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The Second Coming


Even if the return of Ronaldo doesn’t prove to be a resounding success, the day of his re-signing will always be a memorable one. Personally speaking, I’d spent the preceding 72 hours doing my best to convince myself that I wasn’t bothered about his seemingly inevitable move to City. He’s 36, he’s obsessed with winning and he represents the exact opposite of United’s delayed gratification strategy of recruiting young players who’ll hopefully pay dividends in years to come. It made perfect sense for Ronaldo to go to City now, so there was no point getting wound up about it.

Instead, that fateful Thursday was absolutely brilliant. By lunchtime, those of us who keep half an eye on twitter at all times knew exactly what was occurring. It was a classic throwback to stealthy transfer deals of the past as the story quickly accelerated and it became clear he was heading back to OT. The fact City fans had spent the previous few days gleefully trumpeting his imminent arrival made it sweeter still. This was a classic triumvirate of shock, excitement and schadenfreude that rivalled Cantona’s signing in 1992. It all made for a gloriously entertaining afternoon in work as the story unfolded.

As the dust settles on the move, it looks like a masterstroke on face value. Shirt sales have increased, social media engagement numbers are through the roof and there’s no doubt Old Trafford is buzzing. In simple terms, watching Ronaldo patrol opposition penalty areas holds far more appeal than the prospect of Anthony Martial skulking around aimlessly for the next 2 years. Nevertheless, I can’t quite shake the feeling that something is off here. Was this signing motivated by a desire to improve the team or was it an attempt to quash dissent amongst the more fickle elements of the club’s fanbase?

I’d hazard a guess that most people reading this will be a little too invested in anti-Glazer sentiment to be silenced by the re-appearance of Ronaldo. The return of a beloved former player changes little. For many though, it appears the opposite is true. We shouldn’t underestimate how the scenes witnessed at the end of last season will have reverberated around the club’s corporate headquarters and prompted a major re-think. Despite hasty promises to engage with supporters, little has materialised beyond £3 bottles of Carling and some headline-generating player acquisitions. 

I don’t think the club are even attempting to get the likes of you or I onside at this point. The hasty addition of Ronaldo appears to be aimed squarely at the influencer/fancam crowd who for a brief moment put on-field matters to one side and got a little bit political. Instead of debating Martial or Rashford, suddenly they were all adorned in Green and Gold, fully-focused on the cancerous ownership that continues to siphon millions out of the club’s coffers. What better way to banish a growing air of mutiny and revolution than to deliver a smiling Cristiano back to his spiritual home for a victory lap. 

The club know how important it is to keep the influencer crowd onside. The numbers they engage with, particularly overseas, are unfathomably huge. The individuals themselves might lack credibility, they might not even be United supporters in certain cases, but they command a greater audience than most broadsheet journalists could ever dream of. It’s why they get press credentials and access to players, it’s why they’re seen on TV supposedly presenting the view of time-served United fans. They’re idiots, but they’re idiots with a lot of clout. They’re the main reason the club decided to bring Ronnie “home” at this precise point in time. 

I don’t believe for a minute that anyone at the club began the summer with any intention of re-signing Ronaldo. If he’d have been heading for PSG rather than across town, do you think United would have made any overtures towards Mendes? I very much doubt it. Solskjaer appeared to suggest that the club had looked at the prospect of re-signing the player numerous times in the dozen years since he left. Again, this doesn’t really ring true. Why was there no attempt to re-sign him in 2018 when he left Madrid? I guess United were too focused on securing the priority signatures of Fred, Dalot and Lee Grant instead. Of course they were. 

Ignoring Cristiano’s undoubted talents, once the decision was taken to retain Cavani for a further season, the last area of the squad that needed strengthening was up front. I know that Ronaldo offers guaranteed goals compared to the other contenders vying for a starting position, but it still seems frivolous to bring him in at the expense of a much-needed holding midfielder. Since Solskjaer took over, we’ve seen a dramatic improvement in acquisitions and squad development. Don’t get me wrong, of course it’s exciting and it may well turn out to be a roaring success. I’m just extremely sceptical of the rationale behind it; it seems a complete reversal of any long-term strategy the club had in place. 

