Wednesday, May 04, 2022

The changing of the guard at Old Trafford - it's goodbye Ralf and hello, Erik ten Hag...

On 24 July 2021, it was announced that Ole Gunnar Solskjær had signed a three-year contract. Just three and a half months later, Manchester United sacked their once-popular manager. In truth, it was a sacking that many supporters had called for and it was widely expected, it was not a surprise. In his place, United appointed Ralf Rangnick, a German coach, who, while being something of an unknown as far as many rank and file supporters were concerned, was held in high regard by the likes of Jurgen Klopp and others with greater knowledge of the game on the continent.

Ralf Rangnick was appointed as interim manager for the remainder of the season untl the summer when a permanent appointment would be made. Before his appointment, the fans were told to expect big changes, and that the German's preferred high-intensity pressing style of football would yield a change in fortunes on the pitch, where morale was low and results were even worse.

Where it all went wrong for Ole Ole Gunnar Solskjær

Despite having signed two world-class players in the summer in Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphaël Varane, the prospect of defeat seemed never far away. In mid-October, United lost 4-2 away at Leicester City, in a game in which United's defending had left a lot to be desired. In truth, the manner of that defeat at the King Power Stadium didn't come as a surprise as the team weren't gelling well as a unit from back to front. After a narrow 3-2 win over Atalanta FC at home at Old Trafford in the Champions League and just eight days after the reverse against the Foxes, United then lost 5-0 at home to Liverpool; the club's worst result against its deadly rivals since 1925. That show-stopping result against Liverpool was followed by a surprise and well received 3-0 away victory at Spurs. United 'did not turn up in the derby at Old Trafford which saw a sorry and spineless performance from the team in a one-sided game which ended 0-2. Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s final straw came on November 20th at Vicarage Road where United was humbled 4-1 to relegation-threatened Watford.

Goodbye Ole, hello Ralf...

Once again, it was time to change the guard at Old Trafford and in stepped Ralf Rangnick, who after talking a good game and being popular among supporters due to his matter of fact analysis of the United squad hasn't matched expectations where results are concerned. Ralf Rangnick's United was on the wrong end of another mauling against Liverpool when losing 4-0 at Anfield, and then at the Etihad where it ended 4-1 in the derby, and it wasn't just the loss of valuable Premier League points that were being torn asunder, so was Ralf Rangnick's reputation as a coach; Paul Scholes appeared to question the German live on BT Sport; the former United midfield maestro pulled no punches, he was blunt and dismissive of United's coaching.

With the results going north on the pitch and fan anger growing in the stands, it was clear that the big changes Ralf Rangnick had hinted about would have to happen; the German went on live TV following the 4-0 hammering at Liverpool and said that perhaps the team needed ten new players.

Then with supporters starting to talk about protests due to the paucity of Manchester United, both and off the pitch, and anger directed towards the Glazer family, United after weeks of speculation finally announced that Dutchman Erik ten Hag, the Ajax manager would be Manchester United's next full-time manager. Ten Hag has a huge job on his hands and we await news of the outgoing and incoming players with great interest. Keep the faith and keep following United.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

Will football ever be the same again after Covid19?

Will football ever be the same again after the Coronavirus pandemic? Will playing and watching the game ever be quite the same again? 

There's nothing quite like football, it's a game of joy, ecstasy, madness and highs and lows. 

Will, we ever see the madness of big Norman Hunter (RIP) and Francis Lee squaring off in the centre-circle trading blows again? Or the likes of Ryan Giggs tearing down the touchline windmilling his blood-red shirt and showing off his 'chest wig' after rounding half of the Arsenal team to score a never to be forgotten FA Cup tie winning goal? Or the Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last gasp winner which clinched the Champions League for Manchester United in 1999? 

As a fan of some 50 years plus and a lover of the beautiful game I certainly hope so, but no one knows what the future holds for those who play and those who enjoy watching the game. 

We are told that the highest divisions of professional football in England will only resume this season if it is safe to do so for the players, managers and staff (there will be no fans of course). 

