Tag Archives: manchester united

Comme d’habitude

During a year in which the world was turned upside down by a global pandemic, United have provided some slight reassurance that normality still exists by demonstrating the same level of inconsistency we’ve witnessed ever since Fergie retired. It’s got to the stage where it’s almost like there are two Uniteds and prior to each game (each half, actually) you’re wondering which one will turn up. The only certainty about this team is they’ll be awarded a penalty at some point. 

In fairness, comically inept United haven’t been seen as often over the last few weeks. And yes, I’m absolutely certain the fact my mate Pogba has featured only sparingly during this period is purely coincidental. His absence has at least afforded some much-needed game time for van de Beek at long last. Bruno is a certain starter – the first half at West Ham demonstrated what happens when he isn’t – so it’s all about trying to find the right balance with our other midfield options. 

People have rightly criticised United’s defensive frailties this season and I’d agree we still need another right back and a centre half. For me though, midfield remains the most problematic area of the squad. We’re blessed with attacking talent but as holding midfielders, Fred and McTominay’s form remains erratic and they regularly struggle to step in and impose themselves. Pogba is completely ineffective in 80% of the games in which he features (and that’s being kind) whilst Matic is just Matic – he cruises around serenely playing the ball sideways. 

Whilst none of the aforementioned are bad players, as a unit they rarely convince. We need to start dominating games routinely rather than relying on the counter attack and pace. It speaks volumes that out of the six players mentioned, at this point only Fernandes can be deemed a certain starter. Ole needs to find a way to integrate van de Beek into the team alongside Bruno but it’s difficult to see how given the fact they both excel in the same position. Pogba is never going to usurp Fernandes, so it’s uncertain how he features at all since we’ve long-established he’s completely unsuited to sitting in front of the defence. 

Whatever the right balance is, we just haven’t found it as yet. We have great attacking midfielders, an expensive World Cup winner amongst them, but we can’t integrate all 3 into the same line up. If van de Beek can adapt his game and forage a path elsewhere in the team we’re laughing – the 2nd half against Southampton proved this idea has potential. But with Pogba, I don’t see how he can operate in the same line up as Fernandes long term. You can’t have 2 creative types both given free rein to roam around being a maverick genius and giving the ball away liberally. It just wouldn’t work, unfortunately. 

The situation presents both the club and Pogba with a bit of a problem. The longer he spends on the sidelines, the more any future transfer fee is compromised. I’m sure he’d love Real Madrid or Juventus to come sniffing but COVID kiboshed any mega-deal this year and the likelihood of anything happening next summer too. That leaves United exploring the prospect of a contract extension and improved terms for an underperforming asset in an attempt to maintain his market value. As we’ve seen numerous times over the last few years, this tactic is fraught with risk and rarely works out as intended. 

Although results have certainly improved, I’m not convinced that performances have. The West Ham game perfectly encapsulated the team’s bipolar tendencies. 5 consecutive PL away wins is more than welcome but the fact we were trailing in each shows how we’re still lacking consistency. This isn’t merely picking holes. At West Ham the team were utterly abject for 60 minutes before turning things round with 3 quick goals and dominating the last half hour. We’re so reliant on Bruno Fernandes at this point it’s genuinely terrifying. He’s as important to this team as Bryan Robson was in the 80’s. 

From where we were when I last wrote though, it’s been quite the turnaround in fortunes. At the time of writing we’re only 5 points off the top of the table. Despite still being a dysfunctional mess who can’t string 3 passes together for long periods, there seems to be a collective will to win in place that had completely disappeared by the end of Mourinho’s time at the club. United are watchable again at least, and for that Solskjaer deserves some credit. Of course there’s still lots of work to be done, but the fact I’ve felt compelled to watch MOTD for the last 2 weeks is evidence we’re progressing slowly. 

Assuming Manchester gets out of Tier 3 in the next week or so, a select few of us might be back at OT soon since PL clubs are now permitted to have 2,000 socially distanced punters in attendance. I’ve not made my mind up whether I’ll apply for one of these tickets or not as it seems pretty pointless until we can go back and have the ‘normal’ match day again. On the other hand, the obsessive part of me that’s spent a lifetime travelling to football and gigs around the country is craving the novelty of watching a live event in person again. 

