Mails: What would Pep have done differently at United?

Date published: Friday 29th December 2017 9:52

Send yer thoughts to, lads and lasses.


Case for the defence
With confirmation of the VVD move it seems a good time to revisit the old argument around whether Liverpool’s defensive issues are the fault of the personnel or the system they are asked to play.

My answer is always the same: to me they’re not mutually exclusive. The system can leave the defence exposed – with three attackers, two midfielders and both full backs pushing up gaps frequently appear in behind, and if the opposition is able to bypass the press and exploit these, they are running directly at the heart of the defence. The CBs and deepest midfielder therefore need to be mobile, aggressive but above all intelligent – capable of anticipating the lines along which the attack will develop and closing off the angles.

If you have such players it’s perfectly possible to utilise a high press while remaining defensively solid. Tottenham are a good example of this – but the coincidence of their recent poor(er) run with the absence of Alderweireld also shows how critical it is to have the right personnel. The likes of Lovren or Skrtel are not terrible defenders, but they are not capable of playing such a role; ask them to do so and their unsuitability will be ruthlessly exposed by the better sides, resulting in the kind of shambles we saw against Spurs and (briefly) Arsenal.

So the short answer is that the system does not preclude defensive resilience but it does require top quality defenders to be effective. Liverpool have not had many of these over recent years but Matip and now VVD do seem to fit the bill. The latter won’t be an instant panacea – for a start, we still need a canny DM and a competent keeper – but hopefully he’ll bring improvement and a step in the right direction.
Jon Gibson LFC (looking forward to being reminded of his price tag after each and every goal we concede from now on)


A counter argument
Since the last mailbox was filled with the typical defensive (no pun intended) reaction from some LFC fans to my disappointment in the fee paid for VVD, as Samuel L. Jackson once said, please “allow me to retort.”

Micki asks what 2 players we could have gotten for the 75M. Had he read my mail objectively he would realise that my exact point is that our scouting should be at the level of being able to find such players. Are we seriously saying there are no CBs out there as good or even better than VVD that are worth 30-35M? Did the Saints not find exactly that (and paid less)? If you can’t see the problem of an elite club having to go to the same club every year to get players then it’s time to change your LFC bed sheets with the sticky white stains. Especially when only one of these players, Mane, has been a certified hit (Lallana has been injured too often).

Leicester’s transfer failures mostly came AFTER winning the league with the players they did excellent scouting for.

On Sahko. Please remind me who our best defender was the last time LFC came close to winning the league? Yeah him, Bambi on ice. I’d rather have him at the heart of our defence than the other bloke that we signed from, wait for it, Southampton.

Comparing VVD to Walker is redundant because Walker was an integral part of a team that had finished in the top 4 twice and were arguably the best team over those two years. I agree the fee for him was also high but more justifiable (plus it wasn’t 75M). VVD doesn’t even have the mental strength to carry on playing his football after the transfer didn’t go through in the summer and if there’s one thing the club needs right now it’s defenders with the mental fortitude to help us hold on to leads and see games out.

There is also a huge difference (let me see, 45M?) between paying 30M and 75M for a player. Saying “they are both silly money anyway” is like saying paying 100K for a house is the same as paying 250K for the same house.

VVD will be 27 by the end of the season, by no means old but Rio was 23 and one of the most promising young defenders in world football when United paid the big fee. People seem to think just because the papers say Man City was interested in VVD, that automatically makes it true so LFC had to pay the extortionate fee.

Liverpool fans are often seen as rose tinted glasses wearers, unable to think logically when it comes to the club. Not all of us are like this. Some of us see things for what they are. I want the player to be a success regardless, but I have a feeling that he will not make the difference people think the fee justifies. Especially under this manager. People saying if it wasn’t for Jesus, I mean Klopp, we couldn’t have pulled off this transfer is just funny. Guys, it’s bloody Virjil Van Dijk, not Raphael Varane or Giorgio Chiellini. Get a grip.
Seyi (physical contact between men is not icky, but a manager overdoing it with his players all the time seems a bit much and for the cameras is all)


More on Mour
I’ll just keep this short and sweet. United do not have an inferior squad than City. City just have a far superior manager. Pep dominated Mourinho in Spain and he’s doing the same in England.

