Tag Archives: ole gunnar solskjaer

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

rednews.bigcartel.com

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

rednews.bigcartel.com

Shortly After Takeoff

The relentless schedule and lack of crowds has stripped football down to its base components. Even Sky and BT seem to have twigged there’s little point in hyping fixtures played in front of empty stadiums. Each game fades from memory within hours and focus immediately shifts to the next one. The Premier League currently resembles those Guinness Soccer Six tournaments that existed back in the 80’s. It’s knockabout, exhibition match fun devoid of any real credibility. 

We’re now fast approaching 12 months since the first national lockdown. Although post-COVID football is no substitute for the real thing, it’d be churlish to deny it doesn’t possess some charm. There’s only so many box sets you can tolerate and I think we’ve all reached the stage where everything decent on Netflix has already been consumed. Watching United every 3-4 days breaks up the week nicely, even if we are viewing a slapdash, small screen adaptation of the sport. 

Like drugs, alcohol or music, football has always offered an outlet to escape the mundanities of life. The daily grind feels especially uneventful at present and football’s contribution towards keeping the nation’s sanity intact shouldn’t be underestimated. When my future grandkids enquire about my memories of living through a global pandemic, I won’t paint a bleak picture of government incompetence, social isolation and heavy drinking. Instead, I will look them in the eye and fondly recall Liverpool’s non-event of a title win and Bruno Fernandes scoring an extraordinary number of penalties. 

The chaotic timetabling and lack of preparation time have actually had a positive impact on football to some extent. Recent seasons have seen City and Liverpool rack up gargantuan points totals that have obliterated any pretence of competition. It’s not necessarily their fault of course, the entire point is to win as many games as possible. It just feels a bit demoralising when the top sides have lapped everyone else when the league is barely past its half-way stage. This season has been the recipient of a welcome dose of the unpredictable to help enliven proceedings. 

Aside from a drubbing at Villa, Liverpool started the season in much the same form as they ended the last. Before Christmas it appeared another title win was on the cards given the rate at which everyone else was dropping points. The subsequent implosion that occurred was as sudden as it was spectacular. How do you get from being undefeated at home for 4 years to losing 4 on the bounce? Christ, even Everton have got in on the act. It’s truly the worst title defence since Blackburn Rovers. Sadly, it remains unlikely that relegation will follow. 

As Liverpool’s great unravelling occurred something equally unexpected happened. Yes lads, Manchester United went top of the Premier League table. For 2 glorious weeks we were even being referred to as (no, don’t laugh) title contenders. Unfortunately, hitting such giddy heights afflicted the team with a devastating outbreak of altitude sickness. This was cured via a spellbinding run of 6 points from the next 15 available, leaving us in the all too familiar position of being 10 points off the lead with Pogba on sabbatical again. Oh well, it was nice while it lasted. 

Despite the best efforts of the Portuguese magnifico, issues persist within the team that have been evident for a long time. There’s still a desperate need for a commanding centre half. Lindelof gets bullied too easily and whilst Bailly looks decent alongside Maguire, he can’t be relied upon due to his woeful injury record. The right hand side remains as problematic as ever. Wan Bissaka has clearly been encouraged to develop the attacking part of his game but his crossing ability remains haphazard at best. For the most part he’s adopted the Antonio Valencia maxim of ‘when in doubt, smash it as hard as you can’.

Despite those longstanding gripes, I can’t help feeling that the main thing that scuppered any chance of maintaining a serious title challenge has been a lack of goals. And yes, that’s despite United being the league’s leading scorers at this point. If the squad had a proper goalscorer at its disposal (I’m not counting the 34 year old Cavani) there’s every chance we’d still be right up there. Rashford has made an solid contribution operating from the left mainly, but we’re so over-reliant on Bruno to deliver at key moments it’s ridiculous. 

There was a short period last year where the penny seemed to have dropped with Anthony Martial. For a first time in his stop-start United career he appeared to have added some consistency to his game, adding scruffy goals to his repertoire and doing a good impression of looking sharp and focused. It didn’t last, sadly. This season he’s looked a shadow of that player. The perpetual frown is back and a goals tally of 4 in 20 league games for a Manchester United No.9 is obviously nowhere near good enough. 

All strikers can endure a barren spell, but Martial seems to suffer a full-blown existential crisis every 6 months. Ole only ever has positive things to say about ‘Anto’, but surely he must have his doubts after witnessing his centre forward strolling round and looking bored shitless for months? I’m no body language expert but I honestly can’t think of anyone who’s ever looked less enthused at the prospect of playing up front for United. Perhaps I shouldn’t be so judgemental here. I mean, it’s doubtful my work colleagues would describe me as the life and soul of the office either. 

It’s easy to forget the mess that Solskjaer inherited when he took over. Whether he remains the board’s preferred choice or not, he’s done well to slowly construct this squad and nudge it in the right direction. Despite the regular setbacks, United have been entertaining to watch for much of the season. Indeed, the biggest compliment I can pay Ole is that watching games no longer feels like a chore. The dark days of Van Gaal and Mourinho, characterised by terrible signings and no coherent long-term plan appear to be behind us finally. 

Due to City selfishly embarking on a marathon winning streak, any prospect of silverware this season looks to be confined to either the FA Cup or the Europa League. One suspects that if Solskjaer is going to remain in the job for the next few years, he quickly needs to demonstrate the ability to guide his players beyond semi-finals. Now would be the perfect time to back up evidence of progress with a trophy, strengthening both his credentials for the role and the belief he’s capable of leading the team to even greater heights.

Copyright Red News – March 2021

rednews.bigcartel.com