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Solskjær - The Player's Choice!

Added by Philip Meese on 08 Jan 2019 20:04

Why Ole Gunnar Solskjær might be exactly the manager Manchester United have been looking for.

By Philip Meese

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Ole Gunnar Solskjær has breezed back into his natural home at Manchester United, and immediately lifted what was a very sombre mood around the club. The Norwegian has won his first five games since taking the position of caretaker manager and reports have emerged that the players are in favour of him being given the job full time.

Despite his fast start, which has seen some of the most entertaining football played by the Red Devils in years, there are still plenty of fans who have reservations about him being José Mourinho’s permanent replacement.

Legacy

Ed Woodward was always going to be in a win-win situation by appointing Solskjær until the end of the season. There are few players that have represented the club down the years, especially in the Premier League era, that are as universally loved by United fans. You would be hard pressed to find one that had a bad word to say about him. His commitment, professionalism added to the fact that he gave most Red Devils their greatest ever moment in football add up to one word; legend.

Woodward has come in for a lot of heat from the Stretford End faithful over the last few years, and earlier this season a banner was flown over Turf Moor during the Burnley game, declaring him a ‘specialist in failure’. He had to do something to appease the supporters, and with Mourinho gone here was his chance.

The current situation is also a win-win for Solskjær because, unless he got the club relegated, there is no chance he could damage his legacy at Old Trafford. As long as he got the team playing a brand of football that was more exciting than that of his two predecessors, not the hardest feat in the world, he was always going to be a popular appointment with the fans. If he is given the job on a permanent basis, and it doesn’t go too well, that might be a different story. But given the state the club was in when he took over, for now it seems he is safe.

Natural

The day after he was appointed, millions of fans around the world watched his first interview on MUTV. The reaction on social media afterwards indicated that the majority couldn’t wait to watch his first game. It was worth the wait, as Solskjær instructed his players to go out and play their natural game, which resulted in a 5-1 win away to Cardiff City. Finally, it seemed, United had someone who played with the emphasis the the opposition should fear them, not the other way around.

It was clear from that interview that Cardiff fans should be very worried, and it’s probably fair to say that most probably wished that United had waited a week to sack Mourinho. Solskjær, having spent almost fifteen years at Old Trafford as player and coach, knows exactly what the fans expect in terms of how the team play. As a result, United scored five goals in a game for the first time in over half a decade.

There is one notable difference between the Norwegian and the three men who were in the manager’s seat before him (not counting Ryan Giggs). Next time Solskjær does a pre-match press conference, watch how at ease he is with his situation and compare it with the others. David Moyes was overawed, like he didn’t believe he was good enough for the job. Louis van Gaal was defensive to the point of being offensive (more so than any of his teams) and Mourinho had the impression of a man who wanted to be sacked so that the club had to pay up his contract. By contrast, Solskjær brings a pleasant disposition and the impression of a man completely comfortable with the demands of both the job and the fans. Possibly a man who was born to do this job.

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Credentials

Solskjær was one of those players who it always seemed would make a natural coach. By his own admission, one of the reasons he was so successful coming off the bench is that he would study the defenders he would be up against when introduced. He would look for their weaknesses, even the slightest thing that he could exploit. As a result he scored 17 Premier League goals from the bench in his career, a record until Jermaine Defoe overtook him.

When he was forced to retire through injury in 2007, Solskjær took up a coaching role and became manager of United’s reserve team. He won the Premier Reserve League, as well as both the Manchester and Lancashire Senior Cups between 2009 & 2010. This led to him being headhunted by Molde, the club United bought him from in 1996. In his first season he led the club to their first ever league title, and repeated the feat the following year. He also won the Norwegian Cup in 2013, by which time he had invoked the interest of several Premier League sides.

A lot has been made of Solskjær’s first job in the Premier League with Cardiff, ironically the first team he faced as United boss, and how it went sour. Looking back though, it’s hard to imagine any manager stopping that side being relegated back in 2013-14, given that they were already in the drop zone when he took over. The job was a poisoned chalice to start with, and it should have little bearing on his chances of becoming the next permanent Old Trafford boss.

A year after he left Cardiff, Solskjær returned to Molde, and guided them to some very impressive results in the Europa League. He beat Fenerbahçe and Celtic to top a group which also included Ajax. Despite going out to holders and eventual winners Sevilla, Molde did win the second leg of their knockout tie.

Right Job at the Right Time

In spite of all the above, nobody should be under any illusions just yet that Ole Gunnar Solskjær is the saviour United fans have been looking for. The first five fixtures of his reign were against teams that the Red Devils should be expecting to win against. Having said that, had Mourinho still been in charge, it’s unlikely they would have won all of them and if they had, they certainly wouldn’t have scored sixteen goals in the process. Tottenham away this Sunday will be his biggest test yet.

There is a story that might be relevant to Solskjær’s situation and could end up in a similar situation. In 2001-02, Holland legend Frank Rijkaard was the manager of Sparta Rotterdam, and they were relegated at the end of that season. A year later, he became the manager of Barcelona and led them to two La Liga titles and the 2006 Champions League trophy.

The point of that story is that back then, Rijkaard offered little to suggest he should be given the job of managing one of the biggest clubs in the world. He hadn’t even played for Barcelona at any time in his career, so he had less credit in the bank with the fans than Solskjær has. Yet he was given a shot at bringing success back to the Nou Camp and look how that worked out.

The fact that Rijkaard has done little in management since then seems to show that, sometimes, the right man can take over the right club at exactly the right time. This could end up being true with Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Just because he has never previously managed a club of United’s stature before doesn’t mean he isn’t equipped to handle it.

