Could It Be On The Cards?

Mauricio Pochettino

From an article I wrote almost two years ago…

“I must admit to taking a liking for Pochettino while he was at Southampton even though he never speaks a word of English and the football he had his team playing was sometimes as good as anything else in the league and the mind did start to wonder what he could do at a club with the financial clout necessary to enable him to bring in almost any player of his choosing.”

Sir Alex and Pochettino spotted out having lunch the other day.

Just sayin’…

Disconnected

As I type, it is the day before our first game of the 2015/16 Season and it has been over five months since I last posted anything on this blog.

This post is an attempt to explain why.

Being a Manchester United supporter for around forty years now, I’ve witnessed many very, very good times but I’m old enough to remember the not-so-good times of the 70s and 80s. I didn’t jump on the bandwagon once Fergie got us winning titles. When I first went to watch us at Old Trafford it was 1985, Ron Atkinson was in charge and I’d never even heard of Alex Ferguson.

Of course, glory didn’t arrive just behind Alex Ferguson and it took him a good four or five years to fully get to grips with the job but, once he did, there was a complete transformation but also a hark back to the most glorious of days under Sir Matt Busby.

“Kids” together with seasoned, reliable pros were to become the foundation for the “new” Manchester United under Alex Ferguson and for over twenty years we witnessed as close to domestic dominance as anyone could possibly imagine.

Since we were pipped into second place by Leeds in the old First Division in 1992 (the year before it was to become the “Premier League”) Fergie took us to 13 titles and when we didn’t win, we usually finished 2nd. Only twice did we finish 3rd but never any lower.

That is unbelievable consistency and we saw Fergie beat down many challengers during that time such as Liverpool, Leeds, Blackburn, Newcastle, Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester City.

While some of those had drifted into oblivion, Fergie was stood at the very top of the pile when he dropped the bombshell that the 2012/13 Season would be his last.

At that point, we all knew that it was the end of an era and things would never be the same again. What I don’t think we realised was just how different things would be. Certainly that was the case for me.

It wasn’t just that we kept losing under David Moyes and spent much of the 2013/14 Season hovering around mid-division, it wasn’t just that some of the football we played under Moyes was some of the most depressingly negative I can remember from a Manchester United team.

It felt like the whole personality of the team had disappeared.

When Moyes was finally removed, we got a tiny glimpse of it restored when Giggs, Scholes and Butt “took over” for the remaining few games but it was always only going to be a short-lived bit of fun and to this day I’m convinced that they were under instructions NOT to get us qualified for the dreaded Europa League.

And so we turned to Louis van Gaal. This was a man with the pedigree and the record which Moyes was so desperately lacking and we’d all just spent much of that summer drooling over the football from his Holland side in the World Cup.

But something else was happening at Manchester United which was largely out of LvG’s control – a lot of our players had become a year older.

We already knew Vidic was a goner but Giggs, Evra and Ferdinand had also kicked their last ball for Manchester United.

With LvG seemingly already decided that the likes of Nani and Rafael were to play no part in his plans, those were another couple who’d been with us for some time who would now go awol.

If the personality had gone under Moyes, now it felt as though the face had gone under LvG and I simply didn’t recognise the team anymore.

When LvG then went on a spending spree the likes of which we’d never seen at Manchester United, it only compounded the problem for me.

Di Maria and Falcao in the same window? What was this madness?

Still, I do believe that we needed a shot in the arm after the depression that Moyes had left hovering over the place and, at first, Di Maria certainly looked likely to live up to his hefty price tag.

But for all Van Gaal’s talk of “philosophies” and “processes” (not to mention over 100 million quid spent to fund them), the initial rush was to be short-lived and by the end of last season, it was quite ironic that the two players who really got us out of the shit on several occasions were Mata and Fellaini – the two players that Moyes had brought in.

Indeed, it got to the point where I couldn’t actually see a great deal of difference between the football under Moyes and the football under LvG.

The biggest difference was that LvG did what the hapless Moyes was afraid to do at United and used Fellaini the way Moyes had used him to such great effect at Everton – high up the field, causing mayhem and scoring goals.

Long balls lumped up towards the big bloke hardly seemed to fit in with what we had been led to believe we would be getting from LvG, though.

I also believe that LvG was helped somewhat by the fact that Liverpool and Everton couldn’t quite kick on from their previous season’s performance levels. Had they done so then there was little to suggest from United under LvG that another 7th placed finish wouldn’t be on the cards.

And so we find ourselves on the verge of a new season. The dream duo of Di Maria and Falcao have already gone but Mata and Fellaini remain.

So, let’s try that again…

Are The Glazers Really To Blame?

luhg

luhgThere’s nothing like a defeat to get the knees of football fans jerking in all kinds of directions and so it proved this weekend following our 2-1 Old Trafford reverse at the hands of Swansea.

This apparently was the first time we’d lost an opening day fixture at Old Trafford for 43 years and it was the first time Swansea had ever beaten us at Old Trafford in the League.

Since the departure of Fergie, it seems that records of all the wrong kind are getting broken on a weekly basis.

Naturally, no one really wants to blame the manager for all of this – gawd knows enough of us tried really, really hard last season not to blame Moyes until it became clear that he really was clueless.

It also goes against the grain to blame the players – we’re supposed to be supporters of the team,  after all.

So, naturally, the sitting ducks are the owners who have been about as popular as a fart in a spacesuit since the minute they officially took over almost ten years ago.

Last night, Twitter erupted with cries of #GlazersOut!!!

In the end, I had to come off Twitter for the evening because you can only read the same thing repeated over and over again before it gets really, really, really, really, really irritating.

My position on the Glazers is based on my acceptance of the following facts:

1) Football is now not just a sport, it is big business.

2) Football clubs are not just sporting institutions, they are businesses.

Football clubs have always needed to keep their financial house in order but, back in the days when players weren’t paid amounts too far removed from the average guy on the street, it didn’t require too much to keep them afloat and matchday revenues would have been sufficient in most cases.

Things started to change when Sky came along in the early 90s and football undertook a major re-branding as the League became the Premier League and subscription services such as Sky Sports started to share the dough with the clubs.

