Friday 23 July 2021

United complete Jadon Sancho signing

Manchester United have finally confirmed the much anticipated signing of Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund for £73m.
After a two-year long transfer saga that saw talks for the player last summer break down when the two clubs could not agree a fee, the 21-year-old - long linked with a move to Old Trafford - put pen to paper on a deal until 2026 with the option of a further year. 
The Reds have finally got their man to resolve the problem right-wing position, vacated by Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009 and not adequately addressed since. Only took us twelve years. 

Sancho - for whom the deal was agreed on July 1 - becomes United's fourth most expensive summer signing (after Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku and Harry Maguire) and the second costliest English player of all time - behind only team-mate and new captain, that man Maguire.

Sancho, a former youth team player at Manchester City, said: "I'll always be grateful to Dortmund for giving me the opportunity to play first team football, although I always knew and hoped I would return to England one day.
"The chance to join Manchester United is a dream come true, and I just cannot wait to perform in the Premier League. 
"This is a young and exciting squad and I know, together, we can develop further into something special to bring the success the fans deserve. I'm looking forward to working with the manager and his coaching team to further develop my game."

Sancho, widely regarded as one of the brightest young talents in Europe, scored 50 goals (64 assists) in his four seasons (137 appearances) in Germany, won the German cup and DFL Supercup (the equivalent of the Community Shield) and has been capped 22 times by England under Gareth Southgate having won the World Cup at U17 level in 2017.
technical, creative and brimming with pace and trickery, Sancho was the focal point of Dortmund's youthful attack and will look to reprise that role at Old Trafford - stationed on the right hand side to dovetail with stellar talents Bruno Fernandes, Cavani and England colleague Marcus Rashford. 

United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer told "Jadon epitomises the type of player I want at this club - he is brilliantly exciting forward player in the best traditions of Manchester United.
"He will form an integral part of my team for years to come and we look forward to seeing him blossom - there is no better place for him to unleash his considerable talent. His goals, assists and attacking influence records speak for themselves and he will bring us pace, flair, and impetus to my squad."

Sancho's arrival at Old Trafford completes the final piece of Solskjaer's attacking puzzle, with the problematic right-wing issues now consigned to the history books. Not since a certain chap by the name of Cristiano have we had a right-winger worthy of the name, but now Sancho - who will take up the no.25 shirt at the club - will mean we have a proper, top class, out-and-out right sided player for the best part of a decade to come. Sancho had been linked with the iconic, exalted status of United's famous no.7 but Edinson Cavani - whom currently occupies the hallowed epitome of excellence - will now retain that number. 

United's newest recruit is currently on a well deserved holiday having played for England at the Euros but is expected to return in time to feature during pre-season ahead of our opener with Leeds on 14th August. 

Welcome to Manchester United, Jadon Sancho. Welcome to the biggest club in the world.

Tuesday 13 July 2021

Marcus Rashford... the whole of England is with you

The disgraceful scenes which followed England's penalty shootout defeat to Italy in the final of the Euros were as disgusting as they were predictable.
Despite taking the knee for over a year, you knew what would happen as soon as Bukayo Saka's penalty was clawed away by the giant frame of Gianluigi Donnarumma to give the Azzuri a second continental title and deny England at the last. 

Even before Saka's errant spot-kick, there was a sad sense of inevitability once Red-in-waiting Jadon Sancho and very much Red Marcus Rashford failed to convert from 12 yards. Your first thought was "Oh no" - not because it was  England but because of the identity of the players. Three young black men had erred when it mattered most - and suddenly the notion that Black Lives Matter was conspicuous by its absence. It said it all when you knew - in 2021 for goodness sake - England's failure would pave the way for their black footballers to be scapegoated and vilified. Rashford's memorial in Withington - a tribute to this finest of young men - was vandalised with disgusting, abhorrent racist abuse. On Instagram, Sancho and Saka were besieged with monkey emojis and language not fit for either these pages or, indeed, anywhere at all. 

