“Football United, Bloody hell”.
Sir Alex Ferguson (Ish), 1999.
Before I start writing about other football teams, I thought It’d be best to write one about my own club, Manchester United F.C., who may well have fitted into this category in years gone by but almost certainly are unlikely to feature anytime soon. My club is fantastic, I thrive on them sometimes, but dear me, there’s some real fundamental issues at the club, that can occasionally be picked up and maligned by an amateur such as myself, which effectively surmises the club’s current predicament. I’ve specifically barely mentioned the Glazers, or “Glazernomics”, as not only does Woodward get several mentions and also part plays their puppet, it also seems both too large a problem to discuss as part of one article, and so intrinsically linked to the systematic issues at United (that are mentioned; Youth under investment, Football side of the club management) to really tackle to a really reasonable degree.
The value of success, it seems, at Manchester United F.C., is judged on a spreadsheet in New York and not on the football pitch. Woodward’s pithy photo of the score at Olypiakos in those heady days of champions league football and *shudder*, Moyes, has not quite become that dark moment in one’s past you can laugh at yet. In fact, that situation is probably more desirable than trips to Denmark, right about now, but here we are. So, Ed Woodward; an accountant by name and seemingly by nature, with a name like a man out of a JP Morgan ad it is no surprise he actually did work for JP Morgan. First of all; he cannot be bought into question for the value he has added to the brand of MUFC, Chevrolet and Adidas as well as our specialist hat providers (yes really) or C02 givers (not yet) would give testament to that effect. Effectively, The business direction has overridden the footballing direction, and this is felt as every level of the club, which it’s important to specify, did not all begin with Woodward but is certainly continued by him. The Glazer’s assumption is that youth investment is an expendable luxury, not a necessity to run Manchester United F.C. This surely jars with the clubs values, the integrity of which have been under severe pressure in the way basic club tasks are carried out from transfers – chasing the big names like Neymar, Muller and Ramos – to the bumbling inability to run a Football Club that Woodward portrays, who seems to be currently watching his recommendation, Louis Van Gaal, effectively fail to play anything resembling consistently good football. United’s recent bursts of good results are almost invariably followed by a terrifically awful run of results that outshines the last batch of bad results (Here’s to hoping Shrewsbury won’t be the latest mishap). Van Gaal’s long term impact will be felt, he gets clubs in shape (Barca, Ajax) and his transfers and squad overhaul should be great for United, to use a Ferguson phrase, “there’s no doubt about that”, but his inept game management and regularly bizarre tactics seem to be part of his wider downfall. With me being no kind of elite football man, a title Van Gaal’s Ajax guaranteed himself in the early-mid 1990’s, my views on his tactics mean, actually literally, absolutely nothing. However; the most recent problems, such as the Fellaini obsession, the insistence on two defense midfielders and the use of Jesse Lingard as Periera, Memphis and Januzaj all watch on will seem more hapless the longer such team selection continues to be so confusing. It is, though, a symptom, rather than the cause of United’s woes. The excruciating demand that Ferguson created for club power left him as of Scout Director, Director of Football, Manager and presumably other analytical jobs at certain stages rolled to one. The appointment of Nicky Butt (10 months late) to the role of Head of Academy seems fine, and perhaps a rebuttal to those “aspirations” Paul Mcguinness is going to pursue outside of United. Bryan McClair’s replacement may have taken longer than necessary but at least it arrived, and so too did Ex-Ajax scout Henny de Regt, another Dutchman with an eye for annoying his peers, just what we needed. His reputation, as I understand, foregoes him and in all seriousness, such moves are truly heartening for the direction of United, and I cannot emphasize how pleasing it was for Butt to takeup a position so out of the blue, but it barely does justice to a club that should carry an identity of youth beyond those in the high positions, akin to that of Ajax or Barcelona and La Masia (The Masia has of course had it’s problems recently and several of the Catalan voices I’ve seen have lamented the departure of talents such as Thiago, a player proclaimed the best Masia talent since Messi but sold for a penny in comparison to his relative ability. Such problems may be evident but the principle remains valid; Identity over all else).United’s inability to re-structure the football club post-Ferguson has been passed down to Woodward and Van Gaal, which is a problem for two such men as unlikely to be solved as a Harry Redknapp job anywhere north of Tottenham or seeing Jorge Mendes as not pulling the strings behind most doors at United. Yes Jorge, we know, we all know.
