United.

Unscientific poll. How many of us wondered about watching United on telly but were then partly entrapped by Football Focus… and partly repelled by how poor and under-charged Mourinho’s Listless Posse were, in the first half hour, at Bournemouth?

In scooting past, let me say I really did enjoy FF: it felt engaging and bright and kinda warm; unlike United. Nice features and Alex Scott and Dion Dublin – okaaay, despite not being strikingly inventive or original, maybe – were again genuinely good company. Unlike, we may be tempted to add, United… or Mourinho.

Okay, as I write MU have replied to Bournemouth’s deserved but nonetheless shockingly poorly-defended strike, making it 1-1at half-time. So they’re ‘in it’. In fact they could be metaphorically buried, already, and possibly their manager too, had the entirely possible scoreline of Bournemouth 3 Manchester United 0 been realised.

The fascinatingly authentic, raw and yet intuitively smack-on pairing of Redknapp Snr and Scholesy are currently unpicking United’s performance – presumably before an irate Gary Neville bursts into the studio, wielding a meat-cleaver.

Second Half. A whiff of urgency, following (surely?) another tirade from Jose the Furious. Luke Shaw bursts forward, collecting a decent return from Martial – should score but for a slightly heavy touch. But, as both Fred (who had pitifully thrown himself, earlier, feeling hands on his back) and Mata are unceremoniously hoiked around 55 minutes, the game has utterly changed.

Logic twists around this. It’s plainly true that United are suddenly a force – meaning Mourinho’s roasting has worked. Yet it’s also self-evident that there should have been no need. Young’s fabulous, bar-rattling free-kick and Herrera’s curler, plus the general, stirring re-boot, simply should not have been necessary. Not at Manchester United. Not at any team which manifestly needs to show some affirming, nay validating grit.

So why the bore and then the bollocking?

We find ourselves – inevitably(?) – with Mourinho. What’s the quality of his work, his influence, these days? Should he stay or go?

I think he should go. His influence, from Press Room to touchline, is somewhere between sour and outright malignant. His squad is certainly dispiritingly ordinary – go look, I just did – but the bloke has had years and extravagant funding towards improving it. The Coach sets the culture and mixes the chemicals: both are currently baleful.

88 minutes done. Might I be saying something else, had either Rashford or Lingard converted reasonably straight-forward chances? Absolutely not. Rashford’s disappearing presence speaks volumes around Mourinho’s exhausted capacity to inspire… but hang on.

As I write this the lanky, recently gawky-looking number 9 – previously a thrillingly energetic and directly protagonistic ‘handful’, remember – bundles a winner. Six yards out, having chested down rather unconvincingly, Rashford converts… and charges to the corner-flag to bury himself in the love (and relief) of the fans. There is the love of ‘one of our own’ in the air.

So extraordinary. United were useless then ‘in it’ then on top: somewhat crudely or gracelessly on top. Then they won.

That this wasn’t the kind of win that great teams manufacture through temporary blips goes without saying. Mourinho’s United are joy-sappingly ordinary. For me – he goes.

 

 

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Absolutely drab, Fab.

I didn’t want to contribute to Arrivederci-ville overkill but hard not to, in truth. Who doesn’t have an opinion on the smart exit of the cultured by slightly man-out-time Italian? Who doesn’t have a view of our ‘Arry’s flair, his money, his undoubted love of a loyal dog? (With money.) The thing is ripe for opinion and rich ground for the extrapolation of theories as diverse as the modus operandum of the two protoganists.

The thing with Harry has always been a football thing; an authentic, arm around the shoulder thing whereby mainly through sheer force of enthusiasm, players have been allowed to play- been liberated. Central to this hugely engaging phenomenon has been the personality of the man himself. In fact, it may be the case that Harry is very much the successor to a certain B Clough in the sense that though of course certain tactical mores are available to him, the success is all about inspiring belief. To the extent that matters of team shape and energy seem mere natural extensions of a faith inspired by Redknapp pre-game.

Harry has always done this; been close, been involved, shared the humour and the essential wit of the dressing room and training pitch. Then distilled/communicated/unleashed something of its irresistible force onto the park. Consequently, fans and players alike recognise one of their own – admittedly a brilliantly shrewd and knowledgeable one – who crucially commits utterly to an exciting and free-flowing model of the game itself; a model that coincides pretty exactly with what fans ideally want. So people love Harry; he is viewed first and foremost as a proper football man, or (more exactly, perhaps, given both his roots and his rootsiness?) a proper football geezer.