To these abusers: you are not fans, you are scum. The lowest of the low. To call you people at all is being too polite. It's the minority, the likes of you, that give the rest of us a bad name as football fans and human beings. Get in the bin, get out the country and never come back. We don't want you here. You don't deserve us. Rashford doesn't deserve you. How dare you. What goes through the minds of these sick, twisted, vile, pathetic excuses of a human being to even think of actions like these, let alone carry them through. We can only hope Rashford has a loving arm thrown around him and the country, as a collective, reaches out and pulls him into the warmest of metaphorical embraces. He deserves nothing less. It's been fantastic to see the warmth of feeling the nation has for this man with his newly repaired mural - defaced in the aftermath of Sunday's defeat - showered with cards, messages and an outpouring of love. We are all with you Marcus. The response to the events of Sunday evening have only gone to further illustrate how much of an impact Rashford has had on the nation's conscience over the past year or so.  

In Rashford, a young, working class black man from impoverished Wynthenshawe in the leafy suburbs of Manchester's metropolis  - the country had found a people's champion during the worst health crisis of this and any other generation. With the UK plunged into the first of three national lockdowns, Rashford took on the government under his own steam in the face of defiance to provide food for our nation's children, setting up his own foundation, doing charity work, helping out at a foodbank with his mum, becoming the face of FairShare and earning an MBE. England took Rashford to their hearts as a rare example of a successful, high earning, high profile celebrity using his exalted status to make a difference to others. Throw in the fact he learnt sign language to judge a poetry competition for deaf children, and his new found expertise as a children's author, and you have a young man with a heart of gold, a role model, an inspiration and a thousand times better a person than any of us mere mortals can ever even hope of becoming. Yet this is the thanks he gets for putting those less fortunate first. He's got nothing to apologise for, but yet the fact he feels he even needs to says it all when it comes to the systemic treatment of coloured people in 21st century Britain. Love will always conquer hate. 

This young man - a lad in his early 20s no less - possesses more courage than I could ever even dream of. He had the guts to step up and take that penalty when others didn't. There's absolutely nothing for him to feel sorry about - he's done more than most to keep our country going, keep our spirits up, and should be proud of himself. I'm certainly proud of him and one missed penalty won't ever change that. I'm proud and privileged a player and a person like Rashford plays for our club - my club. He's taken plenty of pressure penalties before and succeeded - who can forget that famous night in Paris when he completed Mission Impossible with nerves of steel. It's sport. It happens. It's no secret that Rashford has struggled through this season, playing through injury to put his body on the line for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and United. But yet he still refused to be cowed in the Euros final, and showed courage, guts and bravery when his country needed him most. 

 He was merely a bit part player in the Euros, only coming on in the dying seconds of the final specifically to take a penalty. Rashford hadn't got a feel for the ball and his ill-fated spot kick was only his second touch but yet he still put his hand up to take that penalty with everything at stake, despite being far from his best and struggling with fitness and confidence. He should be commended, not criticised. If anything, Gareth Southgate - for all his excellent work with the national team - could be apportioned blame for overlooking Rashford (and Sancho to an extent) for weeks but then bringing them on as first choice penalty takers with two minutes to go having barely had a touch. Sorry, but that's setting you up to fail. 

Take time off, Rashy, get your injury sorted and come back stronger. The whole of England is with you. 

Monday 12 July 2021

One team, one United - My apathy towards England

And so another major tournament comes to an end in agonisingly familiar fashion - with the pain of penalty shootout defeat. But at least its only England.

As the rest of the nation danced to the tune of Gareth Southgate's uplifting England side - on a run to their first major final in our generation's lifetime - for me, there was nothing. No emotional rollercoaster, no feelings of pride and passion, indeed a widespread apathy. Football's coming home? Couldn't care less.

They had the easiest run to the final any international side has probably ever had with the worst Germany side in memory their toughest opponents before the final. The rest read like a who's who of football's backwater journeymen.

They played every game at Wembley except one. England had everything in their favour but yet still could not win it. It's enough to raise a smile and make you chuckle. 