And this is coming from a United fan.
The Prince


A long one
Jose Mourinho is obviously a very successful manager. However, his CV is consistently the same. He joins the one of the richest (not necessarily always the ‘biggest’) clubs in the league who has finished 2nd or 3rd, just off the title pace and spends big money to add the missing 5% to take the club over the line in the following couple of seasons. The only time he was in a situation where he couldn’t completely throw money at everything was his final year at Chelsea. That did not end well.

Jose’s 5% at a club is always to buy 2 or 3 players who will fit perfectly into the gaps at the club he has signed for. He arrived at Manchester United 18 months ago, with the club at the peak of its financial powers. We had just won the FA Cup, the second biggest title in England and the first trophy since Ferguson retired. We had our first potentially top quality youth product (Rashford) in the first team, and Martial looking like another incredible youth import for us. We had the league’s joint best defence that season so we all knew where the problem was, United needed to improve the attack and they would be serious title challengers again. To that end, Jose added Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Zlatan to achieve this, kept De Gea and brought in Bailly. It was a perfect time for a new coach to come in as the problem was clear, we had the money to fix it and it looked like we had achieved exactly what we had planned for the first time in the post-Ferguson era.

The reality was somewhat different though. Jose’s teams are built to defend first at all costs, his primary focus is always solidifying the defence. His natural instincts are not to build an attacking unit, his approach to games is always ‘stopping the opponent’. Coming into a club with such a strong defensive record the season before, Jose had no idea of what to do. Having to improve the attacking fortunes of a club as opposed to the defence for the first time in his career, he took a slow, ponderous attack and added an even slower (but much better) striker, and even worse, attempted to play him with Rooney. If there was ever a failure guarantee the prime example would be this attempted partnership. He had no idea how to use Mkhitaryan so he was also side-lined for much of the season. The majority of United fans ignored this as they focused on the flashy big names (Zlatan and Pogba), rather than pay any attention to the way our system of play and match strategy was being constructed in the Jose mould.

For Jose, this was fine, as any potential problems could be easily solved. He does no scouting and no coaching to improve players because if there’s a problem, he can simply spend more money. It is a disastrous approach for a club that has to balance the books while still being competitive, but Mourinho has always had the biggest budgets in the league, so he’s only had to consider it once – at Chelsea in his last spell. Everyone knows he’s a chequebook manager when he’s hired but that is fine and not a problem when you’re the richest club in the world. Unfortunately for us however, that only lasted for 2 transfer windows. This summer we were conclusively knocked off our money perch, and thus the only thing Jose knows how to do with a team was torn from him. His anger and frustration is completely justified to him because he’s now in a position he cannot handle. He has to compete with other clubs for players, and can no longer purchase ready-made stars to fix his problems. We brought in a chequebook manager to the club during a transitional period and at a time where our money no longer led the pack. The Ferguson factor staved off the effects of the Glazer takeover but now the proverbial is hitting the fan. Chequebook Jose knows it too, because with the inflated prices (plus another 20% because it’s Man Utd), and us being an actual business, Jose is a bit screwed without an oil club.

While some fans might think this is temporary, Pep’s arrival at City has legitimised them. Their football will bring new fans, the new fans justify the currently fake sponsorship deals and allow for even bigger contracts to be signed. It is not inconceivable that within the next 3 years, if things progress as they are City will have the biggest turnover and profits in world football. The only way to succeed now is to plan long-term. It is not enough to say that we cannot compete with the big money, it is about re-shaping the ethos so that competing with the big money is never the goal. Appointing a director of football would be a good start (I’m sure Ferguson would oblige), but Ed Woodward appointing a director of football would be an admission of failure on his part, so I can’t see it happening, although you would think the owners will review things when he appoints manager number four.

