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Ole at the wheel choice...

Discussion in 'The Football Forum' started by Stevesquash, Oct 16, 2021.

?

Which do you prefer?

  1. Smash the scum, Ole sacked.

    6 vote(s)
    9.4%
  2. Smash the scum, Ole stays.

    58 vote(s)
    90.6%
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  1. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    Manchester United’s problems run far deeper than Solskjaer. Him leaving will only solve so much
    Daniel Taylor Nov 21, 2021[​IMG] 264 [​IMG]
    In another time, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer might reasonably have been expected to take the lead, acknowledge it was broken and politely volunteer to show himself to the door.

    Time and again, we have been told he understands Manchester United and the same old lines are trotted out about the way Solskjaer, unlike some of his predecessors, “gets” the club’s DNA.

    Well, fine, but surely then he will understand why no manager at Old Trafford who has recorded such a traumatic set of results can justifiably expect to hold onto his job.

    How could anyone legitimately think otherwise when United have just been embarrassed – and every one of these defeats constituted a genuine embarrassment – in four of their last five Premier League assignments?

    What other conclusion could be drawn when United have conceded 15 goals in those five matches and we all know it could have been significantly more if Liverpool, 5-0 up, and Manchester City, leading 2-0, had not got bored of their own superiority in their back-to-back freewheeling wins at Old Trafford?

    Solskjaer must know, deep down, that the game is up. United, to put it into context, have conceded as many Premier League goals in the first three months of this season as Liverpool, City and Chelsea combined.

    It wouldn’t have been him who initiated it, of course, because modern-day managers rarely offer to resign if it can affect their severance pay and potentially be worth millions of pounds.

    Solskjaer finds himself in charge of a team with a negative goal difference after 12 matches – 20 scored, 21 conceded – at a time when only two other clubs in England’s top division have sieved more goals in their first dozen fixtures. One are Newcastle United, bottom of the league. The other are Norwich City, who are second-bottom. For the 20-time champions of England, it is a tragicomedy. Yet it is not Solskjaer’s decision to go.

    Instead, it falls to the people higher up at Old Trafford, whose running of the club can be accurately gauged by the fact 94 per cent of voters in a recent poll for The Athletic told us they had zero confidence in United getting the next appointment right.
    [​IMG]

    Solskjaer waves goodbye to fans at the end of the Watford game (Photo: Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)
    One of those decision-makers, Ed Woodward, has already been depicted in Red News, United’s longest-running fanzine, in a cartoon – “Avram Glazer and his Puppet” – that probably tells us a lot about his popularity, or lack of, among the club’s supporters. Woodward is superimposed on a ventriloquist’s dummy and perched on Glazer’s knee. His speech bubble reads, “It’s amazing you pay me £4 million a year, Mr Glazer.”

    Not for much longer, though. Woodward, lest it be forgotten, announced in April he was resigning as executive vice-chairman and would leave the club towards the end of the year. Aleksander Ceferin, UEFA’s president, had branded him a “snake” for playing a significant role in the proposed European Super League breakaway around then. Woodward said he had come to his senses and realised it was a bad idea, after all. And, seven months on, it is tempting to wonder whether this sequence of events might, in turn, partly explain why Solskjaer has also clung on for so long.

    Woodward has already hired and fired David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho in the eight post-Alex Ferguson years and, on each occasion, it shone a light on his own shortcomings. Did he really want to have to sack Solskjaer as his final act in office? Is this why Solskjaer survived Liverpool’s biggest ever win at Old Trafford and, two weeks later, arguably the most one-sided Manchester derby in living memory?

    At another club, the guillotine would have fallen, and there would have been a measure of relief that a manager with Antonio Conte’s record of achievement was fluttering his eyelashes in their direction. Nobody could have been too surprised. Nobody could have made a coherent argument that Solskjaer’s results, even taking into account the occasional highs, were satisfactory for a club with United’s ambitions.

    Instead, they chose to do nothing and it was Tottenham Hotspur who acted decisively by removing Nuno Espirito Santo and recognising that Conte was a superior choice. It might have cost the north London club a lot of money, but it was an upgrade. And isn’t that the most important factor when it comes to changing managers? Four days after Conte was announced as Spurs coach, City came to Old Trafford and humiliated Solskjaer’s United for the second time in as many home games.

    Aston Villa, meanwhile, used this month’s international break to sever their ties with Dean Smith because of a pattern of deteriorating results. Daniel Farke was also removed by Norwich. Both clubs have won this weekend under new management when the season resumed. And, yes, it jars sometimes to see the lack of patience and understanding among the Premier League’s clubs.

    There have also been times – let’s not be hypocritical here – when Solskjaer did seem capable of rewarding Woodward and the Glazers for holding their nerve. Many of us admired their support for the Norwegian when he ran into trouble in the past.

    It just doesn’t look so clever when, almost three years in, the results are so wild and eccentric. Maybe they thought it was just a blip and that it would soon pass. But a blip has become a slump and United have been slow to do anything about it. Too slow, almost certainly.

    A team packed with star players somehow manages to have no personality. Opponents are talking about how strange it is that United have no set pattern of play. Solskjaer has started to look as grey as John Major’s Spitting Image puppet. Footballers love to play the blame game and, increasingly, there are players in United’s dressing room who hold the manager responsible. If anything, it is getting worse not better.

    Maybe the people running the club have taken a certain amount of pride that United, on the whole, are supportive of their managers and like to believe the long-term gain will be worth the short-term pain. Maybe they thought it would look weak to abandon that position. Or maybe, on reflection, it was just blind faith.

    Senior figures from Old Trafford genuinely seem to have thought that everything was in reasonable shape. They arrived at Watford yesterday expecting to win.

    What happened instead was so alarming it should come as no surprise to find out the statement is already being prepared to confirm it was Solskjaer’s last game. Some polite words to thank him for everything and make it clear he will always be welcome back. A few lines, perhaps, from Woodward to say how difficult it was to make such a decision.

    United’s goalkeeper David de Gea described the 4-1 defeat as a “nightmare.” Solskjaer said it was the worst they had played and it was not entirely clear if he meant this season or his entire reign. He acknowledged his players had been “outfought” and that perhaps was the most worrying line of all.

    If this was the endgame, however, don’t just assume Solskjaer’s removal will make everything OK again.
    He isn’t the only problem. The issues are numerous and go right to the top. Manchester United are a bewildering club, from the dressing room to the boardroom.

    What does it say, just for starters, that even people who deal with United regularly are unsure about when Woodward is leaving and who, in the meantime, is in charge on a day-to-day basis? Woodward is seldom at games these days. Is he still calling the shots? Is it Richard Arnold, the managing director? Or are the owners, the Glazer family, taking care of everything via remote control from Florida?
    [​IMG]

    Woodward has been slow to act on Solskjaer, if he is calling the shots still (Photo: Simon Stacpoole/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)
    How have United got themselves in a position whereby they are about to lose both their manager and their highest-ranking executive?
    And isn’t it a flawed kind of logic to sack Solskjaer now, with the team having begun an 11-game blitz in 40 days against Watford, when they could have cut him free during the two-week break that preceded their trip to Vicarage Road? Surely it would have been cleaner, and wiser, to do it that way? Give the players time to settle, let everyone breathe and then back to work again.

    Something has clearly changed, too, at the top of the club, bearing in mind the relevant people have never been this patient with any other manager.

    Patrice Evra tells the story in his autobiography about how the final straw for Moyes was a 2-0 defeat at Everton, when someone dressed as the grim reaper loomed behind the dugouts and, outside the ground, United’s team coach was surrounded by gloating locals.

    “One of them threw something that bounced off the coach window. Giggsy (Ryan Giggs) stood up on the coach and shouted, ‘Fucking Everton fans are now taking the piss out of us. Enough is enough’. He was right. The next day, the senior players – myself, Vida (Nemanja Vidic), Wayne (Rooney), Giggsy, Rio (Ferdinand) and Michael Carrick – were summoned to Ed Woodward’s office. I knew then that Woodward had lost faith in David and was not surprised at all when he was sacked.”

    In Solskjaer’s case, there was always a stock reply when the question was put to United about why they placed so much trust in an inexperienced manager who would never have been considered for the job but for his “Football, bloody hell” moment for them against Bayern Munich in the 1999 Champions League final.

    No doubt you are familiar with the response: the story of Ferguson, pre-knighthood, straying dangerously close to the sack after three years in the job and all the glories that might have been missed if the club had pulled the trigger.

    It reels in a lot of people, that story. What it tends to ignore is that Ferguson was the exception rather than the norm. We are talking about one of the greats of his profession. His success was almost freakish. But that process had started at Aberdeen, before he agreed to take over from Ron Atkinson at Old Trafford in November 1986.

    Solskjaer, formerly the manager of Molde and Cardiff City, cannot be talked about in the same terms.
    Woodward saw it differently and, if these are his last few weeks in office, it is probably typical of his accident-prone reign that it is ending this way, chaotically and without any obvious form of joined-up thinking.
     
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  2. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    Why Manchester United are conceding so many goals
    [​IMG]
    By Michael Cox Nov 21, 2021[​IMG] 141 [​IMG]
    Steadily, everything has fallen apart at Manchester United.
    The lack of an attacking structure has been well acknowledged throughout Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign. The issues with pressing have been obvious since this summer’s re-signing of Cristiano Ronaldo. The idea that Solskjaer’s philosophy suits the club’s traditions has never really made sense. Now, the performance of United’s defence has reached disastrous levels.
    Over recent seasons, United have generally been able to depend upon a good defence. They had the joint-best defensive record in the Premier League in 2015-16 (35 goals against) and its second-best in both 2016-17 (29) and 2017-18 (28), and while there was a significant dip in 2018-19 (54), when Jose Mourinho’s reign turned sour, they recovered under successor Solskjaer to have the third-best (36) and fifth-best (44) defensive records in the last two seasons.
    As things stand, though, only Norwich City and Newcastle United, the bottom two teams in the division, have conceded more goals this season than United.
    Incredibly, the 21 goals they’ve conceded is as many as Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea have let in combined — and things could have been even worse but for David de Gea’s heroics, including penalty saves against in September’s 2-1 win at West Ham United and yesterday’s 4-1 defeat away to Watford.
    In recent weeks, there have been several recurring themes in the goals United concede.
    The most obvious is a susceptibility to cut-backs, which indicates that they’re too easily exposed down the flanks and not good enough at protecting the zone in front of the defence — which is in keeping with their lack of a quality holding midfielder, the obvious area of weakness in the side.
    When you watch Josip Ilicic’s opener for Atalanta at the start of this month…
    [​IMG]
    …and Jamie Vardy’s crucial third in Leicester’s 4-2 win a couple of weeks earlier…
    [​IMG]
    …then Watford’s first goal yesterday…
    [​IMG]
    …and their second goal…
    [​IMG]
    …and their third…
    [​IMG]
    …you start noticing the same thing — a huge open space in front of the United defence.
    It’s also relevant to highlight the opener in the reverse fixture with Atalanta four days after that Leicester loss.
    Harry Maguire seems well-positioned to intercept a driven ball across the six-yard box, but then suddenly halts his run towards the near post and moves back out to shut down a potential pull-back to the edge of the penalty area.
    He has made the wrong decision, and Mario Pasalic taps home Davide Zappacosta’s cross.
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    Another obvious problem, related to the lack of pressing from higher up, is that United’s full-backs constantly move up the pitch to shut down opponents but don’t get close enough to press properly and actually affect the player in possession. Time and again, they invite an easy pass and the ball gets prodded past them.
    This was constantly an issue in the 5-0 humiliation by Liverpool at Old Trafford last month, when the majority of the goals came from the visitors attacking United’s right flank, the defence getting dragged across that way and then being exposed over on their left side.
    Aaron Wan-Bissaka, until recently a reliable defensive presence, was always unable to win the ball when pushing out of the defence.
    Liverpool’s opener is the best example — Wan-Bissaka moves up to press Andrew Robertson but isn’t close enough…
    [​IMG]
    …so Robertson plays the ball on to Diogo Jota, with Solskjaer’s back four now dramatically out of position…
    [​IMG]
    …and eventually Liverpool work the ball between United defenders and in behind for Naby Keita to score.
    [​IMG]
    It was a very similar situation for the fourth goal that day.
    Again, Wan-Bissaka goes chasing the ball, again Victor Lindelof is covering in behind him…
    [​IMG]
    …and again there’s an easy pass on for Jota to a player breaking into the space between United defenders.
    [​IMG]
    Another common problem has been the breakdown in communication between Maguire and Luke Shaw.
    These two have been playing together regularly for more than two years as United team-mates, are also often in the same England side, and yet regularly look like strangers.
    United’s second concession against Liverpool came from them both challenging for a hopeful bouncing ball on the edge of their penalty area…
    [​IMG]
     