One thing we do know for sure is that Football League Two will not be resuming this season. Not because it isn't safe for the players, managers and staff of the  Football League Two clubs, but because it isn't financially viable to do so. So much for putting safety first. 

While we all love the game, we do not love what the game has become; it is all about money and has been ever since football became a 'business'. 

If the Premier League, Championship and League One resume this season, money, and not safety alone will be the main reason why it resumes and no honest fan with concerns about safety wants to see that.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

IF Ole Gunnar Solskjær has to go, should Ed Edward be sacked too?

Sacked Man Utd managers

Manchester United are enduring their worst start to the season for 30 years. At the time of writing this post, United lie in 10th place in the Premier League. After a great start to his career as Manchester United manager, in which Solskjær won more points from his first nine games than any other Premier League manager, it has gone horribly wrong. United have won just two league games this season, and increasingly look like a mid-table team; one that struggles to breakdown well organised defences. The predictable grumbling and noises of discontent have been murmured by some supporters; mainly on social media which the Norwegian rightly ignores, but the problems Ole faces in trying to turn United around are the same ones which resulted in the sackings of three of his predecessors; it is another worrying time for supporters and the likeable United manager.

Solskjær was initially appointed as caretaker manager on December 19, 2018; like many newly appointed football managers, the Norwegian enjoyed an upturn in results. The Norwegian's record breaking start followed the acrimonious departure of Jose Mourinho, whose relationship with Ed Woodward (executive vice-chairman of Manchester United) had become toxic. Supporters had become fed up with Mourinho's tactics, his negativity, his own demeanour and his team's football which was at times as dire, as it was boring. The final straw for many supporters was losing to Sevilla at Old Trafford in the Champions League in March 2018. United had drawn the first leg in the knock-out phase in February. With the tie in the balance and all to play for, Mourinho started with Mario Fellaini in midfield; the Belgian had always divided opinion among supporters, but whatever Jose's tactical plan might have been that night, the Spaniards progressed at United's expense. It was yet another lacklustre performance which did not match the expectations of United supporters - it was viewed as negative and defensive from start to finish.

So when Solskjær was appointed in December, 2018, to the surprise of many, once United fans had digested the news, the Norwegian's return to his former club was by and large welcomed. Ed Woodward and the United board had gone through the process of appointing three managers who had far more experience; all three came up well short of expectations, it had been tale of woe, threefold. Finding a suitable replacement for Alex Ferguson, was proving to as hard as many predicted it would be; Solskjær was viewed by many as a 'shot in the dark', 'desperate' by some, but generally, United fans warmed to the return of the 'smiling assassin'. The fans could see the logic in trying 'something different'.

David Moyes had been hand-picked by Alex Ferguson himself in 2013; that went horribly wrong after the club failed to back the former Everton manager with the necessary funds to rebuild a squad that would be capable for fighting for silverware with moneybags Manchester City. United then turned to Louis Van Gaal; a manager with a gilt edged CV, which included winning the Champions League with Ajax in '94-'95 and having managed at European giants Bayern Munich and Barcelona. Van Gaal was eventually sacked after winning the FA Cup in 2016; it was the final insult, but in truth, Van Gaal's team played a brand of boring, negative possession based football which was viewed as not being in keeping with the best traditions of Manchester United's history and style of play. While supporters and pundits disagreed with the manner of the Dutchman's sacking, it was felt that Van Gaal's time at United had to end.

United then turned to Jose Mourinho, who had been tutored by his predecessor at Barcelona, where the Portuguese helped the Dutchman by preparing scouting reports on the opposition. Van Gaal has spoken highly of Jose Mourinho in relation to their time working together when stating that Jose had learned his trade well as one of his assistants, but also that his former student had become a better manager than the "Iron Tulip" himself - quite a compliment. Having won the Champions League with Porto and Inter Milan, plus domestic trophies galore at Chelsea, Inter and Real Madrid, Jose Mourinho is one of the most celebrated club manager's in world football. After Van Gaal's brand of football, which led to many to joke that it almost made one want to "give up the will to live", for many supporters, the prospect of installing Jose Mourinho was greeted with joy and anticipation.