As football fans, we’ve voraciously lapped up everything Sky have thrown at us and still we crave more and Sky are happy to keep it coming.

Now BT Sport have entered the arena and the “TV Money” has gone through the roof.

I believe that this season, the team that finishes bottom of the Premier League will receive more TV Money than the winners did last season (the winners this season will obviously still receive far more).

Whether the Glazers saw this all coming is open to debate but I rather suspect that they did as they are no strangers to the running of a sporting franchise and the ways of the media revenues.

As for my second point about clubs being businesses as well as sporting institutions… yes, I appreciate that a lot of fans find this notion quite distasteful but every season we see examples of what happens to clubs who fall foul of the taxman who sees football clubs as nothing but businesses.

They would see clubs disappear before they will let an unpaid tax bill slide. There is no sentimentality.

Football itself has had to mature given the sheer amounts of dosh that is now sloshing around in the game and the governing bodies themselves now issue punishments to clubs which fail to keep their financial house in order (Rangers, anyone?).

So… the Glazers are businessmen and Manchester United is a business to them. I genuinely believe that people like the Glazers are a symptom of what football has become rather than the cause of what it has become.

When big money is being splashed around, people with an interest in making money come a-sniffing.

However, one of the things I have always liked about the Glazers is that they do seem to have a very clear line drawn in the sand between the “footballing side” and the “business side”.

The two are, of course, inextricably linked which the Glazers are very mindful of.

In order to get those mega sponsorship deals, Manchester United needs to be successful on the pitch – everyone likes to be associated with winners.

By being successful on the pitch, bigger sponsorship deals can be commanded which means that more funds are available for better players which (in theory) means more success on the pitch and so it goes on in this symbiotic cycle.

And this is where the problems start… this is where the two things start to diverge.

Some of you will be screaming, “What bleedin’ funds!!!???” at your screen right now.

From the outside looking in, this is what I see…

Manchester United under the Glazers have gone from strength to strength in a business sense (and, for a while, we weren’t doing too shabbily on the footballing side, either – I would suggest that the period circa 2008-2010 was the most successful period in the club’s history).

When the Glazers took over in 2005, Manchester United’s revenue was in the region of £166 million. Today, it stands at somewhere in the region of £425 million.

Of course, a lot of this has to do with the increase in money coming from TV companies but a significant increase has come in the area which the Glazers always felt was under-exploited at Manchester United – that of the commercial/sponsorship sector.

Whereas most football clubs out there are heavily reliant on the TV money, the majority of Manchester United’s money is self-generated (I believe that the three main revenue streams i.e.  Media, Matchday and Commercial each account for roughly one third of our revenue which puts us in a strong position as we are not overly reliant on one stream of income).

In 2005, our commercial revenues were somewhere in the region of £47 million per annum. Earlier this year, a quarterly figure of £42 million was published.

So… in a nutshell, I do believe that the Glazers are doing their job well. Could we have better owners? Maybe. Could we have worse? Certainly.

Before I leave the subject of the Glazers, I’d just like to give my two penneth on a couple of things which crop up constantly when they are being discussed.

Firstly, “they’ve cost us hundreds of millions in servicing the debt they foisted on us to buy the club!

Yes and whilst this is tied to the second thing I want to mention, I think that the people who spread these figures are guilty of disingenuity and churlishness.

Look at it this way: If you in your job are paid £30k per annum and by doing your job you create £50k per annum in revenues for your company would you not look a bit bemused if your boss was to come in after ten years to moan that you’ve “cost” him £300k?

Look again at our annual revenues – they look like (once again) reaching record highs this year to something approaching or even northwards of £400 million.

Again, maybe a different owner could have done better or worse – it’s all conjecture at this stage but the Glazers are doing this and I do believe that they deserve some credit for that and to say “well, anyone could have done that!” is the churlishness coming to the fore.

This leads to the second thing… “Why, oh why, did we have to get the Glazers when everyone else gets a sugar-daddy!

Us United fans have had to put up with rivals backed by sugar-daddies down the years. The first in recent(ish) history was probably Jack Walker at Blackburn who gave Kenny Dalglish the couple of hundred mill required to pip us to the title in 1995.

Blackburn have been generally sinking like a stone ever since, though.

Then came Abramovich at Chelsea who, being on a completely different level to Jack Walker, was able to fund Chelsea’s surge to the top for a number of years.

The biggest of them all, though, has to be Mansour at Manchester City who has pumped what must be damn near a billion quid into the club since taking over five years ago.

It is easy for us to look upon these cases and wonder why we haven’t been the recipient of such riches. The answer is simple: Manchester United were never an attractive proposition for a sugar daddy because we were too expensive to purchase.

If you are a multi-billionaire who’s a bit bored and wants a pet project to play around with for a while then a football club must be great fun to own.

So, let’s say that you have a billion quid to throw at this project. Do you:

A) Buy a club already at the top for £1 billion in one hit.

B) Buy a club for £200 million and then spend £800 million on players over a period of a few years and watch it grow from next to nothing to a world-beater?

That was the scenario facing any would-be sugar daddy in recent years and I think it’s a bit of a no-brainer. It must bring some satisfaction to know that you’re largely responsible for bringing the glory days back to a club.

The only way anyone would have bought Manchester United is the same way that anyone buys a business (and, remember, football clubs are businesses) and that is by using borrowed money.

It just doesn’t make sense to purchase a business outright. If you’re smart and know what you’re doing then you borrow and then grow the revenues to cover the loan repayments.

This is exactly what we have had with the Glazers. The sugar daddies didn’t come knocking for a reason.

Anyway. As already said, the revenues have generally been on an upward curve ever since the Glazers arrived which is good news because the Bond Prospectus published several years ago said that the wage bill would be capped at 50% of the revenues.

This is a sensible and sustainable approach, by the way. Unlike Manchester City who, at one point not too long ago, had a wage bill that was actually higher than their revenue!

So… the Glazers do their bit on the one side which provides the manager with the funds on the other side.

And this is where the other half of this symbiotic relationship starts to come to the fore.

When talking about money spent on players, the common mistake most fans make is to look solely at the transfer fees and then compare them with what other clubs are spending but the wages must always be taken into account because on an annual basis, wages always outstrip even the biggest transfer splurges.

