For the sanity of the game, this fickle abuse of Premier League managers by experts and fans must stop
December 12th, 2014 at 10:00 pm
Reflecting on some of the ridiculous criticism dished out to Premier League managers so far this season by so-called experts and short-sighted fans, it has never been more obvious that success is more likely for the clubs who stand by their managers.
Even Chelsea – the club famous for changing manager’s more frequently than the ordinary man puts on a new pair of socks – look like benefitting from giving Jose Mourinho another season after ending 2013/2014 empty handed.
A few weeks ago Alan Pardew was top of the hit list after a poor start by Newcastle United. Today he picked up November’s Barclays Manager of the month award. Sam Allardyce, whose tenure at West Ham United looked in danger pre-season, is sitting pretty in the top four.
Louis Van Gaal, has been criticised in recent week’s by United legends Paul Scholes and Gary Neville, the latter of whom predicted Sunday’s match with Liverpool would be like watching two pub teams. Yet victory for the Red Devils will make it six straight wins. Remember the wise words of LVG pre-season when he warned the doubters that it would be at least three months before things improved.
With new signings Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falco, Daley Blind and Luke Shaw all missing Monday night’s priceless 2-1 win at Southampton, it is worth noting that the new United manager is delivering results despite being handicapped by a seemingly endless injury list that currently includes Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Rafael.
Over at Anfield, Brendan Rodgers is unbelievably under fire just six months after narrowly failing to deliver Liverpool their first Premier League title since 1990. What do the fans expect after losing Luis Suarez to Barcelona and Daniel Sturridge to injury. The truth is Rodgers’ side overachieved last season and deficiencies in their squad have left them hopelessly exposed for a twin campaign at home and in Europe.
Fair enough Rodgers has made mistakes and his summer signings have so far failed to deliver. But what will Liverpool achieve by pressing the panic button and abandoning one of the best young managers in the game?
In the summer many experts were praising the Liverpool boss for snapping up Mario Balotelli for a ‘bargain’ 16 million pounds. It was a gamble by Rodgers that has not yet paid off and the Italian maverick may forever be defined by Mourinho’s assessment that he is quite simply ‘unmanageable.”
Manchester City’s manager Manuel Pellegrini started the week with experts predicting he would soon be out of a job. The defending Premier League champions are now in the last 16 of the Champions League, as well as being just three points behind Chelsea in the title race.
Worst of all is the shocking abuse from so-called Arsenal fans for Arsene Wenger at Stoke last week. Do those fans not realise what the Frenchman achieved on Tuesday when the Gunners breezed into the knockout stages of the Champions League for the 15th successive season.
The truth is that a good manager will always deliver if he is given the time he needs to finish the job. For the sanity of the game let’s end this ridiculous obsession with the mob mentality of hounding managers out after a couple of bad results.
December 12th, 2014 at 9:55 pm
As former Manchester United and England legend Bryan Robson told me in a recent interview: “Manager’s are judged on the signings they make, not just on results.”
Later the same day while filming a TV interview with Ron Atkinson – the most successful manager to occupy the Old Trafford hot seat in the era between the formidable reigns of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson – I could not help wondering ‘What might have been for Big Ron if he’d been allowed a little more time?’
Atkinson, of course, was the man who took Captain Marvel to the Theatre of Dreams. One of United’s best ever signings. He also delivered two FA Cup triumphs and never finished outside the Top 4, recruiting the likes of Frank Stapleton and Remi Moses and giving Norman Whiteside his debut before his 17th birthday.
Big Ron also took United into the UEFA Cup and European Cup Winners’ Cup, where the Reds narrowly lost out in 1984’s semi-final against Juventus. That European campaign included a 3-2 aggregate win in the quarter-finals against a Barcelona side featuring Diego Maradona.
The 3-0 second-leg triumph against Barça overturned the Catalans’ 2-0 win at Camp Nou and still ranks as arguably the greatest night ever at Old Trafford. Robson scored twice before Stapleton clinched an unforgettable victory. As Atkinson proudly recalls: “Even to this day, bearing in mind some of the things United have done since, people still say the atmosphere that night transcended anything they can remember. It was unbelievable.”
More than 30 years later, the memories are part of United folklore and the relevance of a subtle Bryan Robson tribute to Big Ron is worth taking note of when judging today’s top flight managers.
