Tag Archives: paul pogba

Ball of Confusion

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Firstly, I’d better explain that this was written in the aftermath of Barcelona at home, so in case there was a repeat of the le miracle de Paris during the return leg, I’ll apologise now for not being psychic. As it is, I’m left to comment on what transpired at OT the other night and as you can probably guess, I wasn’t exactly blown away by the performance served up.

The night started with my old man accusing me of being ‘miserable’ because I expressly stated during our journey to the ground that I wasn’t particularly enthused by the prospect of seeing Messi again. My Dad loves football. As well as supporting United for 50+ years he’s got a genuine affinity with Celtic and Barca too. Whereas me on the other hand, I actively dislike any football team that isn’t Manchester United.

Why would I feel excited about seeing Messi again when I’ve already seen him play a handful of times including 2 x European Cup finals when he’s made us look like rank amateurs? I know he’s an all-time great who’s racked up 900+ career goals against Osasuna and Levante, but I would honestly rather he were out injured as I’m completely sick of the sight of him in a ‘versus MUFC’ context.

In the days preceding the game there were numerous clips floating about of the meeting with Barcelona back in 1984, when the 58,000 packed inside Old Trafford witnessed one of the greatest nights in the club’s history. As well as marvelling at the fact this game took place a full 35 years ago, I was left pondering the extent to which genuine big European nights have changed during that period.

We all know the atmosphere is routinely crap these days, but previously I consoled myself that OT could still rouse itself when the occasion demanded it. Sadly, Wednesday night confirmed the fact we just can’t do it anymore – regardless of who the opposition is. I know our current team isn’t the greatest but this was still a European Cup QF at home to Barcelona and the ground should have been rocking.

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Being totally honest now, the atmosphere was pretty dire. I’m not comparing it to that night back in ‘84 alone as that would be a ridiculously unfair comparison. We’ve had so many memorable days and nights during those intervening years, but I’m struggling to recall the last time the ground crackled with excitement and the noise generated meant your ears were still ringing the next day. Sadly, such occasions have gone for good now, they really have. We were privileged to have been around when Old Trafford was something special.

Watching the opposition dominate possession has become routine over the last few years. After taking an early lead, unlike PSG or Juventus, Barca didn’t attempt to rub our noses in it and instead seemed content with stopping us scoring. Not too onerous a task when considering we’d managed just a solitary goal in the 4 previous Champions League home games this season. Watching Barca keep the ball with zero fuss and routine efficiency demonstrated just how far United are from their level. Half of our players are utterly terrified of the ball and we were incapable of stringing 3 passes together for much of the evening.

Pogba, once again, was absolutely appalling and failed to make any impression whatsoever. Despite Solskjaer’s hopes of keeping this prize bellend onside and building a team around him, it would make far more sense to take whatever money is offered for him this summer. Unfortunately, my guess is that there’ll be no firm enquiries from either Madrid or Barca because neither are daft enough to spend £100M+ on a very average midfielder who delivers so little so consistently. If you think I’m being overly harsh then more fool you. Phil Neville was a more consistent big-game, midfield performer than this clown.

‘His excellency’ was merely anonymous, however. The most inept performance award yet again went to Ashley Young, who’s fast using up any goodwill he’s earned with his wholehearted yet typically underwhelming stint at fullback over the last few years. I’m so bored of watching Young toil away, squandering possession week after week after week. He’s now reached that same stage in his career where Gary Neville realised his time was up and promptly retired with credibility still intact. The penny hasn’t dropped with either Young or the United hierarchy, unfortunately. Christ knows why he’s been given a new contract because it’s only going to get even more embarrassing for all concerned from this point.

After 4 defeats in the last 5 games, the one positive bit of news this week was that Ander Herrera could be leaving at the end of the season. We might have worse players on the books but if the club don’t cave and reward a 29 year old with a 4 year, 200K per week deal then that’s a step in the right direction as far as I’m concerned. He’s nothing special and he never has been. Shipping him out as well as a few more of the 6/10 crew would make for a very positive summer’s business.

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Still, all the usual gripes aside, we’re still in the game and we go to the Nou Camp with an outside chance of causing an upset. Stranger things have happened already this season as we’ve come away from both Turin and Paris with very unlikely victories having been given the run-around at Old Trafford. Surely it can’t happen again? Probably not, but I’ll be keeping everything crossed hoping for another freakish thunderbolt of divine intervention.

Leeds look like they’re getting promoted, City are set to win a domestic treble at the very least… and if they don’t then Liverpool will win the title. Both Liverpool and City are very well placed to reach the Champions League semi-finals. There’s a head-wrecking set of variables in place here that are pointing towards a testing next few weeks followed by a potentially horrific summer. It’s probably too late but we need to try and stop the unthinkable happening.

Help us, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. You’re our only hope.

