Wednesday, 15 May 2019

Man Utd's jobs for the boys approach is ruinous and has to stop

The news that Darren Fletcher is the leading contender to become Manchester United's first ever technical director tells you everything you need to know about the abhorrent mess we find ourselves in. It should have left me scratching my head in bemusement, but then nothing surprises me with this club any more.  I've got nothing against Fletch, he made 342 appearances for us over 12 years and came through the ranks to win 13 major honours as a solid, reliable, versatile squad player. Very admirable, and I'm sure he's a top bloke but that's about as far as it goes.

But what on earth are the club thinking in possibly making him the main man in such an important role? What qualifications has he got - what does he know about scouting networks, player recruitment, communicating with agents or any technical aspect of the beautiful game? How on earth can a man with no experience in that field reasonably be expected to be the person tasked with driving a broken, dysfunctional, appallingly run and upside down club back on the straight and narrow? He knows the club, granted, but that doesn't mean he's the best person for the job. We need a world class, ready made candidate to come in from day one at set about the task at hand. There is simply no room for error and we're not in a position to have someone such as Fletcher to be learning on the job. Ed Woodward's seven years at the club have been plagued by erratic, fateful and ill-thought out decisions. In a catalogue of catastrophes, this looks set to be his most catastrophic one yet. 

United have spent almost a year on this, and whilst I'd rather that than the customary hurried, knee-jerk appointment, they don't seem to be any further forward. Tottenham's Paul Mitchell and Roma's Monchi were both targets but have disappeared off the wish lish without a trace. Edwin van de Sar is the ideal architect - if the board are looking for a former player, then look no further than our ex stopper. Edwin has received widespread praise for his part in Ajax's re-emergence as a European force, with their recruitment, vision and ideology a key element of the Amsterdam club's giant killing run to the Champions League last four. He has been open to an Old Trafford move, but one suspects that United's powers that be are unwilling to part with the club coffers and open the chequebook. Doing things on the cheap yet again.

There seems to be an obession of filling the club with loyal ex players and died in the wool Reds - it is a worry that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is becoming a yes man and so will the man who eventually gets the nod as technical director. That now seems to be the hierarchy's newly found raison d'etre. We're Manchester United, we can recuit anyone we want to with the financial clout and historic prestige at our disposal. We could have got any of the three men mentioned above but, instead, over the past month alone, we've flip flopped from G-Nev, to Rio Ferdinand to Pat Evra. All have been lined up as Ole's intermediary before pulling Fletcher's name from the Old Trafford hat. Nostalgia FC.

It is a jobs for the boys approach and a clever, strategic game the Glazers are playing, here. They know that the likes of Fletcher and Ole are popular, well-liked members of the former Reds alumni with a lifelong affinity to this great club. They're never going to get criticised or questioned in a way that an outsider would. If club legends hold the two most important jobs at the club, it will be impossible for us fans to protest against as to do so would mean disrespect. It would mean contempt and sacrilege against our own. Thereby the Glazers avoid accountability and cover their backsides. They're playing with fans emotions whilst an old cast list masquerade in the role of the puppet, the yes men, the people to run the club by their whims and fancies just as they want.

 By refusing to let go of the past, United are failing to embrace the future.

Monday, 13 May 2019

Manchester United's 2018-19: Reflections on a season in the Red

So another season comes to a sticky and unsavoury end. For us United fans, it has been another unpalatable one and could yet get worse if a certain other side in red end up with the greatest prize of all next month. City winning the league ahead of the Scousers is the smallest crumb of comfort but hardly a cause for celebration.
We haven't even got the pull of a major tournament - World Cup or a Euros - to help numb the pain amidst the wreckage of a car crash campaign that leaves us, again, stuck in the mud and wallowing in treacle at every turn.

 The dye was cast from day one when Jose Mourinho knocked on Ed Woodward's door with a list of five players, including at least top class centre-backs, on his shopping list. He ended up with a 35-year-old Stoke reject, a 19 year old kid from Portugal and £52m Brazilian you got the feeling he never even wanted. From that moment on, it was the beginning of the end - both for the manager and his players. Mourinho, justifiably so, had his critics, but he was the latest in a long line of United bosses to be let down by his board. He said upon his departure that finishing second with this side was the greatest achievement of his long, decorated and illustrious career but you know what, maybe, just maybe, he was right all along. We went into this season with no expectations and that's likely to be the case again in 2019/20.