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  3. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    …and the third, while unfortunate, came when they both got attracted to Mohamed Salah and the ball rebounded nicely for Keita to play a low ball into the box for goalscorer Salah.
    [​IMG]
    United’s most typical concession was the second of the home derby against Manchester City, on the stroke of half-time.
    This featured their two major issues combined — Wan-Bissaka being too far away from Joao Cancelo to shut him down properly…
    [​IMG]
    …and then Cancelo’s cross causing confusion at the far post between Maguire and Shaw, who seem to leave the ball for each other, allowing Bernardo Silva to sneak in to squeeze the ball home.
    [​IMG]
    Saturday’s loss at Vicarage Road also featured bizarre moments involving those two defenders.
    Here, Shaw does what we’ve come to expect from a United full-back — getting sucked towards the ball without actually having a hope of winning it, meaning Maguire is dragged across.
    [​IMG]
    Maguire then senses the danger of Ismaila Sarr sprinting through on the outside, and seems to be gesturing for Shaw to drop and track his run, but his colleague isn’t able to turn and challenge…
    [​IMG]
    …which means Maguire is forced to run back and haul Sarr down, collecting the first of two bookings.
    [​IMG]
    Maguire’s second caution was for a foul after he was caught dawdling in possession — similar to how he was caught on the ball for Youri Tielemans’ opener in that 4-2 loss to Leicester just over a month ago.
    The final problem is simply individual positional mistakes.
    Eric Bailly hasn’t regularly been in the side, but he’s been guilty of the sloppiest defending when he has been.
    His defending for Atalanta’s second goal in Bergamo was astonishing.
    In the space of three seconds, he goes from being in a decent position and having a good body shape to watch the run of Duvan Zapata…
    [​IMG]
    …to being caught wrong-side and left behind for a simple chip over the top.
    [​IMG]
    But the most maddening concession was City’s opener in the derby, when a Cancelo cross was booted into his own net by Bailly. As Cancelo advances down the left, Bailly’s positioning is absolutely baffling — Maguire and Lindelof, United’s other two centre-backs, are in the natural position, level with the ball and side-on.
    Bailly, however, is ahead of the ball, and it takes a couple of seconds for him to realise he’s in the wrong position…
    [​IMG]
    ….so when the ball comes into the box, he is desperately running back towards his own goal, facing the wrong direction and off-balance. He proceeds to slice the cross horribly past De Gea.
    [​IMG]
    The absence of the injured Raphael Varane has been a problem, but the Frenchman hasn’t been perfect when he’s been fit — and it’s rare that individual quality can rescue a defensive unit as shambolic as this one.
    Lindelof, often considered a weak link, has actually been the one United defender roughly doing the right thing, and has rarely been at fault for concessions.
    But defending is about teamwork and organisation, and Solskjaer must take the blame for his team’s sheer openness.
    Norwich and Newcastle, the only Premier League sides to have conceded more goals than United this season, both dismissed their managers in the past month.
    Increasingly, a change seems the inevitable outcome at Old Trafford, too.
     
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  4. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, the final weeks – the fall of a Manchester United legend
    Laurie Whitwell, Adam Crafton and more Nov 22, 2021[​IMG] 256 [​IMG]
    Those with a window into the away dressing room at Vicarage Road say that as early as half-time on Saturday, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer carried the body language of a manager on his way out.
    His Manchester United side trailed Watford 2-0 at the interval, with David de Gea’s two penalty saves, one on a retake, keeping the score down, and Solskjaer gave the impression he knew what such a disastrous defeat would bring.
    For a fleeting moment in the second half, a comeback appeared possible and The Athletic understands that had United roused themselves to get a draw, Solskjaer may have been saved. However, the manner of the collapse left Solskjaer aware of his fate. His applause to the travelling fans in the away end, though unreciprocated, was a farewell.
    United’s players understood the inevitability too and several were emotional. Others were numb. Solskjaer said his goodbyes on Saturday night but added he would see his players the next day for what would prove a final send-off. The flight back to Manchester from Luton airport was sombre.
    It caused surprise among the Watford hierarchy that none of United’s senior executives were there to watch what turned out to be Solskjaer’s last game in person. Ed Woodward, who attended the match at Tottenham Hotspur last month where United bounced back from a 5-0 home thrashing by arch-rivals Liverpool with a 3-0 win, was absent despite living only an hour away in Barnes, south west London. Managing director Richard Arnold also stayed away.
    They were aware of events at Watford though and soon after the full-time whistle, superagent Jorge Mendes placed a call to ask about the manager’s position. He was assured the matter was in hand.
    Mendes had engaged in dialogue with United’s directors for at least two weeks before Solskjaer’s dismissal, proposing Julen Lopetegui as a replacement. The Sevilla coach, who knocked Solskjaer’s United out of the 2019-20 Europa League en route to winning the trophy, is said to have an attainable release clause.
    Mendes was acting because another of his clients was said to have concluded Solskjaer was short of the level required.
    It is understood Cristiano Ronaldo had lost faith in Solskjaer’s capacity to guide United to silverware since rejoining the club from Juventus in the summer. Ronaldo’s Portuguese countryman Bruno Fernandes is another player whose confidence in the manager had crumbled. Others felt the same and though there was no blazing fury among the squad, there was a simmering discontent.
    Solskjaer met the players at United’s Carrington training complex on Sunday, having driven in at 8am to hold talks with Woodward. His agent Jim Solbakken was involved in completing the work on a pay-off understood to be worth £7.5 million.
    [​IMG]

    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was unable to turn things around at Manchester United during the recent international break (Photo: John Walton/PA Images via Getty Images)
    Woodward then had a discussion with first-team coach Michael Carrick, who accepted the opportunity to take over on a temporary basis. Kieran McKenna and Mike Phelan, Solskjaer’s other assistants, were also told they would be staying at the club, with matches coming quickly over the next two weeks against Villarreal, Chelsea and Arsenal. The next manager may wish to use some or all of these staff members, so Woodward saw no point dismissing them.
    Sources close to the players, however, are questioning what has really changed, given Carrick and McKenna were the coaches delivering daily sessions anyway.
    Solskjaer took the unusual decision to request an exit interview with club media, getting tearful when reflecting on those he leaves behind and triggering a wave of support on social media. It was genuinely touching for many. Those who know United’s commercial department suggested the interactions would be a happy coincidence.
    For United, attention turns to appointing an interim manager to run the team until the end of the season. That position has been privately mocked by industry sources, as Solskjaer himself was just such a temporary appointment initially. United are lining themselves up to have three managers within a year.
    Woodward, chief transfer negotiator Matt Judge and football director John Murtough will lead the search.
    Agent sources and those close to the team feel an experienced man with a big reputation would be ideal to steer United through a tumultuous time. Ralf Rangnick, 63, is a potential candidate. Murtough has huge admiration for the German coach who shaped the concept of collective pressing. Rangnick, however, only took over as head of sport at Lokomotiv Moscow in the summer, so an approach is not straightforward.
    Laurent Blanc, who previously held talks with United, has also been touted. The former France and Paris Saint-Germain manager is currently in charge of Qatar Stars League club Al-Rayyan. Multiple sources have downplayed any prospect of a move for Zinedine Zidane, who is available having left Real Madrid after last season.
    United already have an eye on next summer and Mauricio Pochettino would come into contention to take the job permanently. Sir Alex Ferguson remains an advocate for Pochettino’s work and it is believed PSG’s former Tottenham Hotspur manager is open to a Premier League return at some stage. PSG sources are adamant about them sticking with Pochettino, however.
    Despite resigning in April, Woodward may still be involved with United come the end of this season. Though he stepped down over toxic European Super League proposals that emerged in the spring, a consultancy role is in the works. That would only add to the confusion already felt among staff and players over who actually calls the shots at United and what exactly everyone at the club does.
    Solskjaer wrestled with those issues and unless there is clarity, so will the next incumbent.

    For many close to the club, the end for Solskjaer started in the Polish city of Gdansk. Having come within touching distance of lifting a European trophy as a United manager, 22 years on from doing so as a player, Solskjaer appeared traumatised by their Europa League final loss to Villarreal on penalties back in May.
    A source close to Solskjaer described him as looking “utterly distraught, the lowest I’ve ever seen him” after that match.
    A more severe reading? “He seemed dead inside.”
    For someone with United at the core of his life, who included a clause in his contract as Molde manager allowing him to go back to Old Trafford for free should the job offer ever arrive, the prospect of silverware in his second spell at United was particularly special. The pain at letting the chance slip on that night in Gdansk was, therefore, acute.
    The manner of defeat also undermined his credentials. Solskjaer seemed frozen by opposite number Unai Emery’s tactics, not making a substitution until the 100th minute of a match that ended 1-1; his call to start David de Gea backfired when the goalkeeper was unable to save any of Villarreal’s 11 penalties, then fatefully missed his own.
    Despite the disappointment of that final, United executives decided Solskjaer warranted a new contract.
    On July 24, he signed a new three-year deal, featuring improved terms and the option to extend to summer 2025. Less than five months later, he is gone. A source close to the club argues: “Keeping him after Gdansk was foolish. Rewarding him with a three-year deal was insanity.”
    A banner in the away end at United’s Champions League group game at Italian side Atalanta three weeks ago spelt out the crux of the club’s problems. Two fans clambered on top of the plastic partition around the pitch at the Gewiss Stadium and unfurled their message: “The rot starts at the top.”
    The Glazer family bought United in 2005 intending to make money and multiple sources say all decisions stem from there. The biannual dividends and share structure, where Glazer stock is worth 10 times the voting rights of the type traded on the New York Stock Exchange, are evidence of the owners’ motivations.
     
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    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    [​IMG]

    Bruno Fernandes was among those who wanted change by the end of Solskjaer’s reign (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
    Some who know the club allege there is an atmosphere of compliance among the hierarchy, into which Solskjaer fitted.
    He challenged the decision-makers on many facets of the operation at Carrington but largely kept a diplomatic outlook on matters, whereas predecessor Jose Mourinho pressed the detonator button.
    Solskjaer was open to United’s media team capturing footage at Carrington for use on social media, for instance.
    Mourinho was different and his tenure left scars when it came to considering Antonio Conte’s interest in the job.
    Conte, a serial title winner who was available following last month’s Liverpool humbling after leaving Inter Milan at the end of last season, was judged too volatile. Whether United now regret their decision to overlook the one out-of-work manager with a track record of triumph in England would be interesting to ascertain. Conte is now back in football with Tottenham.
    Those wielding the power at United are said to have an inauthentic grasp of football, with some fellow executives taken aback by a lack of knowledge.
    United’s contingent in the directors’ box at Vicarage Road on Saturday was described as looking “despondent” at the final whistle. Among those present were Judge, Murtough, non-executive director Mike Edelson, club secretary Rebecca Britain and John Alexander, who left his position as club secretary in 2017 yet, for reasons unclear, retains a consultancy role. Woodward is in line for a similar position once his resignation is realised, perpetuating the picture of cosiness at the top of the club.
    Solskjaer surviving as long as he did is another strand to that accusation.
    It is said Joel Glazer and Woodward, having bet big on the Norwegian, wanted to get away from continuing to hire and fire every two years in the post-Alex Ferguson era. But there is also a sense Woodward did not want to dismiss Solskjaer, a club legend from his playing days, as his last act. Likewise, Arnold, the expected new chief executive, was reluctant to do it as his first. United were desperate to get through to the end of the season and reassess things then.
    Woodward was also said to be “obsessed” with recreating the patience then-chairman Martin Edwards showed Ferguson when he was struggling in the early years of what became his glittering reign. That is why United did not dismiss Solskjaer at the start of this month’s international break after another painful loss that saw them outclassed at home by Manchester neighbours City, despite the gap of games providing space for change.
    As late as Saturday night, hours after the Watford game ended, several sources insisted United had “no plan”. That absence of foresight blinded them to a situation that had, in reality, become extremely brittle after the 4-2 defeat away to Leicester City last month and untenable following the Liverpool loss a week later.
    The day after that 5-0 defeat at Old Trafford, one Premier League manager “eviscerated” Solskjaer in his own club’s canteen. He made it clear he thought Solskjaer was “out of his depth” and that United were one of the easier opponents to prepare for because they would come “without a coherent plan”.
    This view was backed up by Manchester City midfielder Kevin De Bruyne, who told media in his native Belgium: “The day before a game, we usually train tactically, based on how the opponent play. Before United, Pep (Guardiola) said, ‘We don’t know how they’re going to play. We shall see’. And we stopped training after 10 minutes.”
    United players were openly telling their representatives it was “the end of a cycle”.
    On Saturday night, a source close to the squad said in response to Solskjaer’s chances of survival: “How many times do we need to ask the same question? It’s been obvious to all of us – and the players say the same – for weeks.”