I’d also like to clarify how United and their Youth have had a varied couple of years themselves, and how it seems reductive to measure the success of United’s academy on how long since a long-term first team player was produced but rather consider instead:
United academy graduates across Europe’s top five leagues: 36, 2nd to Barcelona (42)
50% of all first team players at MUFC since WWII have come through the youth system
As of Saturday 13th, February 2016, 3,782 consecutive first team games since October 1937 with youth players in the squad
These points are important for perspective, they show the academy works, to a point at least but it’s producing. The cynical part of that is the players of recent that have passed us by, two in particular.
My envy of Ravel Morrison’s career as a “could have been” has culminated in a small cult following, which he tenuously maintains, and I’d like believe I’m some kind of founding member of such a group, if it exists. My heart thoroughly aches at his potential, that Warren Joyce also pushed to death to come to fruition at United, and perhaps, like the sick romanticism of death, Ravel represents a wonderful football dream that deserves better than a word or two to box his potential or ability into, just the painful what if. Pogba idolized Ravel, it has recently been said by Rio Ferdinand, and who can blame him. It does not matter he’s played only 87 professional games, or that he’d had pressure of the titles ‘wonderkid’ or ‘the next Scholes’ from his early teen years, but it does matter that his off field, putrid behaviour eventually marred any realistic prospect of Manchester United based success with Ravel. Ferguson saw him as the best young talent he’s seen, so the phrase that titles this piece is probably applicable in this instance. As another bizarre tangent on an already unusual career for a Manc midfielder who’s still just 23, Ravel’s latest employers are Lazio, Italy. Their Director, Igil Tare, said Ravel’s off field behaviour shows how he is “a little mad” and that this would be endearing to the Lazio fans “in similar ways to eccentric players as Gascoigne and Di Canio”. Pushing it Igil, pushing it.
Paul, World Cup 2014 Golden Ball Winner, Pogba represents a player who’s potentially going to leave a Makeleke type imprint on the game as a reference point for a certain type of midfielder. Unfortunately, 2012 marked the departure of Pogba, which felt just a bit uncomfortable (to say the least) even then. It seems here his attitude to the club became just real disillusionment from where United were taking him at such a young age, with so little game time at the root of his Manchester United failure. Ferguson’s implication was that Pogba outright refused his deal without any explanation and that his essential implication since was that Pogba wanted a wage larger than the kind United wanted to give to their kids or that the club has been disrespected in Pogba’s expectations. Pogba was the boy who had to see a midfield pairing of Rafael and Park, and watch Scholes retire, un-retire, take his potential place in the team, win the league and retire again. I think it’s fair to say we can see where it went awry. He would be, of course, a totally different player to the one Juve have molded had he stayed and it would be naive to believe otherwise, but the cliche ‘the potential was there’, may seem a little bit like a war crime, in football terms, for Pogba’s ability. He is most certainly fabulous, and certainly not a “Vine player”, either, (essentially someone who does things in matches that can be surmised in 7-second videos.) He does skillful things with the football regularly that make him look like that kid who’s better than everyone at the playground. If he overcomes the slight career rut he is in at the moment, where he is justa a passenger in some games, then he could choose which European club he takes to the Champions League Final (As long as Barca don’t clear their wage bill up soon enough to sign him first, that is).
