Tag Archives: premier league

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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Alive and Kicking

Sometimes I sit down to write this column and it’s a struggle to hit the word count if it’s been a quiet few weeks. And then there’s occasions like this where it’s difficult to know exactly where to start. Super League, Woodward’s exit, anti-Glazer protests, European finalists… it’s no exaggeration to say the last month or so has been fairly eventful. 

The proposals for a European Super League announced back in April came as both a surprise and no surprise at all. It was always going to happen one day, it was just a matter of when exactly. What I didn’t anticipate is that the product would arrive as such a half-baked, amateurish package. Everything about it was essentially crap. The justification for it, the timing, even the logo and the site looked like they’d been knocked up in a couple of hours by some low-end web design freelancer.  

If something of this magnitude was ever going to succeed, it had to come out fully-formed and ready to roll. Instead, it turned out that the invested clubs weren’t even convinced as the whole thing had collapsed within 48 hours. The ESL arrived dead on arrival because fundamentally, it offered nothing of value to the very people it was being aimed at. They were attempting to sell an inferior product to the one that already exists. It was nothing more than an opportunistic power grab from morally bankrupt, financial leeches who’re ideologically opposed to the very notion of ethical business practice or protecting the sport as a whole. 

The motivations of their plot were so transparent that the entire football community were unanimous in their condemnation. Here, after contentious topics such as Brexit and COVID, was a subject everyone could agree on. The momentum was strong at this point and there were encouraging noises being made that we might potentially see a review leading to reform of football club governance. One of the loudest, most passionate voices was Gary Neville. This struck me as a little strange given that Neville is a multi-millionaire thanks to football’s relentless commercialisation over the last 20 years. Perhaps that was just me being cynical and we had to give him the benefit of the doubt here.

The fact that the Glazers were front and centre in ESL discussions came as no surprise to United supporters. This, after all, felt somewhat inevitable given it was widely acknowledged 16 years ago that their ultimate goal would be to oversee a gargantuan boost in revenue stemming from devolved TV rights. We were largely ignored when pointing this out back then, probably because the only party likely to suffer in the short-term from their takeover would be MUFC itself. The reaction was a bit different now the penny had dropped there might be consequences for English football as a whole. 

Faced with the prospect of the sacrosanct Premier League applecart being upturned, there was a whiff of revolution in the air for about 72 hours as fans across the country took to the streets in protest. The media cheered from the sidelines and Boris Johnson quickly hopped on the bandwagon, condemning the breakaway clubs for trying to establish a “cartel”. This was later proven to be shapeshifting nonsense as The Sunday Times revealed that Johnson had met with Woodward in the days preceding April 18th and had apparently given the plan his tacit approval. He denied this of course, but it’s a bit of stretch to believe the ESL wasn’t discussed in No 10 that day. 

As one of the main instigators of the plot, the hapless Woodward soon resigned and after dominating the headlines for a few days the news cycle quickly moved on. The ‘football family’ had spoken and that seemed to be that as far as the mainstream media were concerned. Errr… not quite. United supporters, after all, have longstanding issues with the Glazer family that dwarf any lingering outrage about plans for a breakaway ESL. 

After being the source of much bitterness and acrimony between 2005-2010, it’s fair to say debate concerning the Glazer ownership dwindled after the Green & Gold protests petered out back in 2010. It never went away completely, as referenced in these pages month after month – but a sense of malaise had crept in as people conceded they were likely going nowhere. In truth, after 5 years of banging our heads against a wall in an atmosphere of divisiveness and intimidation from certain parties, most people were probably tired of the subject.

Fast forward back to 2021 and that palpable sense of injustice was back with a vengeance. First we saw a bedsheeted up band of interlopers infiltrate the training ground before that glorious Sunday when a couple of thousand took to the streets and against all the odds, managed to force the postponement of the Liverpool game. Mission accomplished. If the powers that be weren’t listening before, they were certainly listening now. 

This time, however, the prevailing media narrative had shifted. Whereas a couple of weeks previously, the noises coming from commentators and journalists were encouraging of supporters taking direct action to protect the national game, the mood changed once this exact scenario was being beamed live into people’s living rooms. All of a sudden it wasn’t about justifiably outraged fans protecting beloved community assets, this was being framed as a minority of thugs overstepping the mark and taking things too far. “Of course you should protest, just make sure you don’t protest too loudly”, seemed to be the consensus. 

This reaction was as depressing as it was predictable. Pat Nevin whipped himself into a frenzy on 5 Live, spending over an hour lambasting the protesters. Jermaine Jenas was so out of his depth on MOTD that he seemed bemused as to why he was being asked to give an opinion at all. I mean, come on. It genuinely defies belief that someone paid to talk about English football doesn’t have a grasp of why Manchester United fans might have an issue with the club’s owners. This isn’t a new story. This is something that has been brewing for 16 years. There have been books written about this subject. It led to the formation of another football club for goodness’ sake.

Thankfully, the likes of Neville and Keane were on hand to provide some common sense and perspective amidst all the hand-wringing. Much respect to Jamie Carragher too, who appeared to grasp the protestors’ perspective better than any of his colleagues. Whereas Neville continued to pontificate about the ESL, Carragher cut through the noise and correctly pointed out it was nothing to do with the Super League at this point. It may have have been the catalyst, but this was battle lines being re-drawn in a war that began back in 2005. 

Unsurprisingly, the reaction from rival supporters was just as dismissive as some of the nodding dogs in the media. Whereas a fortnight previously there was universal rejection of the ESL proposals, now we were out on our own with people falling over themselves to denigrate the motivations behind the protest. Again, this was entirely predictable. There’s no solidarity amongst football supporters in this country. It’s no wonder that fans have been exploited for decades when club rivalries and petty name calling seem preferable to working together to bring about change that might benefit all clubs in future.

Whether the current strength of feeling continues to gather momentum remains to be seen. We’ve been here before of course, and in the past the Glazers have ridden out similar periods of disquiet holed up in Florida. United’s fanbase is large and made up of many disparate groups. We’ve been prone to squabbling and infighting at key junctures previously, but now is the time to forget all that. Many thought all was lost back in 2005 but the last few weeks have shown that the resistance is still strong. Unity is powerful. Let’s keep the pressure on.

Copyright Red News – May 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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