    For some close to the team, Solskjaer’s reign had become a “circus” by the time United were limping away from the King Power Stadium on October 16.
    In the dressing room following that chaotic defeat, where United got it back to 2-2 on 82 minutes only to promptly concede again before their hosts added a late fourth, Solskjaer asked his players: “What’s the problem?”. Their silence in response told a story.
    Eventually, Eric Bailly stood up and questioned why fellow centre-back Harry Maguire, with one training session under his belt after missing three weeks with a calf strain, had been picked to play rather than him.
    [​IMG]

    The Leicester defeat saw recriminations in the dressing room (Photo: Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images)
    Solskjaer is said to have become defensive, insisting that, as manager, he made the decisions. This caused confusion, given his initial request for feedback. When the manager left the room, Fernandes spoke at length, encouraging his team-mates. Eventually, a couple of them suggested any pretence should end and the real issue addressed. A very senior player is said to have quietly replied to that: “We all know what the problem is.”
    While never becoming openly mutinous, a silent lack of belief in Solskjaer spread among the squad from that point, diminishing his authority. Bailly’s protest also speaks to a criticism of Solskjaer’s treatment of players. He has deftly handled Mason Greenwood’s development, offering patience when the young forward lost focus, but there are some on the fringes who feel misled.
    “Ole is a nice guy, everyone knows that,” says a source close to the players. “But he’s not a good man-manager. People think the two are the same but they’re not.”
    Going back two years to his first summer in charge, Chris Smalling was forced into a sudden change of plans when told by Solskjaer on the final day of the summer transfer window he would be going to Roma on loan.
    This summer, Solskjaer kept Jesse Lingard, who shone on loan to West Ham United after joining on loan in January, then gave him 64 minutes of Premier League football across the first 12 games. Bailly signed a new contract to 2024 in April but has played only three times this season, just once in the league.
    Young winger Amad has accumulated 264 minutes in eight appearances across all competitions since joining in January from Atalanta in a deal worth £37 million. A mooted loan to Dutch club Feyenoord broke down when the 19-year-old sustained an injury but he is said to be wondering about his involvement now he is fit and far too good for under-23 level.
    Donny van de Beek’s case for inclusion is well-documented and his superb display off the bench at Watford as Solskjaer’s final throw of the dice painted the manager’s reluctance to use him in an even more curious light. Van de Beek was told in the summer he would get more chances but he had 15 minutes in the Premier League this season prior to Saturday. It is said Solskjaer was angrier than he showed over disparaging comments regarding the situation made at the start of last season by Van de Beek’s mentor.
    Daniel James, a summer departure to Leeds United, was told by Solskjaer that he remained part of his plans following the arrival of Ronaldo in late August and started two days later in a 1-0 victory at Wolves. Soon after the final whistle, it was made clear by a different club representative that James would now be eighth choice in his position and needed to make the £25 million transfer to Elland Road.
    Typically, United have been poor at selling their fringe players, leaving some to remain in the squad but feeling disenfranchised and undermining the mood. Still, there are people close to Solskjaer who feel that there should have been greater rotation. Alex Telles has been pushing unsuccessfully to rival Luke Shaw for game time while Diogo Dalot is surprised he has not dislodged Aaron Wan-Bissaka, who is the only United outfield player to have played every minute of the Premier League season so far.
    “Ole has his favourites,” says another source.
    Seven players started all four of the calamitous defeats to Leicester, Liverpool, City and finally Watford.
    Solskjaer’s intransigence is seen as faith to those who have performed for him previously but it has also been interpreted as a lighter touch to avoid conflict.
    A naturally sunny disposition could be seen even as the darkness descended at Vicarage Road.
    He gave a low five to Maguire as he walked off the pitch following a dismissal for two unnecessary bookings that cut United’s comeback dead. Solskjaer also ruffled the hair of Watford’s Tom Cleverley, a former United player he worked with as the club’s reserves manager over a decade ago, when passing behind him down the touchline to carry out his post-game broadcast interviews.
    Solskjaer let Claudio Ranieri encroach into his technical area without comment as the Watford manager wildly gesticulated to his players. He apologised for smiling in his Sky Sports interview after the 4-1 defeat.
    Where once his upbeat energy lifted the Mourinho gloom, it began to come across to players as a lack of edge or ruthlessness.
    Sources close to Solskjaer actually grew worried about him towards the end, with the relentless positivity appearing to be a front.
    There is similar sentiment around his coaching set-up.
    McKenna is regarded as an excellent coach but, according to sources, was given “too much responsibility” by Solskjaer, considering his level of experience. McKenna is 35 and was promoted from the under-18 side during Mourinho’s tenure, with Woodward advocating his progression to bring on a young team.
    Solskjaer was happy to oblige but there is a feeling the players aren’t buying into the instructions McKenna gives when he leads sessions. Carrick has the playing pedigree and is an astute mind, but generally quiet. A source says: “The coaches are doing the work, good sessions, then it all falls to pot on game day. That’s clearly a concern. Are the players taking it on board?”
    There was a moment midway through the first half against Watford that illustrated the confusion.
    Ronaldo, Fernandes and Marcus Rashford were all over to the left side of the pitch, with Jadon Sancho isolated on the right. Solskjaer waved frantically to try to get the team balanced. McKenna slapped his hands by his side in frustration. Solskjaer ushered his assistant to sit down while he continued to direct the players’ movement.
    Rashford then being taken off at half-time for Anthony Martial caused a jolt in the dressing room.
    [​IMG]

    Donny van de Beek was used only sparingly by Solskjaer despite costing United £35 million (Photo: Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)
    Some think Phelan, 59, could be used to a greater degree, in the way Pep Guardiola has leant on 56-year-old Juanma Lillo across town at City. Phelan’s role is sometimes unclear to players at Carrington but his great experience is visible on Champions League nights, when he is the one to stand in the technical area.
    No amount of instruction from the side could rescue the desperate display against Liverpool, which was doomed to fail when players were left uncertain over Solskjaer’s strategy to press their visitors. The 2-0 home loss to City two weeks later was even more dispiriting for its subservience but one rival player was struck by Solskjaer’s pleasant mood in the tunnel afterwards. “He did not look like someone on the brink,” a source says.
    Solskjaer, at that stage, was still solid in his position, to the point of giving his squad a week off during the international break. He recharged batteries himself back in Norway with his wife and children, surprising some players given the circumstances.
    His human touch has been beneficial in the revitalisation of Shaw and Edinson Cavani’s decision to stay for another season after signing a short-term contract only for 2020-21 and, whatever the strain of managing, he remains a family man. There have been occasions when he has done the school run in Cheshire before training — or after going in early — with sessions prepared the day before.
    That work-life balance has perhaps helped him stay bright in pre-match press conferences.
    Before the Watford game, Solskjaer said: “We’ve made sure that we’ve prioritised a couple of things that we needed to improve the most. We can’t concede easy chances against any team. I’m sure we’ll see a good reaction.”
    The optimism was misplaced as United produced maybe their most calamitous display of the campaign.

    Ronaldo recognised the players needed to take responsibility last week. He gave a speech calling for effort and application to be increased, whatever anyone’s concerns over Solskjaer.
    That his words went unheeded by some at Vicarage Road triggered a furious reaction. He stormed down the tunnel, first off the pitch at the final whistle. Portugal team-mates knew that look from the European Championship this summer, where he privately seethed at performances as the title they won in 2016 slipped away. More recently, he cut an annoyed figure with coach Fernando Santos last Sunday after a 2-1 home defeat by main group rivals Serbia threw their qualification for next year’s World Cup finals into the jeopardy of the play-offs in March.
    But a source says: “Ronaldo is different to how he’s portrayed. In training, he is respectful, listens to every session, is a top pro, gets his head down, does the work.” He has a particular affinity with Darren Fletcher, who gave him detailed instruction on the sidelines at the weekend while Watford’s Ismaila Sarr was down getting treatment.
    Fletcher has become a noticeable presence on match days, assisting with the warm-ups and moving to the dugout, having begun his job as technical director sitting in the stands. His additional work on the training pitches, unusual for someone with his job title, is said to reflect a lack of direction over his exact working brief, so he is helping where he can. Sources say greater definition is required.
    Ronaldo has been a lightning-rod for debate about United’s issues but the view from the staff is that he very clearly raises the team’s levels. They gauge that his economy of movement only takes United’s running stats down by a few percentage points and team-mates should squeeze out that little bit extra to compensate given his elite potency in front of goal — as in his first spell at Old Trafford. Coaches have worked on this in sessions, seeing synchronicity, and struggle to reconcile what then happens on the pitch during the games.
    One player who could never be charged with insufficient sprinting is Fernandes but his solo pressing has caused frustration. Coaches have gone through his videos with him to highlight the wasted energy. They have also grappled with Maguire’s form. Made captain by Solskjaer, there are some who feel the England centre-back is struggling with the pressure that comes with the armband.
    Eyebrows have also been raised at how little went into preparing summer signing Sancho for a new challenge. The 21-year-old went from barely featuring for England at Euro 2020 and then a holiday, straight into the intensity of Premier League for the first time without a full pre-season or being brought up to speed over the summer, not helped by a serious ear infection along the way.
    Solskjaer would have wished that fellow summer addition Raphael Varane was available to him more often. The World Cup-winning France defender has missed all four of the defeats that cost him his job, but played the full 90 minutes at Spurs, where his communication in a back three aided the keeping of a rare clean sheet. That 3-0 win was also Cavani’s last start under Solskjaer, and there is disappointment that the Uruguay striker, who last week underwent treatment on a knee tendon issue, was unable to present himself fit more frequently given his quality.
    When Solskjaer praised Cavani for delivering the best training session he’d seen since being in charge it was, sources say, a coded message for others to match the 34-year-old’s effort. “Ole has been let down by some of the players,” insists one.
    Insiders say there is a small divide between some of the older and younger players, which Solskjaer was attempting to bridge. That’s perhaps natural, given people tend to associate with those similar to themselves, but it is an aspect for the incoming manager to look at. Not everyone attended the team bonding meal at a restaurant in the Cheshire suburb of Hale at the start of November, although Rashford and Paul Pogba were ill that day.
    Establishing wider harmony was a key achievement of Solskjaer’s near three-year reign. A former colleague says: “He gave a huge amount of trust to backroom staff, sport science and recovery teams, listened to advice and implemented it, respected people’s specialities, compared to previous managers who either thought they knew best or ignored it.”
    As Solskjaer left Carrington on Sunday afternoon, following four final hours at the complex, he was reminded of the link he strengthened with fans.
    He stopped his black Range Rover and got out of the driver’s seat to hug one supporter who was waiting for a picture.
    “It’s been an honour to work for Man United,” he told those nearby.
     