Soon after his appointment, Mourinho promised that there would be no more "square pegs in round holes"; in football terms that means players will only play in their natural position(s) and the days of "mending and making do" by playing players out of position were over. That promise was broken several times in the following three seasons. The self proclaimed 'Special One', made all of the right noises, but he was no longer the bright young thing that millions of TV viewers saw running down the Old Trafford touchline when doing a goal celebration style slide after knocking United out of the Champions League in 2004. Mourinho had become a more experienced manager after hugely successful spells in charge at Porto, Chelsea, and Inter Milan, where he won a treble. Mourinho had also managed at Real Madrid, however, Jose had been sacked by Chelsea before taking the helm at Old Trafford; rumours of dressing unrest and disagreement over transfers led to the acrimony which saw him part company with the West London club. Mourinho appeared to have become a more circumspect manager following his experience of managing at some of the Europe's biggest clubs. United were desperate to regain their throne at the top of the English game; United appointed one of the most successful manager's in world football; what could possibly go wrong?

So what went wrong for Jose Mourinho, and before him, Louis Van Gaal and David Moyes - the three previous managers before Solskjær? Many fans are now pinning the blame firmly at the door of Ed Woodward and the Glazer family who have owned Manchester United since their controversial debt laden takeover of Manchester United in 2005.

Ed Woodward does not come from a football background, and yet he finds himself making decisions which affect the team on the pitch on Saturday afternoon. Woodward answers to the Glazer family, but should also answer to the 360 million United fans around the world (or whatever the number is claimed to be by United's marketing team)? Ed Woodward has the final say on transfers; recruitment is agreed by pundits, former players and fans to be the biggest single issue which has blighted United since Ferguson retired in 2013, but in truth the issues go back further than that; many agree that the rot set in around 2009. It is true that under Ferguson, United managed to win silverware, but the last league title success was in the Scot's final season in charge, since then United have won the FA Cup, Europa League trophy and the EFL League Cup. Van Gaal won the FA Cup and Mourinho the Europa League and the EFL League Cup.

The football media do not need an invitation to write gossip and Manchester United transfer news David Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho were all linked with transfer wish-lists, which in the main came to nothing; Raphaël Varane, Kilyian Mbappe, Frenkie De Jong, Matthijs De Ligt and Gabriel Jesus were all linked with moving to Manchester United; we cannot confirm the credibility or veracity of those reports, but former player and assistant to Val Gaal, Ryan Giggs was quoted as confirming United's interest in Mbappe and Jesus; no smoke without fire and why is that United are in disarray in the area of player recruitment?

United are considered to be one of the biggest club's in the world, in terms of generating revenues, that is still true, but where football is concerned United aren't living up to the hype and billing. United have been paying exorbitant transfer fees and wages, on too many transfer deals that have gone horribly wrong; after a failed moved from Arsenal, Alexis Sanchez has moved to Inter Milan on loan and United are part paying his wages to the reported tune of over £200,000 per week.

United reportedly splashed out over £53m to acquire Brazilian midfielder Fred, 26, (Frederico Rodrigues de Paula) from Shakhtar Donetsk in 2018; eyebrows were raised at the size of that transfer fee and 12 months on the player hasn't justified that fee.

Sanchez and Fred were signed in part because 'rivals' Man City were said to want to sign both players - but one of them has now left the club on loan; the other has failed to hold to down a regular starting place in Solskjær's team.

In the wake of so many botched (the list is long) transfers and after three failed managerial appointments, there has been much talk of United appointing a DoF (Director of Football) but subsequently that talk has been played down and it looks as though Ed Woodward will remain in charge of overseeing Manchester United's player recruitment, that at least is said to be the case according to the media.