Sadly, I suspect that a large number of fans won’t be coming back at all. Older reds or those with pre-existing health conditions will be debating whether or not it’s worth the risk. It’s very easy to get out of the habit of going to the match and I’m sure the extended break, coupled with fears of contracting the virus itself will result in plenty of folk knocking it on the head. Also, the devastating impact of job losses up and down the country mean that lots of people’s incomes have dried up completely. Many will have no choice. 

It‘s been a really shit year. Football is supposed to be an escape from all the bullshit life throws at you but we had that taken away in March. For many of us, United is the centre point of our social lives and losing it has been tough. We can watch on television and debate all the usual nonsense via social media, but it’s not the same as plotting up routinely and going to the match together. Hopefully at some point next year we can start to put all this madness behind us. In the meantime, whatever your current situation, enjoy the festive period and I’ll see you back here in 2021.

Copyright Red News – December 2020

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The Beat Goes On

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Having argued quite vociferously against the resumption of the Premier League, I’ll happily concede that it turned out to be quite watchable in the end. Winning helps of course. 11 rapid-fire games with United looking focused and determined for the most part. Despite being confined to watching on TV, I can honestly say I’ve enjoyed the last 6 weeks of football as much as anything in any period since Fergie retired. Not that that’s saying much.

The realisation hit me that watching football on telly shorn of the compulsion to attend in person (a growing trend in recent seasons, admittedly) is actually quite underrated. It’s an absolute doddle, this part-time supporter caper. There’s little stress involved, it doesn’t cost anything like as much as buying a ticket and you don’t have to mix with the ever increasing number of complete bellends who spoil the match day experience. Having spent nigh on 40 years looking down my nose at mere ‘fans’ and quietly revelling in my self-appointed top red status, it turns out the armchair lads are actually onto something.

I jest of course. Despite the novelty of watching United string a few wins together, it all had a hollow ring to it. We watched 6 weeks of walking-pace, contractual obligations being played out with piped in crowd noise to provide the illusion of authenticity. It was a bit like watching the longest post-season tour in history… or a particularly unmemorable World Cup where everyone knew who won before the draw was made. It was entertaining to a point and provided some relief after weeks of below-par crime dramas and basketball documentaries on Netflix, but let’s not pretend it was football. Not proper football, anyway.

The post-apocalyptic, Bizarro World version of the Premier League briefly afforded us the chance to make history. At one point it looked like we might be in with a shout of lifting the inaugural Covid League title awarded to the the team with the best record post-lockdown. Unfortunately we had to settle for 2nd place as dropped points meant City picked up the germ plated, commemorative trophy. This made it a Coronavirus double for the blues, still buoyant after their extra-time victory in the CAS Cup.

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Despite paling in significance with the real thing, there was still plenty to digest. For the first time in a long time, a United manger successfully figured out his strongest line up and boy, did he decide to rinse it. As we limped over the finish line at Leicester the team was basically running on fumes. The only big disappointment came at Wembley where Ole justifiability gambled on resting a few players. That didn’t work out at all as the performance showed. We’re still in need of further reinforcements clearly, but that single setback shouldn’t detract from the progress made since January.

The main reason for the improvement is Bruno Fernandes. Not only has he arrived and made an excellent contribution himself, his enthusiasm appears to have had a positive effect on everyone else around him. The attitude of many of the squad has been questionable, both collectively and individually for a number of years. Fernandes comes in and it’s like they’re trying their best to impress the new kid in school who everyone agrees is cool. Shaw is moving up and down the touch line faster, Matic looks halfway mobile and perhaps most shocking of all, Pogba has declared himself match fit.

In the final game at Leicester, Bruno looked absolutely shattered after 10 minutes. He still didn’t stop all afternoon despite the feet no longer doing what the brain was telling them to do. Having a player like that in the team, a proper natural leader actively looking to take responsibility rather than shirk it is absolutely priceless. His head doesn’t drop and he leads by example, every single game. He might not be THE captain, but he’s A captain. Successful football teams tend to have 4 or 5 players demonstrating these qualities.