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  6. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    What the data tells us about Solskjaer’s Manchester United exit
    [​IMG]
    By Mark Carey Nov 22, 2021[​IMG] 71 [​IMG]
    The managerial merry-go-round has been spinning at high speed in recent weeks, with five of the 20 Premier League managers — a quarter of the league — being relieved of their duties by the November international break and the obligatory new-manager spiel gracing us once again.
    Then, only 36 hours into this weekend’s fixtures as the season resumed following two weeks of international action, we had a sixth Premier League managerial casualty in four weeks with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer losing his job at Manchester United following an embarrassing 4-1 defeat to Watford that capped a rotten run of results for the Old Trafford side.
    Such a high-profile departure means a closer examination of Solskjaer’s near three-year tenure is unavoidable.
    So let’s dive in…

    Solskjaer’s position was already hanging by a thread when United arrived in Watford after some chastening defeats to arch-rivals Liverpool and neighbours Manchester City in particular.
    A 3-0 win at Tottenham Hotspur in between those games papered over the cracks in the short term but, as Opta recently reported, the loss on Saturday was United’s biggest league defeat to a promoted side since September 1989 — when they were stunned 5-1 away to Manchester City.
    Much has been made of United’s defensive displays to pinpoint exactly what the issue is. Only Norwich City and Newcastle United, the bottom two sides in the table, have now conceded more goals than them in the Premier League this season — which is relegation form from a defensive perspective.
    Whether it is a poor defensive structure, a lack of pressing intensity, or tactical issues due to personnel, United have one of the poorest records of any team in the Premier League in keeping a clean sheet over their past 25 games. Their concession of goals seems to have a certain pattern to it recently as they are particularly vulnerable from cut-backs into the central area of their penalty area.
    They may not necessarily be conceding the highest volume of shots compared with others in the league, but the shots they have been conceding are of high quality. Their 0.12 xG per shot conceded — which measures the average chance quality of a given shot — is the second-highest in the division, behind last-placed Newcastle, and means their average shot conceded has a 12 per cent likelihood of finishing up in the back of the net.
    The long-term trend is plain to see, where United’s 10-game rolling average for expected goals conceded has reached its highest level since Solskjaer took over in December 2018.
    Ironically, it is difficult to defend such poor statistical output.
    [​IMG]
    And this longer-term trend is important here when considering the underlying performances from United.
    For example, while he is still operating on a different level from a goalscoring perspective, Cristiano Ronaldo’s last-gasp winners or equalisers in the final stages of games since he rejoined the club this summer are not sustainable over a longer period.
    A large proportion of Solskjaer’s United tenure saw his teams score more non-penalty goals than they were expected to, given the quality of chances they created. This is shown in the chart below — looking across a 10-game rolling average, United have scored above their expected goals number almost exclusively since the Project Restart run-in began in June last year.
    This is not uncommon for a top team, where you are more likely to have elite-level finishers in your team who can score from difficult positions. However, in the long term you cannot always bank on this being the case in attack and there have been several occasions where United have won a game with moments of quality rather than via a dominant offensive display. That is not a sustainable form of attack.
    [​IMG]
    This is before you consider the amount of penalties United have had in recent seasons — 33 since Solskjaer came in, which is 10 more than the Premier League club with second-most during that period, Manchester City. Yes, United’s attacking players operate in such a way that they are more likely to be awarded penalties than, say, Burnley or Newcastle, but the point stands that a team cannot rely on this as a form of goalscoring income.
    With only one penalty awarded to Solskjaer’s men in the first 12 games of 2021-22, such a high volume of spot kicks as they got in previous seasons was never going to be earned at the same rate over the long term.
    When you don’t score as frequently, it is important to keep things tight at the back — United simply haven’t had that balance right at either end this season.

    Reflecting on Solskjaer’s tenure, many would argue that his biggest achievement was bringing back the core principles of the club that had escaped in previous years.
    The atmosphere had become toxic under predecessor Jose Mourinho, and Solskjaer’s initial remit to “steady the ship” led him to subsequently overachieving, creating such a feel-good factor that he was entrusted with “being at the wheel”. Whatever vehicle or vessel-based analogy you wish to make, his former United team-mate turned TV pundit Gary Neville summed it up this weekend with a tweet which declared to Solskjaer that “…you restored some soul into the club”.
    It is a sentiment Solskjaer himself wished to be remembered by, declaring in his farewell interview: “I’m so honoured and privileged to have been trusted to take the club forward, and I really hope that I leave it in a better state than when I came.”
    Taking the emotion out of it for now, we can look at the degree by which Solskjaer changed United’s fortunes on a more objective scale.
    To do this, we can use ClubElo as a measure of team strength, trended over time.
    Put simply, ClubElo is a rating system that works by allocating teams points when they win, giving more for beating tougher sides (for example, Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League) and less for dealing with easier opponents (for example, Norwich in the Premier League). Likewise, the points a team can lose for a defeat are weighted by the quality of the opposition.
    When Solskjaer was first placed in interim charge, United were ranked 14th in Europe per ClubElo’s model — an indication of how far behind they were on the European stage.
    Somewhat surprisingly, ClubElo’s model now ranks them seventh in Europe, behind only PSG, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and Bayern Munich. Perhaps this is influenced as much by the greater declines of some other traditional European giants, such as Barcelona and Juventus, as by any upward trend from United.
    When looking at this trend over time, you can see just how much of a slump United were in during those Louis van Gaal and early Mourinho days in the middle of the previous decade. While Solskjaer’s tenure was not always plain sailing, he has ultimately left United in a stronger position than they were when he took the job.
    [​IMG]
    That sharp decline dating back to earlier this year goes a long way to explaining why he has now parted ways with the club his goal famously made European champions 22 years ago, as it looked like the negative momentum had reached the point of no return.
    Perhaps as much as the number of poor results recently, it was the manner of the defeats that left even more of a sour taste in United mouths.
    When considering Solskjaer’s biggest points losses according to ClubElo, two of the top 10 from nearly three years as United manager were in his final five games — the losses to Liverpool and Leicester City in the Premier League.
    [​IMG]
    At times, Solskjaer has been the scapegoat for some of United’s bad performances on and off the field, but there is no denying that the 48-year-old has struggled to get a tune out of a team that on paper is packed with world-class talent.
    It is uncomfortable to see any manager struggle to hold on to their job, but the scenes between Solskjaer and the fans in the away end following the Watford game clearly demonstrated what the overarching opinion was from the United faithful.
    In this instance, the numbers simply support what your eyes told you was coming.
     
  7. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    Manchester United’s mediocrity is beginning to hurt their business – and the Glazers won’t like that
    Matt Slater Nov 21, 2021[​IMG] 119 [​IMG]
    Once upon a time, Manchester United’s departing chief bean-counter Ed Woodward decided to speak “simply and candidly” to the financial institutions that hold shares in the big red cash machine the club has become on his watch.
    “Playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business,” the executive vice-chairman explained during the quarterly earnings call in May 2018.
    This was four days after the 20-time English champions had secured their best league finish for five years and two days before they would meet Chelsea in the FA Cup final.
    OK, that league finish would be runners-up to Manchester City, by 19 points, and the football they were playing under Jose Mourinho was hardly the stuff of Old Trafford legend. They would also lose that FA Cup final to Chelsea, but that doesn’t matter, right? Just as the defeats in the Super Cup final to Real Madrid at the start of the season, the fifth round of the EFL Cup to Bristol City and the Champions League last 16 to Sevilla did not really register.
    The merchant banker’s point was that winning is nice but it is not essential to United’s core business of being the best sandwich board available for Chinese mattress-makers and Thai energy drinks with ambition. After all, turnover was up and the club had recorded another (modest) operating profit.
    Three and a half years (but no trophies) later, Woodward has stopped speaking simply or candidly. In September, he told analysts the club was “on the right track” and last week said “our top priority is success on the pitch”.
    Well, you do not need to pore over the first-quarter fiscal results for Manchester United plc to know Woodward is talking what is known in the market as “bollocks”.
    [​IMG]

    Joel Glazer, Avram Glazer and Ed Woodward at the New York Stock Exchange in 2012 (Photo: Dario Cantatore/Getty Images via NYSE Euronext)
    Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has since been sacked, following a calamitous 4-1 surrender at Watford that flattered England’s most decorated club. It was a fifth loss in seven league games and their biggest defeat by a promoted team for 32 years.
    What happened at Watford was awful but not as bad as losing to Liverpool 5-0 at home last month or failing to lay a glove on Manchester City in a 2-0 defeat earlier this month.
    And it is those defeats, to those teams, that really underline just how far Manchester United have fallen as a football team and a business. Sure, those Q1 results were fine and did show signs of “resilience” in the face of the pandemic, but United used to be about excellence, on and off the pitch.
    For all of Woodward’s bragging about the club’s commercial might, the bottom line is he and his bosses, the Glazer family, inherited a club in 2005 that was already streets ahead of the rest in terms of selling shirts and attracting sponsors and was winning trophies.
    That momentum, plus Sir Alex Ferguson’s genius for team building, really did keep United on track until he retired in 2013 but it has been a story of relative decline since then. In the eight seasons after his exit, they have finished outside the top four four times, never gone beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League and won nothing since the 2017 Europa League.
    But they have also lost their top spot in Deloitte’s ranking of the biggest earners in world football, falling to fourth this year, and have let Liverpool and Manchester City close what was once a chasm between them in terms of available financial firepower.
    Instead of streaking away as a business, as they once did, United are starting to cough and splutter. Their shares have underperformed in the market in New York by an embarrassing degree, their matchday income is flat and their commercial revenue grows but cannot keep pace with the club’s ballooning wage bill. Even before COVID-19 shut Old Trafford, the financial metrics were in reverse.
    Frankly, they no longer look like a football club that does not need to win to make money. They now look like every other football club not bankrolled by a state or owned by an oligarch: they need to win.
    Which brings us back to Woodward’s bollocks, so to speak.
    Solskjaer was originally given the job on an interim basis in December 2018 — only six months after Woodward’s “winning does not matter” comment — with a straightforward brief: save us from the misery of life under Mourinho and keep us in Europe.
    United went from sixth to… sixth but enjoyed a mood-enhancing win over Paris Saint Germain in the Champions League and generally played with more bounce in their step. That was enough to earn him a three-year contract. In the next two years United finished third in the Premier League and then second, while losing in four semi-finals and a Europa League final.
    Not bad but not what you would hope Antonio Conte, Mauricio Pochettino or Thomas Tuchel would do with such an expensively-assembled squad. But none of those guys give off the middle-management vibes that the Glazers appear to want from the football department at Manchester United plc.
    So, Solskjaer got another three-year contract this summer and three big signings in Cristiano Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane, whether he really wanted them or not.
    The result of those moves in football terms is there for everyone to see. David de Gea, United’s most consistent player this season, described the performance against Watford as “another nightmare”, adding that “we do not know what to do with the ball”. They are now 12 points behind Chelsea in first and six behind West Ham in fourth, the final Champions League slot.
    [​IMG]

    Woodward has seen the financial advantage over others deterioriate (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)
    And that is probably going to be the decisive factor here as Solskjaer’s fellow post-Fergie experiments — David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho — all got the chop for either failing to deliver Champions League football or looking likely to fail to do so.
    There are about 60 million reasons (and that is just in a bog-standard, reach-the-last-16 kind of season) why this is the case. Go two seasons without Champions League football and you start to get into some really scary territory for the Woodwards of this world, as kit suppliers and sponsors start asking for significant rebates.
    Woodward, or more probably his likely successor Richard Arnold, clearly didn’t want to sack Solskjaer. They like him. He was a great player for the club and he has been a model employee. Not asking for too much or moaning about the vital work the social media team does. And didn’t Fergie need time, too?
    But time means money and money means everything at Manchester United. Woodward was right about that.
     