So for now it looks as though the man with no background in football will continue to make important decisions which affect one of the world's biggest football club's on the pitch. If there is a hope it is that Solskjær's first three signings in Maguire, James and Bissaka have all shown great promise and so if Solskjær can hang on to his position as United manager until the summer and United support him sufficiently in the transfer market, and the club doesn't make any more howling transfer errors, then Ole just might keep his job; conversely if results nosedive Solskjær might feel that he has to resign, or else he could be sacked; if that happens surely his boss, Ed Woodward has to go too?

Tuesday, August 01, 2017

Nemanja Matic - 'Just what United needed' or 'a bad deal'?

Manchester United have made their third summer signing with the arrival of Nemanja Matic, who at the age of 28 will cost the club in the region £60m (including wages) over the course of his three year contract. United have reportedly agreed to pay Chelsea £40m to sign the Serbian international.

Confirmation of the widely anticipated, yet prolonged transfer has been greeted with predictable mirth from fans' of rival clubs. In contrast and in response many United fans have been saying 'Matic is just what United needed'.

So who is right and what will Matic bring to United and will he be worth it?  From purely a financial perspective it looks like a very questionable deal. Matic is 29 on August 1st, and at a cost of £40m, he becomes the oldest and the club's most expensive signing for a player over the age of 27. With little prospect of any sell on fee, given Matic will be 32 when his contract expires, the Glazer family - much despised and often derided owners of United -  must have taken some persuading to lavish so much on the Serb, all of which probably in part explains why the deal took so long to complete.

For their part, Chelsea will be laughing all the way to the bank. The champions would have recouped a fraction of the £40m that they have managed to squeeze out of United if they had sold Matic to a club on the continent. Chelsea have replaced Matic with the addition of Bakayoko, 22, for reportedly less than United have shelled out for a much older player. Given the respective deals, it's easy to see why news of the Matic transfer has been greeted with much mickey taking and accusations that this is an act of desperation by Jose Mourinho.

Jose, for his part, is unlikely to care too much about sniping and transfer fees. Mourinho gave Ed Woodward his list of summer targets and the rest was down to United's executive vice-chairman.

So why exactly has Jose decided to sign Matic, for the third time in the last ten years? We can answer that by firstly stating that apart from the burgeoning and yet bizarrely and arguably inexplicably held back Timothy Fosu-Mensah, United do not have a player who is well suited to playing the central midfield holding role; Carrick is too slow and isn't renowned for his tackling skills, the same can be said for Daley Blind - though it's true that both players are held in high regard by many United fans especially in the case of Carrick.

The perceived logic among United fans is that 'at last in Matic, we now have a player who will free up Paul Pogba'. And yet, it might not turn out to be that simple, deep down sensible United fans should realise that. Will the addition of Matic to United's engine room be akin to the final brushstroke on an artist's masterpiece?

United's midfield, like the defence and the attack should be considered to be a department under development, because that's where we are at present following the questionable legacy of the Ferguson era, added to the mixed signings of David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal.

Mourinho is still building with question marks lingering about the position of left-back and who will turn out to be United's strongest centre-back pairing? It will be interesting to see how well United's midfield dovetails with Matic, Pogba plus the array of attacking options at Jose's disposal. According to reports, Jose is trying to sign Perisic from Inter Milan; this United team should still be considered very much work in progress.

Great teams are made up of combinations of players that work well together and complement each other; it takes time to build those relationships and understandings. The ultimate goal, which has frequently been achieved and quite gloriously by Jose throughout his career is to end up with a team in which the whole is considered to be greater than the sum of the individual parts.

When Jose Mourinho took the manager's job at Manchester United it was viewed as his biggest test in what has been a largely glittering managerial career. Mourinho is of course a student of former United coach Louis van Gaal, and like his Dutch mentor, he has built his reputation on tactical planning. Unlike Van Gaal, his predecessor at United, Jose's signings to date have been widely acknowledged as hits.

