deep feelings of patriotism. But what possesses grown adults to (as the kids say) ‘stan’ certain players with such undying fervour? These cranks are all over social media with thousands upon thousands of followers, posting nonsensical stats and trumpeting their hero’s GOAT status. It explains a lot about why Ronaldo has become the man he is today. A former great propped up on reputation alone, feted by millions yet completely oblivious to his rapidly declining powers. 

I’m aware that plenty of reds were thrilled when he came back, but I can recall writing here how I was sceptical from the start. I didn’t really see the rationale behind it given how we’d persuaded Cavani to stay and Greenwood was progressing nicely. In the end, it sort-of paid off to an extent. Cavani was pissed off at being moved down the pecking order so only contributed on the few occasions he fancied it and Greenwood… well we all know the story there. So Ronaldo got exactly what he thought his status merited. He started up front almost every game and 24 goals from 38 games was a very respectable return on paper. 

The reality though, was somewhat different. There’s no doubt Ronaldo dragged United out of the shit with his goals a handful of times, particularly in the Champions League. In truth though, his legs had gone completely. There’s no shame in the aging process, it happens to all players. The true greats prolong their longevity by modifying their game to make up for a lack of explosive pace and acceleration. Ronaldo managed this feat superbly during his later years with Madrid and then in Serie A. Instead of playing from out wide where he began his ascent to global superstardom, he became the complete centre-forward.

Unfortunately, by the age of 36 his scope of influence was growing narrower by the week. It’s natural he was no longer able to hare it back into midfield to win back possession, but greater deficiencies were becoming all too obvious. Ronaldo routinely failed to press at all. A keeper with the ball at his feet wasn’t worth a look and neither was a defender in possession a few yards away. Increasingly, it took all his effort just to jog back onside in order to re-join play and offer any contribution at all. It’s okay to try and accommodate an out and out striker, but not at the expense of these absolute basic requirements. Aside from his goals, Ronaldo contributed little other than exasperated looks and regular bollockings to his teammates. 

By August this year, the situation had grown even more dire. After missing the entire pre-season whilst angling for a move away, he returned expecting the same treatment he’d been afforded under Solskjaer. Thankfully, Ten Hag saw things differently and Ronaldo was consigned to a place amongst the substitutes. You might have expected an ‘ultimate professional’ to take this dent to his pride on board and enter a period of self-reflection, but Ronnie is incapable of enduring any perceived slight. Instead, he never missed an opportunity to storm off in a sulk and blame everyone else for this great injustice he’d befallen. 

Ronaldo was an incredible footballer, one of the greatest to ever do it. He’s also vain and self-absorbed to the point he cannot accept criticism or advice from anyone he considers less than his equal; and since Ronaldo believes he’s the greatest, that’s a non-existent list of people. He keeps close counsel with his family and entourage, but they’re not exactly neutral when it comes to Christiano and his travails. Whatever Ronaldo thinks is right and whatever Ronaldo wants he gets. It’s been like this for the last 20 years or more. It’s no wonder he isn’t wired right given he’s led such an absurd life. 

If Ronaldo thought joining up with Portugal in Qatar might provide a massage to his bruised ego, he was sadly mistaken. After setting a new record by scoring in his 5th World Cup, there then followed the spectacle of him gesticulating wildly after being ‘robbed’ of Fernandes’ goal against Uruguay a full 10 minutes after the final whistle had sounded. Next came the ignominy of being dropped to the bench for subsequent fixtures, a decision that was greeted with all the stoicism and good grace you would expect of the man. After probably his final World Cup appearance he headed down the tunnel in tears without acknowledging his teammates or opponents. It was an all too predictable conclusion. 