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  8. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    Underrated, out of his depth or somewhere in between? Inside Solskjaer’s role at Manchester United
    Adam Crafton and Laurie Whitwell Oct 12, 2021[​IMG] 415 [​IMG]
    Perhaps the best place to start is the January evening this year when Manchester United, then unbeaten in 13 league matches under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, faced Sheffield United at Old Trafford.
    Solskjaer’s side had the opportunity to leapfrog Manchester City at the top of the Premier League table that Wednesday night. Instead, they choked, losing 2-1 at home against the division’s bottom side.
    That defeat was the start of an eight-match run where United dropped 13 points from the 24 available. In the space of five weeks, City pulled 14 points clear in a title race they would eventually win, with United finishing as runners-up, 12 points adrift.
    On the night of relegation-bound Sheffield United’s victory, certain senior players in the home squad were surprised by Solskjaer’s response. Or, perhaps more precisely, his lack of response. They entered the dressing room post-match expecting a hairdryer but at full-time Solskjaer offered only a gentle breeze.
    A fair interpretation may be to reflect Solskjaer’s team had performed well over the winter months and that blip need not be turned into a crisis. He’d been irate at half-time too. Yet The Athletic has been told players felt a tremor was needed. “They need to be scared they’re going to get a mouthful,” says one source close to the squad.
    More broadly, it was the kind of evening when United supporters were left wondering whether Solskjaer, for all the improvement he has yielded since returning to the club as manager nearly three years ago, may ultimately be several steps short of reasserting United’s dominance in English and European football. That he has made them better but lacks the stardust to make them the best again.
    Others, however, will caution that a little more time is required to make a judgment.
    For United, the outlook under Solskjaer often feels like a riddle of contradictions. The good news is that they have qualified for the Champions League through a top-four Premier League finish in consecutive seasons for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired as manager in the summer of 2013. United’s final league position has improved from sixth to third to second in Solskjaer’s time in charge. They have come from behind to win matches 14 times since the beginning of last season.
    There is a general sense United have, by and large, rediscovered a sense of purpose and direction in the transfer market. They have attracted world-class players in Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane, while signing a player of world-class potential in Jadon Sancho.
    Yet at the same time, United have started this season rather poorly, after suffering the setback of a Europa League final defeat by Villarreal at the end of last season. A generous set of fixtures has yielded only really two convincing performances, the opening-day 5-1 win against Leeds and a 4-1 victory one month ago over a Newcastle side now second-bottom and still winless after seven matches.
    [​IMG]

    Solskjaer generally has a strong relationship with his players (Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

    United’s long-standing issues at Old Trafford — they failed to win 10 of their 19 home league games last season — have not been resolved by the return of supporters following the easing of COVID-19 restrictions.
    They were fortunate, in the extreme, to beat Villarreal there in the Champions League two weeks ago. They also underperformed in a defeat by Aston Villa and draw against a depleted Everton side in the home matches either side of that European fixture. Against Everton, Solskjaer did not name Ronaldo in the starting XI, which created a mini-drama when the forward immediately exited down the tunnel alone at the end of the game, having come on with half an hour to go.
    Video footage from an Old Trafford lounge on the day of the game subsequently showed Ferguson telling the UFC fighter Khabib Nurmagomedov that “you should always start your best players”. Other informed people suggested Ronaldo could rest during Portugal’s subsequent games against Qatar on Saturday and Luxembourg on Tuesday.
    Ronaldo, though, was informed more than 24 hours before the Everton match that Solskjaer intended to rest him, after the 36-year-old had played the full 90 minutes in United’s two previous matches. He accepted the decision privately. This is just one of those soap operas that are part of the package when a club signs one of the world’s most famous footballers.
    For Solskjaer, the more urgent situation can be found in United’s upcoming fixture list.
    His team, currently two points off the top of the Premier League, face Leicester, Tottenham, Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea and Arsenal before the end of November and must also negotiate their Champions League group, having surprisingly lost the opening game to Swiss side Young Boys. It is a period that should go a long way to defining whether they will spend this season as contenders or also-rans.
    For now, at least, United retain confidence in Solskjaer, even if there is a clear desire for performances and results to improve. The club awarded him a new contract until 2024, with an option of a further year, in July and his most experienced assistant, Mike Phelan, also renewed terms until 2024 during the past week.
    As such, Solskjaer is here to stay and The Athletic set about examining how, exactly, the Norwegian goes about his business.

    When Solskjaer first returned to Manchester United in December 2018, he sought to implement a cultural reset. This initially boiled down to being nice to people. When Solskjaer was a United player for 11 years in the 1990s and early 2000s, he would bring in chocolates from his Norwegian homeland as a gift to behind-the-scenes staff members.
    On his first day as interim manager, he gifted receptionist Kath Phipps in the same way. He then went to nearby Lancashire County Cricket Club for a United staff party and addressed employees there. He spent time observing United’s female teams in their training sessions at different age groups.

    This is Solskjaer at his most effective; he is personable and good company. He is one of the few people, for example, who has always remained on good terms with both Ferguson and Roy Keane. Even in the season when Keane’s career at United ended, Solskjaer was one of only a handful of team-mates who had the Irishman’s phone number.
    Solskjaer had constructed the culture of a club before.
    While working at Molde back home, he sought to create a mini-United. Former United coaching colleagues Mark Dempsey and Richard Hartis linked up with him there. They introduced symbolic gestures, such as working with ex-Molde players to design a badge for a club suit that players could wear to games. He ensured those former players had access to the club’s canteen every Friday, to avoid the loneliness that can grip retired footballers, and granted them access to the club gym twice a week.
    At United, of course, the issues are of a different dimension. One of Solskjaer’s friends in Molde once described that club as a “rowing boat” whereas United are an “ocean liner.”
    Solskjaer has, however, reconnected the present with United’s past. Ferguson is at his most influential and visible since retiring eight years ago, whether it be comforting goalkeeper David de Gea on the pitch after the Europa League final, conducting interviews on the club’s official podcast or calling Ronaldo to engineer his return this summer. Inside the club, former chief executive David Gill is also a more prominent figure once more. It all underlines that Solskjaer is inspired, rather than threatened, by the club’s past.
    In the dressing room, the consistent message is that United’s players do get along with Solskjaer and want him to be successful.
    At Molde, he reinvented the club’s approach to nutrition. Previously, players bought food from the club cafe but then Solskjaer hired chef Torbjorg Haugen, from the country’s Olympic skating team, who provided breakfast and lunch every day. He also redesigned the dressing room so it resembled the one he knew at United and he flew over a United consultant to set up video-analysis software. He adopted Ferguson’s practice of hosting the opposition manager for a drink after matches.
    In many ways, therefore, Solskjaer was doing a dummy-run of managing United in Norway. He implemented strict rules about timekeeping, such as locking doors when meetings began at the allotted time to close out those who were late. At United, he has previously dropped Anthony Martial after the forward missed a flight back to the UK from his native France.
    On the whole, however, Solskjaer knows he must man-manage carefully. When a senior player is to be rested, or dropped, he pulls them aside, sometimes on the way out to training, to say, “Let me explain my team.”
    He has inspired loyalty, most notably from players such as De Gea, Harry Maguire, Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelof, Jesse Lingard, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford, all of whom have experienced moments of criticism before finding improvement under Solskjaer.
    Phil Jones, a long-term victim of injuries, was uplifted by his manager’s passionate defence of his character in a press conference following public criticism from former United defender Rio Ferdinand.
    Juan Mata remains grateful to Solskjaer for the space and time he was afforded to grieve for his mother in the second half of last season. Despite his lack of playing time, Solskjaer wants Mata’s influence around the club’s younger players, most notably his professionalism and approach to training.
    His view is that habits are installed by example. Indeed, The Athletic has been told one player has stopped having sugar in his tea and coffee following the arrival of Ronaldo in August and witnessing the five-time Ballon d’Or winner’s monastic approach to diet and fitness.
    The cultural change has also been embodied by United’s signings, who have for the most part been young players with potential or senior stars. Older talents, such Ronaldo, Varane and Edinson Cavani are those who Solskjaer believes can both contribute to his team and also set an example.
    United have missed out on players under Solskjaer, most notably Erling Haaland and Jude Bellingham to Borussia Dortmund, while Manchester City beat him to Rodri and Joao Cancelo.
    [​IMG]

    “You can see that with how he works on the bench. One minute it will be Carra (Carrick) standing up, the next Mick (Phelan) or Kieran or Ole. You don’t see that with all managers but it works for Ole and that’s how he likes it. He can be an out-and-out coach but he sees himself as the manager of a team who are, together, managing the biggest football club in the world.”
    However, some sources The Athletic has spoken to feel the collegiate approach means the 48-year-old former striker is not decisive enough at some key moments.
    Solskjaer has sought to fill in gaps in expertise. He brought in Eric Ramsay as specialist set-piece coach this summer. The club hired their first data science lead last week, and Dominic Jordan will now be tasked with finding the incremental gains that clubs such as Liverpool have sought so successfully in recent years. In the dugout during matches, Ramsay and goalkeeping coach Hartis carry folders detailing the pattern of play, likely substitutions, and how the opposition’s game is likely to change when certain substitutions are made.
    Supporters at matches will often see Solskjaer studying his TV screen in the dugout. The feed contains live data but is mostly used to offer instant replays so that Solskjaer can confirm what he has seen with his own eyes. He is not a slave to the monitor, but after conceding a goal, for instance, he does not want to blame a player for being out of position or too slow to close down if there was an offside or other infringement.
    Following the full-time whistle, Solskjaer is sent a series of bullet points condensed by his analysts to ensure he is fully briefed on the major statistical elements of the game just ended, mainly so he is ready for questions at the post-match press conference.

    While Solskjaer has improved United in many ways, they are almost three years into the project and still without a trophy since the 2016-17 Europa League won by Mourinho. Their signings this summer have reinforced expectations and even those pundits who often defend Solskjaer commonly say he must win something this year. They are already out of the Carabao Cup, beaten 1-0 at Old Trafford by West Ham last month.
    There are also concerns that the progression of certain players has slowed.
    Martial was granted a start and scored a goal against Everton on account of apparently outstanding performances in training in the week leading up to the match but his trend of performances has been disappointing for the past year. Equally, some wonder whether players such as Wan-Bissaka, Scott McTominay and Fred have hit a ceiling with regards to their ability as first-choice United players.
    Solskjaer does sometimes do individual work in training with players, most notably with Rashford, Donny van de Beek, Lingard and Greenwood. First-team coach Martyn Pert is involved in repetitive work for players. He is multilingual, also speaking Spanish and Portuguese, and befriended Solskjaer on a coaching course in 2010. Formerly a coach at Vancouver Whitecaps of Major League Soccer, he has visited Marcelo Bielsa at home his home in Argentina and studied the methods of NBA basketball side Miami Heat.
    United’s ultimate issue remains in midfield, where coaches retain concerns about £35 million Van de Beek’s suitability for the rough and tumble of Premier League football. Senior figures at the club, including Solskjaer, still believe he can succeed despite only four starts in the division to date and just one five-minute appearance off the bench in the top flight so far this season.
    Van de Beek, we should remember, was previously pursued by Real Madrid when he was still an Ajax player, while former United manager Mourinho was confident and excited about signing the Dutchman in the summer of 2020, only for Tottenham to fail to move out fellow midfielder Tanguy Ndombele to fund the transfer.
    Sancho is another player experiencing teething problems after signing this summer but Solskjaer has been encouraging him to be himself, urging the England forward to commit defenders and be prepared to make mistakes while taking risks in a United shirt.
    “I don’t think people realise how big and long the project is,” reflects one source close to United. “It is a patience thing. Internally, they are absolutely fine — there is no remote thought of panic.”
    The fixtures of the coming six weeks will tell us whether that internal confidence is well-founded.
     