This term will be instantly forgettable - with the storm clouds of seven soporific months only briefly punctuated by the longest managerial honeymoon in history. For 16 unforgettable games, United were unstoppable - off came the shackles as players, fans and pundits alike were thrown back to the romance of our halycon days of yesteryear as United could not stop winning with a series of performances that were as stunning and as swashbuckling as the next. The ghosts of the moribund Mourinho were laid to rest with his very anthithesis - a club legend by the name of Ole plucked from the Norwegian backwaters - at the wheel in spectacular style. He had us enthralled by the best run of form for many a year.  It could not last and sadly it didn't. How a team can go from the zenith of one of the best nights in our history in Paris to picking up two points from a possible 15 in the space of only 68 days is beyond me.

Having to witness what many will look back upon as the best title race in the history of the Premier League - one contested between the two teams we hate the most - it was almost as if the football deities joined in with the universal mocking of the mess that our club has become. We finished sixth on 66 points, an eye-popping 32 points behind City. Two seasons ago, we finished in the same position and three points better off but with the caveat of winning the Europa League and getting back into the European elite albeit via the back door. This time around, the Champions League campaign offered hope, with excellent wins against Juventus and the history making away goals progress against PSG. We perhaps got further than many expected, only to fall short against the same Barcelona side who were on the receiving end of Liverpool's climb off the canvas Mission Impossible.

Who's going to be our director of football? Which players are going? Who's coming in? Have the board got a strategy and a plan to take us forward? What about the transfer kitty? What about the tour and the Europa League? Where does all of this leave United? For what feels like the umpteenth time, there's more questions than answers and no one to provide them.

Spare a thought for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The United boss faces a hectic summer, sleepless nights and not a moment's rest as he attempts the biggest rebuilding job since Romulus and Remus. Six seasons on from David Moyes avant garde inheritance from the greatest manager there ever was and ever will be, this is a far bigger job. Moyes only had subtle tweaking to do but Solskjaer has open heart surgery. We need ten players in and just as many out but that won't happen overnight. I have heard some fans calling for Ole's head already - that is, to put it subtly, frankly ludicrous. What can he be expected to do with this squad in such a short space of time? We need to give him time to build and put his own stamp on things, a la Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino. These two men have been at their clubs for four and five years respectively and only now are we starting to see the fruits of their labour. It is a project but we have to be patient. It could well turn out to be that Solskjaer is not the right man for the job as we thought he was but it is simply too early to judge. Give the man a chance before casting judgement.

None of the players have covered themselves in glory, but Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof emerge from a troubled campaign with credit, their reputations enhanced. Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong have shown flashes of their frightening potential, Diogo Dalot has offered promise  and Scott McTominay has continued to come of age. As United embark on a summer of rebuilding, these players are safe in knowledge that their futures lie at Old Trafford.

As the Smiths once sang, there is a light that never goes out. As the sun sets on Manchester United's season, no matter how dark things get, we will always keep supporting. We've deserved better as fans, but we'll keep the faith and keep the red flag flying high. We'll never die!

Mason Greenwood offers hope for the future as United aim to rebuild

Manchester United's final day defeat to Cardiff brough down the curtain on a dreadful season at Old Trafford. The 2018-19 campaign ended as it began - with the club in a mess, the players not bothered and indisinterested and us fans feeling as disconnected from our club as ever. Granted we had nothing to play for and our 53rd match of the season resembled little more than a glorified expidition tie. That said, it would have been nice to give us something to cheer and to send us into the two-month hiatus on a high. We caan enjoy the break now and put the stresses of this season to one side. Only 89 days until we go again...

 If there's anything positive to come out of a shocking loss to the Championship-bound Bluebirds, it's that it will be the last time a good few of these players ever pull on the iconic red shirt. Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia are definitely going, but more are sure to follow. Paul Pogba and David de Gea have probably had their United swansongs whilst the future of many others - the likes of Messrs Lukaku, Matic, Sanchez and Mata el al - remain shrouded in uncertainty. Speaking of the future, if there is any crumb of comfort to be taken from a season that started badly, peaked in Paris and then ended in chaos, it's that United's revered Academy looks in as good a shape as ever.

