Tag Archives: mourinho

We Are The Champions

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Typically, in a season that has become predictable in its unpredictability, United have settled into a decent run just as things are drawing to a conclusion. Whether we’re witnessing the final days of Van Gaal’s tenure or not (surely we are), there’s an excellent chance that as he departs for the sanctuary of his Portuguese villa in a few weeks’ time, he’ll be doing so as a ‘title’ winner. I can hear him now, his methods validated, all those hours of mind-numbing boredom a distant memory. “The English they never stop complaining, I won them a title! The FA Cup is a very important trophy in that country… they hadn’t won it for 12 years.”

Unfortunately, although silverware will be very welcome and moments like the goon that greeted Martial’s winner live even longer in the memory, it won’t be enough to save Van Gaal, ultimately. After a trying first year in which he at least delivered a top four finish, this season has been a backwards step and a huge disappointment overall. Although the final moments could well see him brandishing the cup and addressing an appreciative crowd in Albert Square, the dreadful monotony of the football witnessed between November and March shouldn’t be forgotten.

The quarter final replay at West Ham and the Wembley semi were stark reminders of what’s been missing far too often – genuine excitement. There are always peaks and troughs during a 60 game campaign, but barring a handful of moments from Martial and Rashford, the season mostly panned out as an excruciatingly long, uneventful slog. Win some, lose some, draw some… doing just enough to stay in the chasing pack without ever looking like we were growing in confidence and making progress. Wins were earned with scrappy performances, leads thrown away too frequently and the regular defeats didn’t prompt any kind of determined response or stunned reaction.

Van Gaal admitted himself that he’d run out of ideas at Christmas – a virtual resignation note – but he somehow survived and limped on. Since then, on each occasion his position has appeared untenable, a result has come along and bailed him out. The home draw against Chelsea, a win at Anfield, crushing Midjtylland, beating City away; all of these appeared as the sack seemed inevitable – but they still don’t mask the reality of where United find themselves. 9 wins out of the 17 league games since Christmas doesn’t demonstrate an upturn in form or provide any kind of justification for keeping him on next season. FA Cup or no FA Cup, it’s still not good enough.

During the Ferguson years, we used to hear a lot about players being selected to play for United based on personality as much as their abilities. Fergie spoke at length about youngsters’ family backgrounds being considered, and transfer targets being researched with a forensic level of detail level to ascertain whether or not they possessed the requisite character to fit in. Somewhere along the line we appear to have lost it because the team is now inherently soft. I don’t mean soft as in ‘crap in a fight’, it’s more about a lack of mental strength. The amount of times we’ve switched off in games this season or completely failed to impose ourselves for long stretches, demonstrates that something eludes us that we had in abundance previously.

Everton v Manchester United - The Emirates FA Cup Semi Final

The season was summed up for me at the end of January, driving home from OT having just witnessed a 1-0 defeat to Southampton. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a fair bit of time for Chris Smalling given how he’s one of few who have actually progressed in recent times, but his reaction to the defeat that day nearly made me switch to the opposite side of the road and plough into oncoming traffic. When asked about the result, he chirped up that the players were “disappointed not to draw”. Just consider that for a moment. Disappointed not to draw. At home. Against Southampton.

That, dear readers, said it all to me. The next captain of Manchester United went on national radio to express his feelings after another pathetic home defeat and the strongest response he could muster was to suggest the team were sad they didn’t hold on for a point. Seriously, if that was genuinely representative of the dressing room reaction then the whole team needs something very drastic. I’m not talking Mourinho, forget Fergie’s hair dryer – they deserve Roy Keane with full beard, coming off a 48 hour bender, mislaid his house keys so denied any sleep levels of rage.

If there is a managerial change in the summer, one hopes it helps to instil some desire and a collective sense of responsibility to the current group of players. I’m sure they’d be the first to proclaim “of course we care!”, but do they care enough in that crazed, siege mentality sense that turns disparate individuals into a team of serial winners? I just don’t see anything like that level of togetherness, currently. It’s hard to detect much of a bond between management and players, as Van Gaal’s methods appear to be tolerated rather than trusted. Admittedly this is speculation based on hearsay, body language and tersely conducted interviews – but the gloomy demeanour of everyone involved speaks volumes.

Van Gaal looked and sounded very subdued at the semi-final press briefings, both pre and post-match. Perhaps it was the pressure, maybe a sense of relief, but he no longer sounds in any way confident at the prospect of remaining in situ beyond May. Questions about the future were dismissed with a wave of the hand and he only wanted to discuss the performance. Fair enough, you might argue – but it’s very much a marked contrast from the indomitable bluster he’s come out with all season.

There will very probably be a number of people reading thinking, “what’s the problem?” Typically unappreciative fanzine scribe having a good moan and picking holes after his team has just reached a cup final. “Can’t you just be happy for once?” Well, clearly not. Winning the cup would be a great day out and a much needed fillip for everyone connected with the club, but that’s all it’ll be – a brief respite. Over the last 3 seasons we’ve strung 3 consecutive wins together just 10 times, whereas in Fergie’s last season alone we managed 8. Van Gaal is a good man who’s made hard work of a tricky rebuild, now we need someone to come in who’ll take us back to the top.

Enjoy the summer and I’ll see you in August.

Copyright Red News – May 2016

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Changing Of The Guards

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“People normally die before they get a statue…I’m outliving death.”