  9. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    Part 2

    Some of Solskjaer’s United players feel training could be taken by more elite coaches (Photo: Ash Donelon/Manchester United via Getty Images)

    This past summer, however, United’s enduring pull showed itself as they stole a march on neighbours and local rivals City to bring Ronaldo back to Old Trafford 12 years after he moved to Real Madrid.
    While the re-signing of Ronaldo has been presented as opportunism, United first asked Juventus about him at the start of the transfer window. When the Italian club insisted the player would not be sold, United decided to end their interest, rather than waste time on a doomed pursuit. Once Solskjaer had heard of his availability late in the window, United pounced. The involvements of Ferguson, Ferdinand and another former team-mate Patrice Evra in coaxing Ronaldo to choose United have now been well-told, but Solskjaer has often sought the views and influence of former United players when making signings.
    Before signing Bruno Fernandes in January of last year, for example, he secured a character reference from Ronaldo, a Portugal team-mate.
    Daniel James’ move from Swansea in the summer of 2019 came after Solskjaer spoke at length to the winger’s then-Wales manager Ryan Giggs, a fellow United great. Giggs also passed along positive reports from Crystal Palace’s Welsh goalkeeper Wayne Hennessey on Aaron Wan-Bissaka ahead of his transfer to Old Trafford in that same window, while Gary Neville added information gathered from Ray Lewington, the Palace assistant. Neville, a right-back like Wan-Bissaka, had worked with Lewington on the England coaching staff.
    Phelan previously coached Maguire, another summer 2019 signing, at Hull City.
    In many ways, therefore, Solskjaer has behaved more like an American-style general manager than the traditional football model, connecting different parts of the club to create a more harmonious environment in the dressing room and a more successful approach to the transfer market.
    The next challenge, however, is out on the training field.

    At times, Solskjaer has been typecast pejoratively, most notably on social media, where trolls describe him as “PE teacher”. Even more moderate voices question whether a former Molde and Cardiff City manager has the pedigree to carry United back to the summit of English and European football.
    When Solskjaer initially returned to the club after the mid-season sacking of Jose Mourinho, his first phone call was to Phelan, previously a long-serving assistant of Ferguson, while he retained coaches Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna from Mourinho’s staff. Over time, he added his former Molde colleagues Dempsey and Hartis to the backroom team.
    A sign in the home dressing at Molde read: “Just play. Have fun. Enjoy the game.” Another said: “Losers quit when they are tired. Winners quit when they have won.”
    At times, during the more meandering displays United have produced under Solskjaer, it has been tempting to wonder whether there is a shelf life to some of the soundbites he delivers about the United Way, and buzzwords such as freedom, expression and enjoying the game.
    Even Solskjaer’s most ardent defenders recognise his team still lack the clear structure, style and consistency of performances — not only from game to game but also within individual ones — that we can see from Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool or Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. It is why Neville, now a top TV football pundit, often describes his old club as “an odd bunch”. It also probably explains why this team can execute a one-off plan and beat serial champions City on their own patch, as they did in March of last season, but lose at home to relegation-bound Sheffield United little more than a month earlier.
    Sources close to several senior players have said they feel training could be led by coaches with greater elite experience. Sessions are mostly run by 35-year-old McKenna and former United and England midfielder Carrick, who is 40 but has only been coaching since 2018.
    McKenna’s previous experience had been coaching under-18s teams at Tottenham and then United, before Mourinho promoted him to his first-team staff.
    The Athletic has been told his approach can, at times, be schoolmasterly. There may or may not be substance to that but these are also familiar complaints from players when results begin to turn. Separate sources countered that Carrick’s skill is in spotting details and influencing players with an arm-around-the-shoulder and a one-to-one chat. A well-placed associate said McKenna has the potential to go on to manage a top-six Premier League club, such is his level of diligence and research when preparing. Others, though, question whether he possesses the requisite charisma.
    The plans for training sessions are run past both Solskjaer and 59-year-old Phelan, now into his fourth decade of coaching, who observe and interject when appropriate.
    Very occasionally, Solskjaer or Phelan will aggressively let rip in the dressing room, such as after the 3-2 second-leg defeat by Roma in April’s Europa League semi-final (United had won the first leg 6-2 at home) or half-time recently against Villarreal, but that is not McKenna’s personality. Solskjaer encourages his players to demand more of each other, with Fernandes particularly vocal, while the voices of Paul Pogba, Shaw and Maguire are growing louder.
    More than one well-placed source insisted McKenna commands respect from players through the manner of his set-up but conceded that when he asks them to push past a comfort zone they might subconsciously question his pedigree.

    [​IMG]

    Solskjaer made Phelan one of his first calls when he got the job (Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

    On the touchline during games, it is often a revolving system, where Solskjaer, Phelan, McKenna and Carrick will all be out at different points.
    Against Young Boys in the Champions League last month though, the newly-signed Ronaldo was briefly barking the orders. Critics would argue that this undermines Solskjaer’s authority, but his approach is communal by nature.
    United’s former head of first-team development Nicky Butt tells The Athletic: “He (Solskjaer) understands what he excels in and he understands what other people are better than him at. He gives autonomy, he doesn’t micromanage everybody, he’s good at delegating.
     
  10. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    This was not the Manchester United ‘homecoming’ Cristiano Ronaldo signed up for
    Oliver Kay Nov 23, 2021[​IMG] 154 [​IMG]
    “I’m right here! I’m back where I belong! Let’s make it happen once again!”
    For a few weeks, it was easy to get caught up in the excitement of the Cristiano Ronaldo homecoming. There was a flurry of goals as a feel-good factor returned to Manchester United. Old Trafford, full again, looked beautiful in the late-summer sunshine. Ronaldo even posted pictures of himself topless in the garden of his Cheshire mansion. “Who says Manchester has no sun?!” he asked on Instagram, adding that he felt “blessed”.

    Is he still feeling blessed? Perhaps not. He has scored just once in the Premier League since September 19 and, although the goals have kept flowing in the Champions League, the inescapable reality has been of a team caught in a nosedive: one win, one draw and five defeats (17 goals conceded) in their last seven Premier League matches. That dire run inevitably cost Ole Gunnar Solskjaer his job, leaving Michael Carrick in charge for a critical Champions League game away to Villarreal as the club’s hierarchy struggle to work out how to resolve a crisis that just about everyone else saw coming.
    From United’s perspective, the wisdom or otherwise of re-signing Ronaldo has been debated extensively and that debate will continue over the months ahead. The initial uplift was highlighted at length here by Laurie Whitwell and the negative impact, in terms of compounding United’s weaknesses out of possession, was analysed here by Michael Cox.
    A personal view? More on the Cox side. There have been times when Ronaldo’s goalscoring exploits have saved United from oblivion — the Champions League matches at home to Villarreal and away to Atalanta in particular — but the balance of the forward line looked better before his arrival, both last season and at the start of this. Ronaldo has certainly been one of United’s better performers this term but, as at Juventus last season, there was a price to be paid for his goal threat.
    Solskjaer, as with Andrea Pirlo at Juventus, could not find the right tactical balance. Perhaps Carrick will. Or perhaps an interim manager will. Or perhaps the next permanent manager will. Or, if it is a coach who likes his teams to press from the front, perhaps he won’t. Either way, you don’t sign Ronaldo for what he does off the ball and it is hard to blame him when, unlike several of his team-mates, he is doing what he is in the team to do — and surely the goals will flow again once the team recovers from the dire form of the past couple of months.
    But for once, let’s look at this from Ronaldo’s perspective. This isn’t how it looked in the brochure, is it? Nobody should imagine the Solskjaer factor was a significant one in his decision to return to Manchester this summer but Ronaldo didn’t sign up in the expectation of spending weeks or potentially months under temporary management as this season’s much-trumpeted Premier League title challenge gives way to what threatens to be a joyless trudge in the hope of securing fourth place.
    And now the nights are drawing in and winter is on its way. A statement of the obvious, perhaps, but one that might prove more significant as the weeks go on and the warmth and optimism of that late-summer reunion feel ever more distant.
    Was Manchester ever truly “home” for Ronaldo? Perhaps he convinced himself that was the case after growing disenchanted at Real Madrid, having broken so many records and won everything there was to be won, and then growing disillusioned at Juventus, but it really didn’t feel that way during his previous spell at United.
    In the summers of 2006, 2007 and 2008, Ronaldo pushed to leave United for Real. He dropped one bombshell in an interview during the build-up to the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow and another as the champagne was flowing in the dressing room. A few weeks later, he likened United’s insistence on keeping him to “modern slavery”. He finally got his wish in 2009, joining Real for a world-record £80 million, and he did so with United’s best wishes and profound gratitude, having developed from a wiry, erratic teenager into a formidable, relentless Ballon d’Or winner. As one Old Trafford official told me at the time of Ronaldo’s departure, “It was a rocky marriage, but the sex was great.”
    [​IMG]

    Ronaldo has scored goals since returning but the team has struggled (Photo: Alex Pantling/Getty Images)
    The attraction of playing for Real should never be underestimated. Whatever measure United’s supporters or executives might use to argue that theirs is the biggest club in the world, Real score higher. But these were the years when United were winning three consecutive Premier League titles and challenging for or winning the Champions League with what many observers regard as the most complete team in their history. Real, at the same time, were repeatedly failing to get beyond the first knockout stage of the Champions League. These were the (relatively) inglorious years between the first wave of galacticos and the second, which would be led by Ronaldo.
    There were certain things Ronaldo loved about playing for United first time around: the powerful spirit of a team pushing forward and striving for greatness; the father-like influence of Sir Alex Ferguson and his assistant Carlos Queiroz; the camaraderie among a core of young players who were on a similar wavelength; the feeling of belonging to a family; competing for and winning the biggest prizes.
    But those things are no longer present in 2021: the team spirit is pitiful, not powerful; far from being driven by an inspirational manager, they are directionless and leaderless (perhaps literally so for the immediate future); they are already out of contention for the Premier League title this season and, despite his impeccably-timed goals, they still face a battle to reach the Champions League knockout stage for the first time in three seasons. And that family feeling? Only in the sense that so many families are dysfunctional.
    United were only four years into the Glazer era when Ronaldo left. The debt burden they brought was heavy, but the impact of their ownership had yet to be felt in any profound sense. In spite of the Glazers, rather than because of them, United won three Premier League titles and one Champions League in those four years. Under Ferguson’s inspirational management, the enormous potential of Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney was realised alongside the experience of Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand et al.
    It is a different club now and, even more than the debt, it is the Glazers’ decision-making over the past eight and a half years — since Ferguson and chief executive David Gill left in 2013 — and their trust in bankers and financiers that has turned United into an ugly, hollow imitation of the club Ronaldo left.
    The appealing idea that Solskjaer had restored the true Old Trafford virtues of hard work, honesty and unity proved to be just another fallacy. When you run a club as the Glazers have done, with so little interest in or understanding of football, with an apparent aversion to bringing in anyone with the expertise or personality to challenge the existing hierarchy, it is no surprise that deficiencies at executive level end up being mirrored on the pitch under a manager who could never quite contain his amazement at being offered the initial opportunity to take charge on a temporary basis, let alone to sign one three-year contract and then another. You and us both, Ole.
    So, yes, if Ronaldo thought he was rejoining the great club he left, the past few months must have brought a succession of jolts to the system. He was slightly detached from some of his team-mates in the great team of the late 2000s, but on the pitch, they felt like a band of brothers. Between them, they had the personality, as well as the talent, to thrive together on the Old Trafford stage.
    This lot? Some of them have shown the talent, some of them have shown the personality. Very few of them have shown both — not under Solskjaer, anyway. So yes, it is quite an understatement to suggest that standards aren’t as Ronaldo might have recalled.
    The only thing that hasn’t changed since Ronaldo’s first spell in Manchester is the weather. No, it’s not like living in Alaska or Siberia — it is not dissimilar to Turin, where he spent the previous three years — but Ronaldo has cited it in numerous interviews in the past, while team-mates such as Gary Neville have said the weather was “a big problem for Cristiano” the first time around at United.
    It isn’t just about temperature. It’s about the dark afternoons and evenings. Manchester has, on average, 45 hours of sunshine in December and 50 hours in January. Forty-five hours of sunshine in an entire month! In Turin, never mind Madrid, it is more than double that.
    It might sound trivial to point this out when we are talking about a player who is most definitely capable of doing it on a cold, wet, windy midweek night in whichever northern town you care to mention, but equally, it is possible to downplay it as an issue for someone who was born in Madeira and who spent the longest stint of his career in Madrid. Even during the best of times for United, he wanted to be elsewhere.
    Ronaldo embraced a return to Manchester — cold weather, dark afternoons and all — in the belief he was going to carry United to their first Premier League title since 2013. “Let’s make it happen once again!” This is an individual who, refusing to settle for mere greatness, is driven by a desire to be recognised as the greatest of all time. He didn’t sign up for this in the expectation of scraping around for goals in a dysfunctional team.
    Is Ronaldo a symptom of that dysfunction or a victim? Some might say that, at United and previously Juventus, Ronaldo was a victim of a club that has lost its way — so complacent and so fixated on making money and on ill-conceived ventures like the dreaded “Super League” that it took its eyes off the ball completely, to the detriment of on-pitch performance. Others might suggest that in both cases, Ronaldo unwittingly epitomised that loss of vision: the A-list celebrity signed to enhance the brand who, even if he fulfils his part of the bargain by scoring goals, adversely affects the chemistry of the team.
    Either way, Ronaldo finds himself playing under a fifth different coach in two and a half years: Massimiliano Allegri, Maurizio Sarri and Pirlo at Juventus, Solskjaer and now Carrick at United. Whether that number is increased to six or seven by the end of the season is not yet clear. Nor is it clear how a coach such as Mauricio Pochettino, Brendan Rodgers or Erik ten Hag would regard the presence of a centre-forward who, like Dick Turpin, likes to stand and deliver.
    In the meantime, all Ronaldo can do is remain in the best possible physical and mental state in the belief that he will convert any chance that comes his way. Given everything we know about him, it would be crazy to expect any more or any less. The fixture list in December offers matches against Young Boys, Norwich, Brentford, Brighton, Newcastle and Burnley. He will be dreaming of a veritable Christmas feast.
    Already, though, less than three months after the announcement that broke so many social media records, the triumphant homecoming has begun to feel like a reunion that neither party really thought through. In Ronaldo’s mind, it was about returning to that stage, feeling that adulation, scoring goals, making it happen once again, rewriting history, seizing immortality.
    But sometimes, even for a figure like Ronaldo, the reality does not live up to the fantasy. And now, as reality bites, he must brace himself for a Mancunian winter that threatens to be far colder, bleaker and more miserable than those he remembers.
     