At 17 years and 223 days, Mason Greenwood became the youngest player to start a league game for United, and he more than showed his frightening promise as the sole ray of sunshine in a gloomy United performance. Together with Angel Gomes, one year his senior, the two homegrown talents outshone many of their more experienced and illustrious colleagues. Gomes only played the last quarter of the tie but did more in his brief cameo than most of this shower managed in the preceding 74 minutes. Players such as Greenwood, Gomes, Tahith Chong, Scott McTominay and James Garner should be central to our rebuild.

As the Reds collective form has plummeted, so has Marcus Rashford's. Devoid of any confidence, his decision making, composure and intelligencee has simply fallen off a cliff. But Rashford's loss is Greenwood's gain. He can be proud of his full debut having had a stunning season in the Reserve side, with 26 goals and eight assists in 30 games at second tier level. Thrown into the first-team fray in the midst of an injury crisis, he made his senior bow at the Parc des Princes and went down in the annals as our youngest ever player in the Champions League era, at 17 years and 156 days. A league debut off the bench at Arsenal quickly followed as his devastating form at youth level was rewarded with a long awaited senior breakthrough. Touted for a while now as our next big thing, this kid has all the attributes to be something special. He was responsible for most of our best moments against the Bluebirds, hitting the post and keeping Cardiff stopper Neil Etheridge busy.

If you want to be hyper critical, then he probably should have tucked one of his chances away but he was unlucky and was the best player on the pitch by a distance among those in Red.He's got to be promoted to the senior ranks for next season in the same way that Rashford was.

For one so young, Greenwood belies his tender years and can show his team-mates the way when it comes to playing for the shirt with pride, passion and unstinting honour.

Not for the first time, we're looking to United's next generation to take u
s forward.

Match report: Man Utd 0-2 Cardiff City

Nathaniel Mendez - Laing scored twice as relegated Cardiff won at Old Trafford and ended Man Utd's inglorious season in ignomonioua fashion. The winger scored either side of half-time to ensure Neil Warnock's side returned to the second tier off the back off a memorable last day win.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked to have turned our fortunes around as we went 12 games unbeaten after his arrival. But the side picked up two points from the last 15 to finish in sixth place and face a make or break summer of open heart surgery. 17-year-old Mason Greenwood, on his debut Premier League start, was the only bright spot for United as the teenager looked impressive throughout and was unlucky not to score.
The Reds fielded six Academy graduates and saw Antonio Valencia make his farewell appearance after a decade of loyal service to the club with a 15-minute cameo. The players stayed behind to embark on a "lap of honour" in front a sparsely populated Old Trafford at the end of a miserable campaign.

Cardiff travelled to Old Trafford just a week after confirmation of their relegation to the Championship and looked set to bid farewell to the top flight with a whimper as United dominated the opening exchanges.
But it was United who finished the match with their tails between their legs, unable to defy a resolute Bluebirds defence as they rained chance after chance on Neil Etheridge's goal.
Greenwood hit a post, Jesse Lingard was denied by the keeper and Andreas Pereira flashed a shot wide as the Bluebirds had to weather an early United surge.

Greenwood twice went close with headers, but Cardiff took a 23rd minute lead when Mendez - Laing was adjudged to have been felled by Diogo Dalot.  TV replays showed that the striker had swiped and missed his shot and started to fall before the Portuguese full back made contact. Arguments from the Reds camp came to nothing and Mendez-Laing stroked the spot-kick down the middle to make it 1-0.
David de Gea saved superbly from Josh Murphy shortly before half-time, when Anthony Martial came on for Phil Jones and Scott McTominay dropped to centre-half.

United soon fell further behind through a goal that was embarrasingly easy. A simple move down United's non existent left side saw Murphy waltz into space and cut the ball back for Mendez - Laing, who sidefooted in from close range.

Rashford had a header saved and Martial also went close but the Reds struggled to make inroads against an archetypal well-drilled, organised and resilient Cardiff side.  It almost got worse as Bobby Reid stole in behind the defence but lashed his shot wide.

