Tag Archives: premier league

Accidents Will Happen

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Considering United ended last season with just 2 wins from the final 12 games, I suppose 1 win out of 4 so far this season does represent an improvement of sorts. This isn’t an attempt to dress things up or put a spin on events, it’s just an accurate summary of the situation in which we find ourselves. Forgive me for stating the obvious but I think many reds still need a reality check on exactly where we’re at. The team remains an inconsistent mess and people expecting a major improvement on last season are going to be feeling a tad underwhelmed over the next few months.

Misguided pre-season optimism will always be a thing but I think many people took leave of their senses this summer – which intensified further following the unexpected hammering of Chelsea on opening weekend. A couple of assists don’t suddenly make Pogba a fully-engaged and disciplined midfield leader, the same as Marcus Rashford coolly slotting home a one-on-one doesn’t make him a deadly, composed finisher. What we witnessed versus Chelsea was the exception, rather than the norm. Unfortunately, the reality of United’s ongoing struggles remains unchanged for the most part.

That’s not to say there aren’t some grounds for optimism. The 3 summer signings look to have settled in quite well, but only time will tell if their influence alone can prompt any kind of effect on the overall (typically sloth-like) dynamism of the team. Still, an energetic right back with an eye for a tackle and a composed central-defender are more than welcome. It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s fledging baby steps rather than the great leap forwards we were hoping for when Ole first mentioned plans for a re-build last season.

Awww. Then there’s Daniel James, bless his cotton socks. Smiling away like Frodo Baggins, fresh from the Shire and a picture of doe-eyed innocence and youthful optimism. I look at him now basking in the August sunshine after scoring screamers and can only fear for what lies ahead – the poor sod will be a hollowed-out shell of a man after a few months in our dressing room. It’ll start off with something innocuous like wearing a baseball cap back-to-front, then he’ll develop a taste for anodyne RnB and before you know it he’ll be a full-scale dab merchant dripping in expensive jewellery with a summer DJ residency in Dubai. Graeme Souness should organise an intervention before it’s too late.

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Talking of dab merchants, when is penny going to drop with Solskjaer that Pogba isn’t a holding midfielder? Please let it happen quickly as it’s becoming painful to watch him staggering around in the centre circle, targeted by the opposition who’re acutely aware he wants 5 touches before he attempts to move the ball on. Since we’re intent on keeping him here against his will for another season then let’s play him further forward where we might actually see him in his most effective position. Admittedly, this is made more difficult given we don’t have the requisite midfield quality to effectively complement him… but the point still stands nonetheless.

Thankfully we’ve seen some decisive moves in shipping out some players since I bemoaned our inability to do so last month. Lukaku, Sanchez, Smalling and Darmian all departed for Serie A, some evidence of ruthlessness and a desire to strip of squad of deadwood and underperforming high earners at long last. We’ll have to gloss over the fact this leaves us woefully short of numbers for the current campaign. This much-needed surgery had to begin sometime, though as soon as we rack up a few injuries we’re going to look horrendously threadbare. A handful have now left this summer and being kind I’d say we need rid of another dozen or so of this current squad – it’ll take another 2-3 years to make that happen.

There isn’t any quick fix or single catalyst who can change United’s fortunes. Hoping another Cantona might arrive and liberate the existing squad’s potential is futile. This isn’t 1992, the present situation is more akin to 1986. Gary Neville called it right when he said the most important thing at present is to instil a culture change and assemble a group of players who actually want be here. Pogba may be our best player on paper, but regardless of his talent and self-belief, he doesn’t have any intention in stepping up and becoming the foundation of this proposed re-build. I’d have binned him this summer, personally. He’ll remain a distracting subplot for another 9 months and then we’ll be rid of him for good, fingers crossed.

According to several high-profile twitter non-entities, we shouldn’t even be debating our first world footballing woes because clubs lower down the football pyramid are facing financial ruin. I’m sorry, but that doesn’t shift my conscience in the slightest. Whilst the situation at Bury and Bolton is undoubtedly tragic for those affected, United fans don’t require any schooling on the consequences of financial rape and pillage by unwanted owners. We don’t expect any sympathy from the ‘football family’ (sic) for our current problems and the same banter merchants blaming us for their clubs’ predicaments would be dancing in the streets should we ever find ourselves in similarly dire straits.

