Tag Archives: paul pogba

Things Fall Apart

I strongly suspected things would go pear-shaped sooner rather than later this season, but the speed and manner in which everything unravelled was extraordinary. Barring 45 minutes versus Leeds and half an hour against Newcastle, United have been uniformly abject since August. The notion we’d reached a new low by conceding 5 at home to Liverpool was quickly scuppered by the most decrepit Derby performance I’ve ever seen in person. For benchmarking purposes, note I was present at both the 5-1 at Maine Road and the 6-1 at Old Trafford. As far as worst ever months go, this is right up there.

Games have resembled car crashes in recent weeks. Ronaldo has managed to pull his teammates from the wreckage on a handful of occasions, but more often than not he’s been a traumatised bystander trying to make sense of the carnage in front of him. Quite what has happened to Shaw and Maguire since the Euros is inexplicable. They’ve not just suffered a drop in form, it’s been more of a plummet from several thousand feet. The level of ineptitude on display from the pair has been staggering at times, rivalling anything witnessed in the post-Ferguson era.

Sadly, Ole is done. There was no coming back from what’s happened over the last couple of months and his departure was inevitable. Functioning football clubs would have cut him loose ahead of the funeral pyre at Watford, but this is Manchester (United) and to borrow the words of Tony Wilson, “we do things differently here”. I said a couple of issues back we would regret that 3 year contract and I take no pleasure in being proved right. If I could foresee that, why couldn’t anyone with any authority at the club? Solskjaer had 12 months left on his deal and flunked his biggest test to date in Gdańsk spectacularly, yet Woodward decided the time was right to offer him a new contract. It’s mind blowing, really.

There’s no ire directed at Ole here. He made some progress in developing the squad and took things as far as he could. At times it looked like his methods were paying dividends but the next setback was always around the corner. Despite numerous encouraging signs and tantalising glimpses of consistency developing, United still resemble a collection of expensively assembled individuals as opposed to a football team. It sounds harsh, but it’s difficult to ascertain precisely what influence the coaching staff has over the players. Solskjaer clearly tried his best but ultimately, that alone was not enough.

The idea of accepting the manager was out of his depth yet still being respectful and supportive of the guy proved beyond some people, unfortunately. As the banner spotted in Bergamo correctly asserted, ‘the rot starts at the top’. Despite being fully aware of this, the risible fancam clowns continued to round on Solskjaer with each defeat leading to a fresh round of insults and oleout hashtags. Monetising the misery and inviting toxicity into what was already an embarrassing state of affairs for everyone connected with the club.

It got so bad that a sizeable proportion of the club’s younger online fanbase declared outright war on the likes of you and I. According to a large minority of twitter gobshites, matchgoers were a major contributor to United’s problems because they were guilty of actively supporting the club. There’s no room for nuance or perspective with these lads. The hardline stance they took was admirably bonkers as even wanting United to win became frowned upon. If you weren’t hurling abuse and hanging effigies of Solskjaer off the Stretford End, you were basically a Glazer collaborator. 

This isn’t a dig at all United’s overseas supporters. Plenty are knowledgeable and dedicated and have followed the club for years. That said, a large number of the idiots spouting utter drivel on social media currently are deluded if they think their opinion counts for shit. Let’s put it this way: I could quite easily declare myself a diehard fan of the Chicago Bulls tomorrow. I could buy loads of merchandise, join online forums and get up at 3am every week to watch their games. I might become quite opinionated and be able to hold my own in conversation after a while.

To be clear, my disdain for the eReds has nothing to do with age, geography or race. Football is a global sport and United are proud to boast a fanbase from all over the world. Everybody is welcome. However, cultural appropriation is a thing too. Even if I dedicated every waking hour to agonising over the fortunes of the Chicago Bulls, would I ever feel emboldened enough to lecture Illinois locals on how to support their team? Not a chance. Because no matter how hard I tried to become an authority on the intricacies of the NBA and US basketball, I’d always be some English dickhead talking out of his arse.

The precise timing of Solskjaer’s departure was irrelevant and targeting him for abuse would have served no purpose whatsoever. At some point in the coming months we’ll see Zidane, ten Hag or Rodgers appointed and that’ll signal the whole cycle beginning again. No matter who replaces Ole, he’ll inherit a similar set of problems due to the serial incompetence of key decision makers at boardroom level. Despite the supposed ‘cultural reboot’ that took place a year ago, there still appears to be a jarring disconnect between the football and commercial ambitions of the club.

This brings me back to the time-honoured tradition of slagging off Paul Pogba. I know, I’m bored of talking about him too and I sincerely hope it won’t be for much longer. Why on earth are the club still offering a new contract when he’s no longer even worthy of a starting role? The fact he’s now holed up in Dubai infinitely (again) comes as no surprise whatsoever. Imagine being so deluded that you still believe the clown will actually start delivering at some point. I have no idea what he offers the club other than the fact he’s a walking meme who’s unfathomably popular with the kind of fan who provides app downloads and endless re-tweets.

The Jesse Lingard situation highlights another case of financial negligence. After enjoying a career renaissance during his loan spell at West Ham, the player’s stock was probably at an all-time high. The club resisted a number of offers in the summer yet now face the prospect of losing him for free. Lingard was never going to start games so what was the logic in keeping him another year to sit on the bench? Is anyone accountable for these decisions at any point? Don’t even get me started on the subject of Donny van de Beek.

I guess we shouldn’t be surprised. With the club on the crest of a slump, there was media CEO Phil Lynch waxing lyrical about United’s use of fan sentiment graphs to gauge player approval rates. We’ve just shipped 7 goals at home to Liverpool and City and they’ve got analysts checking on the feelings of faceless bots and impressionable kids. Rather than racking their brains and frantically composing damage limiting tweets, the people in charge of the club’s social media would be better advised to read the room and maintain a dignified silence for a couple of weeks. Sometimes it’s better just to say nothing.  

It’s beyond them though. A few hours after Ole’s departure was announced, there was one final indignity in store as the club published a farewell interview with him looking tear-stained and utterly bereft. Hanging a club legend out on view like a discarded zoo attraction. Regardless of whether Solskjaer was a willing participant, it was a terrible idea which did nothing other than sate the appetite of any passing sadists looking for a quick thrill. It’s been said many times over the last few years, but one can’t over-emphasise the level of dysfunction that exists within this club at present. Widespread change is desperately required, irrespective of who’s sat in the dugout. 

Copyright Red News – December 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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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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