Despite quickly becoming the star turn, it’s not been all Bruno. Ole deserves a lot of credit for the way he’s used Mason Greenwood this season, integrating him slowly into the set up and knowing precisely the right moment to unleash him as a first choice starter. Greenwood himself is something else. 17 goals for an 18 year old, 3rd choice striker is a ridiculous return in his first season. It’s not just the goal return though. As he’s shown already, he’s a very capable all-round footballer.

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The decision to shift Lukaku in order to give this kid more game time doesn’t seem so controversial 12 months on. Unlike the human water buffalo, Greenwood is great with the ball at his feet and supremely comfortable in possession. He knows when to do the simple things and when to attempt the extraordinary. There’s no need to blow any more smoke up his arse right now because we all know how talented he is. It’s hard not to get excited about how good he could be in a few years if he continues to develop as he has throughout this season.

Coming up next we’ve got more televised summer football in the form of the Europa League’s conclusion being played over in Germany. It’ll be a bittersweet feeling should United progress to the final (not a foregone conclusion by any means) as European finals are those occasions where you feel compelled to be there. I’ll be made up for Ole if he wins his first trophy as a manager but it won’t be the same without 40,000 reds ballooning round Cologne to mark the occasion. I suspect town could be interesting that night though.

In the same way that Liverpool’s title win became inevitable months ago, I’ve reached a similar conclusion about the prospect of City winning the European Cup later this month. It’s going to happen sooner or later so it may as well be this year. Liverpool are champions and Leeds have won promotion so I figure we take the hit and make it an annus horribilis hat-trick. They won’t be able to experience it properly and it’ll be the worst final in living memory regardless what happens. At least our blue brethren will be spared the usual scramble for excuses after they fail to sell out their allocation. Every cloud and all that.

Copyright Red News – August 2020

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Up To Our Hips

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Well that escalated quickly, didn’t it? There I was, quietly buzzing after a derby win and chuckling at Liverpool getting knocked out of Europe. Then the next thing you know I’m sat in the house, drinking too much, steadily munching through a fridge full of stockpiled food and cut off from the world outside. Pretty much a standard weekend then… but then they announced Coronavirus had arrived so normal life was promptly cancelled.

To be honest readers, personally speaking, it’s been an absolute doddle. I’m already an anti-social curmudgeon so being told not to go out hasn’t really affected me. Plus, let’s be honest now, a lockdown where you’re still allowed to leave the house every day isn’t really much of a lockdown at all. Being office-based meant I could work from home which proved another huge bonus. It started off being weird then quickly became ace once the realisation dawned I can do my job without getting dragged into banal conversations about things that people have read on Facebook every 10 minutes. 6 music on in the background, sun streaming though the window, showering at lunchtime… I honestly think I could live like this for another 12 months.

Not everyone sees it as a positive of course, because in reality it’s really fucking bad out there. Me, happy as a pig in shit inside my own little bubble is one thing, but it’s really not funny at all when there’s a deadly virus on the loose and hundreds of people are dying every day. Not to mention the hundreds of thousands who are unable to work at all because they currently don’t have a job. Then you’ve got the NHS workforce and an army of key workers risking their lives on a daily basis, lacking essential PPE yet still intent on keeping everything ticking over until this shitstorm of a virus eventually subsides.

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The overall mood isn’t helped by the fact we’re being led by the shambolic troupe of gaslighting fuckwits who compose the senior-level of British government. Not an ounce of compassion or common sense between them, they saw this thing coming a mile off yet still managed to balls it up completely at every turn. Blundering through press conferences, manipulating testing figures and showing themselves up as the lying, evasive, deceitful twats you always suspected they’d be during a time of national crisis. It’s almost enough to make you wish football would come back.

Almost, but not quite. Because as anyone with even the teenie-weeniest bit of common sense would agree, talk about professional football resuming right now is not only grossly insensitive, it’s completely fucking idiotic. Straight away they were at it, before the death toll had even reached 3 figures. The very moment matches were cancelled and precious revenue streams turned off, the self-interested guardians of the sport immediately started dribbling on about the need to finish the season at all costs to preserve ‘the integrity of the game’. Integrity: “the quality of being honest and having strong moral principles”. Hahahaha, you couldn’t make it up.