Head to Head Audition?

Another irony is that Solskjær’s first real test since taking over is against the man who would seen to be his biggest rival for the position. This Sunday will see the Norwegian go head to head with the man who the media believe to be Woodward’s first choice for the job, Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.

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The United CEO is known to be a firm admirer of the job the Argentine has done in North London on a fraction of the budget he’d get at Old Trafford. Add the fact that he plays entertaining, attack-minded football to his belief in the value of bringing young players through, and he ticks all of the boxes for a United manager. He is also used to working under a director of football, another which United are currently recruiting for.

There is a question of whether Pochettino would want to leave a job where he is seemingly untouchable at the moment. While he is under pressure to win trophies and sustain some type of title challenge, it’s nowhere near the level of expectation he would feel at United. The board expect trophies, with Champions League qualification the minimum expectation; as Moyes and van Gaal found out to their cost.

Pochettino has already made Spurs the best team in London, for the time being anyway, but if he moved to Old Trafford he would have a much bigger challenge. The reality is that, despite having done a fantastic job at Tottenham, the only silverware he has lifted as boss of any club is a few Manager of the Month awards. The man he faces on Sunday has actually won more, albeit in Norwegian football.

Unlike Pochettino, Ole Gunnar Solskjær knows Manchester United from the ground up. He knows the expectations of both the board and the fans, he already has the players onside and in his short time in charge has got the team playing the best football since Sir Alex Ferguson. Who can say that the Tottenham manager would definitely be a better option?

Final Thought

Time will tell if Solskjær can sustain the impressive start he has made, especially against the likes of Liverpool and Manchester City. If he does, however, and United achieve something this season such as a trophy and a top four finish, removing the Norwegian to bring in Pochettino, Woodward might just be on the receiving end of another banner flying over the stadium.

What happens over the next four to five months will be one of the most crucial decisions Ed Woodward ever makes. After three disastrous appointments, he has to get this one right. Failure to do so might see him reduced back into a role where he does nothing more than make money for the club.

Solskjær is the only Manchester United manager to win his first five games in charge. He has a genuine chance to stake a real claim for the job between now and the end of the season, to impress his potential employer first hand. Time will tell if he takes that opportunity, but he’s done a fine job so far. Of course, there are several sterner tests ahead than he has faced so far, particularly over the next six weeks, and how he handles them may be the deciding factor.

It has to be said, however, that he definitely looks up to the challenge.

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Features

Who will be the Next United Manager?

Added by Philip Meese on 19 Dec 2018 20:16

A look at the merits of the potential candidates to take over the Old Trafford hotseat next summer.

By Philip Meese, Chief Editor

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José Mourinho was sacked by Manchester United on Tuesday, after two and a half years in charge. A move that seemed to make sense when he was appointed went sour very quickly this season. After a lot of initial promise, including winning the Europa League, his position this season quickly became untenable.

Even before Mourinho was sacked, there was speculation mounting about his successor. Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been appointed as caretaker until the end of the season, but who will take up the role permanently? Ultimate United assesses the candidates who are likely to be in the frame, and the pros and cons of each one.

Mauricio Pochettino

The Tottenham manager is apparently Ed Woodward’s favoured choice for the role, and a clear favourite with most bookmakers. He would no doubt be a popular choice with the Stretford End faithful, due to the attacking football he plays which has been lacking at Old Trafford for years. The entertainment factor has been so low at United over the last half decade that even the fact he has yet to win a major trophy wouldn’t overly concern the fans. They just want to go and watch a match without being bored to tears.

The real issue here would be prising the Argentine away from North London. Daniel Levy is known to be a tough negotiator and would be reluctant to lose him. It would cost United a lot of money, somewhere in the region of £40m to bring him to United.

Zinedine Zidane

One of the greatest players of his generation, a man who won everything as a player. His short managerial career has so far seen him transfer that winning mentality to the dugout. In his thirty-month spell at Real Madrid, he won three Champions League trophies in a row and one La Liga title. His departure from the Bernabéu was met with sorrow by the players, all of whom enjoyed playing under the French legend. United’s dressing room could certainly do with that kind of solidarity right now. He is also rumoured to be learning English, hence reports linking him to take over in the summer rather than immediately.

One concern is that despite his achievements in Madrid, the first manager to retain the European Cup since it was rebranded as the Champions League has never taken charge of a club in the state United currently finds itself in. At Real he had players such as Cristiano Ronaldo and Luka Modrić, and a better squad than most of Europe. At United he would be walking into a dressing room which features a mix of potentially world class, but underachieving players combined with those that are either past their best or were never good enough to wear the shirt in the first place. Manchester United needs rebuilding, from the ground upwards, and Zidane has no experience of doing that.

Laurent Blanc

A former United player who has so far had a successful managerial career and is currently available. He came to Old Trafford at the back end of his playing career and retired after lifting the Premier League trophy in his second season. Since hanging up his boots, Blanc has won Ligue 1 with both Bordeaux and Paris Saint-Germain as well as taking France to the quarter-finals of Euro 2012. His teams are known for playing exciting and attacking football which would be well received by United’s fans.

The only real issue with appointing Blanc would be that all of the trophies he has won were achieved in his homeland, mainly with PSG who can outspend every other club in the division. He has no experience of management in a league as competitive as England. While this has not hindered the likes of Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola, the fact that he has never managed in one of the top three or four leagues in Europe may count against him.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær

The United legend was announced this morning as the man to take charge for the rest of the season this morning. This has led to much excitement among the fans, as the Norwegian is a universally loved figure by all associated with the club. It does seem as though this will only be a temporary appointment, but should he drastically improve United’s fortunes over the next six months, Woodward might have a decision to make. The one thing Solskjær has here is an opportunity to impress if he has any designs on becoming the permanent manager.

