Manchester United still need to reach their Houllier stage

Manchester United are stuck in their pre-Houllier phase and none of their players would get in the Liverpool side. They’re in a real mess.

Send your non-Manchester United thoughts to


A good question
Why is a team, which is seventh in the Premier League and hasn’t won anything of note for over a decade, getting so many column inches? We get it. They’re sh*t and need a new manager. Please can we now move on?

(MC – Happily. As soon as people start sending us thoughts on literally anything else)


What is the right managerial path to the top?
It seems it is coming to the end now for ole at Manchester united.. It is very clear from the start that he was over promoted and really should off left after that care taker role.

I’m just curious what would have been the right managerial path he needed to go down to have the right CV for the job and get the job on merit rather than past glory with the club.

Managing in Germany seems to be important now. Then a crack with a smaller premier league club without going down. Do that for a few seasons then win a big league like LA liga or seria a and then he’s probably earned the job on merit rather than having previously been employed there.
Jack Cavan.(I would of stuck with José).


History does repeat itself
I’ve been having a lot of Deja vu moments recently. Memories flooding back in confusion as I wake up thinking Frank O’Farrell is manager. Then it’s Dave Sexton, brought in from Chelsea and the most respected coach in the Football League. And the Doc. Great team with magnificent wingers. And finally, before the nightmare ends and it turns into a dream, Big Ron and winning the first ten matches then losing the league to the Scouse. And Alex arrives.

And sitting there in the stand, for all of them, was the great man himself. A genuinely great man, bravest of the brave, Sir Matt. The shadow hung over Wilf McGuinness for the ten months that he lasted, Wilf or David Moyes? Which one was it? It loomed over the others too. The players saw him in the stands. They wanted to play the United way, but that was difficult without George Dennis and Bobby.

And now we are here again. Damaged by nostalgia. United and the fans want a long term manager, but that is an out of date idea in itself. One of those comes along every forty years.

Three years is long enough. Sir kept teams for three years, then changed them because he knew they would get bored. Now it has to be accepted, three to four years is a long stretch. United hoping that Ole was the one has only proved that he isn’t, Neo is.


Manchester United: A divorcee in denial
The relationship had run its course.  Manchester United and its fans seemed to have arrived at an amicable divorce settlement with Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.

But the reality is that the divorce papers were never signed.  One party has continued to enjoy the benefits of being married, constantly meddling with the kids while not assuming accountability as a parent.  Meanwhile, the other party has been in a multi-decade denial that the divorce ever happened, stumbling through the last 15 years obsessively flipping through wedding pictures. Unable to move on.

Tom Rennie and Brian Dunseth (Week in the Tackle) recently described the persistent issues at the Club thusly: nostalgia, entitlement and a lack of ruthlessness.  Spot on boys.

Nostalgia is not necessarily a bad thing.  There is a lot to celebrate and be nostalgic about as in connection to an important club like Manchester United. But when it leads to paralysis, it becomes debilitating.  Similarly, a lack of urgency — by proxy a lack of “ruthlessness” — to change, to evolve and most importantly, to improve, results in people, organizations and even football clubs being left behind by those that possess a passion for what could be, versus what was.  Look no further than the other club in Manchester to see the antithesis of this kind of denial at work.

Entitlement can actually be a positive motivator.  Manchester United and its fanbase absolutely deserve better, more out of their investments.  The exception to this notion of entitlement is when players, managers and fans feel that they are owed something.  That without embracing the change required to meet the challenges of the present or future, that they should still be successful.

All three of these issues permeate the recent letter to the editor entitled “Conte would undo Solskjaer success.”  Beyond the mind-blowing question of “what success” the writer refers to that would be undone by hiring Conte, the letter is symptomatic of the various ManU divorcees that won’t sign the damn papers.  The club desperately needs a manager just like Conte: a credible catalyst for change.  One who has demonstrable success in the Premier League.  One who, unlike the long list of previous ManU managers, have made big players even better (e.g., see Lukaku at Inter).  A manager with discipline and vision, and who has successfully managed the kinds of entitled egos that exist in the locker room at Old Trafford.

Most importantly, whether Conte or otherwise, to suggest that the “Ole’s success” has been in bringing in great players is ridiculous.  Manchester United has persistently been a nonsensical pile of expensive puzzle pieces that do not fit together.  Hiring another caretaker of someone else’s vision has clearly not served Manchester well, since all of the managers since 2013 have been chained to the nostalgia and entitlement of the past.  Change, evolve and succeed.  If you do not empower a manager to make deep, structural changes looking towards the future, then the cycle will persist.