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    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    Pressing, changing mindsets and discipline: How Ranieri engineered Watford’s victory over Manchester United
    [​IMG]
    By Adam Leventhal Nov 22, 2021[​IMG] 11 [​IMG]
    Both Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Claudio Ranieri said similar things about the usefulness of the international break prior to Watford 4 Manchester United 1.
    “This week has been a good week, we’ve had a chance to work with everyone on quite a few things,” said the Norwegian, while the Italian insisted, “I’m very confident that we will see the results of the hard work the players have been putting in on the training pitches over these weeks since we’ve been away.”
    Only one team walked the walk after the pre-match talk.
    The focus for many will be that in the final throes of Solskjaer’s reign, United were the architects of their own demise, but Watford’s actions helped choreograph the dramatic downfall.
    Although nine players were away with their national teams after Watford’s 1-0 defeat at Arsenal. Ranieri’s focus was to build on the positives. “He tried tapping into the psychology,” Tom Cleverley tells The Athletic. “At Arsenal, we got into areas and didn’t put the ball into the box so he tried to put a positive energy about the place (during the international break) and it showed.”
    Coupled with working on the squad’s mindset, was the tactical plan. The majority of the detailed work had to be done in the last few days when everyone was back together but the emphasis throughout the domestic hiatus was on pressing.
    Watford wanted to put pressure on United higher up the pitch but players were offered much more guidance from the coaching staff on the how and when. “Like with any Italian coach I’ve had, it’s very structured, it’s very black and white with and without the ball and more the basics of football,” said Cleverley.
    It meant triggers were set in stone and if United players were isolated around their penalty box Watford hunted in packs. The weight of yellow traffic around Bruno Fernandes rushed him into a sliced clearance which led to the penalty incident in the opening 10 minutes and set the tone.
    Seven players were near to Bruno Fernandes early in the first half which led to Josh King being fouled for the penalty.
    [​IMG]
    Man of the match Cleverley knew Harry Maguire may dawdle on the ball – as he did on 69 minutes – so he reacted quickly and decisively and, in one motion, stole the ball as the United captain lunged, fouled and was sent off. Pivotally, there was an organised safety net of players backing Cleverley up.
    [​IMG]
    The pressing movement was joined-up from front to back.
    “The spaces in between the units (defence, midfield and attack) are now more balanced and compact rather than so open and disorganised (that had been seen earlier in the season),” said a club insider. It was disciplined training coming to life on matchday, one of the key elements Gino Pozzo wants.
    “Every day the quality at the (training ground) in terms of work is high and detailed,” said a source close to the squad who praised the work that Ranieri had done on improving the “self-esteem and belief” shown against United.
    “For me and my staff to bring the experience of working at many clubs to Watford is important,” said Ranieri.
    “What we have learned about players, can make very positive changes by following my philosophy.” Cleverley concurs: “With his CV, as a player if he says something you listen and you try and implement it.”
    Another tenet of Ranieri’s philosophy that the squad continued to work on was moving the ball forward more efficiently and ensuring players work hard to run into space to open up opportunities with overlaps. Joao Pedro and Emmanuel Dennis’s goals were evidence of a determination to not only demand the ball but get to it first. “We have the ability, it’s now the application, and the coach is providing that,” said a source familiar with how the club have been preparing for games. “We can hurt teams if we just concentrate and press.”
    Personnel and formation changes also contributed to the success. Joshua King’s switch to the left of the front three allowed Emmanuel Dennis to operate down the centre with great effect and the pair rotated well. The move leant on Ranieri’s previous experience in the Premier League.
    “King played a lot of matches on the left at Bournemouth and I wanted to put the defensive line under pressure because Dennis is very fast and it worked very well, but all of the team worked very well,” said the head coach.
    With Juraj Kucka suspended and Ozan Tufan returning from Turkey with a knock, Ranieri changed the dynamic in midfield too with Imran Louza introduced as a bona fide deeper-lying midfielder and Cleverley alongside captain Moussa Sissoko as an energetic second piston, working up and down.
    Louza was always available and put in a composed performance, helping to set the tempo and showed creativity. There were long, elevated passes but his most impressive was one threaded through the eye of the needle to Joshua King that almost saw him double the lead, and his tally, on 38 minutes. “It’s not easy to come and play your first match with a new manager against Manchester United,” said Ranieri of the Moroccan.
    “(It) takes time with a new head coach but it (clearly) looks like they are working on things,” another source close to one of the players explained. “They looked organised and tactically aware going forward. Defensively leaking too easily but they have a proper plan.”
    At the start of the second half when Watford dropped off United were able to build momentum and score their goal, which is a sign that work still needs to be done with the business end of a tricky run incoming (Leicester, Chelsea and Man City).
    “Now we have to stay calm and continue to train very well, I want consistency. The results are important (in the coming games) but I want to see the same mentality,” said Ranieri, who also had Ben Foster to thank for an impressive one-on-one save from Cristiano Ronaldo at 2-1, and also an assist for the final goal.
    Injuries to Ismaila Sarr – who redeemed himself with an impressive second after a double penalty miss – and Nicholas Nkoulou were the only concerning aspects of a day for Watford fans to cherish. They head into their next encounter feeling good about who is in charge, as United plot a different path.
     
  12. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    Who should be the next manager of Manchester United?
    Andy Mitten Nov 22, 2021[​IMG] 286 [​IMG]
    Who should Manchester United employ next? In the poll of 4,000 United fans conducted by The Athletic recently, the question was asked: If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was to go, what type of manager would you prefer: a long-term builder, even if it meant waiting longer for success, or someone experienced who could win things quickly?
    The club tried what they hoped would be the Sir Alex Ferguson clone when they appointed David Moyes as his fellow Scot’s immediate successor in 2013. That didn’t work out and he lasted 10 months of a six-year contract. They then went for the tried and tested Dutch philosopher in Louis van Gaal, a man with trophy-winning experience at huge clubs. The fans were turned off by the dull football and he lasted two seasons. Next came Jose Mourinho, a man seen as a guarantor of success and one whose appointment had an 85 per cent approval rating from fans.
    Mourinho won the Community Shield, League Cup and Europa League in his first season. But by his second, fans were moaning about the turgid style of play and the lack of a title challenge, despite United finishing second in the league. He lasted four months into his third season before being sacked – and he accepted he should have been sacked.
    And then came Solskjaer, who’d had his card marked a couple of weeks before replacing Mourinho in December 2018.
    There has been no card-marking this time. United were unprepared to replace a man they gave a new three-year contract to only four months ago.
    [​IMG]

    Mauricio Pochettino has long been linked with Manchester United but is currently in charge at Paris Saint-Germain (Photo: Bertrand Guay/AFP via Getty Images)
    So what type of manager now, then?
    There are pros and cons to the two approaches. Fans like to consider themselves patient and the ones at United generally are, as every recent manager will attest. But the current squad of players should be doing far more on the pitch than they have been recently.
    United maintain that Solskjaer has left the club in a far better place than when he started and that his successor will have strong foundations to build on. If that’s so, then bring in a manager who can finish off the top, who can put the roof on the house that Solskjaer built rather than coming in, as every post-Ferguson manager has done, saying he needs at least six new players. Thomas Tuchel’s tweaks at Chelsea after joining midway through last season have shown this can work, but United seem so far off the top right now.
    United also maintain that the club’s football structure is much stronger now than three years ago, following the restructuring of the recruitment department and strengthening of the academy, the appointments of John Murtough as football director and Darren Fletcher as technical director. The Moyesian “seven-year rebuilding” plan or the Van Gaal fire-sale of players which left United short in particular positions would not be necessary. The club hope this will minimise the disruption during the transition.
    If Fletcher and Murtough do have sufficient power on the football side, then this could be true but are they making the ultimate, important decisions?
    United have looked short of identity this season but the club like to think there is one, and so do the fans: fast, attacking football, using a mixture of homegrown players supplemented by bought-in stars. Their greatest teams have been built using this combination — Roy Keane and Paul Ince were bought in to play alongside Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.
    The youth system continues to produce — Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford prove it — but it’s improbable that any top club will bring through a crop of several first-teamers around the same time. Solskjaer has given debuts to 16 academy graduates, more than Mourinho, Van Gaal and Moyes combined, but how many of those will become regulars? One? Two?
    Ferguson tried the youth route and his own short-lived Fergie’s Fledglings in 1989, then reverted to big-money signings after three years in charge. They, in turn, took more time to settle. What could be more unsettled than United right now?
    That Newcastle United game in September with Cristiano Ronaldo returning seems so long ago right now. Poor results meant support for Solskjaer among the match-going core waned, though he continued to have his name sung at matches. The sentence, “I love Ole, but…” became the norm. They didn’t think he was the right man anymore. After 12 league games, United have a negative goal difference and have conceded more goals than third-bottom Burnley.
    Several agents had got in touch with the club following the downturn in results to put their clients forward as candidates for the job. All received similar responses: “Thanks. We’re sticking with Ole for now, but results must change.” At Watford on Saturday, recent results didn’t change. United have lost seven of their last 13 games — relegation form for a club whose business model is built on Champions League football.
    The mood on United’s flight from London back to Manchester on Saturday night was as bad as you might imagine. The players were back in training on Sunday morning and now fly to Villarreal today (Monday) for a crucial Champions League match on Tuesday, then back to Manchester, then down to London again next weekend for a daunting Sunday match at Chelsea. These are huge games and United won’t have their best two central defenders as Raphael Varane is still injured and Harry Maguire’s red card at Watford means he won’t play at Stamford Bridge.
    Michael Carrick will lead the coaching as a caretaker manager until an interim replacement is appointed to the end of the season. After that will come a permanent successor.
    It’s an odd way of doing things, but Carrick needs to do exactly what Solskjaer did in 2018 and pick the mood up off the floor. Watching United for Solskjaer’s first four months was superb, then the dips started.
    Unless United are absolutely certain who they’re going to appoint at the end of the season, as they were with Mourinho in 2016, it’s a challenge to try to hire two managers in a few months and could be reduced to the level of a soap opera with a new name touted every few days – though would United even mind that, as long as they stay at the forefront of the news?
    [​IMG]