Jose tries to leave nothing to chance by way of preparation, and in his first season as United manager there have been signs that the team is heading in the right direction; the football was better than it had been under Van Gaal and David Moyes;  if not for drawing too many games at Old Trafford a top four Premier League place should easily and automatically have been secured. Nonetheless, the person responsible for polishing the trophies at Old Trafford was not left underemployed with the addition of 'two and half trophies' in the form of the League Cup aka 'EFL Cup' and Europa League plus the Community Shield. Not a bad effort in Jose's first season, but United fans and everyone connected with the club will be hoping that with Matic, Lukaku and Lindelof on board and with a specialist wide player to follow, it will turn out to be a case of 'he who laughs last, laughs the loudest'. Time will tell.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

United's summer tour of the USA ends in defeat and Jose says he's happy?

Manchester United's summer tour of the USA ended in defeat to Barcelona, with Neymar grabbing the only goal in what was at times a fairly one sided contest. De Gea saved United's blushes with a string of first class saves. After the game Jose Mourinho said that he was happy that United had lost a game on tour. One can only imagine that Jose wanted his players not to get carried away after winning their previous four games against LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Manchester City and Real Madrid, with the latter being won thanks to the 'worst penalty shoot-out in history', at least that is how it has been described.

So what has Jose learned from the summer so far? Well, Jose has made it fairly clear that he wants to add a midfield player plus a winger to his squad before the transfer window slams shut until January. As for the players on tour, Lukaku has performed reasonably well in a United shirt, he scored against Man City with a superbly taken goal and he played a big part in United's other goal. The former Everton striker certainly shoots on sight and so if he is given good service he hopefully will be the answer to United's goal scoring problems. United's other new signing Lindelof has performed less well; he gave away an awful penalty vs Real Madrid, and fluffed his lines badly in the penalty shoot-out in the same game. But worse than that, we have seen very little to date to suggest that Lindelof will be an integral part of Mourinho's reshaped United defence. It is of course early days for Lukaku and Lindelof but the pressure is on, as it always is when you play for Manchester United. Next up United travel to Norway to face Valerenga.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Crazy transfer fees - the madness looks set to get worse...

Manchester United's summer spending tally has reached over £100m with the addition of just two players. Transfer fees are spiralling out of control with the likes Daniel Levy, Spurs CEO, saying it is unsustainable. Alan Sugar, the former Spurs owner famously compared the Premier League tv deal to 'the prune juice effect: it goes in one end and comes out the other'. Looking back through this blog's archives I wrote an article predicting the £100m transfer, that was in 2008 prior to Financial Fair Play being introduced. Things have moved on a pace since then with rumours suggesting Monaco's Mbappe is set to join Real Madrid for an astounding £160m. One of the sad ironies is that fans from the games' traditional working class background have been priced out of going to Old Trafford on a regular basis to watch United. Ticket prices are too high and yet the game is awash with money following the new tv deal for which the top four Premier Lieague clubs wil receive between £150m-£160m a season, with the rest receiving around £95m. One can't help but feel that the people charged with running our leading clubs and footballs' governing bodies are once again letting its greatest asset down because without the fans' there will be no game and eventually the money will dry up. That is another prediction to look back on in the event of football failing to change.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Appointment of Carrick as United captain highlights lack of leaders at the club...

Social media is awash with fans wishing Michael Carrick well after being appointed as United's new captain, it's all very nice and he's well liked by many Manchester United fans. However, like his predecessor Wayne Rooney, Carrick will more than likely find himself sat on the bench next season, and therefore of no value in the red hot heat of battle. It doesn't seem that long ago that Roy Keane was chivvying his team-mates along and snarling at opponents in the tunnel before a ball was kicked, as well as inspiring the team to epic comebacks like he did with that towering header in the Champions League semi-final against Juventus in 1999.

