Actual football tonight. Keep the mails coming to firstname.lastname@example.org…
A great one on England’s 2030 bid
So the English FA are considering a bid for the 2030 World Cup, and Ian, New Brighton already has questioned whether England has the stadia to support the event, let alone all the other trappings which go along with it.
You may have read that here in the USA, in spite of (or maybe because of) the new FIFA “transparency” the cities of Chicago, Pittsburgh and Vancouver have all declined to participate in the 2026 tournament. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s spokesperson reported that “FIFA could not provide a basic level of certainty on some major unknowns that put our city and taxpayers at risk.” and “FIFA [was demanding a] blank check including an open-ended ability to modify the agreement at any time and at their discretion.”
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss? The first and only question the English FA should be asked at this point is “Why do you want the country to host the World Cup?” Note that the question isn’t why the English FA wants to host the tournament, but why they want to convince the government to host it, after all, it’s the government that’s going to be writing the checks from the tax income account to foot the bill.
If the answers to this fundamental question include any responses that have any mention of “economic boost”, “infrastructure regeneration”, “global showcase”, “home of football”, “trickle-down effect”, “brand-building” and a host of others should be discounted immediately as consultant bullshit-speak. What’s left, if they’re being honest? “Automatic qualification”, “egomania”, “boondoggle”, “power-broking”, “political spin-doctoring” – color me cynical if you like, but let’s face it, there’s not a lot of evidence to the contrary at this point.
I’ll close with this quote from John Vrooman, professor of Sports Economics at Vanderbilt University: “There are also significant underlying distributional factors that falsely prioritize the political agendas of football/soccer and hospitality industries. As a result, the wildly optimistic economic spread and multiplier effects for the World Cup are clearly self-promotion schemes designed to justify something-for-nothing state subsidy of the private business of professional football.”
You can read the full article at https://psmag.com/economics/is-there-any-real-economic-benefit-to-hosting-a-world-cup if you want a break from transfer window rumors and hourly Mourinho updates.
Steve, Los Angeles
Defending Mourinho and fact interpretation
Ian Watson’s article about Mourinho & United today shows how malleable facts really are. When spun one way decisions, statements and behaviour seem quite reasonable. Spun another they suddenly look indefensible.
Watson offers an interesting counter-argument to the “Mourinho is past-it” narrative which many (including myself) have been pushing for some time. Analysed on a case by case basis Pogba has been inconsistent, Martial does appear to be lacking in drive and professionalism, the United academy has been poor and transfers have, admittedly, been shambolic.
While all of that is perfectly true the fact remains – Pogba was superb at Juventus. He came to United and has regressed. Few, if any, coaches can take on a role expecting for an entirely new first team to be bought for them from the world’s elite. The best coaches improve what they’ve got and then add to it. JM has manifestly failed in that. Lukaku, titan though he is, hasn’t improved a great deal from his Everton days. Pogba, Rashford, Sanchez, Martial, Jones, Smalling, Herrera, Mata, Rojo have all held steady or stagnated. Lindelof & Bailly (Mourinho purchases) have shown little or nothing.
In his Chelsea days and his Inter days there was a sense that Mourinho’s players would run through brick walls or hurl themselves in front of speeding trains should he deem it necessary. I don’t get the impression that the United squad would so much as run themselves a bath if he asked them to.
I don’t disagree with Ian Watson’s individual points. The problems at United, distressingly, run far deeper than simply Mourinho (looking at the permanently unshaven and ludicrously named Edward Woodward). But it can’t be convincingly argued that this Jose is the dynamic firebrand that altered the Premier League forever. Wrong man, wrong time, wrong club.
Stephen – Dublin
It’s not about being right, but being clever
In response the Ian’s lengthy piece on Jose Mourinho’s comments during preseason and how much validity said comments have, I’m afraid Ian misses the point entirely.
The question is not whether what Jose said is right or even partially right. It is were the various remarks necessary? The answer in most instances is no. They serve no POSITIVE purpose.
The idea Woodward will feel pressured by Jose’s public comments and buckle to his demands is a nonsense. Executives at that level do not see fans, they see consumers so to suggest Woodward cares about supporters perception of him is comical.
And we all know press conferences and interviews can be easily navigated with platitudes and cliches as well so saying Jose was forced to comment on certain issues is also ridiculous.
Jose has ranted on about so many things for no apparent purpose other than protection of his own ego although I’m quite enjoying the mental gymnastics required by some to defend his self evident toxicity.