December 3rd, 2014 at 8:36 pm
It is guaranteed that when Australia return to England next summer the shadow created by the tragic loss of Phil Hughes will loom as large it does today as we mourn his funeral.
Not a day of the 2015 Ashes Series will unfold without players, fans and commentators lamenting the absence of a young cricketer who has posthumously become a national hero far beyond the boundaries of the game.
When the hugely talented and popular left hand batsmen died playing the game he loved last Thursday – just one week short of his 26th birthday – the worldwide shock and mourning touched heights we have not seen in the English speaking world since the passing of Princess Diana.
Hughes was felled at 63 not out by a freak bouncer, delivered by Sean Abbott, that hit him on the back of his unprotected neck while batting for South Australia against New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground.
It was an abrupt end to the young life of a cricketer who had already achieved greatness, but promised to hit so many more heights in the future.
The sight of Test skipper and close friend Michael Clarke delivering a gut wrenchingly emotional eulogy at the funeral service in Hughes’ home town of Macksville was a stunningly raw sharing of public grief. Broadcast live to millions Clarke paid a passionate tribute to his “Little brother” that was a fitting eulogy for “a man whose soul enriched all of our lives”.
Phillip Hughes eulogy by Michael Clarke
Cricket.com.au tribute to Phillip Hughes [1988-2014] The full tribute
Full transcript of the Phil Hughes eulogy by Michael Clarke:
“I’m deeply honoured to have been asked by Phillip’s family to speak today. I am humbled to be in the presence of you, his family, his friends and his community. He was so proud of Macksville and it is easy to see why today.
Taken from the game, his family and loved ones at the age of just 25, he left a mark on our game that needs no embellishment. I don’t know about you, but I keep looking for him.
I know it is crazy but I expect any minute to take a call from him or to see his face pop around the corner. Is this what we call the spirit? If so, then his spirit is still with me. And I hope it never leaves.
I walked to the middle of the SCG on Thursday night, those same blades of grass beneath my feet where he and I and so many of his mates here today have built partnerships, taken chances and lived out the dreams we paint in our heads as boys.
The same stands where the crowds rose to their feet to cheer them on and that same fence he sent the ball to time and time again. And it is now forever the place where he fell.
I stood there at the wicket, I knelt down and touched the grass, I swear he was with me. Picking me up off my feet to check if I was OK.
Telling me we just needed to dig in and get through to tea. Telling me off for that loose shot I played. Chatting about what movie we might watch that night. And then passing on a useless fact about cows.
I could see him swagger back to the other end, grin at the bowler, and call me through for a run with such a booming voice, a bloke in the car park would hear it.
The heart of a man who lived his life for this wonderful game we play, and whose soul enriched not just our sport, but all of our lives.
Is this what indigenous Australians believe about a person’s spirit being connected with the land upon which they walk? If so, I know they are right about the SCG.
His spirit has touched it and it will forever be a sacred ground for me. I can feel his presence there and I can see how he has touched so many people around the world. The tributes to him from cricket lovers kept me going.
The photos, the words, the prayers and the sense of communion in this loss from people across the globe have shown me his spirit in action. It has sustained me and overwhelmed me in equal measure. And the love of my band of baggy green and gold brothers and sisters have held me upright when I thought I could not proceed.
His spirit has brought us closer together – something I know must be him at work because it is so consistent with how he played and lived. He always wanted to bring people together and he always wanted to celebrate his love for the game and its people.
Is this what we call the spirit of cricket? From the little girl holding a candlelight tribute, to masters of the game like Tendulkar, Warne and Lara, the spirit of cricket binds us all together. We feel it in the thrill of a cover drive. Or the taking of a screamer at gully, whether by a 12-year-old boy or by Brendon McCullum in Dubai. It is in the brilliant five-wicket haul, just as significant to the players in a Western Suburbs club game as it is in a Test match.
The bonds that led to cricketers from around the world putting their bats out, that saw people who didn’t even know Phillip lay flowers, and that brought every cricketing nation on earth to make its own heartfelt tribute.
The bonds that saw players old and new rush to his bedside from wherever they heard the news to say their prayers and farewells. This is what makes our game the greatest game in the world.
Phillip’s spirit, which is now part of our game forever, will act as a custodian of the sport we all love.
We must listen to it. We must cherish it. We must learn from it. We must dig in and get through to tea. And we must play on.