    Ralf Rangnick could be an option for the interim job (Photo: Sven Hoppe/picture alliance via Getty Images)
    Ronaldo, whose return after 12 years with Real Madrid and Juventus was dropped on unsuspecting staff in August, will also mean attention is never far away.
    He tried to rally the squad last week before the Watford trip, having strong words with his failing team-mates. Not emotional words, but measured ones about focus and unity and taking responsibility themselves rather than pointing the blame. His Portuguese compatriot Bruno Fernandes tried to reason with fans at Vicarage Road and suggest the responsibility was on the players rather than just the manager. It’s easier to sack one man rather than a whole team of underperformers, though.
    Dealing with Ronaldo and other huge-name players will be a challenge for whoever comes in. Carrick knows him having played with him, as did Fletcher, who was instructing Ronaldo from the bench on Saturday. Mike Phelan, the man who suggested that United buy N’Golo Kante and Callum Hudson-Odoi when Frank Lampard seemed unsure of them after Chelsea lost 4-0 to Solskjaer’s United in his first game as the Londoners’ manager in August 2019, will advise and support.
    Kieran McKenna is said to be a bright and innovative coach, the man who leads the training sessions, but he doesn’t yet carry the same weight of authority with the players. The eventual interim manager must be a results person, since United need to be in next season’s Champions League. But who would take that job, knowing that they’re only going to be in charge for six months or so, looking after a team which isn’t their own?
    United want someone to restore the forward momentum the squad had until two months ago and may wish they’d appointed now new Tottenham Hotspur head coach Antonio Conte, though there were reservations in the club about the recently-available Italian.
    So, who could be that interim man?
    It might be perfect for Ralf Rangnick, the 63-year-old German who has influenced many younger coaches, was so successful at RB Leipzig and helped form the concept of gegenpressing. Would Ronaldo even feature in such a United team? Would Rangnick leave a few months into a three-year contract on the sports development side at Lokomotiv Moscow? He would surely have to be offered a role at United beyond this season.
    Lucien Favre is another out-of-work veteran who made his name in Germany and last coached at Borussia Dortmund, who sacked him last December.
    Laurent Blanc, 56, is hugely experienced and now coaching in Qatar after four years away from management following his three years at PSG and two years with the French national team. Blanc spent two years playing for United two decades ago, so he knows the club but would probably cost a fair bit to get out of his current role and sources say he’d want more than an interim position to come.
    Ernesto Valverde did a superb job in Spain, especially with Athletic Bilbao. He also won three titles with Greece’s Olympiakos and two with Barcelona before being sacked last year.
    Rudi Garcia, 57, coached the Lyon team who knocked out Manchester City of the Champions League the season before last, and helped develop Memphis Depay and the French club’s incredible young midfield. Available having left Lyon at the end of last season, his teams play attacking football. Lille won their first-ever double under him and he brought through Eden Hazard, then he took Roma to successive runners-up finishes in Serie A. Garcia is a fighter with a good track record of doing well at teams who aren’t — Lyon were 14th when he took charge, and he took them to a French Cup final and a Champions League semi-final, knocking out Juventus and City along the way.
    The Athletic also understands former United captain Steve Bruce, recently let go by Newcastle, would be very keen on the role, and believes he could help stabilise the dressing room.
    The names of Erik ten Hag, Mauricio Pochettino, Zinedine Zidane and Brendan Rodgers keep coming up for the more permanent position. They’re the men of the moment, just as Sven-Goran Eriksson was in 2002 when he’d agreed to replace Ferguson. Ten Hag is not keen to leave mid-season and would have a small release clause in the summer; Pochettino is open to a return to the Premier League; Zidane is an incredibly unlikely option; and Rodgers would perhaps be prohibitively expensive.
    Who else? Luis Enrique did a superb job at Barcelona and is doing well managing Spain’s national team, where he replaced Julen Lopetegui, whose Sevilla side beat Solskjaer’s United 2-1 in a pandemic-enforced one-off 2019-20 Europa League semi-final.
    United know that getting top managers to leave jobs at mid-season is very difficult, but football changes fast. Ajax’s Ten Hag, perhaps the most coveted of those mentioned, was close to losing his job in March 2019, accused of being a poor communicator by fans and the media. Then he took his young side to the Bernabeu and battered Europe’s pre-eminent team, Real Madrid, 4-1 to win a Champions League last-16 tie. He’s not looked back.
    [​IMG]

    Julen Lopetegui is under contract at Sevilla (Photo: Jose Manuel Alvarez/Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
    Just writing all this seems so half-hearted, so ill-prepared and scattergun because United have not properly prepared for this.
    It’s a mess overseen by people who inspire so little confidence in the fans. They’ve failed to appoint a single manager in the post-Ferguson era who was ahead of the curve in the way Pep Guardiola was at Barcelona or Jurgen Klopp and Thomas Tuchel were at Dortmund. All three found their way to the Premier League, where they have thrived. It’s a long time since United had a coveted boss of their own.
    In The Athletic vote mentioned at the top of this piece, a 53 per cent majority picked “a long-term builder, even if it meant waiting longer for success”, while 47 per cent went for “someone experienced who could win things quickly”.
    Solskjaer hoped to be the former and the fans were patient and supportive, but in the season that trophies were expected to arrive, United have imploded.
    Most United supporters feel sadness that he’s lost his job, but also realism that it had to happen. Whichever type of successor the club they opt for, many will disagree with the choice. Unless of course, they start to win things again at last.
     
  13. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    Do Manchester United even need a manager?
    [​IMG]
    By John Muller Nov 23, 2021[​IMG] 166 [​IMG]
    Say what you want about the sorry state of Manchester United, but it’s not like they haven’t tried to find the right manager.
    Let’s take a quick warm-up jog down memory lane.
    In David Moyes, United hired Sir Alex Ferguson’s hand-picked heir, a proven Premier League veteran who had taken Everton to unexpected heights and is doing it again at West Ham. Louis van Gaal arrived in Manchester as a key figure in the development of modern positional play. Jose Mourinho was still one of the most coveted coaches in the world. And then there’s sweet, uncomplicated Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, who only wanted to take care of his club and make some friends along the way but wound up leading United to a second-place finish, their best since the great man himself.
    [​IMG]
    The only thing these four coaches have in common is catastrophic failure. Measured against the lofty expectations of supporters, at least, each tenure ended in disaster. The Leader, the Tactician, the Special One, the Norwegian One: we’ve seen all kinds of characters in this comedy of errors and no one seems suited to restore Manchester United to their former glory. Surely the next guy will be different, right?
    No, probably not. There’s a whole bunch of academic research on how much managers matter to a football team’s success, and for the most part, the findings are a great big shrug. Some studies examined the well-known “new manager bounce” and found it was just the normal way of things for a club to rebound after an unusually bad run, whether or not they sacrificed their manager to the angry football gods. Others tried to measure how many points coaches added after controlling for things such as wages, transfer fees, and player availability. Though a select few like Ferguson and Arsene Wenger seemed to significantly improve their squads, a lot of famous managers performed near enough to expectations that it was hard to say who’s really good.
    But if managers don’t win football matches, who do?
    Oh, right, the players.
    Below is a comparison of teams’ points per game to the Transfermarkt value of the players on the pitch, weighted by minutes played and adjusted to 2021-22 levels. The idea is that Transfermarkt’s crowdsourced numbers can serve as a decent stand-in for the overall quality of a squad. Since the site updates during the season in response to performances, we’ll use each player’s value from the end of the previous season (shown by the red-circled numbers) where available, to better capture the talent a manager started with, not how he left it.
    [​IMG]
    Sure enough, there’s a strong historical relationship between squad value and success in the Premier League that doesn’t seem to depend on who’s in the technical area. Every year since Ferguson retired, under four very different head coaches, United have had a good-but-not-great squad, and every year they’ve had good-but-not-great results. The problem isn’t that the wrong managers are holding them back from reaching the top — it’s that Manchester City and Liverpool simply have better players.
    This is where you interrupt to point out that those clubs also happen to have exceptional managers, and of course you’re correct. One reason that City and Liverpool have good squads is that Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp’s coaching staffs have made their players better through training and tactics. Another reason is that those clubs signed talented players who fit together in the first place. Guardiola himself is always going around trying to convince people he’s not a warlock. “Success depends on the quality of the players,” he said the other week. “Our influence in the game is much less than what people believe.”
    Just think for a second about how we collectively decide who is and isn’t a good manager. It’s rare to have all that much insight into what’s happening on the training ground or during a dressing-room speech, let alone the ability to compare it to what’s going on at other training grounds and other dressing rooms. Managerial reputations are made on a dash of camera-ready charisma, a sprinkle of tacticky sound bites, and a big steaming helping of just win, baby. When the team plays well, it’s because the coach is a genius. When they lose, he or she is an idiot and we knew it all along.
    Mark Carey wrote yesterday about Manchester United’s ClubElo rating under Solskjaer, a rating system borrowed from chess that weights match outcomes by the strength of the opponent. This seems like a smart way to get an empirical read on a manager’s CV. We do it here at The Athletic all the time. But we could just as easily tell the same kind of story by pegging the rise and fall of a team’s fortunes to changes in the squad. Is one more valid than the other? Honestly, who knows? As every sports fan’s favourite xkcd comic says, “A weighted random number generator just produced a new batch of numbers. Let’s use them to build narratives!”
    [​IMG]
    The difficulty of pinning down football managers’ actual value makes it all the more baffling that clubs routinely spend millions to get their man and then millions more to fire him and his whole staff a year or so later, when it turns out he was the wrong man all along. Oops! On one hand, the exigencies of the entertainment business demand it. Fans don’t just want football, we want stories, and the manager is the main character in almost any club’s daytime soap. On the other hand, all that cash being lit on fire with each new sacking might have gone to a new defensive midfielder who could have saved the coach from the chopping block.
    So here’s a modest proposal: what if Manchester United just didn’t appoint a manager? Let the club’s many talented assistants do the real day-to-day work of coaching that they already do, without all the distracting drama of a great man theory of management. Smart observers have been saying for a while the sport is moving in that direction anyway. Call off the coaching search. Put the club’s time and money toward building a squad whose best players make sense as a team. Maybe start with the defence.
    If it’s a figurehead that’s needed to go on TV and talk about passion or whatever, there are several players who would probably volunteer. If someone has to be the last word on line-up decisions, put it to the captains. If it’s just not possible to play football without a manager, hire any available interim type and keep him around until he wears out his welcome. It worked pretty well for a while last time around — United hit their highest ClubElo rating since Ferguson under Solskjaer, who wasn’t even supposed to be there — and it’s a lot cheaper than tempting over Mauricio Pochettino or Ralf Rangnick.
    As it turns out, that last idea has some support from the managerial impact research. The 2013 study where Ferguson and Wenger stood out included 60 Premier League managers active between 2004 to 2009. Only 15 beat the model’s expectations. One was Mourinho. Another was Moyes. Just below those two, lumped together under a generic heading, were all the games overseen by interim coaches. According to the table of results, after going toe-to-toe against 10,000 simulations, one of the best managers in England was No Manager.
     
  14. momoWASboss

    momoWASboss If you take me seriously then you’re an idiot Member

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  15. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    It's wonderful Momo. Read and rejoice at the demise
     
  16. darkstarexodus

    darkstarexodus Very Well-Known Member

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    ....in a negative 4-G turn....
    I loved every word.
     
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  17. Hyena

    Hyena Well-Known Member

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    I don't know how the Athletic chooses their writers, but they must be insufferable at the dinner table, and in bed.
     
  18. tombrown

    tombrown Part of the Furniture Member

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    I guess they manage better than two pumps & a squirt
     
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  19. Hass

    Hass Very Well-Known Member

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    The chosen interim[​IMG]
     
  20. FreshRed

    FreshRed Well-Known Member

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    Confirmed by the BBC. An unfortunately excellent choice by United - probably the best piece of decision making since Fergie left. I expect he will be their next Director of Football and could set them on effective long-term development path.

    And, in the near-term, our home fixture against United just got much more difficult. Rangnick will have some clear ideas on home to beat a Klopp team.
     
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