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No apologies for sounding harsh or glib here, but the idea that United should feel obliged to offer indefinite financial support due to our geographic proximity is nonsensical. As most are aware, FC United were tenants of Bury for a full decade, paying £5000 per game for that privilege up until 2015. That’s a million quid right there in rent alone, and that’s before you factor in the car parking, bar takings and food receipts that FC were also obliged to hand over. Presumably, MUFC also payed rent for each of the seasons United reserves played at Gigg Lane; and the internet loudmouths haven’t been around long enough to remember the regular bucket collections that took place at the OT turnstiles on previous occasions Bury almost went bust.

All in all, at a conservative estimate that totals over £2 million in Bury’s coffers from MUFC or MUFC-related causes over the last 20 years, not an insignificant sum by any means. The simplistic notion that the uncaring behemoth down the road idly sat back and watched them die has a nice headline-grabbing, heartstring-tugging ring to it. Crucially, since United are viewed as being complicit in Bury’s fate, the story guarantees clickbait traction at the expense of detailed reporting of the financial mismanagement and catastrophic failings that became endemic at the club. Why bother digging into that when there’s more to be gained from giving MUFC a good kicking?

As for having sympathy with Bolton Wanderers’ travails, I’d happily set up a standing order and donate each month if it would somehow guarantee their extinction at some point.

Copyright Red News – September 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

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Burning Down The House

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“I will be successful here. There are players here that won’t be part of that.” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, 21st April 2019

“I might just have a look at him again because if he has changed as I think he has… he might have a career here.” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, 16th July 2019

Welcome back, readers. Good summer? Did you marvel at the spirit of those brave Lionesses? Were you surfing the wave of national pride instilled by the Cricket World Cup win? Were you one of the 17 attendees of the #glazersout protest at OT last month? Very nice. Settle yourself down and let’s crack on with a brief appraisal of the summer’s transfer dealings prior to what’s set to be another… erm… season in the history of Manchester United Football Club.

To nobody’s surprise, the great summer re-build of 2019 began slowly and never quite gathered pace. The demolition crew got called to another job and somebody forgot to order a skip, presumably. Ander ‘antithesis of the modern footballer’ Herrera went to PSG for a huge payday and Valencia packed his bags for Ecuador at long last… so as things stand it’s pretty much as you were. Having ended last season fantasising about a bloody cull of a dozen or so serial wasters, disappointingly, Woodward appeared to set about this task brandishing a dessert spoon.

At the time of writing, neither of the gruesome twosome of Pogba and Lukaku have been shifted. Both made noises and there were certainly clubs interested, but no one came up with the money funnily enough. As regards Lukaku, if Inter Milan did offer a reported £54M then I’ve no idea why United didn’t snatch their hand off. Just because United vastly overpaid 2 years ago doesn’t mean we should be so presumptuous to expect his next club to do similar. I don’t care about him offering a guaranteed 20 goals a season either, we miss out on at least another 30 due to him tripping over his own feet every 5 minutes.

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Pogba’s forlorn attempt to force a move was every bit of half-hearted as one of his typical performances. If you’re going to style yourself as some nomadic, hired-gun big bollocks a’la Zlatan, then your football has to back that up. £120M fee, £350K a week wages and a £20M Raiola dividend represents an astronomical outlay and should guarantee a return. The fact Madrid prioritised 4-5 other players before turning their attention towards him spoke volumes on how United’s abysmal ROI hasn’t gone unnoticed. Neymar is similarly tainted now too, he comes with that much baggage that willing suitors are thin on the ground.

