Tag Archives: sir alex ferguson

Beyond Belief

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Despite a mixed bag of results on paper, there’s no disputing that last month’s testing run of fixtures proved quite… umm… testing. It was an absolute horror show at times, and proved that early season predictions that some sort of renaissance was underway were well wide of the mark. At the moment, United look to be heading towards mid-table rather than mounting a title challenge. The team is all over the place and we look a mess. Rather than settling in, instead (as many predicted) Mourinho has started to lash out.

During the 27 years of stability under Fergie, we managed to swerve most of the crises that befall other football clubs. Dressing room dissent was dealt with swiftly, underperforming players were removed and any established cliques were abolished. There was no going back for those who’d served their purpose or who fell below the standards he imposed at the club. It didn’t matter if you were Jim McGregor or David Beckham, upset him and you were history.

As supporters, we were complicit in this too. Fergie could get away with making unpopular decisions because of his longevity and his track record – he just wasn’t questioned by the vast majority. (It might be worth adding that I’m talking purely about football decisions here, given that he was rightly called out on his support for the Glazers and his indifference to the wider issues pertaining to the 2005 takeover.)

Post-Fergie, it’s a very different script at Old Trafford nowadays. It started with Moyes, continued with Van Gaal and now a few months into his reign, we’re seeing it with Mourinho too. The minute there’s a few bad results or questionable team selections, the spotlight falls on the manager and his whole tenure is called into question. In other words, we’ve headed down the same path as every other set of dumbo football fans across the country.

The players in place now are a mixed bag that have been brought to the club by 4 different managers, as well as a couple that were reputedly signed by Woodward alone (presumably on the advice of others.) As a group they have failed to adapt to changing systems and appear to lack any kind of team spirit or pack mentality. Despite containing several self-proclaimed ‘big men’, they are soft-centered and crumble under the slightest pressure. They lack bottle, leadership, fight and initiative – it’s a toxic mix of has-beens, maybes and never gonna bes.

Add to this the fact they’ve now successfully seen off two managers whilst absolving themselves of any kind of culpability. I’m aware that Moyes is the John Major of football and Van Gaal was well past his sell-by date – both deserved to go – but this all increases the players’ sense of entitlement and demonstrates their expertise in passing the buck. Enough is enough on that score. If there’s a problem within that dressing room it’s with them as a group, not the new manager. If Mourinho decides the way to proceed is naming and shaming a few in an attempt to get a reaction, then he should be applauded. If they don’t like it, then they can find a club that’s more tolerant of half-arsed mediocrity.

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The camera-friendly, ‘just happy to be here!’ mentality is probably best summed up by Bastian Schweinsteiger, who Mourinho was quick to point towards the exit door within a couple of weeks of taking the job. We’re constantly reminded by his friends and ex-colleagues what a great guy he is, and how they’re disgusted at his treatment, yet what has Bastian actually done here over the last 18 months other then pose for selfies and post self-pitying, #sadface missives on social media? Good riddance to him when he does finally get off his sizeable backside for a similarly underwhelming stint at the Seattle Blue Sox, or whoever else is daft enough to hand him another contract.

If Schweinsteiger is such a proud professional with a burning desire to play football, then he would have listened to what Mourinho was telling him and done what 99% of other footballers do in such circumstances. When informed they’re no longer part of a manager’s plans, most players simply instruct their agents to find them another club. All this nonsense about him loving United is just posturing. The only thing Schweinsteiger admires about United currently is the enormous pay cheque he picks up at the end of each month.

As Karl-Heinz Rummenigge and his cronies at Bayern Munich are so appalled at poor Basti’s plight, then rather than bitching about United and Mourinho, why don’t they pick up the phone and ask him to come back? Exactly. Of course they won’t – because they aren’t that stupid or deludedly sentimental. It’s exactly the same reason Klopp will never hand Gerrard another contract at Liverpool, despite him hanging round Melwood like some sort of lovesick ex-boyfriend. Bayern knew Schweinsteiger was finished 2-3 years ago, the same everyone else in football. Well, everyone except Manchester United, rather embarrassingly.

Finally, like me you’re probably still trying to get your head round the fact that Donald Trump has won the United States presidential election. A power hungry, bad tempered xenophobe running the free world. Scary stuff, eh? Never fear though, as this could actually work to our advantage. Okay, so the end of the world might now be inevitable during our lifetimes, but if he does push the button, at least it could be next May with Liverpool poised to win the title and City in the Champions League final. Keep your fingers crossed…

Copyright Red News – November 2016

www.rednews.co.uk

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We Are The Champions

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Typically, in a season that has become predictable in its unpredictability, United have settled into a decent run just as things are drawing to a conclusion. Whether we’re witnessing the final days of Van Gaal’s tenure or not (surely we are), there’s an excellent chance that as he departs for the sanctuary of his Portuguese villa in a few weeks’ time, he’ll be doing so as a ‘title’ winner. I can hear him now, his methods validated, all those hours of mind-numbing boredom a distant memory. “The English they never stop complaining, I won them a title! The FA Cup is a very important trophy in that country… they hadn’t won it for 12 years.”

