One manager for Man Utd on a par with Pep and Klopp

Date published: Thursday 7th October 2021 8:54 - Ian Watson

Luis Enrique reacts after his Spain side defeat Italy in Milan.

The Mailbox offers one suggestion for who might replace Ole at Man Utd. Also: we need to talk about unvaccinated players. Keep your mails coming through the international break to


Vaccine hesitancy in football 
We need to talk about footballers and the apparent widespread vaccine hesitancy within their ranks. Callum Robinson, the West Brom and Ireland striker, said in an interview published today that he is not vaccinated. He’s not the only player to have not gotten the vaccine, but he has twice had Covid. He’s missed 7 international matches due to having it and, as one wit has edited his Wikipedia page to say, he has now had Covid more often than he’s scored a senior international goal.

According to the BBC, fewer than half of players at most Premier League and Football League clubs are fully vaccinated. It seems, as of two weeks ago, only seven clubs in the Premier League had over 50% of their squads fully vaccinated.

The question is, why? In England around 82% of the population are fully vaccinated, so why is the footballing sector so far behind?

There have been previous conversations questioning why footballers from Britain seem to be a bit less well rounded than their continental counterparts. I have often put this down to them not being required to think for themselves the majority of the time. From the moment they enter the academies they are being told what to wear, what to eat, what to do, and when to do it all. Added to that is the fact that many coaches don’t really want their players to think for themselves, but rather just carry out the orders they are given without question. This can impact on the development of their critical thinking skills, and indeed on the development of their personalities – there’s definitely a reason there’s a lack of “characters” in the game these days. Identikit players make it easier for coaches to fit them into the system.

Now, with this in mind, it can seem even more extraordinary that there is such vaccine hesitancy amongst footballers. If the club doctors are recommending that the players get vaccinated, why are the players so slow to do so?

We all know there is a ridiculous amount of vaccine misinformation being bandied about and footballers are no less susceptible to it than anyone else. One dominant personality in the dressing room who believes the misinformation may be enough to convince several others not to get it. Footballers can live in a bubble and so can be isolated from the potential impacts of Covid. I would imagine that Robinson himself is getting trotted out as a reason not to get the vaccine: “oh Callum has had Covid twice and he’s fine so why would I get the vaccine?”.

Whether we like it or not, footballers are role models. What they say can have a significant impact on the people who place any bit of weight on their opinions. And yes, we all know you have never once been influenced by what a footballer has done, you don’t need to jump straight to the comments to tell us.

It’s great to see managers like Klopp, Guardiola, Arteta, Bruce, and Potter come straight out and say people need to get vaccinated. However, this now needs to be followed up by players doing the same.

Callum Robinson is lucky, he’s had Covid twice, and seemingly has had few long-term negative effects. The young person who listens to him and follows him might not be so lucky.

Get the vaccine.


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Luis Enrique in 
The obvious, and only candidate, that Man Utd should be looking at to replace Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, was tonight showing us again why.
Luis Enrique is at the same level as Pep, Tuchel and Klopp. His teams control games, play good football and he’s not afraid to give young players a chance. He is a proven winner and knows how to handle superstars. He wouldn’t undo all the good work Solksjaer has done up to now say like Conte would.

Yes I think Solskjaer has done well. He has got rid of players that needed to be moved on, promoted some of the younger players and bought well. He has steadied the ship but he cannot take them to next level.
Luis Enrique is your man.
Ken, Cork, Ireland


Man without a plan
James’, Liverpool, email regarding it being between City and Liverpool and perhaps Chelsea but not United, based on their managers is spot on. Barring one of the first three not having a major injury crisis – and even then, City and Chelsea have pretty stacked squads.

The main point being made, that City and Liverpool have a way of playing and that everyone in the team knows it, is key. Watch United play. Depending on the players chosen, the team will play dramatically differently.

Think about playing Ronaldo vs Martial or Pogba vs Fred, would the team play in exactly the same way? Therein lies the problem with an Ole led United. Against Everton, only one team looked organized. And it wasn’t United. When Ronaldo and Pogba came on, they didn’t become better organized. Ole was simply relying on great individuals pulling off something – as had happened recently. But that’s not a long term plan.

Ole loves to tout the spirit of 99 and the United way – the Fergie way. But Fergie did have a way. When subs came on they fitted into the team seamlessly. They may have added something but the team didn’t become disoriented.

Over 38 games that will begin to tell. City and then Liverpool, set a high bar to win the league. It require a plan, a style, that the whole team can get behind. It’s why Conte won recently. It’s what Ole doesn’t have and why United won’t win this year.
Paul McDevitt


Southgate holding England back
Ok, Johnny, I’ll bite…

Southgate has taken the best squad of International players in the world (as per transfermarkt) and so far bottled all the big games he’s faced over a 3 year period. He has not in any way over achieved with the talent at his disposal.

Maybe in tribute to everyone’s favourite ManU manager, he has created his own McFred double anchor to hold back midfield, the full backs never pass halfway, and he goes long at the first sign of trouble. His in game management is abysmal, and it appears his vaunted man management outside of games may not be all that great given what we heard from Chilwell and about Sancho and Grealish, let alone the penalty debacle.

He mentions that players have to be playing for their club to be picked, but then picks Lingard; he went old school with his “one cap wonder” selection of Bamford which really made no sense; and his “integration” of Greenwood and Bellingham is a bit strange to say the least – as future core players, surely, 90 mins each in a nice easy set of games vs Andorra and Hungary is exactly what they need, as opposed to Kane (and presumably Lingard) padding their stats.

