Moyes.

Moyes. Was already a fascinatingly gruelling ‘affair’ for all of us, crying out for a resolution…

At the centre the frankly dour scot being worn down by the arrogance of players and agents and the blistering levels of flak; at the heavily shepherded perimeter us lot, either exasperated or cruelly elated, depending on our degree of manc or mickeyness.

Wherever you go, people have been either stirring or cursing or holding forth: maybe, on reflection, that’s wonderful? Except that (excruciatingly) The Undeserving – the non-footie peeps, those who really might munch those prawn sarnies should they ever actually attend a match – have also been fog-horning their opinion. Because United are that MASSIVE that everyone feels entitled. Meaning the ether (and us lot, right?) are subsumed under a shit-storm of dumb ‘reactions’. To which I will now… add.

Whatever the ownership rights may be to discussions over his fate, Moyes will surely be distraught. The word damaged may be an unwise one to use but that’s surely where we are?

At the key football level some have recently noted signs that the dressing-room may be lost but we can’t be certain of the whens and wheres of that – not at least until the book(s) come out. But the central point – Exhibit A against Moyes – has been the obvious lack of a sense of team. We can unpick or fiddle with the detail – the personnel, if you will – but it is the absence of purpose from his side that has done for Moyes.

Sure he’s been unlucky; following Fergie, let down badly by certain players, up against a resurgent Chelsea and (god forbid) Liverpool. These have been and might have been significant difficulties for almost any incomer. Moyes though has utterly failed to find the necessary blend.

Just one example; playing Nani/Mata/Rooney/Kagawa at Everton was simply ludicrous unless his team – and those individuals – were utterly on fire with that rare, joyous confidence you only see or feel in the most irresistible of charges. You’ve got no business picking all four of those guys in a struggling team when the chances that it will ‘come off’ are simply nil. Admittedly not Moyes’ fault that Kagawa and Nani in particular are relatively spineless characters but absolutely the gaffer’s job to judge how many spirited or durable or loyal or passionate or genuine blokes he needs out there on the park, representing Manchester United. That kind of misjudgement smacks worryingly of someone who doesn’t understand or who can’t judge players as personalities as well as footballers.

Moyes, for weeks, has not looked like he knew what he’d got or who he could count on. This implies criticism of the players and I am happy to indulge that evil too. It’s genuinely hard to think of anyone who has raised their game or even their level of defiance during this humiliating period. Was this because from early on there was either unrest or detachment from the new ethos? And did that detachment or rebellion come because players lacked faith in the manager – on the grounds that he lacked the feel for it, the instinct, never mind the strategic awareness for this awesomely big Manchester United thing? Contrast that with his predecessor.

The delicious and perverse truth is that players play more or less in the manager’s image. They are puppets as well as prima donnas/divers/heroes.

The relationship is of course as complex as any other on an individual level but a particular magic can occur when the boss really does capture his team. Like say… Ferguson. Sir Alex may well have made as big and as real a contribution to United’s Premier League title in any given year as the fellah who knocked in twenty goals, or stopped twenty. He was as directly responsible for stuff despite the fact that he was sat on his squeaky bum eighty yards away. He had the power and the will and the ability to manage.

Moyes has some of that, to be fair. But the rather sad truth has been that he could not carry this team.

I’m reminded of the mild shock and bewilderment accompanying week after week of Rooney playing teams on his own, earlier in the season. The gulf in everything between him and the rest of the United side was both remarkable and kinda weird. He looked like the only proud professional on the staff. The rest were giving journeymen a bad name. Defensive frailties that had somehow been survivable under the Fergie bluster became open capitulations. It felt like only one bloke was trying.

That particular malaise – so painful to watch and subversive of your own support – cannot happen where the manager is a) topside of players and b) fundamentally confident. It happened. United starting getting beat – even soundly thrashed – at home! Worse, in a way, was the fact that rather than occasional blips we were seeing consistently poor performances and an obvious failure to rally. Nobody (except Rooney, in that one period) could get past the general, listless mediocrity. With fans understandably screaming for some pride in the shirt, players shirked the responsibility that comes with any challenge. They got nervier whilst playing safer. It was bloody awful.