Copyright Red News – April 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

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All Change

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And just like that, he was gone. The fact Mourinho lasted as long as he did this season is quite remarkable considering he seemed to make his mind up he was leaving back in August. He knew it was coming, the players knew it and we all knew it too. The last few months were an absolute disaster. The poor results racked up and Woodward eventually had no option but to pull the trigger. No complaints at all there – it was an entirely correct decision. 

I’ll always like Jose for many of the reasons people despise him. He radiates an overpowering sense of boredom and intrinsic distaste of modern football and footballers that I find completely relatable. He appeared to detest many of our players for exactly the same reasons I do. The problem is, it’s okay for me to feel like that as I’m an anonymous, middle-aged fanzine writer who will happily admit to feeling completely underwhelmed by football in 2019. However, it becomes a bit of an issue when your club manager is gripped by the same sense of ennui and withering distaste for everything and everybody connected with the game. 

I hope Mourinho takes a break now, a very long break. I know he messed up hugely at United and was the chief architect in his own downfall, yet I’d still side with him over the players he found himself at war with. The main problem (in my opinion anyway) was that he was completely unable to wipe the slate clean when he should have arrived here refreshed and ready for a new start. Jose can’t let the past go. He had all his baggage out on display and like a recent divorcee rushing into a rebound relationship, previous experiences tainted his decision making. He’s a bitter man who’s at war with himself as well as the world in general. I wish him well, the miserable bastard. 

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Enter Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, all-round United hero and possibly the nicest man in football. Within a matter of milliseconds, everyone was partying like it was 1999 as there was actual, watchable football being played. It appears it really was that simple and contrary to popular opinion, Woodward is very possibly a football genius. Seriously though, despite a simple run of games prior to grinding out victory against Spurs last Sunday, Ole has clearly had a positive effect on the team’s mindset and 6 wins out of 6 speaks for itself. There’s a long, long way to go before we can confidently say things have turned around but it’s been a really encouraging start.

Unfortunately I have to lower the tone at this point by passing comment on Mr Pogba’s recent conduct. Not content with making a complete tit of himself by smugly revelling in Mourinho’s departure all over his social media accounts, he then decides to rouse himself and start playing like an absolute world-beater at the precise moment Jose left the building. So is he taking the piss? Answer: Yes, he clearly is. It might just be me that’s taken major umbrage here, but Pogba dancing round the pitch after scoring against Bournemouth looked every bit as inappropriate as a Tory MP grinning for the cameras after opening a food bank. 

Paul lad, you really just need to get your head down and play now. Not just when you fancy it, how about every week regardless of who’s in charge of picking the team and deciding tactics? Right now, you still owe us big time for doing precisely nothing to help the cause over the last few months. Do us all a favour, eh? Drop the incessant posturing and just try and play to the best of your abilities every single game. We really would appreciate it. 

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Needless to say, it’s going to take a lot more than a handful of goals and a couple of defence-splitting passes for Pogba to redeem himself in my eyes. What happens the next time he has a crossed word with Solskjaer or any future manager who neglects to massage his ego momentarily? Will the toys be thrown back out of the pram or was that 4 month sabbatical he took exclusively reserved for Mourinho? I’m just not buying it, lads. The guy’s a clown and Fergie had him sussed out years ago.

I don’t really need to point out that this horrific season has been compounded by the fact that Liverpool are currently odds-on favourites to win the league. The fact we find ourselves silently willing City to overhaul them makes an already grave situation feel even more desperate. It was little more than an inconvenience when Chelsea and Arsenal were winning titles and punctuating our two decade run of success. Actively hoping City win the league to stop Liverpool feels almost depraved in comparison. What have we become?

I couldn’t quite get my head round the fact a few reds I know were able to settle down and watch City v Liverpool recently. Some wrong ‘uns on twitter actually seemed quite enamoured with the prospect. Don’t get me wrong, I’d already reconciled myself with the fact I wanted City to beat them but there’s no way I could contemplate watching. I’m not being all top red about it but sitting through that would have felt uncomfortably voyeuristic. I’d rather keep my head down and brace myself for the consequences should the unthinkable happen. 

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Continuing on the same theme, a few deluded souls appeared to take some solace from the fact Wolves subsequently knocked the scousers out of the cup. Personally, I’m struggling to see how that was a good thing at all. Klopp isn’t is daft as he acts and he knows they’ve got a smallish squad. Fending off City is going to be tough so any free weekend will prove a blessing as the season progresses. Make no bones about it, Liverpool losing that game was completely by design. Of course he’ll look silly if City eventually overhaul them and they finish potless again, but if they end up winning the title it’ll be rightly be seen as a genius move. God forbid it actually happens. 