What counts against him in some people’s eye is how his one taste of Premier League management went sour. Midway through the 2013-14 season, Solskjær replaced Malky Mackay at Cardiff City but was unable to stop them going down. This should not detract from the fact that the job was a poisoned chalice to start with, as the club were already in the relegation zone with a squad that had received no serious investment after being promoted.

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Michael Carrick

Following a 12-year playing spell at Old Trafford, Carrick retired at the end of last season to join Mourinho’s coaching staff. Following the Portuguese manager’s sacking, the United legend took over training while the club sorted out appointing Solskjær to take charge for the rest of the season. Carrick knows what is expected of a United team, having served many years under Sir Alex Ferguson, and would be a popular choice with the players according to reports.

The potential problem with appointing the club legend is that he is less than six months into his coaching career. He has no experience at any level of management and to put him in charge of England’s biggest club, a huge challenge for even an experienced manager, would be asking a lot.

Roberto Martínez

The former Wigan and Everton manager’s stock has never been higher, after leading Belgium to 3rd place at the World Cup in the summer. He has plenty of experience in the Premier League, and even an F.A. Cup win on his C.V. The one box he ticks most of all is that his sides play fluid attacking football, something the fans have been craving since Ferguson left. He also showed he has tactical nous, with his side 2-0 down to Japan an inspired double substitution saw his side scored three goals in just over twenty minutes to win the game.

The main problem with appointing the Spanish manager is that he seems to be very naïve defensively, something that was shown in his time at Everton. He inherited a good defence from David Moyes at Goodison Park, which provided a solid base for his first season. When it came to replace them, he struggled. Given that United’s biggest problems this season have come from the back, Martínez probably wouldn’t the best appointment to sort them out.

Leonardo Jardim

The Portuguese manager has been tipped to land one Europe’s big jobs soon following his departure from Monaco in the summer. In 2016-17, he overcame the riches of PSG to claim the Monte Carlo club’s first Ligue 1 title in 17 years, playing some superb football. It was under Jardim that Anthony Martial showed the promise that persuaded United to sign him.

As is the case with Blanc, the risk would be the fact that Jardim has never managed in any of the top leagues. His other achievements have come with Olympiakos in Greece and Beira-Mar in Portugal, which may count against him when Woodward eventually appoints Mourinho’s permanent successor.

Massimiliano Allegri

One of the least likely appointments on the bookmakers list of potential replacements, with most making him around 16/1 to take over at Old Trafford. There is no question he would be welcomed with open arms if Woodward could persuade Allegri to leave Juventus. When the two sides met, the Italians passed it around United’s midfielders as though they weren’t even there. They were even the better side when the Red Devils somehow managed to win.

There would be no cons to appointing Allegri, other than the fact that it would be his first taste of English football. The problem would be that you must ask the question why he would leave Turin when he has built a one of the best sides in Europe, who are strongly fancied to win the Champions League, to take over a club in turmoil. It doesn’t seem likely, somehow.

Eddie Howe

There in no question that Eddie Howe has done an unbelievable job at Bournemouth. Since his appointment in 2012, he oversaw two promotions in three seasons to get the club in the top flight for the first time in their history. At the age of just 41, he is very much a manager for the future and will no doubt be snapped up by a bigger club in the years to come.

What would no doubt count against him is that the board already appointed one manager in David Moyes who, like Howe, had never won a trophy or competed in the Champions League before. It is unlikely they would do that again anytime soon, however promising they might be.

Nicky Butt

Another United legend on the payroll at Old Trafford, Butt is currently the Head of Academy at the club. The football they are playing, such as coming from behind away to Valencia last week, is far more entertaining than what the first team have churned out this season. Butt is Manchester United through and through and understands exactly what makes the club tick. His appointment would not only inject some passion into the team, but he has a better idea than anyone which youth prospects are ready for their chance on the big stage.

As with Carrick, the downside is inexperience at this level. Coaching the youth players, who are hungry and eager to impress, is a whole different ball game to managing the egos in a dressing room full of international footballers. He may be a great choice for the future but is unlikely to be given the job anytime soon. There is also the fact that he is doing a first-class job with the academy.

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Ryan Giggs

Whenever Manchester United are looking for a new manager, it’s inevitable that the club’s most decorated player will be mentioned as one of the candidates. He briefly took over for the final four games of the 2013-14 season following the sacking of David Moyes and was assistant manager to Louis van Gaal for his two years in charge, leaving the club when the Dutchman was sacked in 2016. Giggs was appointed as manager of Wales in January 2018.

There is no question that he could probably have taken over the job on a caretaker basis until the end of the season, as plenty of managers have combined club and international management in the past. It is hard to see him being given a chance permanently just yet, as he is less than a year into his first full time managerial role. This makes him no more likely a candidate for the job than when he was overlooked before.

Diego Simeone

The Argentine was once a hated figure at Old Trafford following his antics at the 1998 World Cup which saw David Beckham sent off, but that is long in the past. Since retiring as a player in 2006, Simeone has gone on to become one of Europe’s most sought-after managers. Since taking over at Atlético Madrid in 2011 he has won La Liga, the Copa Del Rey and two Europa League titles as well as twice finishing runner up in the Champions League. As such, he is constantly being linked to other clubs, and it seems a matter of time before he eventually leaves Madrid.