And Moyes never got to grips with it. It can’t have helped that ‘his feller’ – Fellaini – was firstly injured then plain ordinary. Or that the one United really needed –Baines – stayed at Goodison. (My strong hunch btw was that Baines would have been a revelation at Old Trafford. Raiding or defending. Ever present, spirited, great with a dead ball. At the critical time they should have paid whatever it would have taken.) What is extraordinary is the thought that looking at how United’s defence has been for most of the season (mostly at home?!?) should they have bought Baines… they would have only have needed three more.

Perhaps somebody else can rebuild Jones/Evans/Smalling and the rest. I hope so. Moyes didn’t so much tell them to get lost as lose them. In the void, the flux that was his flimsy empire.
Poor man. Did he ever get to feel that he had entered something special? That he was leading it on and up? Or was he always too busy, too stressed, too overawed – too under-supported even?

The spectre of Ferguson and Charlton and maybe Giggs/Butt/Neville(s) has hung around all this. Inevitably. Despite the unspoken but shared knowledge that there can and probably should never be another Ferguson – there are other, better, more civilised ways of gathering folks to your cause – the Moyes era feels like a bungled attempt to stick with methods only viable under that uniquely motivational senior man. ‘ Tough’, football has said. ‘The game and the world have changed’.

Could it be that United have, in choosing Fergie 2, been simply too dumb, too obvious, too reactionary for the crazy carousel that is elite sport 2014? Perhaps.

My A Level English – Grade A, thank you ver ver much – reminds me, you, us lot that
you can’t repeat the past.
Suggesting maybe the American owners should have read more attentively the fable that is Gatsby?

Moyes, ultimately, or maybe from the first moment, had neither the raw power of the original nor the true top-level genius to compensate or even to compete. He floundered. What if we say that he was unlucky and poorly served? There’s some truth in that. So… he was unlucky, poorly served… and unable to manage Manchester United.

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Toe-to-toe?

So United are still in the competition and they’re happy with that. After being given a lesson during the first half in particular, they charged forward just enough to do just enough. They can go ‘toe-to-toe’ again at the Allianz.

My memory being every bit as broken up, conflicted and generally feeble as yours, here’s what struck me about the game – bullet-pointed.

  • Let’s not forget, people, that the first half was a nil-nil massacre, with Bayern playing at a level United cannot yet dream of.
  • Welbeck again did that thing where he looked like a world-beater for five minutes then, when the moment came, he really let his eyes glaze over, needed the moment to be over, longed for the responsibility to be gone, rather than for him to have to grasp it. And he dinked unconvincingly – unsuccessfully – because he is a good player but not a real striker.
  • Rooney was a disappointment.
  • Fellaini was almost fascinating dire – slow (and with no likelihood of a gear-change) clumsy and so generally befuddled he appeared to have forgotten how to head it. Which is almost funny. But funny with a very big price-tag.
  • The gulf in terms of comfort on the ball – and the treasuring of that fairly significant accessory – was staggering. United looked very English (i.e. chronically wasteful), Bayern majestically ‘continental’.
  • We can talk of United playing (finally) with some spirit but for aeons that’s been – and should always be? – non-negotiable. They were honest (give or take) but frankly ordinary, secured a home draw and conceded a goal and yet this is generally viewed as a step forward.  Talk of progress very quietly please.
  • Having wondered aloud about the propensity of a certain player in particular to throw himself (ahem… I mean draw contact) perhaps we should note in passing that the three most obvious simulations/exaggerations/examples of raw cheating (delete where your allegiances allow) were committed by Messrs Vidic (twice) and Rooney. Which disappointed me, I have to say.
  • Robben, meanwhile, played rather beautifully. With a kind of economy and skill and movement and confidence that maybe we shouldn’t even think of comparing with say… Valencia(?)
  • Great goal Vidic.
  • Wonderful goal Schweinsteiger. (But where was Fellaini?)
  • Valencia had to go for that second offence – simple undeniable jumping in, even if there appeared to be little malice.
  • Scweinsteiger was robbed – and we are robbed of watching him – after Rooney threw himself rather cheaply.
  • No wonder them there Germans are furious. They will feel they gave United whatever German is for ‘a lesson’ and had no luck in the ref department.
  • What they do have, of course, is an away goal. And the likelihood of a comfortable home win to take them rightfully through.
  • But United – this United – could yet do err… a Wimbledon… couldn’t they?