Chris G, Dublin
Almost as long as Ian’s piece (now now)
I am not writing this to somehow present Jose as the cherubic face of all that is good in football. He may or may not be a nice guy. Most people are nice in the right context. And many of us are deeply unpleasant when we’re threatened or cornered. He may well be all of that. But I find the daily character assassination but dreary and misleading. So I’d like to invite you to look a little closer.
The Curious Case of Luke Shaw
One of the prime victims of Mourinho’s ire. Luke shaw has been consistently hard done by, by Mourinho. Criticised publicly after games, dropped from the first team. Pushed to fight for his place with Ashley Young. Always on the brink of a United exit. A classic problem of working for Mourinho.
Yet, in footballing terms, what does Luke Shaw bring? He’s a very fit player, who can run fast and has loads of energy. He was a standout player in the Southampton youth system and an unfortunately a terrible injury cost him the better part of a year. But since then, he has had quite a few appearances. Can anybody remember a game where Luke Shaw had a MOTM performance? Where he took on and bested a strong opposition right wing player? Or when he made a telling contribution at the other end? Where his crossing was exemplary or noteworthy? Or when people singled him out for praise after a game? This is a player now 23, about to reach prime playing age.
When United played Liverpool last year, it was Ashley Young who won plaudits for keeping Mo Salah quiet. Luke Shaw has had his chances but rarely impressed. Against Arsenal, 20 year old Axel Tuanzebe was an unknown to most, but after the game one of the commentators mentioned ‘Sanchez definitely knows who Tuanzebe is, now’ after he kept Sanchez quiet for much of the game. No such performance has yet come from Shaw.
But still, Mourinho’s treatment has meant that he has always been seen as the victim, rarely at the receiving end of the kind of vicious comments reserved for players the journalists and pundits don’t like. And he’s still there and still getting last chances. It seems to me that Mourinho has done him a few favours over this period by effectively immunising him from public censure.
The Even Curiouser Case of Paul Pogba
The World Cup provided compelling evidence that Pogba was being mishandled by Mourinho. His disciplined displays in midfield won him many admirers, and people immediately pointed to the differences between the Man United Pogba and the World Cup Pogba. Surely a case of Mourinho-mismanagement?
When Pogba was asked about why he didn’t colour his hair during the World Cup, his very telling answer was that at the World Cup, he wanted the focus to be on the football. Now, what does that say about the Man United Pogba who is instagramming and YouTubing and has a different haircut and a new dance every other week? To me it’s insultingly obvious that the Man United Pogba is too busy being a star.
I have seen Pogba play games last season where he could not have been more casual if he had wandered onto the pitch in his dressing gown and flip flops. His biggest dip in motivation and form took place just after United signed Sanchez. I would venture to say that Pogba reacted badly to not being the star billing for the team and lost motivation after Sanchez was found to be earning more. If this was to be true, its a pretty damning indictment on Pogba’s levels of professionalism.
Is this Mourinho’s fault or Pogba’s? We can argue this all evening, but you would have your work cut out to convince me that Pogba is not at least equally culpable. Mourinho’s analysis of the World Cup Pogba was quite insightful – that in the tournament there is an intensity and every game is more important than the last one – so Pogba found it easy to focus. In the League, playing against the so called smaller teams, Pogba isn’t always as much in the zone. Now, Mourinho could tell Pogba off, in no uncertain terms, a la Alex Ferguson. But in today’s world, that would soon be in the back pages of the Sun or the Mirror and for further details see Luke Shaw above.
A final note on Pogba – would the pundits be purring about Pogba if Mbappe, Griezman and co weren’t knocking the goals in? It all looks great when all the parts work. I will bet you a pitcher or few that a controlled and disciplined game from Pogba where United draw because they don’t score, will have Graham Souness (or some other Pundit – I have nothing against Souness per se) scratching his chin and saying ‘you know, for 89 million, he has to do more for me’. Commentators want the Stevie G version of Pogba. But even the World Cup version would be good enough if Pogba could be bothered to focus often enough.
The Irony of Martial
We loved Martial’s debut for United. Scoring a solo goal against Liverpool is about as good as it gets for any United debutant. And he has scored some great goals since then. And yet, he’s another player who rarely looks interested enough. I’m being harsh here, because a part of this is just how he looks. But most fans want to see a player who cares, and honestly Martial doesn’t really come across as though he cares.