One thing that might count against Simeone, certainly in the eyes of the fans, is that his overall approach to the way he sets his teams up isn’t too dissimilar to Mourinho’s. A compact and well organised defence with an onus seemingly on counter attack has been the United way for almost five years now, and the fans want a break from it. 

Arsène Wenger

A surprise entry, but one that seems to be on the list of candidates with some bookmakers. An enemy of United for so long, just like Mourinho, it would be a strange twist to the tale but it’s certainly not beyond the realms of possibility. Wenger has more Premier League experience than anyone else on the list, and there is no doubt he would bring a more entertaining brand of football to Old Trafford than has been seen in recent years. He is also a free agent having left Arsenal after 22 years in the summer.

The reality is that the last two managers that Woodward have appointed have been accused of being out of touch with modern football, something that has also been levelled at Wenger. With this in mind it seems there is little chance he will be the next manager.

Antonio Conte

Another manager with a successful track record, having won Serie A with Juventus and the Premier League with Chelsea, who he left in the summer. He is currently without a club following his departure from Stamford Bridge, and is free to talk to other clubs now that he has settled his contract dispute with the London club. He knows the Premier League, and his reputation would command the respect of the dressing room.

The major drawback in appointing the Italian would be whether they wanted another Chelsea cast-off, given how it ended with Mourinho. The fact that he also seemed to lose the dressing room in his second season provides a glaring similarity to what happened with the manager United recently sacked. Despite Conte being one of the favourites for the job, his appointment seems rather unlikely.

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Features

7 Questions Mourinho needs to Address

Added by Philip Meese on 29 Nov 2018 17:30

A look at some burning issues within Old Trafford that Mourinho needs to answer.

By Philip Meese, Chief Editor

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The storm clouds are gathering over Old Trafford, despite their qualification to the Champions League knockout round. It’s not been pretty this season, even less so than last year. Manchester United were out of the title race by the end of September, and out of the League Cup at the first hurdle.

There are some burning issues that are bugging the fans, which have regularly come up on Social Media this season. To date, nobody seems to be able to answer any of these questions.

Why is Valencia the club captain?

Antonio Valencia has developed into one of the most pointless footballers in the Premier League. When he arrived at Old Trafford in 2009, he was a powerful, pacey winger with pinpoint crossing ability. Within six months of his arrival, Wayne Rooney had more than trebled the amount of headed goals he had scored throughout his career.

Fast forward to 2018 and what United are left with is a winger converted to a full-back, who isn’t the best defensively and has seemingly developed a phobia of crossing the ball, preferring to cut it back to someone else when in a good position. Throw into the mix the fact that he still hasn’t learnt fluent English, having been in the country for over 12 years, and you must ask why he is the official club captain. It’s not as though he is leading by example, in fact he’s barely played this season. In fact, he hasn’t been the same player since handing back the number 7 shirt.

Surely the captain of Manchester United should be someone who is going to play every week, which at the age of 33 seems unlikely for Valencia even if he hadn’t liked a certain Instagram post recently. The club skipper should also be someone who fluently speaks the same language as the rest of his team mates. Most importantly, it should be a player who is seen as a key player in the team. Valencia does not tick the box any of those categories, so why is he wearing the armband?

In summary, he’s not great at defending, offers nothing in attack and, at the age of 33, is hardly in his prime. United need a captain who can lead the club over the next five to ten years. Valencia is not that captain.

What exactly has Eric Bailly done wrong?

Ask any United fan who they think the best centre back at the club is, and it’s likely they will say Eric Bailly. When he joined the club from Villarreal in 2016, it looked like Mourinho had found a bargain. Here was a defender with the aggression of Nemanja Vidić, the athleticism of Rio Ferdinand and more pace than either of them in their prime. He hasn’t kicked a ball for United in almost two months.

The warning signs were there last season, when Bailly was consistently left out towards the end of the campaign. When Phil Jones gave away a penalty in the F.A. Cup Final, the wisdom of this was questioned (and still is). This season he seems to have been made a scapegoat. In the defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion, Bailly’s rash challenge gave away a penalty in what was already an awful performance. In fairness, that’s how a lot of penalties are conceded. Against Newcastle, with United 2-0 down, Bailly was withdrawn even though neither goal was his fault – Ashley Young was culpable for both. 

You also have to ask what Bailly has done to receive such treatment, given that he looked superb in his first two seasons at United. It’s also worth pointing out that Bailly was a José Mourinho signing, who a lot of fans believe is one of the few players at the club who is of the required calibre expected of a United player.

The fact that United conceded less than thirty league goals in each of the last two seasons, when Bailly was a regular, is worthy of note. This season, when the Ivory Coast international has hardly played, they have already conceded 21. The message seems clear, the team needs Eric Bailly.

What’s the deal with Pereira?

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This is a strange one. Mourinho made a big song and dance about the fact that Andreas Pereira went on a second loan spell last season. After spending 2016-17 at Granada, he spent last season at Valencia and impressed in both spells. After impressing in the pre-season tour of the USA, he started United’s first two games of the season. Since then, he has made just three substitute appearances. He did well against Leicester City but, like most of the team, didn’t against Brighton. He must have done something right as he made his debut for Brazil the same month.

A lot of the fans on social media have been saying he should be playing, and it’s clear that United need something different. It’s hard to say, however, that Pereira should play because nobody has seen enough of him to judge if he is good enough. But he should be given a chance, at least.

