Ole is a better tactician than Fergie was. And more mails…

Date published: Friday 22nd October 2021 9:16 - Ian Watson

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer attends the Sir Alex Ferguson documentary

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is better tactician than the greatest manager Man Utd ever had. That’s one take in the Friday morning Mailbox.

Keep your mails coming in over the weekend to theeditor@football365.com


Ole’s tactical nous
There’s a lot of sepia tinged historic revisionism going on about Man Utd.

Ferguson was by no means a master tactician. He wasn’t even a particularly good technical coach.

What he was was a superlative man manager who was able to take a group of players and make them more than they are, using an elite set of coaches.

Ole is a better coach and tactician but manages to make the team better than it is only occasionally. Fergie had those moments of disaster too.

Utd have tried master tacticians in Mourinho and van Gaal and hated them. Ole is the right manager for the way the club works but is operating in a league which is more competitive than it was when Fergie retired. Very rarely back then was there 3-4 genuine title contenders – usually only one or two.

Now I’ve written that I’m not totally sure what the payoff is here but on balance I am #OleIn


Arrogant Ole
Looking forward to the Man U – Liverpool game, it seems very much in the balance – depending on whether Ole can finally crack the puzzle of how to lineup his side. While on form you would consider us the heavy favourites, it’s obvious how much effect the Old Trafford crowd has on the cohesiveness and effectiveness of this United side. They will be in full voice and then some at the weekend and it absolutely will make a difference – if they’re given something worthwhile to shout about.

Against Valencia and, particularly last night, against Atalanta, United were downright terrible in the first half. But driven by emotion, desire and some wonderful support they pulled it out of the bag. They got some extremely well-deserved boos from the minority at half-time which Ole idiotically criticised.

He’s turned out to be an arrogant smug man – under his facade of niceness – who can be relied on to say something self-aggrandising or very chippy once or twice an interview. If he knows so much better than the pundits, fans or ‘experts’ as he terms them – perhaps he should try setting out his team better and winning more games. His mentor was equally punchy in an interview, but he got away with it because he kept winning trophies. A little more humility would suit Ole better in light of his record of repeatedly losing semi-finals or never doing better than runners up in any competition.

It is, of course, easy to criticise. But what the hell he thought he was doing with that tactical lineup was beyond me. It drove Paul Scholes into a pit of gloom. Certainly I’d be delighted if he set up the team like that against us – Salah in particular would think it’s his birthday. Most likely someone with a working brain will persuade him not to though. Certainly Fergie would never have put that team out to play Liverpool and he may well make a phone call to explain that.

As it was, Ronaldo won the game for them for neither the first or last time. It was a terrific finish but that’s pretty much all he offers these days. ‘All’ seems quite harsh considering he’s the ultimate clutch player – scoring high quality goals at extremely critical times. It’s an enviable ability which few can emulate. But he doesn’t press, he doesn’t assist and the team carries him until he scores, or doesn’t. Ole can’t drop him. But as a ‘team’ United are weaker with him. He can’t play with Fernandes, as we’ve seen with Portugal. And United had too many passengers already.

As exciting as the game was, it’s barely a sticking plaster over Ole’s problems. And as supportive as the fans in the stadium have been, they can’t tolerate much longer the kind of dross they turned out in the first half.

I hope Ole does put out this absurd 4-2-4 at the weekend but unfortunately I don’t think he will.

Whether he can finally find the formation and tactics to get the best out of his squad is quite another thing though. If he does, the Old Trafford crowd will finally have something worthy of their support.

If not then Paul Scholes’ pessimism will be fully justifiable.
James, Liverpool


Busting the individual brilliance myth
I’ll sidestep the Ole-out-in discussion. He isn’t learning quickly enough for my liking so I’m ambivalent as of now. But the beef I have is with this notion of ‘United only play well through individual brilliance’. It’s an intellectually lazy argument and it suggests that for example that United’s relentless attacking for 60 minutes of yesterdays game vs Atlanta had nothing to do with Solskjaer.