Copyright Red News – January 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

Gods and Monsters

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Season’s greetings, readers. The good news is that Christmas is fast approaching, whilst the bad news is United are in action more frequently over the next month or so. At least a few days off work means the opportunity exists to try and blot this out via excessive drinking and/or drug use. It’s the only sensible option now, surely? You’ve got to be some kind of masochist to be deriving any enjoyment from our football whilst sober. It’s got that bad I’ve marked next year’s international breaks on the calendar. Although once upon a time regarded as a nuisance, they now provide a welcome respite from the drudgery of watching United every week.  

The Palace and Young Boys games last month saw us reach that rarefied level of mediocrity not witnessed since the winter of discontent during Van Gaal’s final season. Some older heads compared the general mood to May 1989 when barely 20,000 turned up at OT to watch dead rubber, end-of-season snoozathons versus Wimbledon and Everton. We’ll get better in time, there’s no doubt about that. But these are dog days, my friends. The general malaise on the pitch is spreading to the stands and Old Trafford is getting emptier by the week. We’re bad at the moment, really bad. 

You know exactly how grim things are when you’re receiving texts off mates informing you that they’ve stuck a tenner on 0-0 at 18/1 and your reaction is “good value”. And that’s against Young Boys, remember… comfortably one of the worst teams we’ve faced in Europe over the last 20 years. That’s the extent to which the level of expectation has now sunk; people are turning up/tuning in and fully expecting not to be entertained. You know things aren’t going well when the manager is celebrating goals by smashing up water bottles at the side of the pitch. And the bet? He cashed out with 10 minutes to go for an easy £100. 

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The usual ‘hooray for everything’ twitter lunatics were ecstatic of course. Yes, qualification for the knockout stages was achieved, but an injury time Fellaini winner shouldn’t shift attention away from the dismal 90 minutes that preceded it. This wasn’t the team misfiring or having an off-night, it was a textbook example of our current performance level. We’ve been absolutely appalling all season. 7th position in the league and 16 points behind the leaders flatters us quite frankly. The fact we’ve qualified from the CL group stages with a game to spare is a minor miracle. 

Looking at the team, it’s hard to see any positive signs that improvement is likely over the next few months. Believe me, I’m not wallowing here… this is just an honest appraisal of where we’re at. I’m sure Lukaku will start scoring goals again at some point, but he’s not suddenly going to develop into a capable footballer. Our midfield continues to underperform. Physically imposing, yes… but we’re so static and lacking any kind of creativity. Pogba is a talent, but he doesn’t have the desire or motivation to lead us up a mountain from where we’re currently stuck. We might as well cash-in as soon as anyone offers big money because his heart simply isn’t in it. 

Matic is 30 but plays like he’s 40 and Fellaini is routinely awful despite offering a late goal every 6 months. Elsewhere, non-entities like Lingard and Herrera have somehow played themselves into peoples’ affections over the last couple of years. I can see why, because they do at least seem to care, but it doesn’t change the fact that both are incredibly limited and offer no level of consistency whatsoever. I’m not having a pop at these lads personally here, but we’re destined to struggle for a long time to come if average players are going to be rewarded with 5 year contracts just because their attitude doesn’t stink. 

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As ever, our defence is an accident waiting to happen. Current (no sniggering) ‘player of the month’ is Victor Lindelof, presumably because he managed to stay fit for a handful of games (before getting injured again) and every other player in the squad performed significantly worse. After the recent bombshell news that Young and Valencia are being offered renewed terms, it seems that Chris Smalling is also in talks over a new deal. Once again, I have absolutely no idea how or why. 

Do we offer these contracts and trigger extensions under the illusion that it might pique the interest of other clubs so they’ll inexplicably rush in waving a huge cheque? I don’t understand United’s thinking here at all. If you’ve got a player who’s underperformed throughout the entirety of his previous deal, why are we insistent on tying them down to a new one? Presumably Matteo Darmian will be the next recipient; sign him up for 5 years on £100,000 a week and then watch Milan steam in with that £60M offer. 

To my mind, given his obvious limitations, United should be nudging Smalling towards the exit door rather than attempting to secure his services for another 5 seasons. We did exactly the same with Luke Shaw, who still looks nothing like the finished article despite many people having convinced themselves otherwise. To prove yourself at United these days, it appears all you need to do is turn up for training every day and fulfil any commercial obligations the club put in front of you. Luke Shaw has been here 4 and a half years now yet I can’t recall 4 and a half standout performances from him in that time. Not to worry, there’s your new contract. 

The only current player deserving any kind of increased remuneration is the goalkeeper, who despite not enjoying his greatest run of form in recent months, continues to perform at a level that puts the rest of his teammates to shame. Keeping De Gea beyond this utter shitshow of a season would be tantamount to cruelty at this point. How demoralising must it be having an ever-evolving cast of clowns playing in front of you as opposed to the solid defensive unit most top sides tend to favour? Yet here we are, dishing out new deals like confetti and rewarding year upon year of injury-prone ineptitude. Mourinho was brought in to sort out this mess but it’s honestly getting worse. 

Copyright Red News – December 2018

www.rednews.co.uk