If he isn’t going to be given opportunities, what was the point in keeping him at the club, and why did Mourinho seem to be so upset when he went on loan last season? Is he just punishing him for going against his wishes, or is that now he has seen him up close in training, has concluded that he isn’t good enough?

What does Matić have to do to be dropped?

Mourinho has always had his favourites over the years, players who are seemingly undroppable, regardless of how bad their form is. Nemanja Matić would seem to fall into this category right now, even though he is probably in the worst form of anyone in the team right now.

Last season, the Serbian was one of United’s best outfield players. He brought a calm authority to the midfield, protected the defence and would have made a good choice as captain. This season is a totally different story, as Matić is becoming a liability. He had surgery in the summer and looks like he has lost a yard of pace, when he wasn’t exactly blessed with it to start with.

At first many people thought it was while he was getting his match fitness back, but as the season progresses, he seems to be getting worse. Against Young Boys on Tuesday night he was not only poor with his passing, but slow to react to passes from his team mates, which resulted in United conceding possession on several occasions.

Everyone is entitled to go through a bad patch of form, it happens to most players. At most clubs those players are dropped, with someone else given a chance. What is baffling, particularly as some players are dropped after just one average performance, is that no matter how poor Matić plays his name seems to be set in stone on the team sheet. It can’t be a coincidence that his dip in form and United’s suddenly leaky defence have happened in the same season.

What was the point of buying Fred?

United’s biggest signing of the summer was Brazilian international midfielder Fred, a £52 million transfer from Ukrainian club Shakhtar Donetsk. Like Pereira, Fred also started United’s first two games of the season and was dropped after the Brighton game. He has featured more than his international team mate, and even scored his first Premier League goal against Wolves.

It’s almost as though Mourinho is easing him into the team, trying to get him used to the rigors of English football. The truth is that he doesn’t really need it as he has looked decent, admittedly not spectacular, in the games that he has played. Against Young Boys, he was the only one trying to play the ball forward, and yet he was substituted to keep Matić on the pitch. Surely giving Fred a run of games, especially when nobody in United’s midfield is doing anything special, would surely be the best way to get him bedded in?

United need something different, because what they have tried so far clearly isn’t working. Playing week in, week out might remind Mourinho why he bought him in the first place.

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Why are contracts being handed out to players who should be cleared out?

There have been a lot of average players at Old Trafford over the last seven or eight years. A lot of these players wouldn’t have got into any of the United sides that conquered the Premier League or Europe over the years. They aren’t winners and are certainly don’t possess the talent to play for a club the size of United.

Marcos Rojo was given a new deal earlier this year and has yet to feature for the club this season. He has played more games for Argentina than the club who pay his wages. Despite his late winner on Tuesday night, there are very few United fans who would be sorry to see the back of Marouane Fellaini, who only signed the contract United offered him when he realised no other big club was interested.

Reports suggest that United are having talks with Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, and Ashley Young, and will trigger the one-year extension for Antonio Valencia and Matteo Darmian. Given that none of these players have come anywhere near putting together a Premier League title challenge in the last five years, the only reason the club should be extending their deals is to get a sell-on fee.  The only reason Smalling and Jones have got Premier League winners’ medals is because they were part of a defence that included Nemanja Vidić and Rio Ferdinand.

In the meantime, United have triggered the extension on David de Gea’s contract, while they attempt to negotiate a new long term deal. Reports suggest that he wants around £350,000 a week. If this is the case, given that he is the only proven world class player at Old Trafford, they should have no hesitation. He is the only member of United’s squad that earns his money every single week. United should prioritise this over renewing the contract of players who should have been cleared out long ago.

What is actually happening in training?

Look at the slow, lethargic patterns of play that United have displayed this season. Is that what they work on in training? Is Mourinho happy with what he is seeing in front of him on the pitch? The fans certainly aren’t, hence, a crowd of less than 73,000 at Old Trafford on Tuesday.

It’s bad enough that Manchester City and Liverpool are not only better than United but playing a brand of football that gets people off their seats. Mourinho’s side play boring, pedestrian football that nobody wants to watch; there is nothing exciting about it. Do they work in training to bore the opposition to death and then try to nick a goal?

The emphasis seems to focus on United stopping the opposition scoring, rather than letting the players express themselves. Their attacking players have proved time and time again that they have goals in them, and United fans would accept the lack of serious contention for trophies a lot more readily if they were at least watching exciting football.

Final Thought

If Mourinho hopes to make a success of his time at Manchester United, maybe he should consider the points above. Each one addresses an issue that is niggling the fans on a big scale, because they all seem to be affecting the current plight of the club.

Big changes are needed at Old Trafford, and the sooner some, preferably all, of the above issues are resolved, the sooner the United fans might not spend every game posting on Facebook and Twitter about the state the club is in.

If José Mourinho doesn’t address at least some of those issues, he might find that the “Third Season Syndrome” that dogged his spells at Real Madrid and Chelsea strikes again.

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Rants & Musings

The Worst United team in 30 Years?

Added by Philip Meese on 28 Nov 2018 20:38

A look at why this current Manchester United side are the worst in thirty years.

By Philip Meese, Chief Editor

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Manchester United are in crisis, no doubt about it. Something needs to change, but you get the impression that nothing is about to. The Red Devils have just played two home games in a week, and it took them more than three hours to score just one goal. That is unacceptable.

30 Years ago, United had a team that ended up finishing 11th in the table, something which doesn’t look out of the realms of possibility for the current squad. Incredibly many of the fans would probably rather watch that particular team that what they are currently being served up on match days.

