Tag Archives: ole gunnar solskjaer

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 bullshit 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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Something/Anything?

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Here we are again. Alongside the erratic form that has become the team’s hallmark in recent years, its ability to nosedive into a crisis every couple of months has become a constant. On the one hand, in recent weeks we’ve cruised to victory against Newcastle and Norwich and progressed in the FA Cup. More tellingly, we’ve been soundly beaten by Liverpool, City and Arsenal before the latest nadir of losing to Burnley at home. That win at the Etihad seems a long, long time ago now.

In the not too distant past, defeat to 3 rivals in a calendar month would have triggered a major inquest. These days it barely registers. It speaks volumes as to how far expectations have sunk that defeats are greeted with a weak smile from the manager and a shrug of the shoulders from everyone else. There’s no point blaming Solskjaer for the state we’re in, but his post-match interviews are now unwatchable.

Ole’s dogged determination to sprinkle sequins on dogshit seems to be working though. I’ve never known a time during my football watching life where in the aftermath of a trip to Anfield, some people you speak to seem almost enthused by a 0-2 defeat. “At least we had a go 2nd half.” Yeah, at least we had a go.

It appears we’ve made a similarly forlorn attempt at bringing in much-needed reinforcements during the transfer window. I don’t know what it is about this club, but whatever the internal process is for getting deals done seems to make an already tricky process even more convoluted. As per usual, strategy and long-term planning are unfathomably inconsistent. Back in August the club were briefing the usual suspects how they were irritated by the Fernandes rumours and simply weren’t interested. 6 months later, after his price has skyrocketed, United are suddenly all over him.

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This leaves you with the impression that the club’s recently overhauled system of player recruitment still isn’t fit for purpose. A global network of 52 scouts, football development staff, a chief negotiator… yet successive windows come and go with the same end result. For all Woodward’s bluster in explaining his bold new vision during the recent UWS interview, it still feels like United are highly dysfunctional in this area. We deliberate too long, there are regular about-turns on priority targets and there’s little evidence of a long-term vision barring the painfully simplistic ‘try to buy young and cheap’.

For the last 6 months we’ve heard Ole acknowledge the fact we need strengthening several times, yet another transfer window has passed without any noticeable improvement to the squad’s overall quality. The club keep making noises that a re-build is in progress, but I don’t sense any urgency or desire to make the key acquisitions we’re crying out for.

It was obvious last season that our main problem was the midfield yet we spent all summer pursuing another central defender. The January window arrives and negotiations for Fernandes commence. If they broke down because Sporting hiked the price unreasonably, why didn’t United simply move onto the next choice target? Instead we retreat, sit on our hands and wait for the charade to begin again in June.

At some point, the penny might drop that much of United’s activity during these transfer windows amounts to little more than posturing. The proposed re-build doesn’t have to take years. Clubs aren’t limited to 1-2 signings during each transfer window. If there was a genuine determination to improve the team, there’s little doubt the process could be accelerated. Just because Sanchez was a disaster, it doesn’t mean every future piece of business completed in January would be similarly cursed. You can only assume that contrary to what the club likes to project, funds aren’t being made available for players that we desperately need.

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I guess it all comes down to priorities. Whilst the playing squad is crying out for reinforcement, the club have instead taken on Neil Ashton (ex-The Sun) in a PR role. Rather than keeping this on the down-low, Ashton announced he was set to work for United on live television as he signed off from chairing Sky’s Sunday Supplement. It’s absolutely laughable. Within days, nonsense puff pieces starting appearing all over the shop. ‘Ed’s doing a good job ‘cos the share price is booming’, ‘United to beef-up scouting efforts’ etc, etc. None of this guff will placate the perma-sceptical fanbase so presumably it’s a vain attempt at reassuring potential sponsors all is well. Priorities.

You know things are getting really bad when stalwarts like Ashley Young are jumping  ship, rejecting a 12 month extension for the chance to join up with Lukaku and Sanchez at Inter. I could join in with the misty-eyed, hypocrites praising his commitment and professionalism at this point but that’s no fun, is it? I never liked him and I’d be a liar if I started pretending otherwise. That stupid thing he does raising both hands before every shit corner annoyed me as much as Valencia standing still with the ball at his feet when facing an opposition full-back. He stayed 7 years too long and I feel genuinely enthused by the fact he’s gone.

In case you hadn’t noticed, the level of toxicity surrounding the club is growing by the week. Audible dissent has been heard at OT for the first time since the Green & Gold days and the always tetchy social media crowd continue to fling vitriol around with wild abandon. This is not exactly a new development of course, they’re always on the verge of a fresh meltdown, but each poor result increases the bile a few more notches.

The latest bone of contention was talk of organising a mass walkout during today’s Wolves game, somewhat crassly planned for the 58th minute. Having seriously considered the idea for a few moments, I reached the conclusion that it just wouldn’t work. Even if 15,000 leave the ground, that’s 60,000 still sat there singing ‘You are my Solskjaer’ in implicit approval of what they’re watching. End result is we’d be doing Ashton’s job for him.

Finally, in case you missed it, Red Issue’s former Ed came out of semi-retirement last month and unleashed, via twitter, a scathing expose of the parasitic fancam clowns who have attached themselves to the club in recent times. It was quite something and a timely reminder of how they’re still sadly missed in United fanzine circles. You were left marvelling, as ever, at both the forensic research carried out and the sheer level of invective they specialise in. We can all try, but nobody calls out bullshit better.

Copyright Red News – February 2020

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