Individual brilliance and managerial inputs are not mutually exclusive. If they were we’d have to pull up Klopp for all the great goals Salah scores, every good cross that the wing backs make, or even every Van Dyke tackle. Bernado Silva, Grealish, or De Bruyne’s footwork, athleticism, or assists are all acts of individual brilliance, but we don’t smear Guardiola with it as a failing. Unless you believe that Bruno’s pass for Rashford’s goal was individual brilliance but Salah’s deflected goal v Atletico was all part of Klopp’s masterplan. In which case, go in peace amigo.

A much more nuanced argument would be that while Solskjaer understands well how the team should play in the last 3rd of the pitch, he is average when it comes to the remaining parts. The defensive mistakes have been well documented, but there’s a distinct lack of street smartness. For the second goal yesterday, Demiral clearly pushes McTominay out from behind. Very few refs will blow for that. But McTominay has to expect it, or be stronger, or maybe scream and fall to the floor. Or not position himself right in front when the ball is coming in, to start with. Whatever it takes, except getting suckered, because once he was out of the picture, Maguire was never going to get to Demiral.

The real problem area is the midfield. Picking the personnel, fine tuning their positional play both with and without the ball, shielding the defence, and playing out through a crowded midfield – these are all areas where United struggle, and so we are left to the mercies of the individual performances of Pogba, Fred, Matic, and McTominay, whichever combination is on the pitch. Which is also why the more vertical counter attacking style works, or even the ball over the top for Rashford. And when teams sit deep, it’s the slow and ponderous midfield play that shows us up.

All of which doesn’t add up to the moments of brilliance argument. The goals are usually excellent goals, well worked, and are the result of having the right people in the right places on the pitch, and playing to their strengths. United should have scored 3 goals in the last 10 minutes of the first half and another 5 in the second half. That’s certainly down to how the team are set up. Unless Klopp has Salah practicing beating 3 people in the box to score, that’s exactly how most good teams work. The individual brilliance is the icing on top of good team performances.
Ved Sen MUFC

Big Weekend: Man United v Liverpool, West Ham, Havertz, Jones


Ole v Arteta
I think Dave (hysterical conclusion to this email …), Dublin needs to relook at when Ole and Arteta were appointed if he thinks they both started their jobs at ‘about the same time’. There was exactly 1 year and 1 day between the two appointments. Dave also says Ole has done considerably better with ‘what he has’. If you looked at the state of the two squads when both managers took over I think you’d find Ole had a much better hand dealt to him than Arteta.

Arteta has spent net £180m since he was appointed, Ole has spent net £295m. Those figures are transfer fees alone but if you take in to account wages of the players signed, which has to come in to the equation, then Ole’s spending is vastly superior to Arteta’s.

Given where they both started, the difference in length of time in the job, the difference in what they inherited and the difference in what they’ve spent it is very difficult to judge Ole v Arteta, and I dare say fans of either club wouldn’t want the other one to be their manager. This isn’t a mail to robustly defend Arteta, as I think he should be doing better than he has and with what he’s got – but more a mail to give context

They can both only really be judged against the reasonable expectations of what they should be achieving. For my Money Ole has to win a trophy after bottling so many semi-finals and the Europa Final, and he also should be making a decent fist of a title challenge whilst at the same time we should acknowledge that Liverpool and City both have managers and squads who are much more stable and have been together longer. Arteta has a trophy in the bag but should be pushing hard for one of the two domestic cups as he doesn’t have European distractions he should also as a minimum finish in the top 6 and get the club back in to Europe via their league position, and given the money spent and talent available he should be making a decent fist of closing the gap to the top 4. I don’t think anyone expects Arsenal to be top 4 or Man U to win the title but neither team should be 20-25 points off each target. Lets see at the end of the season – unless one of them gets the boot before then!
Rich (AFC)


Like a box of chocolates
I tuned into Man United vs Atalanta after the first half. I will admit, it was partly due to a little schadenfreude and to see Ole`s last 45 minutes in charge of United before his exile starts in Molde. What followed instead was my confidence going into Sundays game slowly but surely diminishing.

The start of that first half was intense. United seemed to be everywhere and just in total control. Reminded of a swarm of locusts. The first goal was inevitable, the second goal a small lapse in concentration and the third in my mind almost written in the stars.