True to their word, it does appear to be the case that the Glazers are allocating 50% of the revenues for player wages (the figures I have here show a revenue of £363 million and a wage bill of £181 million).

The last figures I saw for Premier League wage bills came from the 2012-13 Season and they looked like this:-

1) Man City – £233m (£271m revenues – 86%)

2) Man Utd – £181m (£363m revenues – 50%)

3) Chelsea – £179m (£260m revenues – 69%)

4) Arsenal – £154m (£283m revenues – 54%)

5) Liverpool – £132m (£206m revenues – 64%)

And so it goes on to the bottom club at the time which was Wigan with a wage bill of £44m against revenues of £56m (79%).

As you can see, whilst Manchester City are clear front-runners in absolute terms, at 86% of revenues, the wage requires a sugar-daddy (and probably one or two sponsorship deals with oil-rich mates) to sustain it.

Even Abramovich at Chelsea, whilst slacking off a bit in recent years in an attempt to get the club self-financing, is pushing it close with almost 70% of the club’s revenue going on the wage bill.

Of all those clubs, by far the most sensible are ourselves and Arsenal. I would suggest that both clubs are being sensibly run and this is why both can survive on-field set-backs without the need to sell all the players to avoid financial meltdown.

The point of all this, though, is to illustrate something which I believe tends to suggest that blaming the Glazers for all of our woes is unfair.

By all accounts, the Glazers are providing the manager(s) with more than enough money to compete with the best in the Premier League whilst ensuring that the financial stability of the club is not endangered by leaving ourselves over-exposed.

But if the manager does not spend that money wisely, how is that the Glazer’s fault?

And I am starting to think that there has been an awful lot of poorly-spent money and an inordinate amount of bad managerial decisions at United in recent years.

If money buys you the best then what we have right now should, in theory, be at least the second best squad in the country but isn’t the claim always that this United squad is poor? Just yesterday, Steve McManaman claimed that this was the worst United squad in twenty years.

That may or may not be so but it’s certainly the highest paid squad we’ve ever had so what gives?

The blame for this, I’m afraid, must lie squarely at the door of the manager (and, yes, I’m talking about Fergie here and, to a lesser extent, Moyes).

I look back at some of our more recent transfer dealings and I see people like Valencia bought for something in the region of £16 million to play on the right and then Young bought for something in the region of £15-20 million to play… on the right?

I see Rooney given wage rise after wage rise to play “in the hole” and then I see Kagawa bought for something like £17 million to play… “in the hole”?

I see a player like Paul Pogba allowed to walk away for nothing only for us to claim that there’s “no value in the market” despite us crying out for a decent midfielder for the last six years.

I see Fergie having to resort to the rather embarrassing act of dragging Paul Scholes out of retirement such is the dearth of midfield talent he’s left himself with by spending too much on mediocrity and dodgy knees (Anderson and Hargreaves spring to mind).

I see Moyes spending a club record £38 million on Mata even though we have Rooney, Januzaj and Kagawa all vying for a similar role in the side.

(Just to clarify: I love Mata and I’m glad we have him but it smacked of spending all your money on alloy wheels for your car when the engine’s knackered to me).

I see the aforementioned “value-seeking” Fergie splash £8 million on a player no one had ever heard of and who he hadn’t even see play.

I see Zaha bought for £15 million only to never play… ever.

I see Moyes spending £27 million on Fellaini just a couple of seasons after Man City bought Yaya Toure for £24 million. Nuff said on that one.

Seriously, if you look at so much of our transfer dealings in recent years, it hasn’t been so much a lack of spending – it has been big money spent badly.

Spending in areas that didn’t require spending on. Spending top brass on players who would struggle to get into any other top Premier League side. Allowing top players to go to our rivals for little more than we’ve wasted on two or three of these duds.

As I said before, though. I do firmly believe that the Glazers draw a line between the football and the business and all decisions relating to footballing matters are delegated to those people whom are paid by the Glazers to make such decisions.

That is the way a club should be run, in my opinion, by the way. Nothing grates me more than owners who are on Sky Sports News every five minutes – sometimes even undermining the manager himself with their comments. Nothing disturbs me more than reports that an owner has gone behind the manager’s back and bought or sold a player without his knowledge or even agreement. As for owners who plonk statues of pop stars outside the stadium or attempt to change the club’s name… don’t get me started!

The problem we now have (and I think Van Gaal expressed a veiled reference to this recently) is that we’re paying top wages for little better than “good” (and in some cases, decidedly average) players.

Give a player a four year deal on £80k/week and he ain’t gonna move anywhere for less but the buying club can’t afford to pay that kind of money so we’re stuck with him until the contract expires or unless some other kind of arrangement can be made with the buying club (I think Anderson is a prime example of this and no doubt we have been subsidising his wages whilst out on loan).

Meanwhile, that money is taking up precious “wage space” and with the 50% limit imposed by the Glazer’s business plan, new players can’t be brought in unless and until some are shipped out so it all becomes a bit Catch 22 because, bizarrely and paradoxically, the Glazers are spending too much! (OK… I’m taking a liberty there but hopefully you can see where I’m coming from).

So… I do believe that there’s vastly more to all this than simply blaming the Glazers for all of our woes and a lengthy period of some pretty poor decisions on the part of others have also had an accumulative effect which have led us to the mess we’re in today.

Of course, if we beat Sunderland 5-0 in our next match then the knees will all jerk back to their rightful positions and everything will be rosy again… until the next defeat.

All In The Head?

gylfi-sigurdsson-swansea-city

gylfi-sigurdsson-swansea-cityWell, the Premier League finally kicked off yesterday and there was a real buzz going into our game against Swansea at Old Trafford.

Yes, we had a number of injury problems but with the likes of Rooney, Mata and Herrera in the starting line-up, we surely had enough about us to overcome Swansea but something very weird happened… Swansea took the lead within half an hour.

Well… it would be weird except that this is something we’ve become accustomed to seeing at Old Trafford for the last twelve months.

