Tag Archives: premier league

Gimme Some Truth

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Typical. Having ended the last column with the doom-laden prediction that Ole might not see out the month of November, right on cue the team lurched out of its 6 month stupor and managed to string together a few wins. Despite decades of practice, I remain an utterly crap football pundit. Thankfully I do recognise this shortcoming in myself so had the good sense to stop gambling on the sport years ago.

Does this sudden improvement change much? Not in the grand scheme of things. 7th in the table is better than 13th and clearly making chances and scoring a few goals is a step in the right direction. Personally speaking, it’s going to take a lot more before I acknowledge this recent run as anything other other than a temporary blip. Since we’re currently stuck with this uneven mix of youngsters, deadwood and permanent crocks… the team could yet finish 5th or 15th this season.

I know I sound like a miserable bleeder but surely it’s better to be realistic in this situation? For all the saturated coverage football enjoys with round-the-clock SSN and the execrable MEN daily blog, perspective has dipped to an all-time low. Rashford smashes in a free kick against Chelsea and 18 months of drilling every effort into Row Z is forgotten in an instant – suddenly he’s on a par with Ronaldo. Fred finally manages a complete handful of passes and he’s the new Makelele. The McSauce and Martial FC cults… I honestly had a better grasp of footballers and their respective talents as a 9 year old than these clowns spouting nonsense on twitter and YouTube fan channels.

You want some real perspective? Let’s try the fact that Spurs have just sacked Pochettino after a miserable run of 25 points from their last 24 league games. Relegation form, that – but it fairness it coincided with a period of upheaval during which they underwent a protracted move into a new stadium. Not to mention they also reached their 1st ever European Cup final in May which might have proven a tad distracting for a club starved of trophies in recent years. Throughout that same time United have collected a grand total of 24 points, also relegation form. So excuse me for not turning cartwheels because we managed to dominate Brighton at home and Rashford did a couple of stepovers whilst playing for England versus Kosovo.

It’s all well and good extolling the virtues of patience and how it served us well in previous generations, but I was around for the 4-5 years in which Fergie struggled to find the right mix and can’t recall anything like the level of mind-numbing tedium we’ve seen a continuation of over the last 12 months. I don’t have any faith in the board, the coaching staff or half of the players we’re invested in. Despite people claiming otherwise, we’re still crap to watch and evidence of genuine progress is hard to see. Just 6 wins from our last 20 league games is pathetic. Faith in youth and the ‘United way’ is great, but they’ve fast-become well-worn tropes that excuse the lack of investment and urgency in addressing continued failings.

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If you look back to where we were at the start of this decade, it’s incredible to consider just how far we’ve sunk. Back then, despite being recently schooled by Barcelona in Rome we were still in an enviable position domestically and in Europe. All it needed was to continue the blueprint Ferguson had created a few years previously. Add 1-2 players a season and accept the fact you need to pay above and beyond the going rate to attract the best available. Instead, we decided to cut corners. Playing Phil Neville, O’Shea and Jones in midfield; Tevez and Ronaldo never replaced; investment in level-par workhorses like Young and Valencia as opposed to seeking-out the best in class. The list of failings could go on – we brought this decline on ourselves from a position of almost total dominance.

It took us 30 years (with the various ups and downs along the way) to reach the summit of European football again. To throw that away in the manner United did, especially with the unfathomable sums of money pouring into the club, wasn’t just careless… it should be seen as criminal. The arrogance of Ferguson telling us how great the Glazers were whilst not signing a central midfielder for 5 years; the arrogance of those owners sucking millions out of the club and allowing the quality of squad to slowly regress and decay; the arrogance of supporters too, endlessly parroting the mind-numbing ‘20 times’ mantra and still banging on about the treble now. The club has sat on its hands whilst City and Liverpool glided past us, fully-focused on writing their next chapters rather than trading on trophies won last century and tolerating mediocrity.

Do you think this would have happened at any other European giant? Would Juventus or Real Madrid or Bayern be content to sit in mid-table experimenting with various permutations of inexperienced kids? Would they bollocks. We’re currently being sold a lie with all this ‘faith in youth’ nonsense that bears little relation to how youngsters have been integrated into the squad in previous generations.

The class of ‘92 are rightly cited as the textbook modern day example of successfully birthing a selection of youth team players as opposed to spending millions. Remember though, that group was married into an already title-winning side alongside the likes of Irwin, Pallister, Bruce, McClair, Keane, Giggs and Cantona… not to mention the signing of Cole who was the most prolific striker in the country at the time. Those players were the established framework which enabled those youngsters to come in and thrive – the foundation of experience and a proven level of consistency was already in place.

How would Beckham, Butt, Scholes and the Nevs have fared with our current group? Shaw, Young, Jones, Lindelof, Lingard, Pereira and Martial doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, does it? I’ll tell you now, Ferguson would never have attempted such a move because he’d have known full well we’d have been left woefully exposed and the latest group of kids would barely have stood a chance. Instead, he’d have been demanding the likes of Kane or Lewandowski be recruited as a matter of urgency. The idea that Williams, Garner, Gomes, Chong and Greenwood might collectively blossom in this current set-up isn’t just wildly optimistic, it’s verging on ridiculous.

