Is This the End of the United I Loved and Loathed?
Andreas Pereira’s performances in the International Champions Cup have lead to him being touted as a possible star of the future. Both Manchester United fans and national newspapers alike have compared the young Brazilian’s talents to those of Adnan Januzaj. I can’t say I have read many football-related articles over the past three months although one I did read was by the brilliant Paul Ansorge of United Rantcast. However, the main thing I gleaned from the piece is definitely not what the author intended.
It was a mention of Ashley Young that really struck a chord with me and actually left me feeling a little bit sad. Sadness at the sudden realisation that this is probably the end of the Manchester United that will rely on Young to be a key member of the first team. This might seem odd, especially given the fact many fans spent last season bemoaning the fact the likes of the 30-year-old winger were being relied upon to secure Champions League football.
Since the latter years of Sir Alex Ferguson’s reign supporters have grown accustomed to United sides made up of square pegs in round holes. Whether it was the pursestrings of the owners or Ferguson’s belief that there was no value in the transfer market, the club’s much publicised lack of investment in the midfield became something of a running joke amongst exasperated fans. The legendary Scot routinely favoured the likes of Alan Smith and twins Fabio and Rafael in the middle of the park ahead of signing a recognised central midfielder. It has been almost ten years since the club significantly restructured the midfield – with varying success.
Both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal have been impacted by the previous regime’s transfer strategy but after a disastrous 11 months under Moyes things have started to change. Van Gaal was entrusted with almost £150 million during his first season in charge and some of those moves have helped to strengthen the squad, yet they didn’t fill the huge, decaying holes. Misfits Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria will almost certainly both be gone by the end of the transfer window, the former having already joined Chelsea after an ill-fated season at Old Trafford. The Argentine on the other hand looks set to be unceremoniously sold to Paris Saint-Germain at a big loss after a breakdown in the relationship between club and player. It is not what many fans would have anticipated after the arrival of two seemingly world class players but things don’t always work out in football.
So far this term the Dutchman has already spent around £70 million on five new faces. This time though, things are different. It isn’t a pair of ‘Gaalacticos’ that have Reds salivating, it’s the quiet and speedy acquisitions of five players, all of which address actual issues within the squad. While this is definite progress and shows real signs of intent I can’t help but feel I’ll pine for the Manchester United who could compete with the best despite playing Antonio Valencia at fullback.
There is however, some hope for those like me who will long for the frustration of seeing another teamsheet with Michael Carrick at centre-back. Already this pre-season we’ve seen Adnan Januzaj up front, James Wilson on the left and Daley Blind at the back alongside Phil Jones. It might be likely that we’ll see a more complete midfield this term, the arrivals of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger mean it is improbable we will see Wayne Rooney shielding the back four come the first game of the season but it definitely isn’t totally implausible.
The club are widely reported to be attempting to bring in Real Madrid’s Sergio Ramos but with recent reports suggesting Van Gaal won’t consider any other options if the Spaniard isn’t available we may well see Blind keep his place at the back during the competitive season. It is not ideal but this is the Manchester United I’ve grown to love and loathe in equal measure and I’m not ready to say goodbye just yet.
#119 Devils Missing An Angel
This week, Manchester United beat Sunderland 2-0 in an easily forgettable encounter at Old Trafford. Tom, James and Frenchy review that performance and briefly look ahead to the midweek encounter against Newcastle on this week’s episode of the podcast!
#117 Project Falcao FAIL
After a week’s hiatus in protest of United’s abject performances (not really), the Can They Score podcast is back with a listener questions special. From talking about Falcao to discussing a non-existent midfield, we talk all things red in this week’s Can They Score podcast!
UNITED ARE BACK!!! (sort of)
In lieu of a pod this week, here are a jumble of thoughts about United’s week;
Well that was fun. Ninety minutes of the commentary team desperately struggling to apply a formation to a free form display. Paddy McNair on the roam, Big Maoam dishing out lollipops like a rich child desperate for friends; this was jazz football. I loved it.
To borrow the most overused intro in the (brief) history of new media football writing ‘so what did we learn?’
We have some fast players (ADM), we have some slow players (MF), and we have some kind of in the middle players (WR). The equally demoralizing dichotomy of recent displays has been the random switches between prolific procrastination (‘We want to score but we don’t really know if we can so we will just pass it around pretty slowly for a long while and can at least point to dominating possession even if we haven’t managed to do anything remotely interesting with it.’) and hit and hope (‘The ball is hot, the ball is hot, kick it away quick, the ball is hot.’)
Last night had elements of both at times but bit by bit there seemed to be an emerging coherence to what we were trying to do. To labour a weak analogy; my son is rubbish at swimming. It’s acceptable given he is only two but until last weekend trips to the pool principally consisted of him clinging to me for dear life. On Saturday the penny dropped that if he stood on his tip toes his head stayed above the water and BANG – instant love of swimming. No longer fearing instant death he rapidly went through the repertoire of kicking, splashing, jumping in, the works. Barely pausing for a second to even acknowledge my existence he had discovered a new freedom and was damn well going to enjoy it. Perhaps the home comfort of facing a side way below the level of our usual competitors was the encouragement needed for United to embrace the madness and finally engage with the ‘wacky’ Dutch style we had been waiting for.