Last season, we put it down to David Moyes and his negative tactics, the fact that he couldn’t seem to get us playing as a team and that he lacked the necessary footballing brain to make the changes necessary to reverse the tide when things weren’t going our way.

Under Louis van Gaal, this was all supposed to end but everything about this match smacked of life under Moyes all over again.

If there’s one thing about the Moyes era that was markedly different from the Fergie era, it was Moyes’ inability to do what was necessary at half-time if things weren’t going to plan.

How many times under Fergie did we find ourselves behind at half-time but we’d say to ourselves with complete confidence “Fergie will sort them out at half-time” and, sure enough, the team would come out in the second half looking completely different and the game would be won?

This seemed to have come back under Van Gaal as he changed the formation, made a half-time substitution and it came as no great surprise when Rooney pulled us level within ten minutes of the restart but then it all seemed to go away again and whilst we huffed and puffed, it was Swansea who regained the lead to make it 2-1 just after the seventy minute mark and that’s the way it stayed.

The slightly worrying thing is that Van Gaal seemed to turn into David Moyes midway through the second half and just before Swansea got their second, he made the somewhat baffling decision to replace Herrera with Fellaini.

To be fair, Herrera wasn’t having his best game as Swansea ensured that his welcome to the Premier League wasn’t one he was likely to forget – he’ll no doubt have one or two bruises to remind him this morning.

The tactic once Fellaini came on just seemed to be long balls onto his head (none of which I can actually remember him winning). The free-flowing and exciting football of pre-season had disappeared to be replaced with an agricultural style that is surely anathema to every footballing philosophy Van Gaal truly holds.

But there it was before our very eyes.

Unsurprisingly, it didn’t work and so yet again we found ourselves beaten at Old Trafford by a team that had never won a league match here in their history (the records continue to tumble).

I can’t help but feel as though a lot of this is in our head, though. It’s happened one too many times over the last twelve months and it can be no coincidence that probably our worst display of the season came when we played Valencia at Old Trafford.

Whilst Swansea have some decent players, I can only think of two or three that would even come close to getting into our squad (Ashley Williams being the standout) and whilst freak results can and do happen, we’ve long passed the stage where Old Trafford defeats can be viewed as freak and there’s something more to it and I’m starting to believe that there are psychological issues with this squad and it’s becoming hard to make opponents believe that they have no chance at Old Trafford when we clearly don’t even believe it ourselves any more.

Over to you, Louis… good luck.

Louis Van Gold

van-gold

van-goldI’ve just finished watching a replay of our friendly last night against Spanish side, Valencia.

This was the first time LvG had taken charge of his team at Old Trafford and a decent crowd turned out to watch this, our last match of pre-season, expecting to see a bit more of what we’ve seen from United in what has been an excellent pre-season for us.

To be fair, the match wasn’t great from a spectator’s point of view but Valencia came to play and provided a solid opposition for us to try to break down whilst showing enough going forward to give our own defense plenty to do.

The point of this post though is to once again express my delight at having a manager who just seems to become more and more impressive the more you see him at work.

Louis van Gaal? He’s becoming more like Louis van Gold such is the Midas Touch that he seems to possess.

I make no apologies for yet again moaning about that inept disaster that was David Moyes but the difference between the two men could not be more obvious even after such a short space of time.

This summer has been yet another of upheaval at United. New manager and pretty much our entire first-choice back four gone (Rio, Vidic and Evra gone – Rafael nowhere to be seen), our old manager would have used this as an excuse for all manner of poor performances, umpteen goals conceded and the need to play with six midfielders and no attackers or some such nonsense.

Remember last season when Ashley Young looked a shadow of the player we signed from Aston Villa a few years ago? Remember when it looked for all the world that he had about as much chance of playing in a United shirt this season as I had?

LvG has rejuvenated and reinvented him. He’s got him playing as a kind of wing-back. He’s having to work hard but for the most part, he’s pulling it off.

Under the one-dimensional Moyes, Young would have been tight on the right wing with instructions to cross and very little else.

Under LvG, Young seems to be enjoying his football again and the confidence is starting to come back. Even the goals which have largely deserted him in the last couple of seasons have come back into his game.

LvG also took this opportunity to give Smalling and Jones a run out in the centre of defence and in this company, they looked like a decent partnership.

Tyler Blackett has been the biggest beneficiary of the defensive exodus and the vision of LvG, though and was given a run out on the left of defence for this one and, I have to say, he did not look out of place at all.

At just 20 years of age, he looked as composed as anyone out there last night and I do feel that LvG has a big decision to make about this boy as we countdown to the kick-off to the season “proper”.

The impact LvG has had on this group of players was personified by that lump of hair and elbows that is Fellaini and, once again, the difference in class between LvG and Moyes was there for all to see.

So inept was Moyes last season that, through no fault of his own, Fellaini found himself the lone Summer signing and, at somewhere in the region of £28million, one of our most expensive ever.

Just coming to United from Everton would have been a challenge enough for Fellaini but the price tag, the expectation on him to sort out our aging and largely deficient midfield and the feeling amongst most fans and pundits that he simply wasn’t a “United type of player” must have weighed very heavily on the shoulders of Fellaini and, for much of last season, it showed.

His situation wasn’t helped when the idiot Moyes seemed to try to play him in positions and roles he was never comfortable in.

I always remember Fellaini being a right handful and a nuisance in and around the box when he played against us for Everton but Moyes had him playing a deeper role thus eliminating many of the strengths he was able to demonstrate at Everton.

LvG brought Fellaini on late into the second half last night and, I think, it was his first outing of the pre-season.

Straightaway, Fellaini got stuck in in the middle of the park and actually passed the ball around nicely before getting himself forward at any opportunity to do so.

With the score level at 1-1 and the clock ticking down to what looked like becoming a largely forgettable draw, Fellaini got himself on the edge of the box and pointed to Blackett where he wanted the ball. The excellent Blackett duly delivered, Fellaini controlled it with his chest, swivelled and shot with his left in one smooth movement to make the score 2-1.

I might be wrong but I do think that that was his first goal for United – it won’t count, of course, as this was a friendly, but that didn’t seem to bother Fellaini and he ran off celebrating like we’d just won the Premier League or something.