So rest in peace my little brother. I’ll see you out in the middle.”
How Marvellous Macari’s big-hearted signing inspired TV gold and fantasy football script based on true story destined to win awards
October 18th, 2014 at 7:43 pm
As a documentary filmmaker who loves the unconventional, I adored Marvellous, a magical tale based on a true story about former circus clown turned kitman Neil Baldwin.
The fact that it magnifies and highlights an inspired signing by my old MUTV buddy Lou Macari – one of my boyhood heroes – is a delicious bonus.
This marvellous drama is a wonderful legacy for a magnificent footballing legend who has a genuine heart of gold and an affinity with the common man that is sadly lacking in so many of today’s so called stars.
Macari movingly says in the film that hiring sacked circus clown ‘Nello’ as his kitman at Stoke City was “the best signing” he ever made while he was manager of The Potters.
It was an inspired decision by a man who has endured so many heartaches of his own, from career threatening courtroom dramas to gut wrenching personal tragedy.
The way the BBC blurred this real story into a truly marvellous piece of television inter woven with fantasy and raw emotion was priceless. If you have yet to watch this televisual masterpiece it is only available on the BBC iPlayer until the end of October. [After that, see below for a link to the full programme on Neil Baldwin’s YouTube Channel.]
Hearing Macari talk firsthand about the film and the true events behind it at a sportsman’s evening in Berkshire this week reinforced everything I already thought about this ex-footballer/manager turned pundit. And more.
Little Lou was the footballer with the huge heart. A gem of a player I used to cheer on from the Stretford End when he was the darling of the Manchester United fans in the mid 1970s. I was there at Wembley in 1977 when Macari’s shot deflected off Jimmy Greenhoff to claim a 2-1 win over favourites Liverpool that won the FA Cup
It was Liverpool’s Bill Shankly who first told Macari he admired him because he was a player with a big heart when he unsuccessfully tried to sign him from Celtic before Tommy Docherty’s razor sharpe assistant Paddy Crerand recruited him for United.
That big heart of gold was all apparent at the Belgian Arms in Holyport on Wednesday night where this pint-sized man who does not drink held his audience in the palm of his hands.
Hearing Lou tell the story of how he was driven down South from Glasgow and ended up sat next to Crerand at Anfield after being offered a ‘”massive” £190 a week contract to play for Liverpool was priceless on so many levels.
Landlord Nick Parkinson, son of famous Manchester United fan and chatshow host supreme Michael, watched on as TalkSport’s Tony Lockwood coaxed a catalogue of inside stories from our celebrity guest.
For those of us who grew up watching old school sporting superstars like Macari this was a rare privilege that future generations are unlikely to ever experience. Can you imagine current stars like Gareth Bale or Raheem Sterling driving themselves on a 400 mile roundtrip on a wet Wednesday night to reminisce with 50 or so football fans. Not only that but he donated the £550 he raised by auctioning off a couple of tickets for a match at Old Trafford to the Stoke Foodbank charity.
Asked what he thought of Sterling being “too tired” to play for England, Macari’s response gave us an insight into how times have changed. “When I played the game it was our responsibility to be fit. If I had told Jock Stein I was too tired to play for Celtic I would have been straight out of the club.”
Equally fascinating was hearing Macari’s tribute to Sir Alex Ferguson “as the greatest ever” manager whose record “will never be beaten” and his comparison to Stein, the man who set him on the road to stardom in the late sixties.
MARVELLOUS: Written by Peter Bowker and directed by Julian Farino is a Tiger Aspect production starring Toby Jones as Neil Baldwin and Tony Curran as Lou Macari. If ever a drama was destined to win awards, it is is this feature-length masterpiece.
Wenger v Mourinho: Why it’s a split decision in a fight the ‘Special One’ can’t lose – and that really hurts the ‘Mad Professor’
October 6th, 2014 at 1:36 pm
Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson rattled Kevin Keegan’s cage so violently that the then Newcastle United boss suffered an infamous meltdown live on Sky Sports, mind games have been Box Office.
When Arsene Wenger squared up to Jose Mourinho the verbals were less dramatic. But the venom was just as strong, as the elegant Frenchman momentarily turned into the Mad Professor.
The retaliation by the self-appointed Special One resulted in a comical exchange that was farcical in the extreme. A petulant push by Wenger. A mischievous flick of the tie by Mourinho.