Whilst we’re on the subject of Pogba and Lukaku, if the pair do remain at the club this season, I’ll make the prediction now that this won’t be the last time I’ll be having a pop at them. I’d better be careful, however. It’s been suggested on social media that United supporters’ criticisms of certain underperforming players carry racist undertones. Presumably this has lain dormant for years whilst the likes of McGrath, Ince, Cole, Yorke, Ferdinand and Evra were universally lauded, only to be unleashed in a ball of pent-up rage and frustration now the team struggles down in 6th place.

I made the mistake of engaging some random on twitter on this subject a couple of months back. He was an intelligent guy who was adamant that race was one of the reasons behind the onslaught of criticism Lingard and Pogba regularly face. I don’t believe that there’s any racial motive behind any such criticism, personally –  but I wasn’t going to win this argument as the lad in question happened to be black. It was a genuine ‘check yourself’ moment as I found myself about to tell a black guy what did and what didn’t constitute racism. Clearly, I was hopelessly out of my depth and not fancying an internet pile-on, I extricated myself from the conversation as quickly as possible.

Just so we’re clear then (if it ever needed pointing out), when I’m calling Lingard a dick, I’m calling him a dick because he’s a dick. I’m not singling him out for abuse because I’ve got a small platform on which I can push a long-suppressed racist agenda onto a load of easily-influenced, potential white supremacists. Although there’s plenty of groups openly peddling that kind of nonsense in 2019, it’s a bit of a stretch to suggest United fans’ criticism of players is fuelled by an undercurrent of Infowars-style populism amongst our support. Sorry, not having it.

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As regards incoming players, despite being linked with just about everyone in Europe, deals have been concluded at a breathtakingly slow pace. As of fanzine deadline day (last Saturday), we’ve signed only Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka. However, yesterday saw news break that Harry Maguire will be announced in due course and the proposed Dybala-Lukaku swap deal is still up in the air.

Whilst there’s a couple of capable defensive additions there, with a little over a week to go until the Chelsea game the squad still looks dangerously imbalanced. Currently we have Pogba, McTominay, Matic, Lingard and Mata… and that’s about it. If we start the season with just 5 established midfielders (I’m not counting Fred, Pereira and Sanchez) then by the middle of September I predict we’re going to be seeing Jones or Rojo featuring there. If that thought doesn’t scare the shit out of you too, then you’re either incredibly brave or completely deranged.

No one was expecting last season’s dysfunctional mess to be fixed in a single transfer window, but I can’t help feeling we’re quickly going to regret the soporific approach to squad re-structuring that’s been in evidence. Much needed pruning of deadwood like Darmian and Rojo has failed to materialise, which makes it all the more frustrating how each received undeserved, extended terms in the vain hope of maximising returns from potential buyers. As predicted at the time, we appear to be stuck with the pair indefinitely as no other club appears to be in the slightest bit interested.

Ole may well publicly bemoan the “hard” market and shortened transfer window, but surely the club should have anticipated what was awaiting them this summer? United are no longer in an exalted position where they can bully the likes of Leicester and Newcastle into reluctantly selling their prized assets. No club in the Premier League is in a position where they are are forced to sell because everybody is stinking rich now. United have spent years extolling the virtues of their commercial acumen and infinite revenue streams; rather than making a statement and demonstrating a genuine desire to get back to the game’s pinnacle, most of this summer has instead been spent splashing about and treading water.

Copyright Red News – August 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

What Comes Around

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All things considered, it’s been quite a month. The remarkable upturn in form since Solskjaer took the wheel reached an almost otherworldly level on that incredible night in Paris. A fortnight later and the giddy thrill of victory still hasn’t fully subsided. It doesn’t matter if we lose the next round 10 nil on aggregate, the fact we unexpectedly made it through to the quarter finals will remain the overriding memory of this season and a fabled moment in the club’s entire history.

Only time will tell if the likes of Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood will play major roles in attempts to return United to the game’s pinnacle in future years, but they will always have that night to look back on whatever happens. Whether they retire as MUFC legends or as mere footnotes with half a dozen appearances each, what an amazing experience for them to have been a part of so early in their careers. Titles and medals are one thing, but those rarefied moments of pure, unadulterated glory that football can deliver are far more precious. Memories, innit? Absolutely priceless.