Made me wonder what that first half must’ve looked like…

In any case, the game was very indicative of United this season and how things might continue during it. United have the squad to beat anyone, but also a manager to lose to anyone. Each game will be ‘like a box of chocolates’.
Nik (At least Ole remains for now), Liverpool


Matter of time?
Yesterday I watched as United trailed by 2 against Atalanta and it was the first time I thought to myself “I must speak my mind out or I’ll go crazy”.

I’ve been supporting United since 2003, I’m a portuguese supporter and I’ve been with the team through thick and thin:
I cried when Ronaldo missed the penalty in 2008, then cheered when Terry slipped, I suffered a lot with the upbringing of City and I’ve cheered less than often enough against them as well (thank you Michael Owen), but it’s fair to say that the reason why I started watching United still flows through to me and the feeling of one day going to Old Trafford is very present still (surviving Moyes, LvG and Mourinho wasn’t easy, specially Mourinho).

However, it’s contradictory, I’ve started supporting United because of the likes of Giggsy, Scholesy and I kept on supporting the team because of Carrick, Wazza, Fletcher and many others, now I doubt myself about supporting them because of Ole.
What do they have in common? All carry the United way inside them.

Still, I wonder, is it a matter of time? For me it’s a break or make it kind of thing, I’ve been #Olein most of the time, but then came the beginning of this season and I was #Oleout until Atalanta and now I don’t know anymore, mostly because I know that it’s only a matter of time before United becomes Champion of something or Ole is sacked after proving that he’s just like me, a mere wannabe manager that plays Football Manager, chooses a tactic, plays a bit with this or that, chooses the best players (at least I put them playing in their true position, like Martial on the left wing) and prays to the fictional football gods for a good result.

TL;DR – Maybe it’s only a matter of time like it was for Liverpool, but I just hope that it doesn’t take 50 years like it was for Chelsea…
Jude, from Barreiro in Portugal


Klopp contradiction
Not necessarily totally #olein, but the Liverpool and United matches this week had a lot of parallels and the same result. The consensus is Klopp is a genius and ole is depriving a village somewhere of it’s idiot. It is suspiciously convenient that constantly calling for ole to be sacked drives a lot of click bait.

When he loses sack him. When he wins sack him.

All I know is that both of those matches are why I watch football.

Liverpool are heavy favourites in the up north classico but I’m looking forward to see what happens.


Dane Scarlett shows his frustration as Spurs lose to Vitesse

Reassessing Spurs’ defeat
I don’t know what match Dave Tickner may have watched. Describing the Spurs perfomance as rotten doesn’t do any justice to the game – if anything, the match was evenly fought, and a draw would have been a fair result away against a pretty good team.

Vitesse’s goal came via a deflection from a very difficult volley. It certainly wasn’t a better goal scoring opportunity than the one Gil smashed on the crossbar. Other than those, there were very few chances either way.

Fair enough, a club of Tottenham’s means could be expected to produce more, but it certainly wasn’t for lack of trying, or even competence for the most part. Well, Dele didn’t look like he’d achieve much, but he always does, and then the stats tell otherwise, not sure which it was here. But as for the rest, I can’t pick out a single weak link. Winks was good, always looking forward, Lo Celso at times unplayable, Gil and Bergwijn energetic and ambitious while still taking good care of
possession, Scarlett so often looking a mature target man, the whole defense solid.

That Vitesse shithousery Dave mentioned really hurt us. Attacks dying out with players down, or just halted with a foul that was given. We visibly tired from putting in so much effort without anything to show for it. Our biggest shortcoming – apart from the lack of substitutes to change the game – was a lack of threat from set-pieces. Even then, if Dane Scarlett had been awarded a penalty for being blatantly pulled down from his shirt in the box (blindsided from the ref’s point of view, would have needed VAR), the narrative would have been completely different.