Make the divorce final, Manchester United.  The vision needs to emanate from someone who does not genuflect to the past.  Only then will Manchester United seize the present and reestablish the club as the dominant force in football that it deserves to be.

PS:  And I also suggest you buy Fergie some golf clubs and tell him to get out of the damn house and to get on with a true retirement


The real issue at Manchester United
I have to be honest, after the result on Sunday I decided to indulge in some Schadenfreude and watched a number of videos, read a number of articles, etc. Not something I’d generally do, but then a result and performance this spectacular don’t come around that often. Plus, the amount of stick coming our way from Man United fans has dwarfed anything in the other direction (perhaps mainly because until this last decade they were better than us).

One major thing struck me whilst doing this. Club loyalty is blinding fans as to a brutal truth: the players are not as good as you think they are. As a Liverpool fan, looking back, I can see us having done the same thing over the years with our own crops of players. There’s a clip from a Sky show from just before The Match (TM) where a Man Utd fan tried to put 6 Man Utd players in a combined XI. Then, of course, The Match happened which showed the folly of that idea.

Hand on heart, I wouldn’t want a single Man Utd player in the Liverpool team. I look at that first XI and I see position after position that needs upgrading in order to win a title. That’s a bigger problem than Ole, or the Glazers. It’s that the expectations are higher than the quality of team allows. Without those expectations, I find it hard to believe that Ole wouldn’t have set his team up defensively and to counterattack (as he has every other time against Liverpool). I think part of this is for the same reason it happened with Liverpool. The size of the fanbase means the media wants to tell us what we want to hear. That’s how they keep our eyes on their product.

Now, I recognise that as a fan most of us are hardwired not to want to swap one of our players for another when our team is clearly very, very good. But whilst I look at Man City and Chelsea and see players that I might rationalise away as not wanting, the rationale is that I don’t see them suiting our style of football. With Manchester United it is simply because I don’t think they are good enough. It’s how I can only imagine Manchester United fans felt about Liverpool players during the 1990s. It’s the difference between you looking at Viera and looking at Jamie Redknapp (say).

The only way Liverpool progressed from that position was by bringing in complete outsiders who didn’t already buy in to the notion that we had some innate right to win titles. First Houllier, then Benitez, then FSG (and their shrewd appointment of Edwards + team), and then finally Klopp. Man United have yet to reach the Houllier stage – the outsiders they’ve brought in have either been too close to the moment of the fall to recognise the state of the club (Moyes / Van Gaal) or an egomaniac who believed that they themselves had a divine right to win (he’s very special).  You are no longer the most attractive club to go to in England. You’re not even the second or third. It took us a long time to accept that, too. If you sign a big name player like Sanchez, or Maguire, or Ronaldo then it means that the other three clubs didn’t want him that much. Until Man United stop considering themselves the biggest and best club in the world, they’ll be stuck in the pre-Houllier state.

Part of me luxuriates in that Schadenfreude. The rest feels an empathy gained from having been there myself.
Greg, Taunton.


The ultimate insult
It’s so hilarious that Man Utd fans are the new Liverpool fans.

From this week of mailboxes….

“If only Van de Beek could get a game”….read Dani Pacheco…or Suso…or countless others. That unpolished gem that only you know about from training who could change the world.

“He gets the philosophy of the club”….ahhh the old pass and move Liverpool…sorry lads but you have no philosophy, as some of your more astute fans have realised. For most big companies the CEO sets the philosophy. For most of our lives that was Fergie but now it’s clear the CEO is either a Glazer or Woodward. Either way the new philosophy of Man Utd is rape the brand for as much money as possible. Sadly any concerns about playing youth or attacking football are secondary at best.

“It’s time for the manager to go”….I’m glad you think your opinion matters to the people who actually count…that’s Glazer and maybe Woodward. Based on your actual philosophy (see above) it will be much cheaper to sack OGS once you mathematically can’t finish in the top 4 so I think he’ll wait a bit longer thanks very much. I am basing this on the fact that I believe the manager’s contract has a no top 4 clause like Moyes did.

But you’re actually the new Liverpool because before the season, and even after Leeds, you were all convinced that this year was your year. I find it incredible that anyone thought Ronaldo was the answer to your problems.
Minty, LFC


Ronaldo is THE problem
Thanks to Daniel, Cambridge, for attempting to answer my question of what exactly is Ole’s and therefore United’s current playing philosophy – other than ‘the United’ way. I hadn’t seen that Ole quote – and have to say I am stunned. United, under Lord Ferg was more than pashun. We all knew they would play out and out attacking football and essentially overwhelm the opposition with 2 great forwards up front and a midfield that could control a game (mostly, Barca being a huge wake-up.)