The youth looks on the up, as of February 2016, but the top of the club is another systemically faulty sector of the club. For those lost in the clubs politics, United’s upstairs was recently briefly clarified by David Gill (the same one, yes), on a five-live podcast. United have two boards; one is decorative, essentially, wield little power and are the ones that take up those rows at the top of the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand, with the likes of Charlton, Ferguson and such. The other one, the business one, is based in New York and it would seem not wildly derivative to suggest they’re not all watching football each week, let alone United. That board Woodward chairs, and he is also part of said decorative board. As part of this relatively non-existent power struggle between the boards, one thing going for United is that we seem relatively free of plainly toxic, in-house politics – currently (Nod to Class of ’92 ‘mafia’, as they have gloriously been dubbed, who all seem to want Giggsy to have it ’till the end of several seasons, even if they’re played in the Championship, and even Ferguson, who’s last hurrah at United is said to be preventing Mourinho joining the club he’s supposedly been pining for for so long).So, United. The relative values of United’s youth had its aims and values painted out by Butt in his inauguration interview and the aim is obvious; a Class of ’92-esque player comes out to become an established first-teamer and United legend. Such ideals should be held up as the right ideas to match United’s supposedly unshakable values, but the rapidly rising merit of cross-city rivals Manchester City, and in particular their Youth academy, has seen derisory implications from United players, past and present, that the City youth is more suited to their kids. Van Persie, Carrick, Fletcher and in absolutely negligent fashion, Phil Neville, have/had sent their across the Siberia, 3.9 miles down the road from Old Trafford to the Etihad. Carrington is of course further away, but the point remains, and it is a very audible gasp at the disillusion from United’s kids even the type of player Butt is so keen to produce are feeling.
Paul Mcguinness walk out to “pursue ambitions” is acceptable, of course, but he his the kind of person that should be clung on to by the club until they can hold no longer, and furthermore, be integral to this new youth image; 86 first team graduates in his reign should validate such a statement. To add to this, some papers have reported in bursts throughout January that Academy stalwart Derek Langley plans to leave the club in the summer as part of his growing contempt at the youth development, and working under John Alexander and Everton men from Moyes-era such as John Murtagh has apparently contributed to his frustration in a post-Warren Joyce youth set-up, even in that interim. Butt himself said he was reluctant to take the job a near year ago due to the “direction” of the youth at United (something MU website and interviews failed to include), which he must now be at least convinced enough by, seeing the job is now his. Although Butt’s appointment has been criticised by some as being a cynical stunt or some more Class of ’92 power, akin to their influence in Moyes’ reign, it seems overtly paranoid to perpetuate such suspicions, which I myself would rather not believe, even if their message seems at least reasonably logical. Woodward’s recent promise of Butt “shaping a new investment we are making [in the Academy]”, seems genuine, and inspires hope of a truly different build to the United youth that could produce the kind of player Butt aspires to create, but shall hopefully not be added to the list of hollow promises made by Woodward, who is most definitely not the Wolf of Wall Street type kingpin that social media briefly pretended he was in his summer foray of transfers in 2015 and pretense of being a “Top Red” (A blindingly faithful to the point of oblivious to the problems MUFC fan, who garners the support of the general fan population for seeming positive but disillusions the rest for looking like a joke out of a Stewart Lee sketch about the upper-class). Woodward is not any kind of ‘lad’, but instead a publicly educated, British businessman.
“Please don’t call me arrogant, but I’m European Champoin and I think I’m a special one”. – Jose
In Europe’s other elite clubs, Bayern and Karl-Heinz Rummenigge have had a long-standing affair, where he is effectively a spokesperson for the club on matters from Bastian Schweinsteiger’s transfer to United to the executive director of Bayern’s sister club, FC Bayern Munich AG. (Where’s United women’s team you may ask? Exactly; infuriating) The Bayern backroom is embroiled in politics that Pep has apparently coped with, but Real Madrid or Athletic in his homeland are a whole different kind of club politics – the former United have had too many encounters with in recent years. The Basque rule for Althetic players makes their usually regular place at the top end of La Ligaimpressive, if not unsurprising given the nationalism surrounding Basque heritage. Real’s almost bemusing backroomset-up is full of blase drama and contrived football dominance, when they’ve just won a single La Liga in seven years and have been a farce in management terms since Del Bosque’s sacking in 2003. And no, Real, you cant have Martial (inevitably the story, in a few years). Please go away (please).