I’m exaggerating. I know it. Our principle game plan of get it wide and get it in was positively Moyesian; yet the relish with which McNair advanced and continued to support the creation of openings was an indication that a wind of change was a blowing. Di Maria soon joined in on the attack, hitting the nitro injection at every opportunity and having a thoroughly good time doing it. Rojo once again displayed how much more adept a footballer he is than I thought by effortlessly showing a versatility that had echoes of the great Sheasy. They weren’t alone in impressing; Mata played on the half turn all night looking to link up and make things happen. Robin proved you don’t have to score to be of use. Wilson came on and reminded us that it helps if you do. Wayne was pretty good if we gloss over the whole passing thing. Evans looked less like an absolute catastrophe waiting to happen than he has all season. Smalling did some headers. Blind was handsome. (I think that’s everyone?) On a purely personal level I enjoyed the fact that all our goals came from genuinely nice humans. I also thought the gesture of black armbands in memory of Anderson was poignant.
Tougher challenges await; Sunday sees a visit to those charming cockneys who will be sure to fill the air with bonhomie and lovely banter. They are missing loads of players so I think we’ll do well. When a team has to block the departure of Can’t Control you can confidently deduce that they are not at their strongest. We might play five at the back and restate our claim to the least interesting mega bucks side in football history but I hope not.
Ander Herrera has been the name on many a disgruntled Red’s lips in recent weeks. It is probably our most asked pod question – beating even the ever fascinating ‘When will we stop playing a back 3?’ His continued absence has certainly disproved my rib injury related theory and it seems that for whatever reason he is not to our trainer-coach’s taste. Speculation on non-pitch related reasons are best left for the informed articulate forum provided by twitter. On the pitch he hasn’t seemed to do too much wrong; he certainly seemed to vastly improve with every passing match that he wasn’t involved in. To read/hear the thoughts of some you would assume that Roy Keane himself was being left to stew on the sidelines. Last night appeared the ideal time to re-integrate him but again he was reduced to a cameo role. Whilst conclusions about his future should not be jumped to (hands up who thought Ashley Young would be an LVG favourite?), there does seem something amiss. I wouldn’t be surprised if he joins Rafael on Woodward’s secretary’s ‘Sorry your leaving’ card list come the summer. I dearly hope I’m wrong as the lad seems to have the lot – but all the more reason to suspect all is not as it seems.
Transfer deadline day came and went with a whimper. Like most United fans with a minor profile (does under 3k followers even qualify for minor?) I fielded a fair few panicked pleas ‘Why are we not signing anyone?’ The answer seems quite straightforward to me. We are in the champions league places and are doing ok as things stand. Our squad has survived the most debilitating of injury crises meaning we have several players who could legitimately argue they are yet to have a fair chance. All of that would be immaterial of course if one of Woody’s Wonder Targets had become available but that didn’t happen. Whispers of deals arranged for the summer are plausible but unless you really are in dire financial need selling your best defender in January for anything but astronomical fees makes absolutely no sense. For all our legitimate criticism of Jones, Smalling, Evans and Valencia they have proved themselves capable of performing adequately in this league. Where things get interesting is when we consider the challenge of coping with a European campaign and a genuine tilt at the title. Van Gaal knows that the goodwill he has received from United fans this season is based on this promise. It is for that reason that I fully expect one or two of the much anticipated mega-signings to materialise come the summer.
It would be remiss to end without paying tribute to one of the most courageous individuals ever to pull on the famous shirt. Ferguson always used to respond to questions about the possibility of retirement by pointing to his health as the key decision maker. It is a truly horrible experience for your body to begin to fail you at any age. As a young man reliant upon supreme physical fitness to even compete, never mind excel, in your profession; coping with the reality that you will never again be able to reach the levels to which your potential suggested is as much a challenge for the mind as the body. We hoped and he hoped that the odds could be defied but ultimately they couldn’t. A move to a less demanding environment though saddening is a decision I entirely understand. He goes with our best wishes.
Sorry for the lack of pod this week – the irritating reality of doing it for fun and for free means that sometimes we can’t fit it in. Rest assured we haven’t fallen out of love with you magnificent bunch.
Come on you Reds.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Angel di Maria
Tom’s #CTS10pBetClub prediction: 3-1 United.
*OBVIOUSLY I was talking about Super Fletch. An incredible and inspirational human being.
£50 million could prove to be a bargain
After a stuttering start to life at Old Trafford following his summer loan from Monaco, Radamel Falcao started his fifth successive game for Manchester United against Yeovil on Sunday, a feat the Colombian hasn’t managed since November 2013 prior to his severe knee injury in January last year. The striker, once one of the most prolific in world football, has struggled to find the net since his arrival in Manchester but he has also struggled to find fitness and thus a way into conditioning-stickler Louis van Gaal’s starting eleven.
Remember, Remember the Sixth of November 1986
The wind is picking up, thirteen thousand supporters at Oxford United’s Manor Ground clamour for a seat, it’s a world away from the stadia fans will soon be accustomed to. In a dressing room devoid of iPods and mobile phones and a 44-year-old Scot is waiting to deliver his first team-talk. Named as the successor to Ron Atkinson only two days previous, Alex Ferguson has traveled to Oxford on a battered, clunking coach along with twelve skeptical football players.