When United were beaten in the same manner by Villarreal in May's Europa League final (my therapist says I'm not allowed to talk about it), I was, unusually, down in the dumps for days. The Reds finally reached a major final after a long overdue drought under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and were firm favourites against a side playing for their first ever piece of silverware. You don't need me to tell you how it ended. I don't normally get down after a defeat - life is too short and must go on - but that one hurt. There were striking similarities between the two - Southgate, like Solskjaer, seemed reluctant to use his back up players. Southgate, like Solskjaer, didn't do enough to redress the balance when the opponent inevitably came on strong in the second half. Southgate's decisions and game management were questionable - so much so, you could argue it was the single most decisive factor in the final - criticism also levelled at Ole in the fall out from that night in Gdansk. 

So you'd be forgiven for thinking: How can a man cope with both his club and his country losing finals on penalties within weeks of one another? But despite my best efforts, the England team just don't mean as much to me. The national team simply don't elicit the same emotions, don't stir the soul or bring out the animal in me, as Manchester United. It doesn't feel any different to me whether England win or lose whereas a United result can affect my mood, my mindset, for days on end. 

Perhaps it's because we've become accustomed to failure with the national team - it happens so often, we've come to expect disappointment and heartbreak. So there's not the same sinking feeling when the inevitable happens. United have been victims of their own success - as a wise man once said, if I hadn't seen such riches I could live with being poor. 

Not only do I not particularly like international football (what is the point) but I find it nigh on impossible to get behind England - or even hold a vested interest in them - for a multitude of reasons. Think about it logically for a moment. The notion I'm supposed to suddenly start supporting and liking players I despise is alien to me.
I despise every other football team on this earth. Kyle Walker, Phil Foden, John Stones, Jordan Henderson, Raheem Sterling and Kalvin Phillips to name but six all play for my club's most hated rivals - yet when they pull on an England shirt I'm expected to hero worship them? There's an expectation to celebrate when a rival scores or does well - it makes no sense to me. You can't suddenly switch allegiances like that - it's simply not how football works and goes against everything I believe in. A Sterling winner, a Stones clearance or a Henderson tackle only ever usually brings bad news for Manchester United so you won't find me supporting their every move just because those players wear a different coloured strip every two years. Imagine wanting your rivals to succeed. 

I hate the majority of England fans - they're deluded, arrogant, self serving, patriarchal twats with a penchant for trouble and self entitlement. Every team has idiots in their fanbase, including mine, but there's something about the vast majority of this country's supporters that gets under your skin and winds me up no end.

Then we come on to the elephant in the room. Even now, a matter of hours after defeat at Wembley, it has started. It's as predictable as night following day. The scapegoating, the abuse, the public witch hunt that comes with every England defeat at a major competition. Wayne Rooney - the very same Wayne Rooney who is all time top scorer for club and country - was given dog's abuse for years over his perceived failings on the big stage. The burning effigies of David Beckham after the 1998 World Cup. The death threats and the hate mail directed towards the Neville brothers. The perceptions about Paul Scholes and Rio Ferdinand. Spot the common denominator here? The media and public love a scapegoat when England fail. But when that player happens to play for Manchester United? It's enough to send the headline writers and newspaper editors giddy with excitement and frothing at the mouth. Players I dislike and fans I hate - is it any wonder why I have borderline hatred for the England team. 

We've already seen it with Marcus Rashford in the aftermath of the Italy agony. A man who captured the nation's hearts with his charity efforts and outstanding community work during the Covid pandemic - earning him an MBE in the process - suddenly becoming public enemy number one. The racist abuse, the online bile, the disgusting treatment of a young, black man who has become a hero during our country's biggest national crisis for a century. And this is the thanks he gets. All because he missed a penalty in a shootout. He had the balls to step up and take one where others wouldn't. Marcus Rashford showed more courage than any of us ever will yet - in 2021 and after a year of "taking the knee" - we are still seeing this sort of treatment to the players. Rashford (not to mention Jadon Sancho and Bukayo Saka) need our love, our support, our compassion, not abuse. The fact we all knew this was going to happen tells you everything you need to know and shows exactly why I've got no time for England. 

Enough of the friendly frivolity at the Euros - thank goodness that's over - and roll on next month when the 2021/22 Premier League season gets underway. The return of the proper stuff.