Roy Keane was a player who led by example, like Bryan Robson another great United captain, his finest 90 minutes came against Barcelona in 1984 the second leg of Cup Winners Cup. United were two-nil down from the first leg, the return leg at Old Trafford will never be forgotten for those like myself who were lucky enough to be there.
Leading by example is what the great captains do. Sadly, but truthfully, the role of United captain (like at many clubs) has been reduced to a largely ceremonial role. The fact that it has come to this isn't by choice of course, it is because true leaders of the desired quality are in very short supply. There is another theory that clubs on the continent view the role of club captain as a ceremonial role and a none playing captain is deemed acceptable.

Once your team crosses the touchline the manager is helpless to affect events directly on the pitch where leadership is concerned. Jose Mourinho needs to find a player who is a leader in the best traditions of former great Manchester United club captains. Easier said that done of course...but one hopes it's on Jose's to do list.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The day Jose Mourinho effectively ended Wayne Rooney's glittering Manchester United career...

It is almost 12 months to the day that Jose Mourinho told the world that Wayne Rooney's Manchester United career was effectively over. The date was July 5th, 2016. In an interview that was published by the Daily Telegraph, Jose Mourinho explained why Rooney would not continue to play in midfield, as he had done the previous season on several occasions under Louis van Gaal and for England. Van Gaal wasn't the only United manager to promote the idea of Rooney dropping back into midfield in the latter stages of his career. To many it seemed like a reasonable idea; Rooney has bags of experience, he had been a player United had learnt to rely on. But Jose Mourinho had other ideas.

Following the Portuguese manager's sacking from Chelsea he had plenty of time to mull over his options and to run the rule over the Manchester United squad ahead of accepting his next 'big job', but like those who follow United avidly he must have been shocked at Rooney's drop in performance levels. At one time, not so long ago, you could rely on Rooney not to lose possession cheaply and to find a teammate with a good pass, be it long or short. But Rooney's passing and his touch deserted him, and all too often instead of cheering when Rooney was on the ball, the crowd were left groaning in frustration as he lost it in simple situations and when under little pressure.

Jose Mourinho is a detail man, and a clever one at that and sometimes you have to read behind the lines, but it wasn't difficult to guess where Jose was going when he made it clear there would be no place for United's former talisman in his engine room: “Maybe he [Rooney] is not a striker, not a No. 9 anymore but for me he will never be a No. 6, playing 50 metres from the goal. You can tell me his pass is amazing but my pass is also amazing without pressure.

“To be there and put the ball in the net is the most difficult thing. For me he will be a 9, a 10, a nine-and-a-half but never a 6 or even an 8.”

Just three days before Jose delivered his verdict on Rooney's United future, he had signed Zlatan Ibrahimovic and there was no way he was going to sit on the United bench and everyone, including Rooney knew it.

As the season progressed and despite United struggling to score goals and somehow managing to contrive to draw too many games which should have been won, especially at Old Trafford, Jose Mourinho stood by his guns and he used Rooney sparingly, often from the bench. Whenever the subject of Rooney's future was raised, the United manager said all of the right things, but there was a feeling that Rooney's time as a Manchester United player was coming to an end. Some fans believed that Rooney's main motivation for staying with United for so long was to grab one last huge accolade and that was to become Manchester United's all time leading goal scorer - a record that had been held by Bobby Charlton for 40 years; the old record was 249 goals. Rooney became the club's leading goal scorer away at Stoke City, in a game that finished 1-1.

All players need to be motivated and sometimes they say a move is as good as a rest and following his transfer back to Everton, don't be surprised if Wayne Rooney's name is once again dominating headlines for all of the right reasons.

Manchester United supporters are left with a treasure trove of mostly great memories, aside from his last few seasons with the club. Questions have been asked as to why Rooney didn't move on as he threatened to back in 2013, and before that in 2010 when Rooney was linked to Manchester City whatever the reasons for staying there's no doubt about his contribution to Manchester United; he was a fantastic player who deserved all of the accolades and trophies that he helped to win for the club. His goals were often sublime, none more so than his stunning overhead-kick against Manchester City - an all time favourite of many United fans.