 

 

 

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Feel the noise.

The volume and the swelling, not to say rheumy quality of the furore around Manchester United is extraordinary. It’s fandom at its beery best; impassioned, breathlessly drunk on hope or revenge or rebellion; borne more or less ably by scribes and scallies like me.

You have to love all this transparently tribal nonsense. Despite being carried more now through the twittersphere than the turnstile, there’s something reassuringly organic about it. Human to shout cobblers and jeer; human to make godawful judgements around and maybe capital out of (sporting) misfortune. And just brilliant – brill-e-yunt – if you know where to draw the line; many don’t. I’m all in favour of the harmless dollop of spite and the fatuous four-hour argument, the deluge of opinion and the smidge, the flash of insight. We are blessed, in moments such as these, with a curious, maybe precious kind of purity as well as a coursing (or cursing) pomp. It’s the wit of the people; let’s cradle that blessing with our pints.

So – necessary caveats acknowledged – banter really is the lifeblood of sport; within reason, it’s great that folks can get stirred so monumentally by something so daft. And perhaps the level of truth in the event, the fact or otherwise of the Red Devil’s demise, becomes irrelevant. I might argue that the Glazer Thing is a far bigger deal than dropping five places down the league for a season but people don’t feel that, eh, generally? That’s dull by comparison – like facts.

What gives then, at United? Something pretty extraordinary maybe. Or maybe not? Is the level of alleged difficulty the club finds itself in truly remarkable, or no? Is it actually anything but a temporary slide – a media storm? – a blip? And what part exactly does the change of gaffer play in this? Amongst the Liverpudlian glee, the Mancunian angst, fury, loyalty and resignation, there’s certainly something going on. But significant story… or nowt? How much of this can we know to be real and how much is flimsy punditry… and feeding frenzy?

Such is the nature and profile of the United Project that levels of fascination, cruel rejoicing and bipolar vitriol are being recorded which could barely translate to other, theoretically similar scenarios. United have superceded Liverpool as the Footie Monolith, the god-club that overshadows the top division. They are that which must be rebelled against and now rebellion seems possible. Suddenly there is scope for bare-bellied fans and a brutally inclined texto-sphere to surge into something. Something which used to be the endless bulk of MUFC.

It hasn’t always been this way, remember. Once Liverpool were that black-hole of a beast, equally but differently awe-inspiring, perhaps more filled with magisterial cruisers than the flickers and sprinters from Old Trafford. Arsenal, Chelsea and now Manchester City aspire to but have never yet really grasped swallowing dominion in the way that United did – in the Ferguson era. But in any case, should Wenger or even Mourinho have inhaled or overshadowed all-comers to comparable extent, I suspect that the quality of response to their subsequent fall may have been different. Because a) this has been United b) this has been Ferguson’s team.

Sir Alex is remarkable in that (whilst at the helm) he really was a proper football man – fatherly but driven, instinctive, bellicose, inspirational – and yet much of football disliked or detested him. Outsiders refused, largely, to respect his genius, preferring instead to rub up against his bristling, one-eyed worldview. No wonder; Ferguson often seethed with contempt for opponents as well as journalists, making him a difficult man to warm to. Even the suspicion that both alcohol and the fieriest of passions fuelled his success failed to endear him to the non-MU universe (of hard-drinking, hot-headed footieblokes.) That blotchy fizzog, ablaze with paranoid focus, relentlessly chewing… yaaargh!

Even some United fans, aware of only occasional moments when the adversarial lapsed into something approaching gentlemanliness, found him difficult to love. Yet they worshiped – or fell in – because he presided, eventually, over a staggering period of consistent success, a phenomenon which arguably takes the man safely beyond judgement. (Or not?) Whichever, Sir Alex remains central still to the perception of most – he IS United. I say this more to describe the emotion around the current lack of form (and success) than to subsume any Moyes narrative. Moyes is clearly blameless in the fact of not being Ferguson and he may not wish to propel his side with the same bitter brilliance. But he will have to gee them up somehow – and sharpish.