Well, United had Ferguson, as previously mentioned, holding down more roles than were necessary but as many as he wanted it to be. The undesirable FSG at Liverpool have groups choosing which players to bring to the club and explain some of the recent transfer big-money failings (Carroll, soon to be Benteke?) but perhaps suggest some method in’t [the madness], as Hamlet said, as Suarez, Coutinho and Firmino are not to be sniffed at as good to great finds in such systems. Failed moves for Alex Teixeira and Memphis Depay show intentions that are based in good footballing knowledge, and the Lovren saga is looking less of a confusing joke each time he starts and more of the fact he is a “confidence player”, instead of an incredible center half by nature. Some teams have the propensity to scout at young levels and import such players, see them progress and inevitably, be crushed by the Capitalist machine which is the monopoly of money and players that Europe’s elite have. Football. Benfica and Porto have been successful with it, and Porto, between 2001 and 2011, made £342 million in player sales. A certain Renato Sanches of Benfica has been liked repeatedly with United recently as a teen wonderkid, who would command a fee similar to that of Martial’s, and not to mention the now positively aged Nico Gaitan, who’s been linked with United so much over the last few years he may as well be on our books, as well as seeming a kind of gapfill for those transfer journalists who just need a story about United at the same time as not criticizing their long-time friend, Mr. Woodward, who’s been snapped eating and drinking with such men on a few occasions. And who can blame them; United sell papers, truthfully, and they have a chief executive giving them scraps now and then, so, would *you* rat out on a higher ranking associate for showing you some much needed back page ‘scoop’? And that, in rather conspiratorial fashion (but based in truths), is partly why Woodward gets cut some flak by the British media. Anyway, so such Porto-type clubs prerogative is to pick talents they can afford and exploit – or grow – their potential, and eventually sell them as seasoned professionals, with years of ability left in them. Their advantage is they’re able to have young players pick up a platform and adapt to professional football in Europe, not to be diminutive to Portuguese NOS League football, it is just not at the standard of Europe’s elite (even though it is ranked 5th highest European league in the UEFA co-efficient, to exemplify the leagues prowess). Others have similar scouting nuance, such as David Moyes’ Everton (which Martinez is both reaping the rewards of and potentially spoiling with his no-such-thing-as-defense football), and in contemporary times, Leicester’s midfield of Kante, Drinkwater (United) and Mahrez. Such scouting may be part luck, of course, but at United, Martial, Shaw, De Gea, Smalling (hopefully), and others too, should represent the clubs future linchpins. Indeed, youth players such as Cleverly, Welbeck or the the Da Silva brothers have all departed, but current young academy players like Indy Boonen, homegrown Angel Gomes or Gribbin and Ajax-import (and rapidly rising through the youth ranks) Tim Fosu-Mensah should be a promise of the future at United, but the former list of names such as those Da Silva brothers exemplify how United can bleed in new youth in recent years, but struggle to maintain it. Not that this is not always the right thing to do in footballing terms of ability compared to the rest of the teams ability, it’s just disheartening to see Danny, “welbz is dat guy“(a Ravel Morrison tweet from Feb 2013, since deleted) Welbeck, become an enemy of football, but that’s life.
|“What can I say, I just love a good siblings-at-full-backs story” – Fergie (Probably)|
The Atletico Madrid title of 2013/14 represents a break from the duopoly of power between Barca and Real since Benitez’ Valencia and Deportivo took several titles in the early to mid 2000’s. The figureheads of such development at Atletico with such limited resources in comparison to their rivals could be simply placed to a few: Diego Simeone (A Mendes client) of course, as well as Andrea Berta, Atletico’s Sporting Director (And who’s client? Of course. Hello, Jorge). Recently linked to United, by the usually dependable Di Marzio, it would be a coup to say the least.