Old Trafford was willing Greenwood to score and at least offer a crumb of comfort, but he was unable to convert Rashford's low cross on 87 minutes. Angel Gomes, another star in the making, also enjoyed an eye catching cameo as he was brought on with Valencia on 74 minutes.

This was an instantly forgettable denoument to a troubled season as we end with six defeats in nine ahead of a summer of reflection and rebuilding before 2019-20.

Overall team performance: 3/10
United Faithful Man of the Match: Mason Greenwood. The only bright spot on a dark last day of the season.

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Match preview: Man Utd v Cardiff City

Old Trafford will bid farewell to two departing United stalwarts as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer faces old side Cardiff City in our final game of 2018-19.
Neil Warnock's relegated Bluebirds provide the Reds final opponents of a troubled season, but the fixture is something of a subplot with Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia set to leave the club after five and ten years at the club respectively. It could also see Paul Pogba, David de Gea and Juan Mata make their curtain calls with ongoing uncertainty over the future of all three men. Herrera has made 189 appearances for the club, and Valencia - who has not featured since 2 January - has played 338 times.

The club captain hopes to be fit enough to make a farewell appearance after a decade at United.
Jesse Lingard could return after injury but Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez and Anthony Martial are fitness doubts.
Cardiff are without loanees Harry Arter and Victor Camarasa because of a calf strain and dead leg respectively.

United boss Solskjaer has pledged to involve Academy youngsters such as Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood against the south Wales side who return to the second tier after a single Premier League campaign. There may be nothing riding on the result but what happens over the summer and into next season is extremely important for both.

 A week of two incredible comebacks.
A weekend when an epic title tussle will reach its climax.
A season that will see four English clubs meet in European finals... but, for once, instead of writing such headlines, Manchester United are noticeable by their absence.
Second last season and seemingly back in the pack, we're miles off the pace again, faced with the unpalatable situation of being only spectators as our fiercest and most hated rivals compete for the most prestigious honours. 
With a summer of comings and goings predicted, this could represent an Old Trafford farewell for several donning the famous red jersey.
But will it be the denouement in the career of Cardiff manager Warnock?
After relegation at 70, retirement may yet beckon but he would miss football - and football would certainly miss him.

 Ole said: "Challenging for the title next year would be a miraculous season because we are so far behind at the moment, points-wise.
"It's not like when I used to play that it was us or Arsenal that were going to win the league, and then Chelsea came.
"Now it's a very, very competitive competition and we're challenging against the best teams in the world for these trophies. You have five, six, seven sides to get the better of. That tells us that it's going to be a great challenge. We want to get back to where we used to be."

 Form guide: Man Utd W L L L D D Cardiff City L L W L L L
Match odds: Man Utd 2/7 Draw 11/2 Cardiff City 17/2 (Skybet)
Referee: Jon Moss takes charge in game 38 of 38

Sack the board, I am sick of saying it now

Just when you thought the embarrasing, circus act clowns who pose as the Manchester United board couldn't get more inept.
As news broke on Saturday morning of Ander Herrera's immiment departure after five years and almost 200 games at Old Trafford, three thoughts occured to me. Sadness at the departure of a player I love, a player who gets this club and one of the few who has proved himself to be worthy of the Manchester United name. Anger at the way the board have allowed this to happen, and the manner in which they have treated one of our own who deserves better. Then came the wave of resentment towards this poisonous, toxic, clueless, upside down board who have played Russian roulette with our club and ripped its heart out like a banker's plaything. They're making financial, business decisions over the needs of a football club and have increasingly showed they can't even get that right. How else to explain indulging the hangers on Ashley Young, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones with new deals, paying Alexis Sanchez 500k a week for doing less than nothing and letting Herrera leave by allowing his contract to run down. When you take the risk on a decent player and a big club comes in, you've got nowhere to go and of course he's going to leave. It is a disgrace that this has been allowed to happen. Why are contracts allowed to run down?
 It's contradictory - trying to save money by dithering over deals, but then scrimping it away elsewhere trying to please players who shouldn't even be here. Another United manager being stabbed in the back by those above him. We are run so very, very badly, it's embarrasing and amateurish. Herrera clearly never wanted to go, he had it forced upon him by the board who left him with no option but to leave - the latest in a string of ill-fated decisions that lack any basic and tangible nous, knowledge and logic.

