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.

Manchester United squad for 2017 US Tour and complete summer schedule

Jose Mourinho has the luxury of being able to take a full strength squad to the USA for the 2017 International Champions Cup. The touring United squad will be given the sternest of tests when facing: LA Galaxy, Real Salt Lake, Manchester City, Real Madrid and Barcelona.

New signing Romelu Lukaku is the only absentee following his big money transfer to Manchester United, a move which coincided with Wayne Rooney rejoining his boyhood club Everton. Lukaku is expected to join up with the United squad at some stage and all United fans will hope he makes a successful scoring debut.

United have two further games with Valerenga in Oslo, and Sampdoria in Dublin, before facing the what is likely to be the toughest summer test when taking on Champions League holders Real Madrid in the UEFA Super Cup in Skopje, Macedonia.

Full Man Utd squad:

Goalkeepers: De Gea, Sergio Romero, Joel Pereira.

Defenders: Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian, Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Eric Bailly, Daley Blind, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Victor Lindelof, Axel Tuanzebe, Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw, Demetri Mitchell.

Midfielders: Ashley Young, Michael Carrick, Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera, Scott McTominay, Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Juan Mata, Andreas Pereira.

Tour dates and venues:

Date Opposition Local time / GMT Venue
Jul 15 LA Galaxy 19:00 / 03:00 StubHub Center, Carson
Jul 17 Real Salt Lake 20:00 / 03:00 Rio Tinto Stadium, Sandy
Jul 20 Man City 20:30 / 02:30 NRG Stadium, Houston
Jul 23 Real Madrid 14:00 / 22:00 Levi's Stadium, Santa Clara
Jul 26 Barcelona 19:30 / 00:30 FedEx Field, Landover
Jul 30; Valerenga 19:00 / 18:00 Ullevaal Stadium, Oslo
Aug 2 Sampdoria 19:45 / 19:45 Aviva Stadium, Dublin
Aug 8 Real Madrid 20.45 / 19.45 Philip II Arena, Skopje

Sunday, July 09, 2017

Out with the old and in with the new...

It's been quite some time since the old blog last fired up; over three years actually. I haven't been in prison, honestly, but at times watching United during that time has felt like serious hard labour. Unlike going to gaol your sentence doesn't eventually come to an end when you're a lifelong follower of the world's greatest and the 'biggest football club'; United like to call themselves that don't they? Or should that be 'we say'?

So much water has passed under the United bridge, so much that I'm not going to try to cover it... because it would take me 3 years. Instead, we look forward to the future. From now on it will be Manchester United and Jose Mourinho 2.0 (two point O).

Like many rabid United fans, I was satisfied with United ending the season with 3 'trophies' - boy did we make hard work of it though? But that's the United way, isn't it? It pretty much always has been. Sure, we enjoyed some great spells under Fergie, when he was the Laird of Old Trafford and the Premier League. So yes, we have pretty much owned the PL at times. Alas, no more.

So what can we look forward to sans Wayne Rooney (more on him shortly) and new striker Romelu Lukaku? For starters, plenty of goals one hopes. Far be it for me to kick a man when he's down, (my name isn't Alan Shearer), but if one man cost United automatic Champions League qualification for next season (via our league position), it was Manchester United's top goal scorer Zlatan Ibrahimovic because by common consensus he should have scored a lot more goals.

Zlatan is of course out injured and with no contract offer on the table, his United career might be over, but then maybe not as the latest news suggests the club might offer him a short-term deal in January if he regains full fitness. And this blog thinks that's a good idea.

When news of Lukaku's transfer broke, I was a bit surprised, because I was thinking that United were going to sign Morata from Real Madrid; a player who I think would have been almost the perfect choice. When I use the term 'perfect choice' there are some questions about Morata's goal scoring ability. But Morata is very good at finding space and bringing others into play which is exactly what you need in a 451 system or in any variant of. Jose Mourinho is a 451 man; he rarely plays two out and out strikers - not unless he's chasing the game.

When it comes to goal scoring, Lukaku has a very good record and his shot conversion rate is higher than any of the recent United striker options. So, hopefully, United's failures in front of goal will be a thing of the past. It's the rest of Lukaku's game that might be a cause for concern. To that end I read an interesting critique on the Everton striker, it was written by a long standing Evertonian, who went on to write that the Belgian striker divides opinion among the Goodison Park faithful (always a worry IMO), and in his opinion there's a 70/30 split (with 70% being in favour). The author of this piece was and is a Lukaku fan. And while he valued the player's goal scoring ability, he raised some serious questions about his ability to control the ball and not lose it; his ability to cast off the shackles of a tight marking counter attacking team and in such games he can be totally anonymous. Nor is Lukaku good at creating his own space to shoot. These are not my views, but the views of a fan who has watched Everton from the Goodison Park stands for over 20 years. Granted they are the views of just one fan, but he's a Lukaku fan. So to me at least it made for an interesting read and I look forward to seeing how Lukaku does under the glare of the Manchester United spotlight.

As I write this blog post, Wayne Rooney is on the verge of what will be an emotional return to his boyhood club. Everton are the team he has always supported, he joined the Merseyside club as a youngster and went on to achieve so much for the Toffees and then so much more with Manchester United. I wish him well. He has served United and Everton well, I just hope he doesn't come back to haunt us in future United vs. Everton games.