It would too represent incredible organisation that actually verges on the unimaginable for United; Woodward, on behalf of the board, called Van Gaal a “genius” recently, and has apparently happily watched a man beyond footballing terms, Pep Guardiola, go to City’s far more appealing ‘project’ than United. United apparently didn’t even attempt to pursue his signature. As the word “negligent” seeps through every crevice of this idea, it seems it does not need to be said. In the works since 2012, Project Pep has come to fruition for City, and PP or Cruyff inspired footballing tactics shall be on your TV screens in the Premier League and most definitely doing it on a cold, wet Tuesday night in Stoke, very soon – and it will not be tiki taka! Anyone that says such words to Pep will be mauled by him suitably. It would be akin to a national crime to expect the British footballing press, an establishment survived by men such as Neil “fat man” (Van Gaal, 2015) Custis and Paul “Sherwood for United” Parker to ever make the mistake the German press have made in not asking Pep more about his tactics, which he specifically said recently he is disappointed in, and not more about the future, ‘incredible tici taka football’ Pep will be told in future post-match press conferences City have produced, which will be followed swiftly by a flailing office chair and Pep wildly goading this hypothetical, unwitting journalist with any Spanish, German and English blasphemies in his register. Not that any of that is in Pep’s character of course, or as yet is not even confirmed to happen, but as Pep seems so inseparably romantically destined for United, for a while I blindly prayed and convinced myself he could be coming, but hindsight proves now such a task for my football club is similar to me finding a proverbial needle in a haystack of other needles, in the dark, without limbs. Effectively, unlikely. It’s also important to note that a fully fit Bayern side, without it’s long term injuries in the Pep era (which I am sure Raymond Verheijen has something to say about with his tin-foil hat on and his Cloak of Sumgness, that includes patches of Alan Pardew’s face, the Twitter icon with an essay-like rant about [insert acclaimed or contemporarially relevent Manager here, most recently Klopp]and that feeling Ferguson must have felt when Keegan said “I will love it if we beat them”, which is something Ferguson had definitely forgotten by 2012…), could’ve been really truly special. The team left by Jupp Heynckes had won a treble, Ribery,Robben, Thaigo, Martinez or most recently Boateng have all suffered long term injures in Pep’s three seasons, among other players, and it seems feasible that the monopoly of European power in the Champions League could’ve been different hadn’t injures hampered that side
Now Pep’s been covered to a basic degree, it’s all coming now, Jose of course. The tedious Pep V Jose anti-football is back in a vengeance, this time in retro Adidas and with less eye poking and white handkerchiefs but more euphemisms and probably more defensive errors. “Premier League, the home of football crap defending”.
In the Republic of Mancunia, Jose’s reputation has already beaten him to it before he can convince some otherwise; he wins something – “badly”- and does the football equivalent of setting the house on fire and walking away innocently after three seasons. This “three season curse” is unfortunate if it was not so consistent, but it is (largely; See: Chelsea 15/16) false; Real and Chelsea (both times), saw Jose forced out and this is the closest it gets to this stereotype becoming a reality, but honestly, Perez set fire to the Bernebeu a long time ago and Roman and Jose’s love affair hopefully had a clean break a few months ago too,because that’s about as close as football gets to an “unhealthy relationship“. Jose was too big for Porto by the end, even with that Champions League trophy staring at him, and at Inter, a man can be seen with the same Champions League honor under his nose, but his heart was ultimately already somewhere else (Madrid, to be precise, as of 2010).