This slightly trench-coated version has recently come under scrutiny in a gruelling investigation – not without its personal edge – of Redknapp’s financial dealings. It was alleged that Harry dishonestly failed to cough up taxes due on substantial monies arising from football matters. The nature of those dealings – percentages upon transfers in particular come to mind – seemed all a bit East End Alley to many of us but did not, ultimately, either compromise his immediate liberty, or his reputation. Whilst the former of these two facts may be initially of most significance to the Redknapp family, it is clear that the lack of stain upon that manager’s Mac will be key in terms of a likely England Manager’s posting.

I am not I know alone in regarding the £300,000 received by Redknapp as his own percentage of the Rio Ferdinand sale as a rather crass throwback to allegedly simpler times; it feels inappropriate, exploitative, unwelcome. But it was not illegal and contravened no contract other than our own, ludicrously naive one with decency. Harry walked, indeed he strode manfully away – a touch further embittered against the police and the papers no doubt – but on and away he marched.

Meanwhile Fab was presumably smouldering. We can only presume because Capello has rarely opened either his heart or even his gestural vocabulary to us. (Unheard of for an Italian, surely?) If he did, it may be that we might have been more forgiving of his austere but cultured introversion. For though he was a thinker and a man of principle, he never showed us; apparently the will to assimilate and thereby associate barely entered his head. Capello either wanted a clinical (loveless?) respect-based relationship with some abstract notion of The English And Their Football or he wanted… what? High(er) art and music and the quiet life of a man in retirement from the slings and arrows? Who knows.

Fabio quite rightly never pretended to be anything other than an old-school man; believing in punctuality, respect, discipline. As such his appointment made sense at a time when our inclination was probably to punish those show ponies and their revolting circus. International players who binge-drink?!? Top top players who’s vulgarity offends us?!? And the flash gits can’t even PLAY! Let’s get FAB!! He’ll sort them out. And for a while, in a way, he did.

But it wasn’t much fun. Even the winning wasn’t, you felt. Too many obvious frailties; too little obvious progress. Then the World Cup.

The performance of both the players and the Management Team at the last World Cup was surely one of the greats. Rarely has such ineptitude, spinelessness and such petrification gathered together so spectacularly in a single team campaign. It was magnificently, insultingly poor. Fabio had the inspiring quality of a crinkle-cut chip – he was quirky and outdated and bad for us. The anti-ambience he had created destroyed any sign of life-affirming humour at an estimated distance of fifty yards. Performances were beyond parody – especially that of Wayne Rooney – and the manager’s inability to react, to help, actually, was remarkable. It remains a fabulous and appropriate irony that the only thing that kept Fab in his job was the fact the incompetent FA could not reasonably afford to sack him. Ha!!

Now Mr Capello may have quite reasonably resigned on a point of principle. Namely that he should have been consulted on the demotion (vol2.) of his preferred captain, John Terry. If that was the case, he has a point. (Not as big a point as those who argue that Terry simply cannot be England skipper whilst a live racism charge stands against him but a point nevertheless.) But clearly an opportunity has presented itself for all parties in this loveless marriage to walk with some dignity in the ‘different directions’ so oft-quoted in these affairs.

But setting aside the ushering in of  The People’s Favourite, the thing lacks a feelgood factor pretty entirely. Ideally the rashly misunderstood but sadly unintelligible Italian, who will surely be remembered more as drab-Fab than as the hoped-for Cool Don of our own domestic game will be taking a soul-searing alpine route, with some symbolic elephants, perhaps? Inflatable ones; nice pink inflatable ones, on shiny new ribbons, clasped gaily up and over to his beloved Italy, grinning not gurning all the way.

How great would it be if by some happy touristic freak, Harry and Jamie and a spookily risen Rosie came smiling (beerily, post-apres-ski) past?

Ingerland – you must be joking.

There are many precedents for hoofing England sides when they’re down; players and managers having frequently felt the pointy end of a brogue/doc marten/baseball boot/Manolo Blahnik (delete according to choice of accessories or date.) For those blessed with responsibility in the high profile sports – I’m thinking men’s football, rugby, cricket in the main here – judgement lurks cruelly close.