With all this overachievement and cavorting going on, it’s not surprising that performance levels took a bit of a nosedive post-Paris and we came away from Arsenal and Wolverhampton empty-handed. The players rightly deserved all the plaudits coming their way after a stellar couple of months during which they managed to salvage a season that was looking like a complete write-off, but let’s keep things in perspective here. This whole period since Christmas has been enormously good fun but Solskjaer isn’t actually a real-life, miracle worker.

This is still the same squad containing several players who stunk the place out completely between August and December. Yes, we all know that relations between key dressing room figures and the previous manager had gone toxic, but as convenient as it might be to lay all the blame squarely at Mourinho’s feet, that isn’t a particularly accurate reflection of what was going on and nor does it tell the full story.

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Numerous players were culpable of consistently failing to perform for the previous managerial regime(s), so it figures that they are still likely to post a sudden, unexplained leave of absence now. It’s not all doom and gloom, far from it. It’s just a reminder that we’re still dealing with a couple of larger than life, hugely-revered ‘personalities’ who are eminently capable of going completely awol and failing to reach the most basic level of performance when pitted against bang-average, journeyman opposition.

To put it another way: most of the complaints aired over the last 2-3 years about the make-up of the squad and the need for further upgrades are still completely valid. 3 months of improvement and a renewed sense of optimism about the place doesn’t solve all the problems that need to be addressed. On face value, a pair of full-backs, a central defender and a wide player are what’s required at the very minimum. You could add a deep-lying midfielder and a world class striker to that list if you were going all-out and trying to fix everything at once.

Obviously, any spending spree is fraught with difficulty and doesn’t guarantee much at all. A player like McTominay has grown immeasurably in recent weeks, revealing himself as a genuine contender despite barely anyone rating him as any kind of prospect previously. If he gets a run in the side and continues to progress rapidly it could negate the need for a big money acquisition. That’s just another ‘if’, however. United aren’t in the business of ‘ifs’ and this era of football demands instant results. Solskjaer, regardless of the incredible start he’s enjoyed, won’t be granted the luxury of 12-18 months treading water. Short-termism rules so the current upwards trajectory simply has to continue.

Half the problem comes from the online fanbase United are so desperate to keep entertained. It’s mad to think that the club only opened a twitter account as recently as 2013 given their breathless enthusiasm for pumping out relentlessly banal video-clips and boasting about ‘engagement’ numbers. The Sanchez signing was a classic example of trying to make a huge statement regardless of the player’s suitability. I guess it’s easy to criticise in hindsight but was there ever any kind of plan in place to try and integrate him into the team and play to his strengths? We’ve certainly never seen any evidence of one.

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Only a few years ago, United’s transfer policy wasn’t influenced by attempts to generate memes and create a splash on social-media; everything was focused on making improvements to the team. I know that post-Ronaldo we were often frustrated by the parsimonious budget in place and Fergie’s risible attempts to seek ‘value in the market’. On the whole however, this mindful approach paid far better dividends than the scatterbrained recruitment strategy we’ve witnessed in the years since his retirement.

Given there’s evidence to suggest Ole favours a more level-headed style of management than either Van Gaal or Mourinho, it would be nice to see a more focused, coherent approach to squad-building and recruitment from now on. The twitter hoards might crave blockbuster signings and massage Woodward’s ego whenever he manages to land a big fish, but this calibre of player hasn’t done us any favours in recent times. Falcao, Di Maria, Sanchez, Pogba and Lukaku arguably… I’m struggling to see how any of these have had an entirely positive effect on the team’s progression.

Football remains a very simple game that has been over-analysed and needlessly complicated over the last decade. If the last couple of months have shown us anything, it’s that Manchester United are in a far better position doing what Manchester United have always done. Keep it simple, play attacking football and always trust in youth. If we stick to the path laid out by Sir Matt Busby and followed by Sir Alex Ferguson, history shows us everything should work out just fine. 

Copyright Red News – March 2019

www.rednews.co.uk