Say what you like about bringing the game into disrepute and setting an example for the kids. The truth is football fans and the media loved an exchange that will be talked about long after most of us forget the intimate details of what happened on the pitch.
Not that the match was forgettable. Far from it. This was an almighty scrap that could have resulted in 5 or 6 red cards and ended in a knockout by the team In the Blue corner.
Arsene’s Reds lack the bottle and the killer instinct to down their West End superiors and that is what really hurts Wenger.
He is yet to beat Mourinho on the pitch and he’s losing the battle off it too. Just like Ferguson owned Keegan and Rafa Benitez when the Liverpool boss lost the plot with his famous rant about “the facts” in 2009, Mourinho owns Wenger when it comes to mind games.
Chelsea are a cut above Arsenal and always have been when Mourinho has been manager at the Bridge.
But ask yourself which manager would you prefer to be in charge of your team and it’s not such an easy decision.
Over the weekend I was at the Henley Literary Festival where high profile sports journalists Paddy Barclay, Matt Dickinson and Guillem Balague were promoting their respective books about Herbert Chapman, Bobby Moore and Lionel Messi.
When the subject turned to the rivalry between Wenger and Mourinho the audience were asked by Barclay to make their choice. The show of hands confirmed the theory of Times Chief Sports Correspondent Dickenson that this is split decision.
And that is where the real argument begins.
Would you prefer your team to play the beautiful game with the purist ideals of the man who has delivered a style of football that is so pleasing on the eye?
Or is football all about winning whatever the method? And there is no doubting the fact that Mourinho is a serial winner.
At Stamford Bridge the priceless combination of Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas magnified the gulf between Arsenal and Chelsea. But the cynical tactic of breaking up the Gunners rhythm by systematically fouling them high up the pitch gave the Blues the platform to control the match and inflict their killer blows in a decisive 2-0 win.
It is no secret that Mourinho wanted to succeed Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. The fact that he was overlooked by the one manager he truly respects when his good friend turned kingmaker may provide the verdict of English football’s biggest club Manchester United.
Many Old Trafford fans secretly adore the showmanship and winning mentality of Mourinho. But there is something about his methods that is alien to the Theatre of Dreams. Wenger on the other hand – despite the unsavoury abuse dished out by certain elements of United’s following – has the respect of every true Old Trafford purist.
When asked to choose between the two on Friday night I went for Wenger. Ask me tomorrow and I may give you a different answer.
Thankfully in my view my team has trumped both managers with Dutch master Louis Van Gaal. Ignore the jealous criticism from his fellow countryman Johan Cruyff who says United’s boss has abandoned the Dutch philosophy of total football. Cruyff will soon be eating his words. But that is a theme I’ll be expanding on in a future blog.
A tale of two Brian Moores . . . From sporting hero to broadcast journalist: Why it’s easier for a ‘Pitbull’ to be a media success!
September 30th, 2014 at 9:00 am
At the age of 17 when I started out on the road to a career in journalism and broadcasting, had I known that being a successful sportsman would be a shortcut to the best media jobs I may have tried a different route.
Months earlier I was told that I had been watched by a football scout from one of the big two clubs in Manchester. The fact he was from City not United did not tempt me to give up my dream of following in the footsteps of my famous uncle Tony Gubba. But the truth is the scout never gave me any encouragement and the closest I ever got to the Premier League was years later when I was reporting for the Sunday Mirror.
Today we live in a world where ex-footballers, rugby stars and athletes dominate the most glamorous presenter roles in British broadcasting. From Gary Lineker on BBC’s Match Of The Day to Alan Brazil on TalkSport, there are many examples of men and women who have gone from sporting hero to broadcast journalist.
Former England hooker Brian Moore combines multiple roles in TV, radio and newspapers – from presenting documentaries on BT Sport to writing an outstanding column in the Daily Telegraph. He is even a successful author. To a lesser extent than Vinny ‘Psycho’ Jones cashed in on his hardman image in Hollywood, Moore has done extremely well indeed out of his reputation as the ‘Pitbull’ of English rugby union.
When I was a kid there was another Brian Moore setting standards in broadcasting. Mooro was old school and ITV’s hugely successful football commentator and presenter took the long way round to the top when he started out like me as a newspaper journalist. I will never forget the letter of encouragement he sent me when I was a rookie reporter looking for a job. Years later I briefly worked with his son Simon at ITV after progressing from local newspapers and radio to Fleet Street and television.