Unfortunately, although silverware will be very welcome and moments like the goon that greeted Martial’s winner live even longer in the memory, it won’t be enough to save Van Gaal, ultimately. After a trying first year in which he at least delivered a top four finish, this season has been a backwards step and a huge disappointment overall. Although the final moments could well see him brandishing the cup and addressing an appreciative crowd in Albert Square, the dreadful monotony of the football witnessed between November and March shouldn’t be forgotten.

The quarter final replay at West Ham and the Wembley semi were stark reminders of what’s been missing far too often – genuine excitement. There are always peaks and troughs during a 60 game campaign, but barring a handful of moments from Martial and Rashford, the season mostly panned out as an excruciatingly long, uneventful slog. Win some, lose some, draw some… doing just enough to stay in the chasing pack without ever looking like we were growing in confidence and making progress. Wins were earned with scrappy performances, leads thrown away too frequently and the regular defeats didn’t prompt any kind of determined response or stunned reaction.

Van Gaal admitted himself that he’d run out of ideas at Christmas – a virtual resignation note – but he somehow survived and limped on. Since then, on each occasion his position has appeared untenable, a result has come along and bailed him out. The home draw against Chelsea, a win at Anfield, crushing Midjtylland, beating City away; all of these appeared as the sack seemed inevitable – but they still don’t mask the reality of where United find themselves. 9 wins out of the 17 league games since Christmas doesn’t demonstrate an upturn in form or provide any kind of justification for keeping him on next season. FA Cup or no FA Cup, it’s still not good enough.

During the Ferguson years, we used to hear a lot about players being selected to play for United based on personality as much as their abilities. Fergie spoke at length about youngsters’ family backgrounds being considered, and transfer targets being researched with a forensic level of detail level to ascertain whether or not they possessed the requisite character to fit in. Somewhere along the line we appear to have lost it because the team is now inherently soft. I don’t mean soft as in ‘crap in a fight’, it’s more about a lack of mental strength. The amount of times we’ve switched off in games this season or completely failed to impose ourselves for long stretches, demonstrates that something eludes us that we had in abundance previously.

Everton v Manchester United - The Emirates FA Cup Semi Final

The season was summed up for me at the end of January, driving home from OT having just witnessed a 1-0 defeat to Southampton. Now don’t get me wrong, I’ve got a fair bit of time for Chris Smalling given how he’s one of few who have actually progressed in recent times, but his reaction to the defeat that day nearly made me switch to the opposite side of the road and plough into oncoming traffic. When asked about the result, he chirped up that the players were “disappointed not to draw”. Just consider that for a moment. Disappointed not to draw. At home. Against Southampton.

That, dear readers, said it all to me. The next captain of Manchester United went on national radio to express his feelings after another pathetic home defeat and the strongest response he could muster was to suggest the team were sad they didn’t hold on for a point. Seriously, if that was genuinely representative of the dressing room reaction then the whole team needs something very drastic. I’m not talking Mourinho, forget Fergie’s hair dryer – they deserve Roy Keane with full beard, coming off a 48 hour bender, mislaid his house keys so denied any sleep levels of rage.

If there is a managerial change in the summer, one hopes it helps to instil some desire and a collective sense of responsibility to the current group of players. I’m sure they’d be the first to proclaim “of course we care!”, but do they care enough in that crazed, siege mentality sense that turns disparate individuals into a team of serial winners? I just don’t see anything like that level of togetherness, currently. It’s hard to detect much of a bond between management and players, as Van Gaal’s methods appear to be tolerated rather than trusted. Admittedly this is speculation based on hearsay, body language and tersely conducted interviews – but the gloomy demeanour of everyone involved speaks volumes.

Van Gaal looked and sounded very subdued at the semi-final press briefings, both pre and post-match. Perhaps it was the pressure, maybe a sense of relief, but he no longer sounds in any way confident at the prospect of remaining in situ beyond May. Questions about the future were dismissed with a wave of the hand and he only wanted to discuss the performance. Fair enough, you might argue – but it’s very much a marked contrast from the indomitable bluster he’s come out with all season.

There will very probably be a number of people reading thinking, “what’s the problem?” Typically unappreciative fanzine scribe having a good moan and picking holes after his team has just reached a cup final. “Can’t you just be happy for once?” Well, clearly not. Winning the cup would be a great day out and a much needed fillip for everyone connected with the club, but that’s all it’ll be – a brief respite. Over the last 3 seasons we’ve strung 3 consecutive wins together just 10 times, whereas in Fergie’s last season alone we managed 8. Van Gaal is a good man who’s made hard work of a tricky rebuild, now we need someone to come in who’ll take us back to the top.

Enjoy the summer and I’ll see you in August.

Copyright Red News – May 2016

www.rednews.co.uk

Bring The Pain

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“And now, the end is near, and so I face the final curtain…” Sheesh, I wish. It’s still only February though, so we’ve got another 12 weeks of this absolute horror show to witness. The latest debacle in the ever lengthening list of debacles is (checks Google for spelling) FC Midtjylland. Anyone else heard of this bunch? No, me neither. Anyway they battered us. Of course they did – I mean, why wouldn’t they?