Pairing up with Piers Morgan to broadcast a 90 minute “airing of the grievances” was a fitting way to close the United chapter of his career. The jocular tone and forced bonhomie failing to mask his insecurities and highlighting his complete lack of humour and self-awareness. Morgan isn’t stupid and is well aware of this, he’s playing Ronaldo for clicks and at some point in future he’ll change tack again when he spots another potential headline. Ronaldo might feel vindicated and that he’s won another battle with the non-believers, but sooner or later he’ll have to come to terms with the inevitable. Despite his desperate need to control the narrative and have the final say, he can’t stop the passage of time. 

Copyright Red News – December 2022

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Roll With The Punches

Harry Maguire just cannot catch a break at present. Given his performances in an England shirt over the last few years, one might have expected the international break to provide some welcome respite from his current struggles at club level. Unfortunately not. Another error-strewn display against Germany means that his nightmare year continues. Having become a laughing stock on social media during United’s seasonus horribilis under Solskjaer and Rangnick, he’s now become a pariah of the national team too. 

Quite why Maguire evokes such animosity is a bit of a strange one. Compared to a lot of modern players he seems quite likeable and grounded to me. Unlike many of his peers, Maguire’s route to the top was fairly unconventional. He hasn’t grown up living a life of privilege in the academy system having been spotted as a school-age prodigy, he made it all the way to captain of Manchester United having spent a few years kicking around the lower leagues. It’s not quite the rags to riches career trajectory of Jamie Vardy say, but it’s still a path that’s become increasingly uncommon. 

There’s no denying that Maguire’s performances were uniformly abject for much of last season. He appeared to suffer a major hangover after the Euros and his form hasn’t recovered since. However, the fact he was playing alongside numerous teammates content to phone it in week after week didn’t exactly help matters. Although he was crap, I didn’t once get the impression that he didn’t care or that he’d given up. Others went missing entirely, but you couldn’t accuse Maguire of hiding or shirking responsibility at any point. Recall that whilst all this was occurring another high-profile, self-proclaimed leader of the team was holed up in Dubai nursing his hamstring for 3 months. 

The clamour to write him off at this point doesn’t make much sense to my mind, especially considering he played very well during his first 2 years at the club. He was overpriced at £80M certainly, but the player doesn’t set the transfer fee. Considering he’s spent most of his time here alongside a fragile keeper, extremely limited defensive colleagues and with a failing midfield in front of him, I honestly believe that he’s done okay. I certainly don’t think he’s in anyway more culpable than the rest of his teammates. Bruno Fernandes has been routinely garbage throughout the same period yet nobody is suggesting that he’s finished.

Maguire isn’t the first player to suffer like this and he shouldn’t lose any sleep about England fans selecting him as their MUFC-affiliated scapegoat in a World Cup year. He’s in good company here and would be wise to just bide his time and take his opportunities when they arise – which they will sooner rather than later given the congested fixture list and Varane’s inability to stay fit for any length of time. Also, he (or his family members) would be best advised to swerve journalists seeking off-the-record comments. Everyone is aware there are mitigating circumstances to his current form so there’s no need to actively brief against his teammates. You’re the captain, just own it and let your football do the talking. 

As he sat at the Etihad watching events unfold, Maguire might have been forgiven for being quietly relieved he was spared the latest indignity to befall United there. Once upon a time conceding 5 or 6 in a derby would have sent me spiralling off into a deep sulk, whereas these days I just shrug it off and crack on. There’s little point in getting down about it, they are simply miles ahead of everyone else currently. As unpalatable as the result was, United remain a team acclimatising to life under a new manager and with several new signings still finding their feet. After a miserable start to the season the last couple of months have provided a number of encouraging signs, so I refuse to abandon all hope yet. 

Nevertheless, the fact remains it was a complete abomination of a performance. The starting midfield was a disaster which left the defence totally exposed. Ten Hag looked on shaking his head but I’d have preferred for him to do something decisive. It was obvious what was occurring within the first 5 minutes as the team were all over the place. The loyalty shown to McTominay was totally misguided, especially considering he’s only a stop gap defensive midfielder and we had one of the world’s best sat on the bench. The funds were released to sign Casemiro after the debacle at Brentford, so why hold him back now given that deficiencies in this position persist?