But in today’s celebrity driven world, sporting success is the fast track to the top media jobs.
Twenty years ago, I remember interviewing Moore the rugby hardman on several occasions and he was always good value for a quote. Never did I imagine that the front row bruiser would one day be at the front of the queue of ex-sportsmen taking the best jobs in sports broadcasting and journalism.
Neither did he, I expect, when we filmed him heckling team mate Martin Bayfield as we interviewed him for the official England Grand Slam sports video we produced for the Rugby Football Union in 1995.
Two decades later both Moore and Bayfield have careers with far more longevity than they could ever imagine on a rugby pitch. Bayfield is arguably the best of the bunch who have made the journey from sporting hero to broadcast journalist. I have seen him in action at close quarters. As a guest in the BT Sports studio when he was hosting the channel’s weekly Rugby magazine show, I witnessed first hand what an immaculate performer he is in a live situation.
Both have come a long way since England’s celebration banquet at the London Hilton, where Moore the pitbull mischievously threw nibbles and verbal abuse at his team-mate. Watch the video and you will see that Bayfield’s quickwitted response was an early indication that he was perfect for television.
“It obviously wasn’t Brian Moore who threw that because it actually came to me,” quipped the 6’10 giant who has since starred in a succession of Harry Potter films, playing Robbie Coltrane’s body double as the giant Rubeus Hagrid.
With the upcoming Rugby World Cup less than 12 months away guaranteed to be the second biggest sporting event this country has ever staged, the profile of both Moore and Bayfield is only going to increase. So my advice to you, if you’re just starting out and want to work in the sports media, is make the most of any sporting skills you have because sporting success will put your CV in a different league.
Mickleson blames Watson: Another Ryder Cup triumph for Europe brings out the best and the worst of the Americans
September 29th, 2014 at 10:35 am
Jubilant European celebrations in the Ryder Cup have become so familiar in the past couple of decades, with eight wins in the last 10 epic encounters, that the scars inflicted on the losers have become too uncomfortable to live with for some of the losers. What is said in the cauldron of emotion when the battle is won or lost often reveals far more about the gladiators who fight to the death than than the battle itself.
For me there were two overriding memories of yesterday’s demolition of the American dream. Firstly, the majestic winning shot by Jamie Donaldson on the 15th that sparked wild scenes of jubilation for the Europeans. Secondly, the dignifty and grace of the American captain Tom Watson as he congratulated his rival Paul McGinley.
Approaching McGinley on the fairway, hand outstretched, Watson conceded: “If we could have played four fourballs we might have had a chance. You killed us on the foursomes, man.”
Later Watson was big enough to admit: ” I may have made mistakes playing some players who were tired.” But there was nothing dignified or gracious about the bitter reaction of Phil Mickelson who clearly blamed his captain for the defeat as he reeled off a tribute to Paul Azinger, USA’s winning captain in 2008.
Mickelson, dropped by Watson on Saturday, blatantly took a dig at his beaten captain when he concluded: ‘Unfortunately we have strayed from a winning formula for the last three Ryder Cups and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best.”
While Mickelson blames Watson for defeat, the bottom line, in the captain’s opinion, was this: “We came over with expectations higher than the results. The obvious answer is our team has to play better.” The Americans also need to match Europe’s team spirit.
Nick Faldo dismissed Mickleson’s unconvincing insistence he was not being critical when he said: “Phil certainly doesn’t respect Tom Watson. He threw his captain right under the bus.”
If you have any doubt, just take a look at his team-mates squirming in embarrassment as Mickelson delivered his brutal verdict at the post event media conference. And there in a nutshell you have the reason why America’s divided team underachieved so badly. Crushed by five whole points – 16½ to 11½ – by a group of players inferior in the world ranking.
Compare that sight to the togetherness of the European team who have now won three in a row.
World No.1 Rory McIlroy led the praise for his triumphant captain McGinley when he declared: “He left no stone unturned. He was amazing. He couldn’t have done anything else. He was fantastic.”
The praise was universal for the European leader who modestly concluded: “I didn’t execute the plan. The 12 guys in the team did. I did the easy bit – and I really mean that.” And that is the difference between Europe and the USA. One is team united by an unbreakable bond of unity. The other is divided by the size of one man’s ego and the absence of a genuine togetherness.