Here we look at the similarities between the United team of back then and the current one, as well as some glaring differences.

Looking Back

At the end of the 1987-88 season, things seemed to be looking up for Manchester United. Alex Ferguson had just completed his first full season at Old Trafford and had finished 2nd in the table. They were still a considerable distance behind the eventual champions Liverpool but seeing as United had gone over twenty years without winning the league, this was a considerable improvement on the previous season’s 11th place.

Much was expected going into the new campaign, especially after Brian McClair had become the first United player since George Best to score more than 20 league goals. When Mark Hughes returned from Barcelona in the summer of 1988, it looked like they finally had the firepower to overthrow their scouse rivals.

What happened is that the season petered out before the end of Autumn. By the start of December, United had only won three league games, and were out of the League Cup. English clubs were still banned from Europe at the time, which meant United’s only hope of silverware was the F.A. Cup, which ended after a disappointing home defeat to Nottingham Forest. McClair and Hughes scored 32 goals between them (16 each), one less than McClair had managed on his own the previous season.

The highlight of the season was a brilliant 3-1 win over Liverpool on New Years Day 1989, after an encouraging performance from Russel Beardsmore. United finished 11th in the table, and it seemed like they were just going backwards. This was highlighted further when the following season they finished 13th, five points above the relegation zone, despite winning the F.A. Cup.

The Current Situation

United have had their worst start to a season in the Premier League era. They have won less than half of the thirteen league games played so far, and have a negative goal difference for the first time at this stage of the season since the 1970’s. In three Champions League games at Old Trafford, United have scored just one goal, in injury time against Young Boys last night. That’s over four and a half hours of European football at Old Trafford before they found the net.

Romelu Lukaku has struggled to find the net this season, after hitting 27 goals last term. The calls for him to be dropped are getting louder, with his lack of mobility being cited as one of the reasons for United’s pedestrian approach to games. There is certainly no doubt that his goal drought is one of the elements in United’s failure to score, as he was quite reliable last season.

Just like thirty years ago, they are already out of the League Cup and with 14 points separating United and Manchester City, José Mourinho can forget the title this season. It’s very unlikely they will even finish in the top four, given the teams they have struggled to score against this season.

Similarities

There are numerous similarities between the current campaign and that of thirty years ago. On both occasions, United had a manager around two years into the job, and both had finished the previous season as runners up in the league, but quite a distance behind the eventual champions. Just like in 1988-89 United’s inconsistent form saw their title challenge effectively ended with less than two months of the season played.

United went out of the League Cup at home to Derby County at the first hurdle earlier this season. Thirty years ago, they also suffered an early exit, but at least made it to the second before Wimbledon knocked them out. If United were to be knocked out of the F.A. Cup in the quarter-final, like in 1988-89, it would be no surprise.

Another interesting comparison between the two eras is in the striking department. On both occasions a striker who had scored more than 25 goals in his first season at the club, struggled in his second. Lukaku has played 17 games this season and scored just four goals, the last one being at Watford in September. By the end of November in 1988, McClair had played the same number of games and scored six times – three of them against 4th Division side Rotherham United.

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It is also worth noting that in both seasons, United had endured a disappointing summer in the transfer market. Only two of Mourinho’s targets, Diogo Dalot and Fred, were recruited but their high-profile failure to attract a new centre-back was one of the talking points of the summer. In 1988, Ferguson had been promised by Paul Gascoigne that he would be moving to Old Trafford, only to change his mind and join Tottenham Hotspur. Mark Hughes was the only major addition that summer.

It could see a similarity in terms of outgoing transfers as well. Towards the end of the 1988-89 season, Norman Whiteside, Paul McGrath and Gordon Strachan were all transferred to pastures new. They had been three of United’s best players throughout the early to mid-1980’s. Fast forward thirty years and every day United’s three most important players, Paul Pogba, David de Gea and Anthony Martial are linked with a move away from Old Trafford. The latter two have deals that expire at the end of the season, although United will no doubt trigger the one-year extension for both players.

Differences

Despite the similarities regarding certain situations, the Manchester United of 1988 could not be further removed from the one we watch today. In both cases, the teams are infuriating but thirty years ago, United would be brilliant in one game and either very poor or average in the next. This season United have only played to their potential in one game, against Chelsea at Stamford Bridge when they were unlucky to concede a last-minute equaliser. Many of the positive results they have had have been ether ground out or rather fortunate, such as Juventus away.

One of the reasons for the inconsistency of the 1988-89 team is that Alex Ferguson was slowly rebuilding the club. He was struggling to get a tune out of Strachan, who didn’t enjoy playing under him, and Whiteside and McGrath’s off-field disciplinary problems were too much for even Ferguson to handle. Hughes and McClair were struggling to gel as a partnership (which never really happened completely), the recently acquired Steve Bruce didn’t have a regular partner, leaving Bryan Robson as the only world class player that Ferguson could rely on. The rest of his squad were made up of youngsters and fringe players from the Ron Atkinson era who were surplus to long term requirements.

The one thing that can be said about United this season is that they have been consistent. Boring to watch, slow-paced, dispassionate and looking like they are afraid of the opposition has been a theme in almost every game this season. They have consistently been awful. It’s hard to find an explanation for this, either.

José Mourinho has got a squad full of talented players, all of whom are internationals, assembled at vast expense over the last ten years. Unlike in 1988, most of these players have played together for at least a couple of years, yet they play like they are alien to one another. One of the most disappointing things, however, is that they show little urgency to break down the opposition. Sometimes it looks like they are worried about the opposition, rather than letting them worry about what United can do to them.