That turned out to be pretty much the last kick of the match.

I’m still not sure that Fellaini has any future at United under LvG but if this is the last time we ever see him in the United shirt then he’s left on a high and in just 15 minutes, LvG has restored much of the confidence Moyes spent a year sapping from the lad.

So, that concludes our pre-season and I make it five wins and a draw (which we went on to win on penalties) and this against some very decent opposition.

The man’s pure gold.

2013-14 Season Review

Well… where to start?

Twelve months ago, we had just lifted the Premier League title for the thirteenth time since the Premier League began. The man who had delivered us to this unprecedented level of success had just announced his retirement and we all knew that this season was going to be a step into the unknown – or, at least, the long-forgotten.

David Moyes was the man charged with the unenviable task of replacing the most successful manager we’ve ever had at Manchester United and, whilst many had reservations before a ball was even kicked, we were mostly prepared to do as instructed by the great man and “Get behind our new manager”.

I will refer you now to the 2013-14 Premier League Preview I wrote in August of last year.

That article is not just about Manchester United – it was an attempt to take a look at the overall picture of the Premier League at that time because we weren’t the only top club that had changed their manager over the summer – Chelsea and Manchester City had also brought in a new man.

You will see that I thought it was going to be the most unpredictable season ever (and I do think that was proved correct) and I thought that half of the league would be involved in the relegation picture well into March and I think that was also fairly accurate.

I predicted that if Liverpool could continue this season where they finished last season then they could well finish in the top four.

I also predicted that one of either Moyes, Mourinho or Pellegrini would not be in the job by the start of the new season and suggested that Pellegrini was the likeliest because, of the three, I thought Pellegrini was the “riskiest” appointment and with all the money Man City have spent in recent years, they’re not in the business of hanging around.

As it happens, Pellegrini did a great job and won the Premier League, the Capital One Cup and took them further in the Champions League than City had ever gone before.

The high-ups at Manchester City will be surely be very satisfied with their man’s first season in charge.

The situation with David Moyes was slightly different. I think everyone understood that he was stepping into some enormous shoes and even though we were the reigning Premier League Champions, I don’t think he was under enormous pressure to deliver the title this season.

I would suggest that his brief was to spend this first season growing into his new job. A quarter final in the Champions League would have been perfectly acceptable. A decent run in one of the domestic cups would have been nice.

The bread and butter of the Premier League was the main priority, though, and I think a third place or even fourth place would have generally been considered acceptable in his first season.

The FA Cup exit in the third round was a disappointment but this has become our bogey competition over the last decade or so so it didn’t come as an enormous surprise to see us go out early again.

Coming within touching distance of the Capital One Cup Final was decent enough.

The Quarter Final in the Champions League represented our best showing in the last three years and was fine.

What happened in the Premier League, though, was beyond even the most pessimistic of forecasts of people who have no love for Manchester United.

Records of all the wrong kinds have been broken on an almost weekly basis this season and Old Trafford, once considered a fortress, had become a Three-Point-Free-For-All.

Seventh place represents the worst campaign from defending Champions since Blackburn did the same thing almost twenty years ago.

The worst thing about it was the fact that at no point did it ever really feel like we were even in the title race. A brief spell towards the latter end of 2013 gave cause for some optimism but the turn of the year heralded nothing but misery for the United faithful as it became quite clear that Moyes was out of his depth and was operating without the backing of several of the senior players who had lost all faith in him.

For the record, I do believe that we could have finished higher than seventh but I am 100% of the view that once a top four finish became highly unlikely and then impossible, we actually started to ensure that we didn’t finish fifth or sixth as that would have meant Europa League football next season.

I strongly believe that the high-ups at Manchester United want our entire focus to be on the Premier League next season and did not want anything the distract us from getting back into the top four.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom this season, though and I would like to end this piece by looking at a few of the positives that can be taken from this season.

First of all, this season has seen breakthroughs for a couple of our younger players. Adnan Januzaj obviously stands out and having secured his services for the next few years at least was a great bit of business by the club.

James Wilson was given his chance just last week and didn’t disappoint with a brace on his debut.

New signings – or rather, the lack of them – was obviously a huge cause for concern last summer and the solitary summer signing of Fellaini has proved to be as underwhelming as everyone feared but the January signing of Mata was a bit more like it and after a few weeks of finding his feet in his new surroundings, he’s ended the season as well as anyone and we will surely see the best from him next season.

David De Gea has really come of age this season and cleaned up at the Player Awards last week. He’s also the only United player who has been included in many of the pundits’ “Team of the Season”. At just 23 years of age, he could even have another fifteen years of football at the top level ahead of him and it has to be hoped that he forms an integral part of the foundations for the next generation Manchester United.

The other thing that this season will be remembered for was the tantalising glimpse of what might have been and what may still yet be as we saw Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt take charge of the team for the last four games of the season.

It was a reminder to us all that Manchester United isn’t “just another club”. There’s a story running through the core of this great club that others can only dream about.

Unfortunately (although probably sensibly) it looks very much like this won’t be the Managerial set-up going into next season and Louis Van Gaal is almost certainly going to be the man in charge when we go again next August.

However, I am encouraged to hear that Van Gaal feels strongly about keeping at least one of the existing coaches in place whenever he takes on a new job and I’d like to think that this means that Giggsy will be retained in some capacity because he represents that link to the glorious past that is so important to all of us.

One other thing that may be seen as a positive is that this season has exposed some of the glaring deficiencies in our squad and will hopefully mean that the Glazers will loosen the purse strings this summer and that Ed Woodward will improve on his performance last summer to go for our targets with far more determination.

At this stage of the game, it does look very much like we’re beyond the point of “two or three signings required” and five or even six top quality players may be what is required to bring this squad back up to scratch but with just the domestic competitions to concentrate on next season, the depth is perhaps not as important as it would have been had we been looking to do well in the Champions League.

The last thing I want to claim as some kind of positive is my strong belief that whatever happens next season, it simply cannot get any worse than this.

We’re back on the up from here on!

Such a Shame the Free Hit Was Wasted

giggs

giggsAs I’ve said several times on here this season, I think it’s fair to say that whoever followed Sir Alex would have had something of a “free hit” for his first season in that expectation would not have been enormous.