Lampard proving critics wrong for 18 years – ever since West Ham fan lambasted Redknapp for picking him ahead of Scott Canham
September 27th, 2014 at 9:07 pm
Chelsea may be the runaway leaders with six matches gone in the Premier League. But Blues boss Jose Mourinho must surely know that his club have made a huge misjudgement releasing Frank Lampard. Only time will tell how damaging his switch from London to Manchester via New York will be for the Stamford Bridge club. In the meantime, the evidence is starting to look overwhelming.
In the past week Lampard has twice come off the bench for Manchester City to score important Premier League goals. In midweek in the League Cup he started and scored a double. That’s 4 goals in less than 3 games.
The infamous strike he landed in last Sunday’s 1-1 draw at the Etihad Stadium to deny Chelsea will be talked about for years to come. Yet it is ridiculous to suggest that Lampard has tarnished his reputation as a Chelsea legend. When he was released by Chelsea in May, thirteen years after signing from West Ham for £13 million pounds, he left as the club’s record goalscorer and arguably their greatest ever player.
The truth is that Lampard did not believe he was finished at the top level and he clearly wanted to remain at Stamford Bridge.
As City boss Manuel Pellegrini mischievously suggested in the pre-match mind games before last Sunday’s showdown with the Premier League’s pacesetters, Chelsea did not want to renew his contract because they did not think he was good enough anymore.
Teased Pellegrini: “I don’t think it is a difficult situation for him. I think Frank didn’t continue in Chelsea because Chelsea didn’t want him, not because he wanted to come here to Manchester City. He couldn’t continue with the team he played for his whole life for. He has all the rights to continue playing football. He arrived here and we are very happy with him.’
What followed was the script you could not write that somehow seemed destined to become a reality. Lampard’s instinctive finish cost Chelsea two points. A strike that could prove pivotal come the end of the season. The way he went into autopilot and did his job like the true professional he is was pure theatre.
There was a fleeting look of horror on his face as his team mates jubilantly surrounded him to celebrate. The outcome was less traumatic, but it reminded me of the day I stood on the Stretford End in May 1974 and saw Denis Law backheel an instinctive winner for City against Manchester United.
Poor Denis thought he had relegated his beloved United. As fate turned out results elsewhere meant United would have gone down anyway. Not since then have a I seen a reaction like Lampard’s haunted look the moment he realised what he had done.
While Lampard must not be compared with ‘The King’, who many of us believe is the greatest Scottish player of all time and arguably the best to wear the famous red shirt of Manchester United, there is no doubt that Lampard is and has been a superb footballer.
Like many Manchester United fans, I will always blame Sven Goran Eriksson for prematurely ending Paul Scholes’ England career by picking Lampard ahead of him. A choice that beggars belief because Scholes was the best English midfield player of his generation by a long way. But that should not overshadow Lampard’s achievements and his ability to overcome criticism.
Critics have been writing him off even before his career had taken off.
I was at a Fans Forum in 1996 when an eighteen year old Lampard squirmed in embarrassment as a West Ham United supporter insisted he was “not good enough” for the Hammers. On that occasion the loudmouthed fan challenged Lampard’s manager and uncle, Harry Redknapp, for choosing him ahead of Scott Canham and Matt Holland.
Redknapp’s response captured in this exclusive YouTube video filmed by VisionSport TV could not have been more adamant: “I did not want to say this in front of him. But he will go right to the very top. Right to the very top.”.
Added Redknapp: “There ain’t no doubt about that in my opinion. Because he’s got everything that’s needed to become a top class midfield player. His attitude is first class. He’s got strength. He can play. He can pass it. And he can score goals.”
Eighteen years on, the egg is on Chelsea’s face because nothing has changed. All the qualities quoted above by Redknapp still apply.
Week 5 | Premier League| Liverpool to drop out of Top 4 | Di Maria to give United edge at Leicester | Chelsea to hold Man City
September 20th, 2014 at 9:49 pm
Clock counting down transfer window resembles hostage situation with Manchester United held to ransom in pursuit of top players
August 26th, 2014 at 11:47 pm
To put it bluntly Manchester United have five days until the transfer window closes to save their season. Humiliated in the League Cup tonight by minnows MK Dons, the club crowned champions for a record 20th time just 15 months ago have become a shambles. Not just on the pitch – but off it too.