Copyright Red News – December 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

Through The Wire

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It wasn’t too long ago that a bad result could send your weekend into a tailspin and cause genuine doom and gloom, but seasoned observers are well past that stage now. These days we simply turn up, expect the worse and everything tends to play out as expected. There’s no point denying it or trying to accentuate the positives. The problem we have is due to being Manchester United, each anticipated bump in the road prompts a tidal wave of wailing and self-pity from the excitable online elements of our fanbase.

Nobody wants to badmouth Ole because clearly, he’s doing his best to succeed in an incredibly pressured environment. Turning around the fortunes of this football club has beaten better managers than him before and it’ll beat better managers than him in future. There’s no shame in that. The titanic is half-sunk and he was given couple of buckets and a box of sticking plasters to try and fix it. Meanwhile his star player has forsaken the mundanities of life at Carrington to instead spend the international break enjoying a panoramic view of Dubai’s skyline. No rush Paul, in your own time.

When Solskjaer was given the job on a temporary basis, his brief was to bring a demoralised squad back together and inject some joy into proceedings. There’s no doubt he achieved this, but unsurprisingly his players soon slipped back into old habits once the initial buzz had dissolved. This time last year, talk was all of ‘parking the bus’ and ‘not playing the United way’ as Mourinho relinquished control and seemed hellbent on driving the club into the sea. In truth, very little has changed over the last 12 months besides Ole’s stoic determination to put a positive spin on successive poor performances.

Looking back a few months, in what other industry would a manager be given a 5 month trial period then dragged in mid-way through this and awarded the gig full-time? I know the feel-good factor was in full bloom at that point but it has proven to be another disastrous decision based on crowd-pleasing sentimentality and short-term results. Be honest now, if Woodward had delayed the appointment for a couple of months, would Solskjaer have been given the nod after 2 wins in final 12 games of last season? Would he bollocks.

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Even during the honeymoon period, the team’s performance level remained patchy despite the brief upturn in results. The crescendo of this time was that spirited 3-1 win in Paris but let’s be honest about that, we were well and truly humbled over the two legs and were incredibly fortunate to snatch victory via a ridiculous VAR decision. Our season effectively ended that night and there wasn’t a sniff of progress in evidence throughout the remainder of the campaign.

Our position now isn’t down to Solskjaer, regardless of his actual merits as a manager or coach. I don’t think anybody wants to see him sacked, but we’re getting to the stage where it’s becoming something of an inevitability. He’s not here on an ego trip and he genuinely cares about the club, as did Wilf McGuinness 50 years ago. 5 wins in 23 games speaks for itself though, sadly. He never really stood a chance with the group of players he inherited.

The jungle drums are already beating with United ‘sources’ (Hi Ed!) briefing the Beeb that “we just need to get to January.” Excuse my cynicism, but what good is that going to do? We endured a dismal run of form from March to the close of last season and what action did it prompt? Very little. We shipped 6 players out in the summer but only signed 2 defenders and a youth prospect to replace them. Our position now isn’t surprising in the slightest. It didn’t need Coleen Rooney-level powers of deduction to conclude things would quickly unravel.

The best we can expect in January is signing an over-the-hill stop gap like Mandzukic or overpaying for the likes of Dembele at Lyon. Neither are good enough but we‘ll probably do it anyway just because it’ll keep the engagement numbers high and buy the next manager some time before we nosedive into our next crisis. There is little evidence of a plan or strategy to get us out of this, only non-demonstrable claims of having ‘faith in the manager’ and ‘patience’. There was no patience with Moyes, Van Gaal or Mourinho during similarly testing periods so it would be naive to think the OT board are suddenly impervious to below-par results and stilted progress.

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All indications are that despite claims to the contrary, the club in still in the process of making decisions we will come to regret in future years. Victor Lindelof recently secured a new contract after his agent leaked mentions of Barcelona’s vague interest in the hope of forcing United’s hand. What exactly has Lindelof done to merit an improved, long-term deal after signing a 4 year contract (with the option of an extra year) as recently as 2017? Over the last 2 seasons he has (very) slowly come to terms with the physical demands of the Premier League without ever looking particularly comfortable. As far as I can see, he’s successfully adapted from rabbit in the headlights mode to just about competent.

It’s this blasé acceptance of average performers that kept the likes of Young, Smalling, Jones and Valencia at the club for nearly a decade apiece. Whatever happened to striving for best in class and seeking out excellence? McTominay is another one who’s been talked up way beyond his actual prowess on the pitch. Do the McSauce zealots actually bother watching matches before proclaiming their boy Pirlo incarnate? McTominay is a perfunctory workhorse in a midfield that habitually fails to dominate and impose itself. Lung-bursting effort alone shouldn’t mean he’s considered a long-term solution. He’s in the team due to a chronic lack of options in that area.

The fixture list doesn’t bring any respite over the coming weeks. There’s Liverpool today followed by 4 away games in the space of 10 days including trips to Stamford Bridge and Belgrade. Unless things improve dramatically Ole could well be gone before the end of the month. Matchgoers have shown incredible patience over the last few months, just how long will Woodward exercise similar restraint?

Copyright Red News – October 2019

www.rednews.co.uk

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