Predictably, rather than continuing to exert pressure on the Glazers, the focus of the YouTube contingent has shifted wholesale to Ronaldo. The Green & Gold being sported in May has been replaced with brand new replica shirts and any lingering frustrations are being directed towards the manager. The club probably exceeded their summer budget in securing Ronnie for the next 2 years, but given how the deal has extinguished all audible protest, clearly it’s money well spent. United’s legions of impressionable overseas fans have a new idol to post about and everyone is happy again. 

It’s all about the clicks these days and Ronaldo guarantees millions of these. The club’s twitter account announced the deal on at least 5 separate occasions in the space of 3 weeks, to the point it was getting embarrassing. It’s that weird FIFA-inspired phenomenon where certain players have become greater commodities than clubs themselves. This is the audience that the club is attempting to court here, the type of fan who measures success in terms of big name signings and memeable reveals. We see it constantly with Pogba and Martial, it doesn’t matter how execrable the performance, there’s always a legion of online cultists to defend their chosen one and pour scorn on anyone pointing out obvious failings. 

I appreciate that in raising these concerns, I may appear incredibly old and boring. That’s undoubtedly true. Perhaps I should place my brain in a jar and just go with it. Ronnie might go on to enjoy a miraculous Van Persie-style perfect season and inspire an unlikely title charge but I very much doubt it given the paucity of midfield options behind him. More likely, I’d suggest that when the novelty wears off we’ll start to see the deal for what it really is – a crowd-pleasing marketing tool designed to placate a justifiably angry fanbase. Viva Ronaldo, sure – though I suspect we might be the ones getting played here.

Copyright Red News – September 2021

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It’s Been A Long Time

Unless there’s been another government U-turn in recent days, there’s a reasonable  chance you might be reading this sat in your seat at OT. Imagine that, eh? Walking to the ground, buying the mag, reading it pre-match, or going home on the tram, the bog at work… whatever. It’s been quite a while, hasn’t it? So before we start I’d like to echo the Editor’s sentiments by thanking everyone for their continued support and for helping to keep Red News going over the last 18 months. 

You probably don’t need telling that most people get their United-related content in a different format these days. Indeed, many consider printed fanzines to be relics from a bygone age. Personally speaking, whilst acknowledging there’s room for the vlogger crowd in the United stratosphere, what they offer simply isn’t for me. I can see the comic potential of an ex-copper doing a passable Alan Partridge impersonation live from his spare bedroom, but I honestly don’t care what him and his contemporaries think about the club. It makes me happy that we’re able to offer a more authentic voice and that there’s still an audience prepared to put their hand in their pocket and support it. 

Perhaps stung by the protests back in May, United quickly burst into action this summer keen to get essential improvements boxed off early. Whereas previous transfer windows were dogged by lengthy negotiations dragging on for weeks, in late June we woke up to the bombshell news that the ground was receiving a coat of paint. I’m not certain if the contractors used premium Dulux Weathershield or a standard All-Surface Paint and Primer, but nevertheless, it was good to see the Glazers come out answering their critics with a such a bold statement of intent. The leaking roof can wait until next year, presumably. 

To no-one’s great surprise, we also signed Jadon Sancho. It was difficult to get too giddy about this given we all knew it was happening since the process had been ongoing for over a year. The more enticing prospect is Raphael Varane, a freshly minted transfer saga that carries all the hallmarks of a fruitless pursuit that will ultimately lead to him signing a new contract with Madrid. I really want to believe that this one could happen, but I refuse to get excited despite widespread talk of a deal being close. It just seems too good to be true. Excuse the cynicism but we’ve been here before, haven’t we?   

With United being United, we’ve probably got several more weeks of speculation and rumour to endure before it’s possible to assess whether it’s been a successful window or not. Whatever happens, it’s unlikely that we’ll see the changes necessary to mount a serious title challenge this season. Things have improved over the last 12 months, but it’s progression at a glacial pace. Gdańsk showed that we still lack that certain something at key moments in big games. That trophy was there to be won, but in all honesty, Ole fluffed his lines. 