You can't blame Herrera for leaving - why wouldn't you when the employers you have served so well clearly don't value you and have done zero to try and keep hold of a good asset?

Allowing Herrera to leave is nonsensical. Even if you agree to the notion that there's better out there - ask yourself this: who, realistically, could we sign. United need many reinforcements but now we're going to have to fork out in upward of £50m to replace a player who didn't need replacing. Even if you feel that we can attract players of better calibre than the man from Bilbao, very few can give us the attributes Ander has done. A leader, he wore his heart on his sleeve, was the master of shithousery and epitomised everything a United player should be. People like that aren't easy to replace. Especially not in a squad full of spineless, gutless babies.This board have made us a laughing stock. Whoever the key person or people behind this decision were, all need to stop interfering and leave footballing matters to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.

 I cannot accurately described the levels of risible resentment within me towards this regime. I will never turn my back on the team I love, but it's got to the point now where I feel I shouldn't put any more money into the club. They clearly don't care about us as fans, so why should we continue to fund their cash cow? Support the team not the regime.

Ole ole Ander Herrera.. Adios and gracias

After 189 games in the Red of United, Ander Herrera will run out at Old Trafford as a Manchester United player for the final time tomorrow. Herrera's deal is due to expire, the club have not offered him a new one and he looks set to sign for PSG on a free, having agreed terms with the Ligue 1 champions after five years as one of our club's best post Sir-Alex signings. Arriving from La Liga in 2014 for £29m as Louis van Gaal's first signing, Herrera was the string-pulling heartbeat of our engine room and developed into a key man in a United side that at times seems to be in a constant state of turbulence.
In an emotional farewell message posted on United's Twitter, Herrera made official what has looked likely for some time, after widespread speculation about his future.

So how will the man from Bilbao be remembered? The answer, certainly from my perspective, is with great affection.

Whilst there have certainly been more skillful, edge-of-
your-seat players to don the iconic Red, Herrera was a rare breed - a foreign import who quickly became a fans favourite for his combative, courageous, hard-working and all action style. He reminded me of a Roy Keane-esque identikit and held a love and affinity for our club that you don't very often see in an overseas player. He hated losing and epitomised everything a Manchester United player should be. As Tony Adams once said: "Play for the name on the front of the shirt and they will remember the name on the back."

  Every tackle, every act of bravery, every act of shithousery, every lung bursting rung and every single thing that proves that what Ander Herrera is, is something United currently lack.

Not forgetting that time he spat on the City badge at the swamp.

This United squad is a discombobulated rabble of half arsed players who don't give a shit, but  Herrera is one of the few who is both genuinely good enough and does actually care. Letting him leave looks a massive mistake and one that I hope we don't live to regret.

An expert of "the needle", Herrera was adept at boiling the collective piss of opposition players and fans alike simply through his no nonsense attitude and putting his body on the line. His man marking masterclass on Eden Hazard for Chelsea's visit in the April of 2017 will live long in the memory, and capped a wonderful season in which he was our skipper in all but name and ended up as winner of the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award. In a United squad where true leaders and out and out captains are conspicous in absentia, Herrera should have been that man. He will be sorely missed and I'm gutted that he won't be a part of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's plans to rebuild United. The mess Manchester United are in, the leadership and authority the club lacks, they are letting go of a proper leader. It might be tough to find another one soon.

A player who forever gave his all, Herrera wore his heart on his sleeve, never put in anything less than 100% and developed into one of the finest box to box midfielders in the land. He perhaps never got the credit he deserved from observers, fans and pundits, but he was crucial. During his five seasons under three different managers, Herrera won both domestic cups and was named man of the match in the Europa League final after he covered every blade of grass in that final against Ajax.

When times were dark, he gave his all to light the fire. When it seemed as though no one cared, he did care every single time. Because of that, he became a player every United fan could relate to and connect to. Someone we could identify with. He became a cult hero, a terrace icon, a fans favourite.

Antonio Valencia will also leave United on a free transfer this summer after the club opted not to trigger a one year extension in his contract, while Juan Mata is yet to agree terms on a new deal at Old Trafford.

Ole ole Ander Herrera. Gracias and adios Ander, good luck at PSG and all the best for your future.