The new man in knows he has problems. Perhaps they are larger than we on the outside are hearing or suspecting. Perhaps Rooney – currently so far ahead of the rest it’s almost unbelievable at such a gargantuan club – is close to walking? Perhaps Chelsea is looking a safer bet as well as a career-developing and reinvigorating lifestyle choice? I imagine words have been exchanged on the subject of prompt mega-signings and the scale of club ambition; if little changes in terms of key personnel (i.e. players) this month it really might mean mid-table drift for mighty Manchester United and Rooney may not be the only one who will not tolerate that.

Mid-table? Or at any rate out of the Champions League slots. Because Moyes has been simply unable to drive the thing. Whether he’s been bawling or building quietly, it hasn’t worked – not yet. Not only have the team looked tentative – and how the enemy has enjoyed seeing that! – they have looked unable or unwilling to compete with passion. And that’s a worry. It’s a non-negotiable that players play with heart – particularly when the prettier patterns desert them. Consequently, Moyes must very swiftly identify those who aren’t either good enough footballers or big enough humans to wear the shirt – the Manchester United shirt. And he must get shot of some of them, whilst bringing in two or three top, top players.

Let’s play the You Are The Manager game. Then ideally Nani – who’s recently signed a 5 year deal – and Kagawa would be first in the exit queue, for me, this transfer window. I appreciate most of the talk has surrounded the lack of midfield creativity but Kagawa has singularly failed to make an impact and Nani is such a flatterer/deceiver so often that for me, he would go. As could lots of them, in fact.

I don’t expect or recommend wholesale changes but you could make an argument for selling or phasing out each of Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Young, Giggs. Four of those mentioned are clearly beyond their peak and t’other has brought shame on the club more than once too often. Teams are all about balance and blend an in United’s case it may that they need only an elite level twinkler and possibly a pugnacious water-carrier in midfield… and Leighton Baines to compete again. (If Rooney stays… and if Evans and Jones man up in central defence – which I expect them to do.) About sixty million should cover it.

Moyes is not yet a failure and plainly it’s dumb to effectively call him out for not being Ferguson. He may straighten this out in time – and I do expect him to get time, surprisingly, perhaps. The concern is that in his dourness he may not have what it takes to lift individuals and a club of this magnitude. This is indeed a big month for Manchester United. Feel the noise.

Haggling unashamedly…

Transfer deadline day. It’s a squirmathon if you let it be. A kind of shockingly energetic fiscal barf into the sinew-stretching meadow ‘pon which us Michelin-starred culturosporty cud-chewers mindfully graze. Something pathetically, major-league big but also empty, in fact. Feeling to me more depressingly/divertingly anti-sport than ever. Is it simply the money, the obscene nature of half a billion blown on mere footie players? Must be partly. Is it the subliminal fraudulence (too?) A day, after all, of absolutely no reckoning but lotsa cheap haggling, where the whiff of the mad-bovine prevails over the desperate, illusory need to compete… for what? Cash-cows, or trophies? It’s a blur.

And it’s clearly right up there in the diabolical crassness stakes. Like shopping in Oxford Street; like something blocking or jarring or deeply reflective of our failure to evolve forwards.  And our need for the herd and the hero or the god, or… just another Stella. (I mean an Ar-tois.) Hour upon speculative hour of absurd, lonely black-wholeness, offending every sense but that one that twitches over yearnings, over transformational moments of triumph. Like when you actually sign somebody magbloodynificent – which nobody, to my mind, did, or looked like doing – unless we count in Real Madrid, which we won’t, as I’m concerning myself with our lot. The Prem.

So I studiously avoided most of the whole garish bundle, choosing to cast a superior and occasional glance at my twitterfeed and (okay then, I admit it) fire up 5Live for an occasional burst of the goss.  (They, like we did, had United and Arsenal neck and neck in the #racetolosethemostface, a staggering lack of planning having led to clumsy dabs or inelegant clawing at too few, too elusive a ‘target’.)

Arsenal’s failings in the transfer market have a Wagnerian scope, do they not, booming as they do around a certain, epic, poignantly-inevitable calamity or twelve? Yet – is it just pervy ole me? – there’s something remarkable and quasi-sexy in the sheer spermlessness of AFC policy over the years. Buy nobody or buy effectively the same player, endlessly. Fire blanks into the Real War going on around. Avoid what you really obviously need – striker/keeper/stopper. It’s been a sometimes expressive, sometimes jaw-droppingly inept performance , held together solely by the safety pin that is Wenger’s brilliance.