Gdańsk felt like one of those defining moments where we simply had to win. It was a big stage and when Ole needed to be bold and decisive, instead he sat on his hands. Villarreal were a spent force after an hour and the game was there for the taking. He dithered over his substitutions, leaving Rashford on the pitch despite his atrocious performance, mindful of penalties when there was still over an hour of football to be played. For someone reputedly well-versed in the attacking traditions of the club, it seemed a curiously over-cautious strategy against opponents who were clinging on for dear life. 

Don’t get me wrong, I do believe that Solskjaer deserves at least another season in charge but what I don’t understand is the decision to award him a new contact now. What specifically has he done to merit that? Surely the prudent approach would be to see how this season pans out first? We’re going to look pretty stupid if United go on to have one of those 3 month cycles where everything turns to shit and they’re sat mid-table at Christmas. The same simpletons lauding “My Manager” now would be squealing for him to be sacked then.

If I was somewhat perplexed by Solskjaer’s new contract, that’s nothing compared to my confusion about the club’s decision to offer Paul Pogba a pay rise. Whichever way I look at this, it just does not compute. Pogba has been back at the club for 5 years now and honestly, how many good games has he had? 10 maybe, tops. 15 if you’re being really kind. If his lordship appeared remotely arsed about playing for United I would try to suspend my disbelief and focus on the advantages in keeping him here, but his utter disdain for the club couldn’t be more apparent. 

We all know his ultimate goal was always Real Madrid, but since COVID and other factors have screwed everyone’s budgets barring City and PSG, that ain’t happening. If him and his agent had any shred of decency he’d happily re-sign with the understanding that as soon as a mutually satisfactory offer arrives – perhaps next year, when normality resumes – he’ll be on his way. Absolutely no chance of that. Instead, it looks like he’ll leave for a cut-price fee this summer or more likely, we’ll have another year of him turning up when he feels like it featuring a prolonged 2 month stint in Dubai over winter, recovering from some mystery ailment that’s untreatable at Carrington. Then he’ll walk away for free, trousering a gargantuan signing on fee and leaving United with precisely zip. Again. 

You couldn’t wish for a tastier first game back at a full capacity OT than Leeds United. Younger readers might not appreciate how ‘lively’ this fixture was back in the 90’s. You always ran the gauntlet at Elland Road and it was a similar story whenever they came here. The first time they turned up after winning promotion in 1990 was particularly memorable as it resulted in the most sustained fighting I’ve ever seen inside OT. Indeed, even my usually placid old man got ejected that day after he suffered a 1970’s Red Army flashback right before my eyes. 

I don’t think either club realised the level of hatred on both sides as I’m pretty certain it was pay-on-the-gate that day. A few hundred of them were dotted round the ground and predictably, they all went up when Sterland equalised which led to it kicking off all over the place. The widespread scrapping took the police and stewards completely by surprise and it was a good 10 minutes before anything like order was restored. Needless to say, every game after that was all-ticket and OT hasn’t seen anything quite like it since. 

Copyright Red News – August 2021

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Let’s Gdańsk

For most of us, watching football was very much a social activity before it became a solitary pursuit once lockdown was imposed in March last year. After Roma were despatched in the semis, the realisation hit that with pubs opening up again, it might present the opportunity to watch the final together with a few match-going pals – a nice little reunion of sorts. It was only when proposing this to one of my group that he mentioned United might be getting a limited allocation for the game and flying to Poland could be a possibility – the thought hadn’t even occurred to me previously. 

Over the next few days, the logistics of any proposed trip became clear. Since Poland was on the Amber list, PCR tests would be required before and after travelling as well as a 10 day quarantine period upon return. Obviously this was going to be a massive ball-ache, but the illogical part of my brain was now fully intent on going. It was a European final after all, and these things have to be done if the opportunity exists. Funds were in place and I had plenty of annual leave to take from work, so let’s have it. 

The only real concern was whether I’d be successful in the ballot with minimal credits, since United were only due to receive 2000 tickets. Unsurprisingly, the prohibitive cost of tests and quarantine had put many regular travellers off so I ended up getting lucky. A couple of mates were assured tickets due to having a million credits and we were good to go. All that remained was to book flights, decipher exactly what paperwork was required to get out and back into the country and to stock the fridge for quarantining once I was back. 