Everyone accepted that the task was enormous but, as long as the new man seemed to understand what Manchester United is all about and that the football us United fans have come to expect was on display then any silverware picked up would have been viewed as one big bonus.

However, I think it’s also fair to say that David Moyes pretty much took our lowest expectations for this season and failed to come anywhere close to them – especially in the Premier League.

What happened in the Cup competitions was perhaps largely par for the course but sixth or seventh in the Premier League was well, well short.

Failure to qualify for next season’s Champions League is estimated to have put a hole in the club’s finances to the tune of at least £40million and this puts added pressure on whoever takes the job this summer to ensure that it doesn’t happen again.

In short, the club simply cannot afford another year without CL qualification.

This morning, Ryan Giggs gave his first Press Conference as the Interim Manager and it was like a breath of fresh air. This is a man who really does understand what Manchester United is all about

He spoke of wanting his team to play with passion and tempo. He spoke of wanting to see tackles going in and goals being scored. He spoke of the expectation to win when playing at Old Trafford and of wanting to bring an attacking philosophy back.

He adopted a serious face when necessary but also cracked a few jokes (“I’ve just given myself a five year contract”) and generally spoke with a twinkle in his eye.

The difference between the Press Conferences/Funeral Wakes that we’ve become accustomed to under David Moyes this season could not have been more striking.

It is, of course, important to remember that this is just talk at a Press Conference. Of the 1,001 things that a manager of a club the size of Manchester United has to do, Press Conferences and Interviews are probably towards the bottom in terms of importance and just because Ryan Giggs has watched Sir Alex at work for the last 25 years or so does not automatically make him a great manager any more than watching Ryan Giggs play for the last 25 years has made any of us mere mortals great footballers but if Moyes got the job as much for his character as his footballing credentials then, for me, Ryan Giggs still comes out ahead.

As he pointed out on several occasions, Manchester United has been the most important part of his life for the last 25 years or so and being made manager – for however short the stint might be – is the proudest moment of his career and, given the career Giggs has had, I think that speaks volumes.

I still do have reservations about Giggs as the permanent manager – he still comes across as a bit too nice to me and I do wonder how he would handle insubordination amongst one or two of the players but, again, that was clearly something Moyes had difficulty with so what’s the difference?

At this stage of his career, I do believe that Giggs still commands enormous respect simply for his reputation as a player. He’s broken all kinds of records, he’s won just about everything there is to win as a player several times over and what he doesn’t know about preparing for and playing at the highest level probably isn’t worth knowing.

At this stage of his career, there are no blots – it’s all positives.

I think the problem with some of our ex-players who have gone into management is that they have had to ply their trade at a lower level and, whilst they may have gone into those jobs hoping to do it the “Manchester United way”, they will have quickly realised that in order to do it that way, you need Manchester United quality players and a Manchester United quality infrastructure.

As a result of the absence of these things, they have largely struggled and their reputation has taken something of a hit.

Several times down the years I have heard calls from United fans for the likes of Keane, Bruce, Robson and Solskjaer to become the United manager but I’ve not heard any of those mentioned in the last few days since the departure of Moyes.

The fear is that the same could happen with Giggs if he was to leave Manchester United to ply his managerial trade elsewhere and that would be an enormous shame and a great loss to this club.

A lot has been written this week about how the sacking of David Moyes has turned Manchester United into “just another club” – that by sacking our manager, we’ve tarnished our reputation.

As I’ve said many times, the reputation was not tarnished by sacking Moyes, it was tarnished by appointing him. His ineptitude has threatened to turn us into “just another club” (and sitting, as we do, in seventh place in the league, it is hard to argue).

I think the club could go a long way to restoring the reputation by appointing Giggs as the permanent manager. Failing that then the appointment of someone like Van Gaal with Giggs shadowing as Assistant for a season or two with a view to taking over on a permanent basis would be the next best option.

But, I can’t shake the feeling that all of this could have been done last summer but that we wasted the opportunity on Moyes.

What a shame.

A Good Idea – Ten Months Too Late?

scholes-giggs

scholes-giggsSo, David Moyes has left and Ryan Giggs has been given the job of over-seeing the first team for the remainder of the season – all four meaningless games of it.

It’s a lovely development in what has been a season devoid of anything remotely lovely and the news that one of the first things he did was to get Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes in to replace the also departed coaches Moyes brought with him is just icing on the cake.

The romantic in me can’t help but wonder what this season would have turned out like had this all been done at the end of last season following Fergie’s retirement.

For me, one of David Moyes’ biggest problems was that of his credibility. He had never won anything as a manager.

I often wondered what it must be like for someone like Moyes to be standing in front of players like Giggs, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Rooney etc. What could he possibly tell them that they didn’t already know about winning? The situation was always quite the opposite – any one of those players knew more about winning than Moyes would have known even had he completed the full six years of his contract.

There are probably other factors but I also think that his lack of credibility didn’t help during last summer’s transfer window. I feel almost certain that when any player we approached weighed up the pros and cons of moving to United, David Moyes would have been in the “Cons” column.

Had Moyes led United to a very good season then things may well have been different this summer but it is hard not to think that the players who turned us down last summer are not now breathing a sigh of relief at having made the right decision.

Then there are all the rumours of Moyes’ training sessions – “boring” according to one source. Too much work without the ball. Too much emphasis on fitness, not enough on actual football.

Then there’s Moyes’ negativity on and off the field (as it were). All the crap about trying to make life difficult for our opponents, all the crap about teams coming to Old Trafford as favourites etc etc.

Then there’s the actual football which, under Moyes, has largely been drab and uninspiring when it has not been completely shambolic.

So, let’s just turn all those things on their head for a moment and imagine (dream, if you like!) that Giggs was made the manager after Fergie and Giggs then brought in the likes of Scholes and Butt etc.

When Ryan Giggs stood before players like Ferdinand, Evra etc would they mock him? Would they ignore him? Would they think that he knows nothing that they don’t already know?

Somehow I very much doubt it.

The credibility problem is removed at a stroke.