So if you’re NOT an Arsenal fan, there may be something faintly attractive about Arsene; the quiet French hawk, the one-eyed Prof. Denied the bare essentials (well, the dosh) but in any case psychotically unable to see past the need to arm himself with shortish, squattish midfield maestros who can Frenchly-beautifully out-doodle the natives. Suddenly, however, with the economic Goonscape transformed (that word, see!) what do we get but… a Turk-German uber-maestro to add to the collection. The boy Ozil being admittedly, clearly a talent of the elite variety but surely, even allowing for the increasing doubts re the longevity of the unfortunate Wilshere, Arsene needed a striker/defensive hulk or two more urgently than another impish genius?  Having said that, I do look forward to seeing the 42 million pound signing collect and pass and move and weave his characteristically sweet angles.

Arsenal did do other business, including bringing in another keeper, to be fair. But the suspicion remains that they ballsed the whole thing up by failing to garner a Huth-like monster or three for that perennially mincing defence of theirs, plus a Proper Striker. They may have been after Ozil for aeons but to belatedly pay over the top for a player they may not need (mainly) because the locals have been understandably restive/the situation demands a Big Name Signing is both dumb business and disproportionate footie-wise.

The fact that their much-loved neighbours Tottingham have been going through their little black book of dreams and making all manner of successful calls of course added to the pressure on the Emirates regime. Perhaps, incidentally, the Prem at large should be looking very closely at who did and how did Spurs do all this business? Tottenham are a fine club but they are not Manchester United (for example.) So how come they did all this stuff? Exercised this clout? Over at the Emirates, the feeling remains that yet again Arsenal FC will be carried by their manager’s ability to bully or blend together a competitive side from a squad overloaded with hare-like schoolboys and members of the Sub-Iniesta Society.

Arguably only one club has drawn more guffaws than the Gooners this last week – Manchester United. For a club with such resources and advantages as MU to have failed so pitifully to do any decent business in the transfer window is extraordinary. Sure certain clubs/players/agents are going to piss you around because you’re Manchester United; we know that. Everton are going to want to play hardball over both Fellaini and Baines, there’s gonna be an MU Premium added into most deals. But players are going to want to come. Given the status of the football club it’s plainly ludicrous that a shopping list complete with likelihoods and alternatives could not have been acted upon successfully, early enough. Even with Moyes as a latecomer; the procedure and the order of things – the momentum – should have been established.

None of us – not even journo’s allegedly ‘in the know’ – can be sure how much blame to attach to Moyes and how much to Woodward and others in the backroom staff for the widely acclaimed fiasco. Woodward is inevitably likely to be far more responsible for getting deals done than the day-to-day manager of the playing staff but perhaps there is also the feeling that Moyes as yet lacks the personality or stature to get on the blower and simply get things sorted. But that is more of a hunch than a statement of fact – of which we possess relatively few, other than the damning list of (allegedly) failed buy-ins.

Arguably more could have been done in the last ‘window’ to set the club further forward but certainly obvious and ‘essential’ moves – for me, this means Baines first and foremost, given the 18 months of drift from Evra – should have been driven through. The Spanish difficulties might have been overcome with a combination of better PR and sharper, earlier negotiation but in any case multiple alternatives should surely have been approached simultaneously? To be flailing about late on and then apparently only succeed with Fellaini due to him relinquishing a substantial wedge because he so wanted to join MU simply outgooners the Arsenal on the incompetence-in-the-market front. Fellaini, by the way, I do rate and expect his presence in both boxes to be a significant bonus for United. Whether the need to recharge creativity in midfield will be covered by his arrival is another matter. Fabregas might have been good.

I’ve got bogged down I see with the madness of the window and with United and Arsenal. Tottenham have clearly been the epicentre of most world news in the last period and yet (maybe this is a simple case of not seeing the wood f’ut trees?) I don’t yet see/feel how their team is going to act – not yet. Clearly they have Big New Signings and maybe in this age of the lurid and the loud that may be enough.

If I have obsessed on the appalling umbilical link between the Real Deal in footie and in the capital universe, I apologise – that’s politics, folks. I am hopeful of two things; that Gareth Bale will be a success in the purest(?) footballing terms and that maybe any power-shifts we may see post the window (and related to the influx of new managers here and there) might both lift and spread standards/opportunities/joy, even.