Jose could come to United, and yes, it’s likely he wouldn’t last three seasons or longer, but what a shambolic state of affairs the alternative is; Van Gaal for three seasons (2014-2017), and then Giggs ready for 2017/18 (Which would presumably be Pep’s final season at City, for some context). Giggs could be great, hopefully is, but that could cannot be there, when and if he takes over. He must be proven, in fact, it seems genuinely crucial for both him and United he manages in England before he takes the helm at the more and more, self-proclaimed “biggest club in the world”. In reality, United are barely at Napoli’s current footballing level, let alone Dortmund, PSG or Real, and I’m fairly sure Barcelona are playing a different sport to United because well, that just is not fair Messi, Suarez, and Neymar, especially as this is on the back of some of the best football I have watched occur continuosuly; the whole 20 minute period (Barca 6 – 1 Celta Vigo; 70′ to 90‘) was like a highlights reel. That, compared to a Wayne Rooney that is sometimes like watching an actual fish out of water, or Jesse Lingard coupled with a really struggling Memphis. It seems Lingard shall not hit the heights Memphis’ career has hit already. Hopefully he shall be successful enough but too much more seems just a stretch for his current, seemingly limited ability. Sorry, Jesse. Another “Young over Di Maria” saga between you and Memphis sounds really undesirable, though. (Di Maria and Memphis are incomparable as microcosms of floundering United players, but really, talent over experience). These ‘workhorse’ footballers push experience and ‘distance run per match’ over potential and ability. Work ethic,’passion’ and athletic virtues cannot be valued over footballing ability; this is not to say such athletic values aren’t needed or are even unimportant, but with the ball and without the ball technique is far more so than the kind of players Pirlo has come out and described in Park Ji-Sung, or Ronaldo in calling James Milner “the most annoying” player he’s played against (Which I like to believe is not just in reference to James’ on field antics, but his off-field character too). These people, who can really just run, subsequently make up for lacking footballing ability by chasing everyone. So, Memphis, do not see it happen with you as well. An extension of this is the awful, awful phrase “he can do a job there [insert unlikely position for said player]”. I can do a job at centre-half for United (for maybe half a minute), that does not mean I should play there(!). Exceptions to this rule that seem fine are the Mascherano at centre-half for Barca, as he most certainly can “do” said job, and at United, perhaps Blind at centre-half. There will be others, but the sooner Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia stop occupying United’s wing-back positions, the better.
Such evaluations of United’s predicament pit-stop toured around above may seem harshly critical, but the Liverpoolisation or AC Milan projects are the stuff of nightmares for fans as the potential destiny of MUFC, even though our financial ability, almost ironically, seems a safeguard against United ever collapsing for the long term. Sustained eras of disappointment are not alien to the club, but Ferguson promised something more, and it seems unlikely that United will be in Liverpool’s Premier League-less (‘First Division-less’ pre-1992) for decades position if they just do appoint and reorganize well. The opinions and criticisms of mine ultimately mean nothing to my association football club, but small things, small things. Klopp seems painfully adept to be United manager, Pep’s romanticism would be surely be felt at United and not City had Ferguson’s transition been handled better, but all such issues become so vividly clear in hindsight. Perhaps the whispering’s of a tin-foil hat wearing mad-man, disenchanted (if not even more strongly defensive) of his football club, is hopefully surmised by (most definitely) stretching the point Pep was making when he was talking about strengths of small size with the likes of Xavi, Iniesta and Messi;
Reporter: “ALEX FERGUSON, they put you through the mill, into injury time, almost lost the cup and you win it, the new European champions, the treble, the dream come true”
Ferguson: “[looking down] Ah, I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it. Football, bloody hell. They never gave in and that’s what won it.
Ferguson: “-So proud of them”
Reporter: “-I mean, you must’ve thought it’d gone there”
Ferguson: “-Yeah, yeah [Nodding furiously]”
Reporter: ” -Just a few seconds left, you sent Schmeichel up-”
Ferguson: “-I didn’t send him up, he went up on his own-”
Reporter “-Did he, right-”
Ferguson: “-Fantastic, so proud of my players.”
Reporter: “Well done Alex, you better get out there and celebrate, fantastic”
Ferguson: “[Turning away, looking bewildered, still smiling] Yeah, yeah”