When Manchester United approached their targets last summer (especially midfielders) would those players, on hearing that they would be working with Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes, have listed that in the “Pros” column or the “Cons” column?

No brainer, if you ask me.

Training sessions? Well, Giggs is every bit a fully qualified coach now and has worked with some of the very best throughout his time at United from schoolboy level up. He will also undoubtedly be very much in touch with modern methods as well as the old. He’ll know what works to turn a bunch of players into title winners and what doesn’t.

And if fitness is important (and yes, it is) well… Giggs is still playing at the highest level at the age of forty – what couldn’t he teach anyone about keeping fit?

Then there’s the mental attitude which manifests itself on and off the field. I mentioned in yesterday’s piece that Ryan Giggs absolutely schooled David Moyes during the pre-match Press Conference against Bayern Munich. Giggs was speaking more like the manager than Moyes was. Giggs was saying all the things Moyes should have been saying and more besides.

As for the football – well – this is the most important bit and we obviously have no idea how a Ryan Giggs side would play but I suspect we’ll have an idea after these next four games. We can probably hazard a guess that it will be slightly more exciting than we’ve seen under David Moyes, though.

At the end of the day and contrary to how Manchester United fans are generally portrayed by the media, I don’t think anyone expected Fergie’s successor to win anything in their first season.

I think a top four finish and nothing else would have been acceptable had there been some signs of progress or even cohesion in our play.

David Moyes has taken the lowest conceivable expectation and failed to even deliver on that.

Had Giggs been put in charge this season, could it have conceivably been any worse?

A lot has been written about Manchester United since the sacking of Moyes and how this makes us “just like any other club” and I suppose this was always a concern post-Fergie.

In Fergie, we had a freakish one-off.

However, I’ve heard Giggs described in much the same way in recent years – yes, as a player and not as a manager and it is important to remember that many fan favourites have moved into management following a glittering United playing career and have fell short (Robson, Keane, Hughes, Bruce to name but a few) but even with the lack of experience, I still cannot help but feel that Giggs brought more to the table than Moyes that compensated for that.

They should have given Giggs the job in the first place. THAT would have maintained United’s difference from all the rest and Fergie wouldn’t have had to tell anyone that their job was to get behind the new manager – it would have been a given.

A Mistake From Beginning To End

Cringeworthy, Amateurish and Embarrassing.
Cringeworthy, Amateurish and Embarrassing.

Cringeworthy, Amateurish and Embarrassing.

The news this morning that David Moyes has been sacked by Manchester United didn’t come as an enormous surprise but reaction to the sacking has been surprisingly mixed.

Some say that he should have been given more time, some say that it’s a bit shoddy from a club that usually exhibits more class and some are glad it’s all over.

I have to say that I am firmly in camp of the latter.

The sacking of David Moyes is sad and, no, it hasn’t been handled too well but what should not be overlooked is the very strong argument that says he should never have been handed the job in the first place.

This isn’t hindsight talking (hindsight has only confirmed the worst fears) – even before he was installed many fans didn’t want David Moyes as the manager and with good reason.

For a start, he had absolutely no track record of success or of even managing a club the size of Manchester United and the weight of expectation that goes with it.

That alone made him an odd selection and it is extremely difficult to get your head around why Manchester United would entrust the biggest, most crucial transitional period to a man with nothing on his record to suggest he’d be capable of handling it.

Some say that Moyes may have made a better fist of it had he been the man who came in after the man who replaced Fergie – I’m not even convinced of that. There has been little, if anything, to suggest that Moyes has what it takes to manage a club of this size and I don’t see what would have changed about that had he spent a few more years at Everton.

There have been several incidents this season – most of them comments from Moyes himself – that have jarred and left United fans asking, “Did he just say what I think he said?”

Comments along the lines of “making it difficult” for Newcastle when they came to Old Trafford, “Liverpool are favourites” when they came to Old Trafford. The constant use of words like “try” and “hopefully” and the constant reference to some unspecified future date when things will (hopefully) get better.

From the moment he walked in, he set about lowering expectations. Comments along the lines of “more bad times ahead”, “things getting worse before they get better” just had United fans wondering what was running through his head.

This, however, just seems to be David Moyes. There is an argument that giving him more time would have allowed him to grow into his role at Manchester United but the evidence all points to it being the case that Moyes was trying to shrink Manchester United to a size he felt more comfortable with.

This is why appointing him in the first place was crazy. As a manager, he has generally spent his career as the underdog. It’s a role he’s clearly suited to. Getting his team punching above its weight and making life difficult for the big boys is how he made his name at Everton.

To change that mind-set overnight was clearly too much to ask of David Moyes.

Which all rather leads to the question: “So why ask it of him?”

Of course, Moyes could have suddenly changed his entire managerial philosophy and way of thinking but the evidence this season all suggests that he didn’t and the worst of it is that this does not come as a surprise.

For the life of me, I simply cannot accept that it would not have made far more sense and been far less of a gamble on an unknown quantity to appoint a manager who had a history of managing at the very highest level – a manager with some degree of success at that level would have been even better. Moyes ticked none of these boxes.

For all the talk of “giving managers time”, I would generally agree but you need to get the right man first and foremost and then give that man time. Everything Moyes has said and done this season – coupled with all the unwanted broken records, a seventh placed finish and not a sniff of a trophy to point towards screams that Moyes was the wrong man.

Of course, the players have to take some responsibility. I do accept that the squad we have is not as strong as it once was and, in hindsight, I do believe very strongly that Fergie should have retired at the end of the 2011 season because that was when the rebuild should have been started.

However, there can be denying the fact that this squad won the Premier League last season by some distance and the drop-off cannot be solely attributed to a few ageing legs.

For every ageing player, there are two players who have an extra year’s worth of experience, there are two players who are now in their peak years.

As Roberto Martinez quite rightly pointed out the other day, with the signings of Fellaini and Mata and the arrival on the scene of Januzaj, it could even be argued that Moyes has a stronger squad this season than Fergie had last season.

Yet he has somehow managed to oversee a drop-off to the extent where there was a point towards the end of last season where we could have recorded the highest ever points tally in the Premier League era to the stage where we are now certain to record our own lowest ever points tally in the Premier League era.