Sadly, there is no vision of this future that includes Jose, and it is not just because he’s never developed a team before. It is because even now, when the future is clear as day, he doubles-down and simply screams for more money. He’s living in a hotel, away from his family, he’s sniped at fans, flirted with PSG and now he’s basically said to the players “you’re not good enough” and to the board “£300m isn’t enough”. Jose is a meltdown waiting to happen and if he’s saying he wants to build a long term project because £300m isn’t enough, you wouldn’t be giving him a penny more because not once has he proven he can do a long term plan and see it through. Even though his first season failure to meet any of his top targets (PL challenge, finish top 4, retain the FA Cup) is entirely at his feet, every failure, including this season, will entirely be the club’s fault. He’s not trying to change because he doesn’t want to and he doesn’t know how to. He is going to fail and knows it, every day we keep him at the club is another day we get further and further behind City.

I will get the inevitable “you just hate Jose” jibe from the majority of United fans, but most people were either fully in support of him, or like myself, he wasn’t my first choice but once the decision was made I got behind him despite him being morally dubious and a constant risk of an implosion because supporting the club and supporting the manager are intrinsically linked. You can’t really support the club without supporting the manager as a by-product of that. I just hoped that the success came before the inevitable implosion; it doesn’t look like I’ll get my wish. I don’t want Jose to fail, I simply did not believe he had the capabilities to succeed, and I’ve not seen anything to disprove that. Not when he added the best player from Italy, Germany and France to see us score only 5 more goals in the league and win the two of the least important competitions in football despite giving up in the league circa February. Not when we were hammering clubs in the relegation zone and claiming it meant we were world beaters, and definitely not when we were beating Arsenal literally only due to De Gea putting in a record-levelling performance for a goalkeeper.

Before I finish I’d just like to remind everyone that the current manager of Manchester United is so thoroughly disgusting as a person that even in his pomp Barcelona turned down for a reserve coach and Bayern said they would never hire. Even our own Sir Bobby Charlton has never publicly given his approval, and when tasked with replacing himself, our greatest manager and club servant ever declined to appoint him. Does anyone in the current Manchester United set up (or indeed in football) have morals that cannot be counted in pounds?
Rosh, MUFC


Pep at United
Interesting thought raised in the mailbox about what the world might look like if Pep had gone to ManU and Jose to Man City.

Concentrating on ManU.

DeGea would stay in goal. In defence, Pep would probably have made something more of Shaw; purchased Stones instead of Bailly and partnered him with Jones (I can’t see Smalling making the cut), and given Valencia a chance on the right.

In midfield, I assume he would have bought Pogba, but not Matic. As a partner, Gungodan would be a good fit. Mata and Mkhitaryan would seem to be Pep type of players, and he would be unlikely to discard Martial or Rashford. He’d still probably buy Sane, and upfront, Lukaku would not have been purchased (although Morata might have been), and more pressure would have been applied on Sanchez. The purchase of Jesus would also have gone ahead.

In this scenario, would ManU be 15 points ahead at Xmas?
Matthew (ITFC)


Leave Spurs alone
Does anybody else remember a time when football supporters, tabloid media and pundits were all in agreement that footballers wages were getting out of control and something needed to be done? When did it flip over to this rabid ‘you have to pay him the going rate or he’ll leave’, a comment often devoid of all context and reason?

I’m talking obviously, about Spurs. For years we were patronisingly told that teams needed to live within their means after what happened to Leeds United under Ridsdale and more recently, Bolton Wanderers. These are two examples of spectacular mismanagement. Leeds Utd were overreaching and heavily reliant on Champions League cash, and god only knows what Bolton were doing. When it comes to Spurs though, it does seem like a quite unsavoury attempt to upset the applecart and undermine what we’re trying to do as a club. I’m more than aware that it’s a bit of a running joke, particularly on these pages, that fans of every club believe that their team is picked on or ‘Journo X is biased’ etc etc but I’m not really talking about individuals. It seems at the moment, that every time we win a game, or an individual has a good game, the same rubbish gets trotted out, and it isn’t ‘Spurs need to win something’, which in my view is absolutely fair enough. It’s ‘Spurs need to start paying the going rate or their players will leave’.