The vast difference is in how both of squads approached games. United would always try to win games under Ferguson, but the problem was that most of the players he inherited from Atkinson were not of the calibre expected of an Old Trafford player. Ability wise, they wouldn’t get near the current squad. But they always gave it their all. Many of the current United squad, although certainly not all of them, as individual players have the pedigree required to wear that famous red shirt. The problem is that, a lot of the time, they look like they can’t be bothered.

Conclusion

In 1988 there were certain excuses that could be made for the plight United found themselves in at the time. Ferguson was overhauling the club from the ground up, particularly at youth level, and the first team were a mix of some of his early signings and what was left from Atkinson’s reign. It would get worse before it got better, as United finished 13th in 1990 but also won the F.A. Cup. The difference is that those players ran through brick walls for the shirt, sweated and even bled for the cause.

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Watching United last night in the Champions League it is not hard to understand why the ground wasn’t full. The attendance was less than 73,000, meaning more than 3,000 seats were empty (United always publish the actual attendance, unlike some clubs who announce the attendance how many tickets were sold). Given that some fans come from all across the country, even the world, you can’t blame them for not wanting to turn up, especially when half the team don’t either.

At the end of the 1988-89 season United had an attendance of 23,368 for a home game with Wimbledon. In those days Old Trafford held less than 50,000, and the club had literally nothing to play for, having bored the fans for most of the season already. Last night qualification for the next stage for the Champions League hinged on a United win. It would have been unthinkable five years ago for United not to sell out a fixture such as that.

Compare the two situations, a game that meant nothing at the end of the season three decades ago, against a game that United’s entire season could depend on. In both instances, the fans voted with their feet. The difference is that in 1988, it was easier to pay on the door at Old Trafford, the match day attendances weren’t as dominated by season ticket holders. The chances are that most of those empty seats last night had been paid for, an important game, and they didn’t have a full house. It could have been the last Champions League match at Old Trafford for a very long time, as well.

If we’re honest, the only way United are likely to be playing Champions League football next season is if they somehow manage to win the competition. In fairness, Mourinho has won it twice, and both times with clubs who were nothing like the best team in Europe. It would take a brave man, however, to bet on lightning striking a third time.

Moving Forward

Something needs to change at Old Trafford if they don’t want to see similar attendances going forward. Manchester United is not the draw it once was for Europe’s top players, and Old Trafford is no longer a ground that opposing teams fear to play at. The standard of football, the attitude of the players and the fact that they haven’t challenged for the league title since they last won it was bound to have a knock-on effect. It is no surprise that some fans don’t want to go out of their way to watch them anymore.

Think about it another way; when you pay money to go to watch a film at the cinema, and it turns out to be nowhere near as good as you thought it would be, how annoying is that? Why would you pay at least ten times that amount to go and watch something you already know is going to be of very little entertainment? The fans that do go to every game are the ones who do so out of pure loyalty.

The reality is that top flight players these days have little to lose. Even if they spend the season on the bench, they will still be at least a couple of million pounds richer by the end of it. Each contract they sign ensures that. Now what the club have is a bunch of overpaid, overpampered players who don’t care about playing for the shirt (they still get paid a king’s ransom at the end of the week), and a manager who seemingly doesn’t know how to get the best out of them. All of these elements, plus the sleep inducing football on show mean that, unless they can turn it around soon, they will be known as the worst United side in thirty years.

The real Manchester United fans (not the ones who only started supporting the club because they were winning everything) are not too concerned about the fact that they aren’t anywhere near the best team in the country right now. They don’t think United have a divine right to be winning trophies, and would stick with them even if they got relegated. What they want to see is a team that at least tires to win the game and tries to play attacking football. They want to see a team that cares.

In 1988, the players in the Old Trafford dressing room were nowhere near as individually talented as the current crop. Most were players who knew they genuinely had no place being at a club the size of Manchester United. But at least they tried to put on a show for the fans.

And at least they cared.

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Who Could blame De Gea if he leaves?

Added by Philip Meese on 26 Oct 2018 18:27

In light of José Mourinho’s comments that he doesn’t believe David de Gea will pen a new deal, we ask the question, who could blame him if he doesn’t?

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By Philip Meese, Chief Editor

It emerged earlier today that Manchester United manager José Mourinho is not expecting David de Gea to sign a new deal. The Spanish goalkeeper has been at Old Trafford since 2011, and his current deal is due to run out at the end of the season, although United do have the option of extending by an extra year.

The situation means that if de Gea cannot be persuaded to ink a new contract before next summer, United may have no option but to involve the extension and sell him. This will no doubt provoke angry reactions from some fans, but can anyone really blame him for not wanting to stay in the current climate?

He’s Come a Long Way

When de Gea first arrived in Manchester just over seven years ago, he was a 20 year old bag of bones, who looked anything but able to cope with the demands of the English game. During his first two seasons at Old Trafford, fantastic reaction saves were tempered by several mistakes which often saw him dropped in favour of Anders Lindegaard.

In truth, it wasn’t until after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013 that everyone began to see what all the hype was about. Under David Moyes’ stewardship, United were an absolute mess going from champions to 7th place in just one year. Had it not been for de Gea, who won the clubs Player of the Year award for the first time that term, United might have finished in the bottom half of the table, so poor were they during that season. This was the first of three consecutive awards (the first player in United’s history to do so) and he won his fourth last season, just for good measure.