I do hear all the arguments that whoever is the manager, the players represent Manchester United and are paid very handsomely to do so and that they should give 100% in every match.

However, for whatever reason, it is clear that they have not done so this season and it is also clear that this is because of something Moyes has done, or not done, behind the scenes.

Clues have been reaching us from some of Moyes’ former Everton players. Comments about how he played more to “not get beat” rather than playing to win. Comments about how the emphasis was often more on the opponent and how to counteract their play rather than on working on their own game and devising a strategy to exert their own will on the opposition.

It does sound very much like Moyes brought all this with him to United and that is simply not the United way.

It has also become a highly inconvenient fact that Martinez has taken Everton to within touching distance of a Champions League place next season in his very first season in charge of Everton and, right now, it looks as though Moyes’ negativity had actually been holding them back in recent years.

I do strongly believe that the players lost faith in Moyes, didn’t like his training methods, didn’t like his negative approach and finally lost the will to even try for him and that they did want him out.

We can argue all day long about the rights and wrong about this but most of this crop of United players are serial winners and they want to continue to win. If Moyes was providing what they felt was needed to do so then they would have backed him 100% and would have worked their socks off for him.

None of them would have enjoyed this season and I’m certain that none will take any great satisfaction from seeing Moyes get the axe. However, it comes back to the beginning: Moyes should never have been appointed in the first place.

The gulf in the differing mindsets of the players and David Moyes was exposed in the pre-match press conferences for our Champions League matches. Especially the one where Ryan Giggs sat next to Moyes in the build up to our tie against Bayern Munich.

Ryan Giggs spoke of how, yes, it was a tough tie but that is what you’d expect in a Champions League Quarter Final. He then went on to say something along the lines of “But we’re Manchester United and we don’t see ourselves as underdogs – especially when we’re playing at Old Trafford”.

It was clearly a little speech intended for the ears of Moyes as much as the gathered reporters. He was saying everything that Moyes hadn’t been saying all season. He was offering Moyes a crash-course on the Manchester United ethos – an ethos Moyes never fully grasped.

Maybe in time Moyes would have finally understood what it means to be at Manchester United, maybe he wouldn’t. The signs were never good, though.

Hopefully lessons have been learned from this gargantuan mistake and next time we’ll get a man in who won’t need to learn what it means, he’ll be a man who “gets it” from the very beginning and, more than that, actually builds on it and takes the club on to new heights.

Quite frankly, it would take something extraordinary to do worse than Moyes – a mistake from beginning to end.

The Answer Is Crazy

moyes-genius

moyes-geniusFollowing yesterday’s defeat at the hands of Everton, it is tempting to look back on the season and wonder where it has all gone wrong – the only problem with this is, of course… it ain’t over yet! With four games left to play, there’s still room for things to get worse!

Like most United fans, I have been trying to get my head around what has happened this season and like most United fans, I have found myself going around in ever increasing circles as one question leads to more questions which lead to more questions.

Without the ability to read minds, it really is almost impossible to work it out.

However, an answer came to me after yesterday’s result. It’s an answer that cannot be correct – it’s absolutely crazy – but it’s the only one that seems to fit.

What if…?

What if the powers-that-be at Manchester United told Moyes before the start of the season that this season would be considered a write-off before it even began?

What if they said to him that barring relegation, any league position would be acceptable?

What if they said to him that any successes this season (including Champions League qualification) would be seen as an unexpected bonus?

I told you it was crazy but consider the facts here.

In David Moyes, the club has appointed a man with absolutely no track record of success. However, he is known as something of a “Steady Eddy” type.

Knowing that this was the basis of his appointment, he started dropping hints as soon as he took over the job.

Almost from the off, Moyes started to lower expectations. He alluded to the “bad days ahead” with the season barely begun. He warned us that things would likely get worse before they got better.

He has been in charge for 51 matches and has played 51 different starting line-ups which smacks of a methodical man who knows time is on his side and is using it to get to know the players he has at his disposal and is still in the process of deciding who needs to be replaced and who doesn’t. It does not smack of a man whose prime concern is actually winning games of football, let alone silverware.

The baffling things he says in press conferences where he speaks of us being a team in transition and in a rebuilding phase don’t tally with the fact that he actually took over the reigning Premier League Champions but they do tally with the theory that he’s a man under no pressure to continue where we left off last season.

Moyes, seemingly bullet-proof in his new job, appears to have dismantled it of his own accord and is now in the process of rebuilding it in his own image – whether it needed it or not.

It’s a bizarre state of affairs but when you apply the theory to some of the more baffling events of this season, it seems to fit.

In my wildest imaginings, I like to believe that Moyes is indeed a genius. I like to believe that whilst it has all looked rather chaotic on the field this year, there is some method to the apparent madness and that Moyes, having had his “free” season, now has it fully concretised in his mind and having a budget of anything between £100-200 million, will go out in the summer and put the finishing touches to his masterplan and blow us all away with the best footballing side the world has ever known when the new season starts.

But this is surely all crazy-talk? Football doesn’t work like that. Surely Moyes was expected to keep us in the top four as an absolute minimum and that would be a condition in his six-year contract?

If that’s the case then there are only two other explanations for what’s happened this season and neither bode well for Moyes.

1) He has genuinely tried his best and his constant tinkering with the team was done because he genuinely believed that those teams would be good enough to win the matches.

If this is the case then it shows the enormous gulf in managerial ability between Fergie and Moyes. Fergie was no stranger to squad-rotation (he probably invented it!) but only very rarely did performance levels drop noticeably – even when he pulled a completely left-field team selection.

2) He has absolutely no idea what he’s doing and is completely out of his depth at Manchester United.

For what it’s worth, I don’t think yesterday told us anything we didn’t already know and I don’t think we will learn any more from the next four matches, either.

I still maintain that the club don’t really want Europa League football next season and it would be no surprise to me to see us fail to qualify.

Only time will give us supporters the answers to the questions and if Moyes is still the manager of Manchester United by the start of next season then my “crazy” theory perhaps isn’t too wide of the mark.

If next season follows a similar pattern to this one then, clearly, the latter two explanations are closer to the mark and it will be Adios, Dave.