Southgate is very much in the same league as Solskjaer – promoted above his competence level and holding his team back.

Yes, we prefer him over Big Sam, Roy, Dyche and assorted other try-hards. But we’re paying top dollar for this fella – would we rather have a Mancini, Enrique, or any other Tier 1 Manager. It almost goes without saying.
Matthew (ITFC)


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When football was better
Does anybody else get that feeling after the season wraps up, or better yet after international competitions end in those years, where you’re a little relieved to have a break from soccer and think “Now I can go outside for a few weeks”?

Well, of course after about three days of your fan offseason, you’re itching for the start of the new season. It was right about then a few months ago that my dad, my brother, and I decided to watch an old game for kicks. We randomly put on a Barcelona-Juventus knockout tie from 1990/91 (available on youtube, in my country at least). The game was fantastic. It was endlessly end to end, with both teams coming straight out to attack. The players may have been slower than today’s, but the pace of the game was much, much quicker. The ball seemed to never be out of play. Action happened on the field, the ref made a call, and the players got right on with it.

The contrast with today’s game was stark indeed. Today every set piece and throw in warrants a thirty second stoppage, at least. Teams set up a defensive shape and refuse to budge. Teams regularly have only 20-30% possession (may or may not correlate to relative budgets). The diving. Oh god, the diving.

We all joke about it but maybe your dad and your uncle had a point after all about the old game being better. These changes have crept into the game and we have become used to them. Watch an older game though and you can see the difference clear as day. That Barca-Juve looked like the one I fell hopelessly in love with as a kid. I fear it is irretrievably lost.
Paul (I’ll take Matt Taylor and Laurent Robert smashing goals in from 35 yards over Pep’s robots any day), Gooner


…Having seen people claim the 80s and 90s are the golden era I’m going to explain why it’s actually the 2010s.

Let’s start off with the great Barcelona sides we have seen which is arguably the greatest side of all time. The way they won the 2011 CL and 2015 was mesmerizing.

In addition to that we seen one of the greatest national sides of all time in Spain winning the WC in 2010 and Euros in 2012.

The array of talents that were playing in this era was insane too. Messi and Ronaldo are obviously 2 of the best 5 footballers to ever play. We seen Messi score 91 goals in a calendar year and they both regularly scored 50 goals a season.

Heres a list of players who played this decade; Buffon, Casillas, Neuer, Alves, Lahm, Ramos, Pique, Puyol, Terry, Ferdinand, Bonucci, Chiellini, VVD, Cole, Marcelo, Busquets, Alonso, Gerrard, Lampard, Scholes, Iniesta, Pirlo, Xavi, Kante, Modric, Kroos, Schweinsteiger, Yaya Toure, Fabregas, Messi, Neymar, Robben, Ribery, Neymar, Hazard, Bale, Ozil, Silva, KdB, Salah, Di Maria, Benzema, Aguero, Rooney, Lewandowski, Suarez, Cavani, Ibrahimovic and probably many more that I’ve forgot about. Nearly all of them had their peak season between 2010-2019/20.

Some other great moments include: Real Madrid had a great team which won 4 CL in 5 years. Leicester won the PL in 2016. The Aguero moment. The Drogba moment in Munich. Trent taking the quick corner vs Barcelona. Germany thrashing Brazil 7-1. Holland beating Spain 5-1. Bayern beating Barcelona 7-0 and 8-2. We had the peak of El Classico with Pep vs Mourinho. It was the end of the Ferguson and Wenger era as they both retired. Women’s football has entered the mainstream. That James goal in the 2014 WC. Portugal winning the Euros. Man City and PSG are now some of the biggest teams in the world. We seen some crazy transfers like Aguero, Silva, Yaya Toure all joining City. Mbappe, Ibra, Neymar joining PSG. Ozil and Alexis to Arsenal. Ronaldo going to Juve. Dembele, Griezmann, Coutinho and Hazard going for stupid money. Whether those transfers were good or not, it’s still remarkable.

We have seen stuff external of the pitch that have impacted the football landscape like the rise of FIFA online gaming and the FM community. The rise of podcasts such as TFS, Second Captains, FW. The ride of social media and the access we have got to players. Some of the football YouTube accounts are pretty good. I’m 24 and got into football around 05-06. My favourite era of football is basically between 07-12 and I’m obviously too young to pick the best era but for all the reasons I’ve listed, I think it’s hard to beat the 2010s.
Dion, Donegal.


Mido love
Your article on Arabian players had me hoping you would include Mido.

Given I’m firmly in middle age now and recall signing players before YouTube was even a thing, I had no idea what to expect when he trotted out against Portsmouth in 2005.

Spurs were on an awful winless run and needed the points, and while many a Spurs fan now complains about squad quality, this was a different time- Michael Brown the midfield anchor, Andy Reid wheezing in his own half, and comedy full back Tim Atouba.

Mido scored a belter of a header and a tap in, won every aerial ball, and generally made a huge nuisance of himself. He did a fantastic volleyed back heel to Jermain Defoe who he expected to be on his wavelength and just got a confused look in return, and got subbed off after the hour looking knackered. That was as good as it got for Mido really but he earned himself an ovation from the crowd that day and I thought we had a superstar on our hands. Shame I was totally wrong, but it was fun while it lasted.
Andy Mac, Vancouver Spur.

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