Yes, our first eleven would probably have had a better result, but even that’s not a given. Nuno took a calculated risk, and it looks like it backfired, but did it even? We’re still in it, the players involved got much-needed minutes and can be proud of their effort, and the first team can take on the Hammers well rested. COYS!
Samuli, THFC


Steve Bruce and Marco Pierre White
Marco Pierre White famously returned his three Michelin Stars in 2000 or so. It was seen by some as a publicity stunt and others as a legitimate stand against an unfair and secret form of assessment which had the capacity to destroy a chef’s reputation and business. Marco made the point that he was not going to be judged by people with less technical expertise than he had and I loved this argument. The sense of self assurance in one’s brilliance that there was no need to face meritless scrutiny just to sustain some other lesser mans taste. Ian King’s poignent view of Steve Bruce’s personal feelings is of course a reminder to use that we should treat people with dignity and kindness but also a reminder of Marco’s wonderful sense of self. Why should Steve Bruce face scrutiny from us? What do we know? Nothing really. With all due respect, Steve Bruce has more football knowledge than every journalist who journals about him or pundit who opines on him put together.

Steve Bruce shouldn’t have to face any scrutiny really as he is just the manager of a sports teams. He is not a politician or policy maker, he just has the privilege of coaching men who happen to have a hobby as a job.

Steve Bruce, when you think about it, is an elite manager. Throughout his career, he has done the hard and often unglamorous work of working with teams who have scant resources and mediocre players. Taking teams to the Premier League is considered one of the hardest tasks a manager can undertake and Bruce achieved this feat on multiple occasions. If he were the CEO of a company that sells a mediocre product, he would be heralded as being a strategic leader who can get the best from a bad batch and increase profits for the board. I respect a Steve Bruce far more than these darlings of the city fathers like Thomas Tuchel or Poch who lets face it, take the easy jobs and largely fail at them. Tuchel pulled a Rafa and fluked a Champions League and will eat out on that for years to come but his brand of football is already boring those who healed him as all conquering master of the game. It is not that long ago that this website lauded Poch as an enlightened man who was working wonders at Spurs. How quickly he went away and is now out to pasture on easy street. Likewise, I recall this page heralding Roberto Martinez to Everton after he had taken West Brom back to the championship.

The Premier League is built on the shoulders of men like Steve Bruce. Long after the Peps and Klopp’s of the world have left the league, we will be looking at these men to do an honest days work in challenging circumstances.

What troubles me the most is that Steve Bruce was victim of an ageist, classist abuse from elements of society which align themselves with Liberal ideas when it comes to politics and so on.

Rest easy Steve, the astroturf players with Joker tattoos on their legs and full kits on their bodies can’t hurt you now.
Jamie, Eire


Newcastle and Ukrainian love
Reading through Harry, THFC’s mail on Newcastle and if he was able to pick players that would be realistic transfer targets and signings in the near future i was pleasantly surprised and happy to see two Ukrainian names in his list, his choices of Viktor Tsygankov and Illya Zabarnyi are two players i have followed since the summer and spent a fair bit of time looking into their careers and how they may develop, now this is certainly not a “so you watched a few YouTube videos big deal” sort of follow not at all, i spoke to two Ukrainian football journalists for my podcast at the time about Andriy Shevchenko and chose to ask about any talented players that we should be keeping an eye on in the Euro 2020 competition and the two names that came up were indeed Tsygankov and Zabarnyi (a player Chelsea were linked with over the Summer).

The passion that the two journalists spoke with when discussing these two truly got me intrigued to know more, they certainly are no world beaters at this current stage for Dynamo Kyiv but have every potential to grow into one, they get a huge thumbs up from me and if they do head to Newcastle if it was under the right manager they could flourish, if Newcastle do go down the route of hiring former Shakhtar Donetsk manager Paulo Fonseca it could be a masterstroke, he may not have coached the pair but he certainly knows how the Ukrainian Premier League operates, the strengths a player must have and does not have, what would need improving upon when heading to a more physical league like the Premier League, it could be beautiful.
The Admin @ At The Bridge Pod


You are the Newcastle sporting director
I will give Ehab’s task a go…

So in year one, I take stock of my playing squad, and brutally whittle it down to “who can do a job?”… and because I have not yet hired a coach yet it is my decision, and so I am left with these players:








Everyone else in the squad just becomes “squad players and/or sold off cheaply to random clubs”. I recognise from the off that I will not be able to ask for a lot of money, so let’s say that’s £30m per season that I raise from selling off the squad. Not ALL the squad of course, just the ones that other people want.

That’s 10 players that I have, I have a bench (which are all for sale!), I now need a manager and an eleventh player.