Certain sections of tinfoil-hat wearing, mainly internet-based, rival supporters have long since bandied the opinion that once Sir Alex Ferguson vacates the manager’s seat at OT, they’ll finally be able to compete on some sort of level playing field. According to this species, as the elder statesman of the Premier League, Fergie has everyone in his pocket: Referees are terrified of him; the FA likewise and his hand-picked, old-boys network of fellow managers remain so in awe, out of sheer deference they don’t even bother to give us a game.

Well that’s a load of bollocks, surely? And yes, it’s easy to laugh it off and dismiss such notions as the embittered ramblings of deluded cranks, but then you stumble across a comment like this from Sam Allardyce: “It was good to catch up with Sir Alex on Wednesday… I popped in to have a quick glass of wine with him before I left. His enthusiasm and drive never dims and he was in good form, which is why he’s the best manager in the world.”

Oh pur-lease. That was actually the real Big Sam by the way, not the similarly smitten twitter parody, speaking after West Ham’s visit to OT a couple of weeks ago. Now let’s be brutally honest here, would you be happy to hear stuff like that coming from your team’s manager following a defeat? Me neither. It goes beyond mere flattery and instead enters the realm of blatant arse-kissing. Turn it in, for christ’s sake – it’s embarrassing.

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After clocking 25 years at United last November, this year’s anniversary saw the unveiling of the promised statue (it’s no Ted Bates, at least) complete with the obligatory round of gushing tributes, tv spots and celebratory lunches. Call me a miserable bastard for pointing this out, but the whole thing just smacks of overkill now…how much more does Fergie’s (of course, immense) contribution need to be recognised? The testimonial, the North stand re-named, the statue…never mind “outliving death”, he’s not even retired yet.

It’s now over a decade since his aborted departure and Fergie cannot of course, go on forever. Unlike 10 years ago, it’s fair to assume that the gap between the announcement and timing of his farewell will be brutally swift this time out – and we’ll have a pre-ordered replacement waiting in the wings as opposed to embarking on a public game of kiss chase. One would hope that discussions are already underway, knowing as we do that the man himself has met with both Mourinho and Guardiola in recent weeks. It would surely come as a major surprise to learn that one or the other hasn’t already been sounded out re: future plans and their thoughts on taking over at United.

Of course this is all speculation and there remains the very the distinct possibility that he’ll stay on beyond next summer – but I’m not going to be surprised if this proves to be Fergie’s final season. Following his health scare in the summer, remember that another of his supposed cronies, Dave Whelan let slip (or was misquoted…whatever) to ESPN, “after next season, Sir Alex will call it a day.” The volte-face of the Van Persie signing (a premium price paid for an ‘over-age’ player) was a clear relaxation of the previously employed transfer policy, and smacked of a ‘shackles-off’ attempt to sign off on a high. Perhaps most tellingly of all, and at the risk of sounding unkind, at times he really hasn’t looked well in recent months.

As things stand now, there could well be managerial vacancies at each of the top four clubs at the end of the season. Roberto ‘one twitch away from a straightjacket’ Mancini’s position remains as perilous as ever – given City’s failure in Europe, even repeat Premier League success may not be enough to save him this time out. Wenger’s job has always been secure enough, but murmurs of discontent at Arsenal are growing louder by the week. Meanwhile at Chelsea, our old friend Rafa Benitez will be doing well to survive beyond Christmas given the catastrofuck of a start he’s enjoyed.

Once it occurs then, the announcement of Ferguson’s retirement may well kick start a seismic series of managerial manoeuvres. Given the modus operandi at Chelsea, its difficult to see what appeal lies there (beyond a bottomless pit of money) for Mou or Pep, namely due to the fact the club operates on the whims of a perma-dissatisfied, billionaire control freak. It’s become clear that Abramovich will never be truly content until he abandons the pretence of employing a stooge to carry out his wishes, and instead takes on the gig himself full-time.

City meanwhile, in true City fashion, are almost certain to sit tight whilst attempting to second-guess United’s next move… before no-doubt offering double the salary to our preferred candidate. Whatever noises they make about Mancini’s job security, they would surely be ecstatic to appoint Mourinho or Guardiola next summer, either would do – and even better if their man appeared to snub United prior to being appointed.

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Despite not being able to offer the biggest wedge in transfer kitty terms, one senses that United would be the preferred next stop for both Iberian kings-in-waiting. There’s the prestige of the job, the history, the tradition…and despite what we feel about the Glazers, there’s little evidence to suggest major board-level interference in the day-to-day running of the place. Given the daily politicking behind the scenes at other big clubs at home and abroad, United must appear blissfully stable in comparison – as stable as you can be whilst owing £400M to various creditors, anyway.

As well as the two current front runners of Mourinho and Guardiola, David Moyes remains well placed. Despite not being quite sure why though, the thought of him at OT just makes me think ‘Dave Sexton’ – not that I’m craving a Big Ron-style showman who’ll deliver ‘antics’ on cue (nailed on if we went down the Maureen route), but he just strikes me as a man who’s already found his level. I know he’s done well at Everton but is it enough to take on the United job having merely ‘done well’? Surely we should be looking for someone who’s done ‘fucking brilliant’? Finally there’s Ole Solskjaer…or even Giggsy. Fergie could move upstairs and oversee things whilst they do a Wilf McGuiness – hopefully with better results and without suffering early onset alopecia, of course.

Merry Christmas all.

Copyright Red News – December 2012

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