Match day arrived and it was a brutally early 3am start at an otherwise deserted Manchester Airport. The flight over was uneventful and after minimal queues checking COVID documentation on arrival, it was a half hour bus ride into the centre of Gdańsk. What a lovely place the Old Town was too. After 5 minutes wandering round you couldn’t help be impressed with the architecture and how picturesque it was. However, being English we weren’t there for sightseeing and culture. Our plan was to find an Irish bar so we could spend the day getting shitfaced on industrial strength lager whilst screaming obscenities at any passing locals. 

Of course it wasn’t… although having been up for hours already we were in desperate need of refreshments at this point. It didn’t take long to find a decent bar and it was a surprise to discover that despite the COVID restrictions in place they were happily serving punters indoors. The beers were inexpensive and there was plenty of choice available for the connoisseurs in our little group. The main problem was going to be seeing the game at all as it was still 10 hours ‘til kick off and most of the ales were in 6-7% range. It promised to be a long and potentially messy day. 

At this point we bumped into a couple of my brother’s pals who’d arrived the day before. I enquired about the reported trouble from the previous night and they confirmed it was nothing to write home about. A few local hoolies had attacked a bar late on when most reds had already departed, they were swiftly despatched and that was that. For the rest of the morning we took a leisurely stroll round the Old Town, stopping off for more refreshments whenever we saw a bar that looked good. There were plenty to choose from and most were doing steady business as you’d expect. 

Whereas most of the United contingent were holed up in the pub, the streets were a sea of yellow as Villarreal fans were everywhere. It was hard not to feel chuffed for them as they all appeared ecstatic at the fact they’d made it to the final. They didn’t really bring groups of lads, there were entire families there all decked out in bright yellow. Mum, Dad and Grandad with kids in tow… all smiling and snapping photos at every opportunity. It was all very wholesome. We’re so blasé about the successes we’ve witnessed over the years, it was nice to see a set of fans experiencing this for the first time. 

As the afternoon progressed we’d pretty much seen all of the Old Town as it’s only a small place. It was time for a change of scenery so we jumped in an Uber and asked to go to the coast. We ended up just south of Sopot and only a couple of miles from the ground. We spent the next 2-3 hours sat in deckchairs at a beachside bar, still enjoying cut-price booze against the panoramic backdrop of the eerily-still Baltic Sea. A few other reds had done the same thing and it was a nice vibe there, quite a contrast to the typical pre-match build-up one encounters on a Euro away. 

As kick off drew nearer and after a solid 7 hours on the ale, food appeared to be the sensible option. There were half a dozen restaurants to choose from in the vicinity and we settled on a pizza gaff that looked alright. 3 pizzas, starters, more beers, coffee and a dessert came in at a more than reasonable €50, so we felt obliged to leave a more than generous tip. We then had a final round of G&T’s back at the beach before it was time to start thinking about making our way to the ground. 

After convincing Danny that hiring a scooter wasn’t the best idea considering he’d been drinking since 10am, we set off walking. 20 minutes later the Polsat Plus Arena loomed into view – think Allianz Arena from the outside except in an unpleasant shade of yellow. From the direction we were approaching there was literally no one else around. The game was kicking off in half an hour yet you would have had no idea anything was happening other than the fact there was a helicopter buzzing around in the distance. 

After getting masked up and negotiating the electronic ticket checks, we were in. The ground was absolutely quality inside, a proper 21st century stadium that again highlighted how tired OT looks in comparison now. The atmosphere pre-game was good too considering the reduced capacity. It was weird having so many empty seats but there was plenty of noise from the reds in attendance – you couldn’t really hear Villarreal at the other end of the ground. 

I’m not going to talk about the match because I’m sure that’ll be covered in detail elsewhere. But as midnight approached everyone trooped out feeling a bit dejected given how everything turned out. It wasn’t the first time the actual match turned out to be the low-point of a European trip and I’m sure it won’t be the last. We headed back to the buses and started the long journey home. I ended up back in the house at 5.30am, a mere 27 hours after starting out. Belting day out, shit result. Was it worth all the hassle? Yeah, of course it was. 

Copyright Red News – August 2021

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