Humiliated 4-0 in Milton Keynes hours after breaking the British transfer record by agreeing to pay Real Madrid an eye-watering 59.7 million pounds for Angel Di Maria, this is a script you simply could not make up.
The brutal reality is that Louis Van Gaal is still at least two, possibly three more marque signings away from assembling a squad with any hope of challenging the top six.
With clubs around the world aware of the Red Devils’ desperate situation, further meteoric spending will be required. Not to mention the huge salaries that will be expected to persuade world class players to miss out on the Champions League for one season at least.
Blinded by a perfect pre-season that produced six wins out of six, fans and pundits alike expected the new manager to deliver a challenge for the Premier League. The Dutchman was a tactical genius when he guided Holland to third place in this summer’s World Cup in Brazil.
But three matches into the new campaign, Van Gaal has a return of just one point out of six in the Premier League and a crushing Capital Cup exit that ranks as one of the worst embarrassments in the club’s history.
“I am not shocked because it can happen, especially when you have nine injuries and you have to play a match within 48 hours,” was Van Gaal’s verdict. “We have to build a new team and that can’t be done in one month.”
Di Maria it is hoped will make his debut at Burnley on Saturday, along with Marcos Rojo, signed for £16 million pound from Sporting Lisbon a week ago. But it is impossible to envisage an instant fix, such is the frailty of United’s defence and the confidence shattering blows to an inadequate squad further weakened by injuries.
Make no mistake United were battered by the minnows from League One. This was no fluke. MK Dons were more organised, more determined. After a promising start, United’s unfamiliar 3-5-2 system was ripped apart with embarrassing ease.
Any manager will tell you he needs time and the extent of the re-building required at Old Trafford means there is no longer any way to paper over the cracks. But time is a rare commodity in the 21st century, where football is no longer simply a sport. This is big business and the consequences of failure and poor investment are potentially catastrophic.
The Glazer’s front man Ed Woodward has entered the fray splashing the cash at the eleventh hour with everything to prove. His stature in the cut-throat arena of the global transfer market is yet to match the class act United took for granted when David Gill was calling the shots. But he has been dealt a tough challenge to deal with.
It is not rocket science to conclude that Woodward has overpaid. So far he has recruited Marouane Fellaini (27.5M), Juan Mata (37.5M), Ander Herrera (£28.8M), Luke Shaw (27M) plus Rojo and Di Maria for a combined 76M spree in the last seven days. That’s 196.5M on six new faces, and, if Paul Scholes was on the ball last week with his evaluation, United still need three more big signings.
By my reckoning – and through the good and the bad times I have followed United for close on 50 years – we still need a world class centre back, a ball winning central midfielder and a quality marksman to come close to challenging Chelsea and Manchester City. The Blues are both a cut above their closest challengers in the Premier League and even further ahead of the Reds.
Woodward’s ability to deliver the missing ingredients with the clock ticking down will have long reaching consequences because the stakes are so high and there is little room for error. United fans are hoping and praying he can deliver and equally that Van Gaal has sent him in search of the right signings.
The Old Trafford faithful admire LVG’s continuation of the United tradition of giving homegrown players a chance and the signs are that the latest crop of starlets include some great prospects. But whatever the makeup of his re-built squad he can only succeed if he firstly wins trophies and secondly moulds a team that plays the beautiful game the United way. And that means we must be entertained.
In the full glare of the media spotlight on the biggest club floundering in the world’s most watched domestic league, there is no hiding place – as the much maligned David Moyes found out in his ill-fated solitary season in the hot seat.
Failure to qualify for the Champions League as a result of last season’s spectacular crash to seventh place under Moyes meant United were competing in the League Cup for the first time in over 20 years. But that ignominy was nothing compared to the shame on a Tuesday night in Milton Keynes brought on United by a collapse so spectacular that it beggared belief.
Triumphant MK Dons manager Karl Robinson summed up the magnitude of his side’s four goal demolition of the Manchester giants when he told BBC radio minutes after the final whistle: “We are still in shock. For the first 20 minutes they dominated us and we didn’t know what to do.”
But then came a spectacular collapse by the club that claims to be the biggest in the world. To do so at the hands of League One minnows who only came into existence a decade ago has intensified the pressure on the new manager to start performing miracles.