The Premier League’s interpretation of integrity seems a little more abstract than how most people commonly interpret the word. In their desperation to launch #projectrestart it quickly became apparent that they were prepared to do literally anything to get football back on television. Playing in China, playing behind closed doors, neutral stadiums, shortening game lengths and banning spitting(?) were just a handful of the ever more ludicrous suggestions being mooted as deaths around the country continued to rise.

We all know that top-level football did its utmost to absolve itself of any sense of social conscience and civic engagement many years ago. It happily sold its soul in pursuit of untold riches and anyone opposed to the frantic cash grab was left feeling like a tree-hugging relic. We live in a world where people dedicate their lives to arguing on twitter that owning a tiny portion of land in East Manchester and laundering billions of £‘s into a football club to legitimise a murderous, despotic regime is actually something to be applauded.

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Greed and self-interest are nothing new in the football world. However, during the current doomsday scenario of a global pandemic, the intention to plough on in spite of the obvious risk to everyone connected was absolutely breathtaking. I mean, we know football administrators are morally deficient in most cases, but I wasn’t expecting them to be so unapologetically brazen in announcing the fact. Surely now would be the time to demonstrate some decorum by keeping quiet for a few months? Maybe prioritise the health and well-being of employees above all else, just like every other workplace has been forced to. More fool me for expecting anything different, I guess.

One unexpected thing I didn’t see coming was how well our own club conducted itself throughout. Unusually for the PR disasterclass that is MUFC, there wasn’t a misstep to be seen whilst other Premier League clubs continued to make complete arses of themselves. Season ticket renewals frozen, a commitment to refunding any games unplayed, casual staff paid until the end of the season and players donating 30% of their wages to the NHS. We’re the first to point out when the club does something wrong – it’s one of this fanzine’s raisons d’etre – so it’s only right we highlight those odd occasions when they get things right. Fair play to all concerned.

I suppose we should give a nod of acknowledgement to Corona for the two-footed, knee-high challenge it delivered to Liverpool’s title-challenge just as they were clean through on goal. I know this makes us look incredibly petty and bitter but what else are we supposed to do? Should we forget the decades of intense rivalry and start lighting candles for them instead? I don’t think so. Let’s make this perfectly clear. The clamour to restart Premier League football is motivated by money, but never underestimate the scousers’ influence and the consequences for any individual seen as conspiring to deny them their moment of glory.

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If it was any other club top of the table, there would be pressure to resume playing again but the narrative being played out in the tabloid press would be vastly different. My mind keeps going back 20 years to when any MUFC defeat was greeted like VE Day. If this was a United team closing in on a 3rd consecutive league title, I fully expect there’d be speeches in Parliament calling for the Premier League to cease and desist. Instead, we’re being fed the message that football’s return will somehow “lift the nation”. I suppose it might if you’re a Liverpool or a Leeds fan, but no one else seems to regard it as high on the list of priorities right now. Most are of the opinion it’s a ridiculous idea.

Ultimately, your response to a crisis like this reveals a lot about a person. You either take the sanguine approach and accept shit happens in life or you make an almighty tit of yourself, running round the supermarket hoovering up 700 bog rolls. No matter how much Liverpool delight in their hilarious ‘Tory Tory Man United’ jibes, let it be remembered that we weren’t the club furloughing staff and arguing with our own mayor after he deemed the Premier League’s resumption a “non-starter”. Interestingly, according to a report in The Times, Liverpool were supportive of moves to abandon the Women’s Super League on safety grounds. Probably just a coincidence that they’re in the relegation places there, I expect.

Anyway, that’s me done I think. We live in strange, uncertain times and whatever your situation, I hope you’re doing okay and filling your time productively. Try not to strangle your loved ones and I’ll see you next season when we’re all 25 stone and suffering with chronic liver disease. Wash your hands, take care and enjoy the extended break.

Copyright Red News – May 2020

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