I wasn’t confident pre-match, but then what sane person is watching this team? Similar to Gary Neville, a couple of misguided souls in the WhatsApp group got all giddy after an unbeaten September and predicted an away win. Instead, it was another of those days that have become commonplace in recent years; United looking utterly bamboozled when confronted by opponents playing with pace and intensity. Having more than matched Liverpool and Arsenal in recent weeks, I was faintly optimistic we might be past having complaints about lacking the fundamentals. Clearly this wasn’t to be the case. 

I think I first decided not to like Erling Haaland a few years ago, the minute I discovered he had signed up with Mino Raiola. As a result of that move I figured he would never join United and was therefore more than likely a bit of a bastard. I didn’t like his agent (RIP btw), I don’t like his dad, I don’t like his City and Leeds supporting childhood and I don’t like his smug-looking, leader-of-the-Hitler-youth-in-a-previous-life face. All completely ridiculous I know, but then that’s me. Consequently, the derby was the first time I’d ever seen him play. Verdict? Yes, I was completely right. Roll on his inevitable move to Spain in 3 or 4 years time. 

Ten Hags explanation as to why Ronaldo didn’t feature did little to suppress the chat around that current predicament. Why on earth wasn’t he encouraged to move on in the summer? Similar to the situation surrounding Pogba that proved a constant distraction over the last couple of seasons, United would be better served by informing Ronaldo he is free to leave the club given he’s no longer a first choice starter. An amicable solution needs to be found here, otherwise the noise surrounding the issue is only going to intensify over the coming months. It’s a sideshow that United could do without. 

One final shoutout this month to United’s ticket office, unwavering in their ability to dream up convoluted ways of making life as difficult as possible for their customers. When you’re thousands of miles from home, queuing to get into a game under the watchful eye of twitchy riot cops and stewards checking the passport of every single ticket holder, you start to question the sanity of everyone involved in such a farcical scene. It’s so over the top and completely unwarranted. Not one to brag or anything, but I’m finishing off this piece propped up on a sun lounger the morning after the night before in Cyprus. Despite the moans and constant hassles involved in following this team of ours, it’s at times like this you realise we’ve still got it better than most. Yamas!

Copyright Red News – October 2022

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Pretty Vacant


After a summer of discontent featuring a squad re-build progressing at a glacial pace, it was important that United got off to a good start this season. If ten Hag was disappointed after the opening day Brighton defeat, he must have felt almost suicidal when the half time whistle blew at Brentford. I’ve been going a long time now and I can’t recall seeing anything quite as bad as that opening 45 minutes. The mood was downbeat in the pub beforehand but I don’t think anyone anticipated the absolute horror show we were about to witness. I walked out at HT as did many others.

Of course, it never helps when your goalie starts throwing the ball in his own net. Everyone has their own take on De Gea but the consensus amongst people whose opinion I value is that he should have been binned off a long time ago. Whether Henderson was a good enough replacement is debatable, but in my opinion he should have been given a 6 month run in the team once he’d regained fitness last season. We all know De Gea has numerous weaknesses, but crucially it’s no longer enough to merit his place simply “because he’s a good shot stopper”. Christ, all Premier League keepers are good shot stoppers, aren’t they?

It’s far too early to be questioning the new manager’s methods, but watching De Gea’s feeble attempts at playing out from the back as opposed to launching a goal kick upfield was excruciating. When a keeper isn’t comfortable with the ball at his feet, he’s unlikely to develop this facet to his game at 31 years old. Brentford had clearly done their homework and exploited this in the most brutal manner imaginable. It might sound harsh and there’s no doubt De Gea has been a tremendous servant to the club over the last decade, but he needs replacing if we’re going to progress. It was a deeply embarrassing day all round. 