A few months back I decided to purge my life of a Sky Sports/BT subscription and invest in one of those little Android streaming box gizmos instead. It’s a pretty nifty bit of kit to be fair, as long as you prepare yourself for the fact that it only works 80% of the time and accept that some games are like watching the action in a strobe-lit blizzard… c/w 30 second pauses and a US commentary team. Given the current state of United, this can actually work out quite well. You end up missing at least 15 minutes of the game by messing about looking for a working link, and the regular pauses in play are often indistinguishable from watching the game at normal speed.

Anyway, last night was one of those occasions where I struggled to find a reliable stream, but the bits of the game I did see almost defied belief. To put it in perspective, the opposition were in the middle of their winter break and hadn’t played for 2 months – and had enjoyed only 1 win in 10 games before that. The Danish league, with no disrespect intended, probably files somewhere alongside Scotland in the ranks of Europe’s finest. United meanwhile, are slap bang in the middle of a campaign playing in what’s alleged to be the most competitive league in the world. Regardless of form or injuries then, this was as close to a ‘David v Goliath’ fixture as you’re ever going to find in European football.

Even allowing for a deflected, breakaway goal or an inexplicable defensive lapse, you would still have expected the obvious differences in fitness and match sharpness to be the Danes’ undoing. Point being that even if the ‘inferior’ opposition managed to land a few early body blows, fatigue would eventually set in allowing the gulf in class to become apparent. After all, despite a lengthy injury list, United still managed to put out a starting team containing 8 internationals. It should have been more than enough to despatch a team of minnows beaten 9-1 on aggregate by Napoli a few months back.

If only. Instead, it was another of those occasions where United completely failed to assert any kind of dominance on proceedings. For a team that sets out to play a low-risk, possession football, it’s absolutely remarkable how bad we are at doing the simple things like passing 6 yards and controlling the ball. If we could hold onto it for more than 10 seconds, the determination to rack up 10,000 passes per game might start to make some sense – but we are consistently useless at doing the basics. All this, combined with the clear lack of desire, spirit, belief… everything you need to be even moderately successful… well, it just isn’t there anymore. Whatever we had, we’ve lost it completely.

The weirdest thing in all this, is that no matter how badly things continue to unravel, it’s looking increasingly likely that Van Gaal won’t be sacked before the end of the season. Now whilst I don’t think he’s in possession of photos of certain board members in compromising positions, that possibility can’t be ruled out either. Seriously though, for all the criticism Woodward and his cohorts have faced over the last few months, surely it’s now clear that this hasn’t worked out as envisaged? I know Ed’s formative football years were spent leading the youth firm of Chelmsford City during breaks from boarding school, but there’s also a semi-competent business mind lurking beneath those pinched features of his.

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So why hasn’t Van Gaal been binned yet? Is there a full-on civil war taking place in the OT corridors of power as has been alluded to elsewhere? It’s a juicy story, yes – but the idea doesn’t quite add up. Are a section of the board really so Machiavellian that they’d attempt to dissuade the Glazer’s from making overtures towards Mendes re: Mourinho? Either based on a personal grudge or some deranged attempt to preserve Fergie’s legacy and keep the Co92 axis in place. 3 years ago the Glazers may well have listened if he and Sir Bobby were indeed making such noises, but after 3 seasons of Mogadon-tasting decline, it’s clear that any attempts at continuity – appointing a proto-Fergie in the shape of Moyes or priming Giggs as a long-term successor under the ageing Van Gaal – have flopped spectacularly.

Although Fergie and Gill still have a voice, and no doubt the ear of the Glazers, it’s still Ed and Dickie Arnold who are running the show day to day. Truth is, I find it hard to believe that the next manager of United hasn’t already been lined up and all parties have simply taken a vow of silence for the time being – namely in some well-meaning attempt to spare Van Gaal the indignity of the sack before a cosy ‘mutual agreement’ is reached at the end of the season. For all Woodward’s mistakes, and there have been numerous, I’m still soft enough to assume he’s quietly been making calls over the last couple of months, and not simply sat on his hands expecting to see his faith in Van Gaal rewarded eventually.

Now hang on a minute, this is more like it. As I’m writing, there’s news emerging that Mourinho to United could actually be a done dealio. Moratti’s sister has just rolled out of some dinner with Jose and worded the Italian press that he’s on his way to OT next season. Now she could be wumming them, just as he could be wumming her – but the noises are getting louder from pretty much every source in existence barring the club itself.

If it did transpire we were turning Portuguese next season, then I’ve no idea whatsoever if the appointment would prove to be successful or not. Mourinho’s last two gigs have ended on a sour note for a manager who’d previously thrived on forming close alliances his senior players. He is difficult (paranoid, monstrous ego, arrogant, capable of being a complete bellend) in much the same way that Ferguson was difficult and Van Gaal is difficult. However, in evaluating the current state of United, it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that we’re in desperate need of something, more precisely someone, to extricate us from this mire we find ourselves in.

C’mon Ed, don’t let us down here. It’s time…

Copyright Red News – February 2016

www.rednews.co.uk