I’m not going to go for a young, ambitious, “time to bed in with a ten year plan” coach. I have loads of money, a massive transfer budget, a starting 10 who are generally lightweight, if pacey and talented. I have a ropey, yet committed, defence and a solid, if unspectacular goalie. The squad is fractured, with weak spirit, and if I don’t do something drastic NOW then I’m going to get relegated. I need a defensively minded, experienced coach, who is a big enough personality to handle the media and fan pressure, but can also attract big name players, handle large contracts, and will steady the ship for a couple of seasons before I bring in someone a bit more fancy-pants like Thomas Tuchel.

I employ Jose Mourinho as coach. I hand him his £250m transfer kitty, and ask him to sort it. Bring me experienced, tough players. I envision the starting eleven in season one, broadly speaking, to be this 4-3-3 (new signings bolded)

GK: Dubravka
DL: Digne
CB: Laschelles
CB: Laporte
DR: Manquillo
MF: Willock
MF: Shelvey
MF: Bissouma
FWD: Saint-Maximin
FWD: Sterling
FWD: Wilson

They don’t score a lot, they don’t really entertain a great deal, but they hardly concede (Jamal Laschelles and Aymeric Laporte are titans at the back) and are, with a rejuvenated Callum Wilson having a clinical season, somehow able to scrape in to Europe. It’s a miracle! It’s just the Europa though…

So season two comes along and I kinda already know that Jose’s leaving with a large £10m payoff at the end of it, however I take a look at my starting eleven from last season and look where I need upgrades. Despite his excellent form the season previous, I decide Callum Wilson needs replacing, as does Shelvey and Manquillo. I am now at a stage where I can start attracting Champions League players, seeing as even though I’m not actually IN the Champions League yet, we are making a big push to do so. Plus my wage offerings are obscene.

My starting eleven is now this, with new signings highlighted:

GK: Dubravka

DL: Digne

CB: Laschelles

CB: Laporte

DR: Wan-Bissaka

MF: Willock

MF: Partey

MF: Bissouma

FWD: Chiesa

FWD: Sterling

FWD: Kane

Does Mourinho truly get value for money with these signings? I mean, we still play a little rigidly, and Harry Kane, despite scoring a very nice 20 goals for us, still didn’t really live up to the expectation we all had (300 goals), but we ARE in the Champions League now, Federico Chiesa has proven to be an unbelievably good Premier League star, and Joe Willock, now given more freedom with both Partey and Bissouma playing defensive mid, scores 20 goals himself.

So anyway Mourinho is sacked, I bring in Thomas Tuchel (himself just recently sacked by Chelsea), and we bring in Haaland, Pedri, Mbappe and Frenkie De Jong and win the League in my third season. Probably.

Dale May, Swindon Wengerite


…Everyone likes playing football manager right so thanks Ehab, here we go. Newcastle first and foremost need to secure their premier league status and secure a top half finish next year, with this in mind I would go with Graham Potter, frankly I don’t understand any premier league club that doesn’t go for Potter when looking for a new manager. Apparently Spurs did recently and he told Levy where to shove it which makes him even better. There is also the possibility he turns out to be one them great coaches and Newcastle can stick with him to the top.

For players, Potter is bringing a few with him, say Lamptey, Dunk, and Bissouma for a combined £80m. Dean Henderson seems to be itching to play somewhere so I’d target him for another £20m. That plus Potters talent will sort out the defence for now. Going forward Wilson is already a good striker he’s just never fit, so someone who can play well as a two and alone is needed. Ollie Watkins fits that bill pretty well, always posts good numbers, is fairly young and versatile, say £40m. Now for the unrealistic picks because we’re just having fun and Newcastle need some power in midfield, noting their current contracts status there are few better options right now than Tielemens and Kessie, lets call it £50m combined.

So for £190m’ish you get…


Lamptey / Lascelles / Dunk / Lewis

Tielemans / Bissouma / Kessie

Saint Maximin / Wilson / Watkins
Dave, Manchester


Headline for free
I was really hoping one of the rags might have had a Morrissey inspired headline after Barcalona’s win yesterday. “You’re the one for me Fati”.
NeiL, Brand Colour Red, Vancouver

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