As pretty much all pre-season optimism had dissipated at this point, several highly vocal, self-reverential nutcases on twitter had a plan. Pausing momentarily from working themselves into a frenzy about players they’d never heard of 3 days previously, the idea of #emptyoldtrafford was born. Apparently if this hashtag was RT’ed enough times, Old Trafford would be deserted for the forthcoming Liverpool game and the Glazer’s resolve would miraculously crumble. The legions outside would carry Jim Ratcliffe into the stadium where he would by interviewed pitchside by Jamie Carragher and Gary Neville, presumably. 

With 70,000 match-goers lined up outside OT, one could only assume that the twitter lads planned to stand outside their bedrooms in solidarity. The only certainty was that the campaign was doomed to failure from the moment it was conceived and that internet gobshites posing as United fans vastly overestimate the influence they have over actual United fans. Instead, a real-life protest organised by real-life supporters attracted huge numbers and widespread media attention all by itself. Who would have thought such a thing possible?

The twitter reds constantly bang on about division and toxicity amongst the “fanbase” but what they fail to grasp is that despite the numbers they attract, their influence on people in and around the club is negligible. They might consider themselves knowledgeable, but ultimately their experiences amount to little more than arguing on the internet about their favourite tv show. These individuals are never going to effect change because they possess zero credibility amongst match-goers. United supporters’ feelings are probably more aligned now than they have been at any time since the Glazers took over. At this point you’d struggle to find anyone with something positive to say about the club’s owners. 

To be clear, I don’t think the idea of emptying the ground at some point should be disregarded entirely. The idea has the potential to be a highly effective protest but you’re not going to achieve this with only 5 days notice and nobody of any substance on board. Get MUST, the fanzines, TRA and The 1958 behind it and with proper publicity the idea might have a decent chance. As unpalatable as it might sound to those of a ‘burn it all down now’ disposition, Liverpool at home so early in the season was never a realistic prospect for orchestrating a mass boycott. 

The fervour of the pre-match protest led to one of the best atmospheres OT has seen in a long time. The place was rocking during the first half and the team responded with a performance that was a vast improvement on the dire effort shown the previous weekend. For the first time in months we saw evidence of the basics in place. Every player looked focused, committed and willing to put in a full shift for 90 minutes. We know they’re some distance from challenging for the top prizes but if the players can maintain a level of effort somewhere above bare minimum, I expect our fortunes might improve quickly. 

As is customary following the Liverpool game, there was another debate about the ‘murderers’ chant and whether or not it’s a reference to Hillsborough. It’s getting really tiresome now. Firstly, there’s no doubt the antipathy between the two sets of supporters gives the fixture an edge that nobody wants to lose. However, the ‘murderers’ insult is aired more frequently and vociferously now than it ever was previously. People point to Liverpool fans singing about Munich in the past as some sort of justification but honestly, it’s straw clutching in the extreme. It’s 2022 and we should be doing better. 

I’m not suggesting that reparations need to be made and we should start handing out garlands of flowers to each other, I just find it very sad. In the past I’ve caught myself trying to explain the nuances to people as if the song actually being a reference to Heysel validates it somehow, but in truth it doesn’t. The tit-for-tat nonsense needs to stop. There can still be a rivalry and a mutual loathing without celebrating tragedies that have befallen the respective clubs. In simple terms, singing ‘murderers’ doesn’t reflect well on United fans and it makes us look and sound like dickheads. 

After such a positive performance and result against Liverpool, Southampton away suddenly felt like a big game. United have been abject for months but we seem to be particularly awful at early kick offs, not to mention the fact we hadn’t seen back-to-back league wins since February. A scruffy 1-0 win was more than acceptable despite the fact that all composure went out of the window after taking the lead. The last half hour was desperate at times and we seemed determined to give the ball away at every opportunity. It’s far too early to say whether a recovery is underway but I’m taking solace from the fact the players at least look slightly interested again. That will do for now. 

Copyright Red News – September 2022

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