As a young player you can often be in and out of the side. Most good managers will protect you from over-exposure. But Martial is another player whose form went through the floor after Sanchez joined. Now some would have you believe that this is all down to Mourinho’s signing Sanchez. So what? Sir Alex signed world class players every year, and he did it to ensure that everybody in the team had enough competition and the bar was set high enough for the first team. There is a tricky balance between making sure Martial gets enough chances, and clearing the path for him by not signing an available superstar who could improve the team. Mourinho’s primary job is not to make Martial a success, no more than your boss’s primary goal is to make sure you succeed at your job.
Martial has been fined for not returning back to training after the birth of his. child. He has defended himself on instagram (where else!) saying ‘family comes first’. I don’t have any problem with that, though he’s probably been fined by the club because he went AWOL, rather than letting them know in the right manner. I also don’t have a problem that he left his former wife and very young child for his current girlfriend, that’s entirely his life to lead. But I do find myself being irritated by his selective use of family values as a defence.
Be that as it may, the media would have you believe that Mourinho has the axe out for Martial. Realistically as a fan, I would lose no sleep if Martial went to another club. If he becomes the next Mo Salah, good for him. He’s a very talented boy. But I’d rather not have him moping around on the left wing looking disinterested.
And the rest?
The cases are many. Most of them when you look will be scenarios worth debating but almost never will they be as one sided as the internet might have you believe. The headlines are telling enough. “Mourinho Slams Martial!”. Actual quote, when asked when Martial is returning, “I don’t know”. Or “Mourinho Lashes Out At Ed Woodward!” Translation: Mourinho said that he wanted 2 more transfers but only one was likely before the window closed. Or “Mourinho’s Defeatist Attitude Has Already Cost United the Season” – let’s wait for the actual games, shall we? Or is public memory that short that we’ve forgotten how foolish pre-season predictions look at the end of most years?
United have a balanced squad. A well-stocked midfield, with Andreas Pereira my favourite to be a new star (3rd year running!), finally joining Fred, Herera, Matic, Pogba, McTominay, and Fellaini. A decent frontline with Mata, Lukaku, Sanchez, Rashford and whoever replaces Martial ( I would not mind Willian at all!) and a defence that conceded the second fewest goals in the league last year. Yes, individually many could be upgraded, but the collective worked. And oh, arguably the best goalkeeper in club football over the past 2 years, and a second keeper who played the World Cup final for Argentina in 2014.
There are plenty of youngsters – such as Tuanzebe, Fosu Mensa and Chong, who are on the edges. United certainly have the funds to go and buy a couple of big names but are presumably looking for the right deal. Is Jose frustrated, you bet he is. Is he ‘Lashing out’? Or ‘slamming’ or ‘planning his exit’ as the headlines would have you believe? After all there are even articles connecting Zidane to the possible vacancy at Man United. Never say never, but it seems to that the circulation / SEO counts for the tabloids are doing rather better than their actual footballing predictions.
Will United win the league this time? I would say unlikely. Will they be more competitive than last year? I would hope so! Will Mourinho play defensive football in key games? Highly probably. It’s served him well through much of his career. Are United in the throes of a disaster? Heh, don’t believe the headlines, they’re just slaves to the Narrative!
Have Arsenal made Moyes signings?
SC, Belfast I want to be optimistic for Arsenal, but that list of transfers feels like something Moyes or Allardyce would have signed for West Ham or Everton, and no-one would be getting excited.
I can see it being more consistent than last season, but I can’t see it being nearly enough to trouble the top 4.
Nick (Where does Xhaka play?) J
Next Thursday, we think
On what day should I expect my favourite day of pre season….F365 Predictions Day?
In response to the Thursday Teasers posed by Richie, Dublin my answers are
Q1 Sol Campbell – Spurs legend, Arsenal hero, what a thumper in the CL final.
Q2 Shay Given – One of the most underrated keepers of his generation and a nice man.
The season still seems so far away, so my question to keep it going which is an old one I heard is:
Who is the only player to have won the Champions League, Uefa Cup, Uefa Super Cup, Premier league, FA Cup, Community Shield and been relegated?
…Your answers are Sol Campbell (played for Spurs, Arsenal twice, Portsmouth, Notts County and Newcastle United, scored for Arsenal against Barcelona in the 2006 final and captained Portsmouth in their 2008 FA Cup victory) and Stephen Ireland (played for Manchester City, Aston Villa, Newcastle United and Stoke City, meaning he crossed paths with all of the players listed, but not at those clubs).
Good teasers, definitely gave my brain a work out when it was considering going to sleep. I have no football-based ones myself, but might keep you similarly engaged with the following: What is a word made up of four letters, yet is spelt with three frequently consists of ten letters but rarely has six.
Lewis (do I have to do brackets?), London