Currently one hypothesis, supported by hugely influential figures such as myself, suggests English football and rugby are still critically enmeshed in post-World Cup trauma; but that cricket is on a significant high. Capello and Johnson presided over such epically lurid debacles that their ability either to motivate or to proactively act seemed paralysed. In contrast, a certain Zimbabwean-born England and Wales cricket supremo has brought direction, unity, discipline and success to his side. Management, it appears, is massive. Perhaps especially when it makes comment superfluous?

Perceptions inevitably link results to the performance or authenticity of managers as well as players; thus Harry Redknapp, a ‘proper football bloke’, good former player and now demonstrably an inspiring coach is admired and respected precisely for the realness of his understanding of the game. Encouragingly, this implies judgements beyond mere (acknowledgements of) rates of success – a belief in genuine quality, no less. Would that we could sustain such generous worldviews.

Paralytically conversely, memorable custard pie-plus moments have surely included the tide of puss emanating from the tabloids towards the unfortunate Graham Taylor – a decent but not, arguably, a brilliant enough or sophisticated enough man to be at the helm of a national side generationally in skill-deficit rehab. Sven, McClaren and indeed now Capello have, on occasion, likewise felt most of the full force of press and public contempt. It –as they say –goes with the territory. Martin Johnson, whilst leaving, accepted that – almost nobly.

The fabulous diversity of opinion over teams we think represent us prevents the meaningful construction of a graph following median/mode/mental views of a particular manager’s status during office; there are, for example, wildly divergent views of Capello’s performance even when England have been cruising through qualification for the majors. (These range from the jingoistically buoyant to the cerebrally disturbed. Just when is he going to sort out Lampard/Gerard/Wilshere, Johnson/Walker?) Certainly the Capellograph would have to twitch alarmingly, as though reporting back from Etna rather than say, The Emirates.

Fabio, like a whole host of previous incumbents, may be in the process of being reconstructed by fluky inheritance. Recent friendlies against Spain (where they were outclassed but won) and Sweden (where they showed little but won) have thrown up sparks. Whether Phil Jones manages to continue to make absurdly serene progress towards a central place (literally?) in the England side whilst shouldering Duncan Edward’s comparisons may now be influential. Whether the likes of Rodwell/Walker/Wellbeck, through a kind of swifter natural expression of their talents come to Capello and England’s rescue may be… influential. The truth is, Capello has found them chiefly/only after

a) injuries to seniors

b) depressing performances by seniors.

My last word on the Italian is that having presided over such a shocking World Cup, having failed utterly to inspire or change a visibly desperate side, he should have been gone.

Martin Johnson has. With that familiar mixture of churlishness, largeness, restrained vitriol and … almost some emotion, he jumped the ferry before being escorted down the plank. England RUFC, having hugely overachieved at the previous World Cup under a player-undermined manager, appointed Johnson hoping for quiet, broodingly Churchillian leadership. He couldn’t do it. In his absence, there now ensues a near-interesting and even mysterious phase of non-appointment, featuring a non-Mallett but lots of clattering in the background. As with the football scenario, a sea-change in direction as well as personnel may trip or bumble towards us, either obstructed or otherwise by the RFU furniture. But given that Shaun Edwards has stayed righteously in Wales, it seems too much to hope for radical improvement.

It may be, therefore, seasonally unfortunate for all of us that we are denied much-needed sporting cheer due to a current lack of England cricket -that being by some distance our most upliftingly successful game. Suddenly, it seems, we have a worryingly stable and consistent crop of outstanding players. And a generally brilliant team ethic. This has not happened entirely by chance – although the contemporaneous emergence of top individuals (Strauss, Cook, Trott, Swann, Anderson…) clearly helps, cool and authoritative leadership off the pitch has been critical. To the point where the following notion bounces in.

Surely numbers stricken by Seasonally Affected Disorder could have been hugely reduced by heart-warming exposure to the further exploits of Strauss , Cook et al this winter? Contemptuously tonking all-comers at Test Level would plainly be markedly beneficial to the national psyche so, why on earth did the government fail to act on this? Couldn’t somebody have rigged up a few Tests/few big screens in shopping malls and…

Back to cool and authoritative. At a time when crises of management or certainly leadership run rampant over our whole lives(!) some contemplation of what works might seem appropriate.  (A yes for cricket, no and no for footie/rugby.) But, sporting opinion and contemplation being mutually exclusive, maybe I’ll bawl with the rest of them… Just who is running this ship, anyhow?