But let’s face it, comparing to Lord Ferg and that era is impossible. The 4-4-2 worked then but won’t against more ‘modern’ strategies. Ole did play a modified 4-4-2 with a midfield diamond that was effective in the last few seasons against bigger teams – limiting midfield exposure and using 2 very fast forwards to exploit the higher lines played by City, Liverpool and Chelsea.

But Ronaldo is THE problem.

He has to play a form of 4-3-3 to fit Ronaldo in. He can’t play the 4-4-2 diamond as Ronaldo isn’t fast enough to break the lines – he’s the current fox-in-the-box. Even better when everyone is stationary and he can use his excellent heading abilities at corners and free-kicks or slow build-ups. But he doesn’t offer an outlet when in tough, doesn’t press – doesn’t do anything.

But he scores goals, is the argument. He’s scored 6 in 9 games.

Last year United didn’t have the best of starts but had 16 goals, 16 points and were in 9th place, having played a game less than the 8 teams above. This season United are in 7th place with 14 points and…drum roll…16 goals.

So, in effect, Ronaldo’s goals have simply displaced goals scored by other players last year. And in doing so, made United 2 points worse off than last year.

Juventus bought Ronaldo to bring success in the CL – after all, they won Serie A the prior 7 seasons and the Coppa Italia the prior 4. He was a huge financial success – increased gate and sponsorship revenues plus the shirts sold. But clearly didn’t win the CL and failed to win the league last year. He clearly disrupted the team formation and structure, refusing to play the way his manager/coaches wanted.

A damning indictment was summed up as follows “The end product was a highly disjointed team that dug its way out of games based purely on moments of individualism.” Does that sound like a current team in the Premier League right now?
Paul McDevitt


More subs
Admittedly I am a fan of one of ‘the big six’ but I really like the additional dynamics more substitutions brings to a game.

Barnsley showed last season in the Championship that you can unlock whole new tactics and approaches (super high intensity, more possessions, more flexible team shapes) when you build substitutions into your game plan tactically – allowing them to significantly punch above their traditional weight with a lower wage budget.

Imagine if they could be combined with rules about young players (perhaps no more than 3 subs over 23yrs could be made) to encourage Prem squads to carry more development options on the bench.

Added rotation to protect players who have a greater game toll would also benefit everyone.

To the point that ‘only the big teams benefit‘, is that really true? I think only a few Premier League squads really have an overstocked squad talent-wise (Man City and Chelsea may have close to two full title-challenging squads, but Liverpool’s depth isn’t so outrageous and United’s is pretty unbalanced) and depth at Villa or Brighton is pretty equivalent to Arsenal/Spurs/Leicester going back into the 25 man pool. Perhaps have some relaxing of the loan rules so more Prem teams can loan between each other to further balance it out.

As mentioned before, Barnsley made the most use of subs in the Championship and they’re no-ones idea of a big dog.

So yeh, I’m a fan. I think it will mean better rested players, more youth (especially if incentivised well) and more interesting tactics. And probably higher intensity football. Bring on 5 subs.
Tom, Walthamstow


Press ups
I apologise for my earlier mail suggesting that “the press” is the new “show passion”

It’s actually the latest holy grail like “tiki taka” “counter attack” “park the bus” were in their day.

Basically a concept that has always been around but is a current catchphrase like “DNA” that enhances the Premier League brand as to what is the “right” way to play football.

Pundits have a lot to answer for.
Brian (BRFC)


50) Phil Neville
Dear Phil

I did have Phil Neville at #21. I took it out. I wasn’t sure whether anyone would get the joke.  Basically I Spurs’d my own email.

Believe me, I’m hanging my head in shame
Paul, AVFC, Norwich


Divock says
So my initial thought when it came to Origis goal is that his finish, as brilliant as it was, was the laziest attempt he could have made. It was him to a T.

He could have taken it down, turned and shot. But he would have had to move quickly.

The man is known to be the worst trainer at the club. Every player interview states that. He literally drags his legs as he starts to sprint. I love him to bits. He’s an absolute cult hero.

But he’s a lazy bollox.

That’s why noone else wants him. We’ll keep him for the small joys he provides from time to time. I just wish he’d try a bit.

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