Tag Archives: ole gunnar solskjaer

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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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

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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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