World Class

In the current setup, it is probably fair to say that David de Gea is the only undisputed world class player at Manchester United. Fans of Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial may argue that United’s French contingent also fall into that category, but it’s just not the same. The reason that players like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are bracketed as world class (in fact, they are probably a level even higher than that) is that they perform to the best of their abilities practically every week, and have done for over a decade. In almost every game they play, they show exactly why they are rated as highly as they are.

Pogba and Martial definitely have world class potential, there is no questioning the talent of either player. But until they start doing the business every week, and United start regularly winning games because of their efforts, they cannot put themselves in that bracket. Alexis Sánchez, who is also rumoured to be on his way out of Old Trafford less than a year after his arrival, has shown it over the years with Barcelona and Arsenal, but not yet in a United shirt.

The reality is that over the last five years, de Gea has pulled out a world class save in almost every game United have played. These are the sort of saves that win matches, the kind that most other goalkeepers don’t produce. This is why many fans, whether they support United or not, rate him as the best in the world.

Better than Schmeichel?

When Ultimate United was first set up, one of our regular series of articles was whether de Gea could be better than legendary Danish goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel. Many United fans rate him the best of all time, especially those who followed the club in the 1990’s. There can be no doubt he is one of the greatest keepers ever to play the game but, in my opinion, de Gea has surpassed him in terms of ability.

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This may be a controversial opinion but there are several factors to consider, whoever you may believe is the best. Schmeichel only ever played in successful teams, and in the eight years he was at Old Trafford the Red Devils never finished lower than 2nd in the league table. He played behind defenders such as Steve Bruce, Gary Pallister, Denis Irwin, Jaap Stam, Gary Neville and Ronny Johnsen. Even the less lauded defenders such as David May, Henning Berg and Paul Parker were far better than what de Gea has had protecting his area for the majority of his time in England.

Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Jonny Evans and Marcos Rojo wouldn’t even get a squad number for the teams Schmeichel played in. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidić and Patrice Evra were at Old Trafford when de Gea signed but all three were probably at their peak at that point, if not a little bit past it. Edwin van der Sar was the one who got the pleasure of playing behind them at their absolute best.

Another factor that puts de Gea ahead of Schmeichel is the range of saves he can come up with. The great Dane saved United on so many occasions, but the best saves he produced were usually as result of the way he seemed to be able to make his already huge frame even bigger. De Gea seems to be able to pull off saves that he has no right to make, with almost any part of his body. His awareness and anticipation of where the ball is going to travel is far greater than any goalkeeper in United’s history. This is how he saves so many shots that would beat most others.

He Deserves Better

United fans rejoiced when de Gea did a U-turn in 2015, signing a new contract after flirting with a move to Real Madrid all summer. That should have been the catalyst for United to start planning how they were going to turn around the mess that they were in, even back then. The truth is that the club look even less of a title contender now than at any time since Ferguson left. Yes, they finished second last season but the reality is that they were closer to 6th placed Arsenal than champions Manchester City. De Gea is the only player who would get in Pep Guardiola’s side; any City who disputes this now they have Ederson, ask them how he would fare if he was behind United’s current defence.

Real Madrid signed Thibaut Courtois from Chelsea during the summer transfer window which would seem to end their interest in de Gea, at least in the immediate future. Make no mistake, however, there would be no shortage of top European sides interested in his services if he were to become available. Juventus and Paris Saint-Germain are just two clubs to be been linked with him lately, and given how the Turin giants performed at Old Trafford on Tuesday night, who could blame him for having his head turned by them?

A goalkeeper of de Gea’s calibre would be an asset to any squad in world football, and he deserves to play in a team at the same level. The fact that opposition sides aren’t afraid to come to Old Trafford anymore, all of them confident that they can get a result, tells its own story. At the moment it looks like the only way United will be in next season’s Champions League is they either win it this season, or they finish third in their group, drop down to the Europa League and win that. Neither of those scenarios seem likely at the moment. With the club 10th in the table at the moment, it would take a very confident gambler to bet on Mourinho’s side finishing in the top four.

Given that he is one of the best goalkeepers in the world, if not the best, it seems fair to expect that he will want to win the top honours in the game. His international team are a shadow of the side that won the World Cup, sandwiched in between two European Championship victories. If United can’t provide him with a setup where he can challenge for the top honours, why should he waste his peak years at a club that doesn’t match his ambitions? He has already given us more years that most players would have done.

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Final Thought

Remember when Wayne Rooney told United he wanted to leave to in 2010, it sparked protests from fans and even death threats. People were camped outside his house to hurl abuse. In some fans eyes his legacy has been tarnished forever after he signed a new contract a week later, which made him the highest paid player in England at the time. The situation with de Gea is unlikely to be resolved in the same way this time.

Back then, Rooney had also expressed concern at the way the club was headed, but he was persuaded to sign a new deal on the sort of money even Ronaldo didn’t earn. It is hard to see de Gea signing a new deal just because of a pay hike this time. Let’s face it, any club he goes to will most likely pay him the sort of money United can offer. It’s not about that.

All that the top brass at United seem concerned about is making money, and qualifying for the Champions League; something which is by no means a certainty this time around. De Gea wants to win it, and every other major trophy he can lay his hands on. Despite being the biggest club in England, and one of the biggest in the world, United haven’t once challenged for the Premier League title since Ferguson retired.

At the age of 27, he probably has around another ten years at the very top of his game. Who could honestly blame him, after more than seven years, for wanting to win the sort of trophies that Manchester United are not even challenging for?

Given the state of the club, if United can persuade David de Gea to sign a new contract, it would be an even bigger achievement than when they held off Real Madrid to get him to agree to the current one.

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