This sweeping statement often overlooks several key points:

1) Tottenham as a squad have consistently punched above their weight, more than any other club over the past 4 or 5 years. Yes we’ve had the Leicester story but I’m talking continuous improvement as a team in terms of performance, over a number of years

2) Tottenham are a club which is comfortably in sixth place in terms of income/turnover, with a stadium that is probably around 9th or 10th biggest for the majority of that time. We don’t yet have the resources to pay six or seven players 100k a week, but the new stadium income will provide that opportunity as match day revenue will treble.

3) Tottenham probably extend and renew basic contract terms more often than any other club in the league. Harry Kane for example has had 4 or 5 basic term improvements in 2 years. Sitting and looking at a snapshot in time of Tottenham’s wages is a short sighted way of looking at things. The press, desperate to push the angle at every opportunity, snatched on Danny Rose’s comments as representative of the entire squad. Rose, when making these comments, had signed a new 5 year deal on improved terms in October 2016 and had then spent 9 of the next 12 months injured. He’s also renowned for being a bit of a moaner and his best pal had moved to Manchester City.

4) Tottenham have very few players in danger of running out of contract, which doesn’t really scream ‘the players are unhappy’ and would suggest that most have signed new deals recently. If they were unhappy, why would they sign? Surely they’d let the contracts run down to give them some more bargaining power further down the line? From what I can see, only Lamela, who has suffered long term injuries from which the club will be waiting to see how he recovers before extending, and Alderweireld, who wants a release clause, with basic terms not believed to be a problem, are outstanding issues, and even they both have over 2 years left on their deals.

5) When discussing ‘the going rate’, pundits often use statistical outliers to make a point. They’ll use players like Javier Hernandez or Christian Benteke as proof that Kane should be paid more. Both strikers were massively overpaid by previous clubs and have simply demanded their salary be matched at their new club. This isn’t Tottenham telling Kane that he isn’t worthy of their wages, and Kane himself seems happy with his lot, it’s Tottenham sensibly suggesting that these players are massively overpaid and are lucky to be drawing those salaries based on past glories. Others make spurious comparisons to Manchester United and Manchester City, as if either club represents sensible ‘going rate’ pay structures. In statistical terms, both are ‘outliers’ and pay hugely in excess of players worth, more often than not. Added to that, they can afford to. If a player really wants to, he can demand to go there. Only Walker has and with him, you could argue he’s entitled to a move after 9 years service, and he himself said he wanted the opportunity to work with Guardiola. Higher wages were a by product of his move, not a driving force behind it.

My main gripe with all of this is, when did public opinion flip? My hypothesis is that football has jumped the shark, and there has been a power shift from traditional football journalism to online ‘Footy Banter’ and clickbait content driving football narratives, but as a sport, is football in danger of sucking itself inside out? When you look at Tottenham’s current financial position objectively, with a stadium to finance, players seemingly highly motivated to improve, more so than their contemporaries for the most part if you’re comparing like for like quality, and perform beyond their perceived ability, it is completely at odds with the picture painted by this gross narrative that is sweeping everyone along, that Spurs must start paying more. My advice would be to watch the moving picture rather than comment on a snapshot in time, to ignore spurious anomalies like the wages of Hernandez, Lingard or Benteke, and maybe admit that in these days of madness in football, Spurs should actually be lauded for their sensible approach rather than what feels like a constant attempt to unsettle and pick fault.

What do other Mailboxers think? And is there a narrative with your club that annoys you beyond belief?


Brewster and Suarez
Right.  So I’m going to wade in here.  I’ve caused a couple of “bust-ups” with my SJW agenda in the past, particularly on the issue of racism in football.  I am an unabashed Liverpool supporter, and it is with some regret I look back on the behavior of the club in regards to Luis Suarez. Suarez has many enviable traits as a footballer, but being a good person is not amongst them.  His race-bating of Patrice Evra should never have been enabled by the club’s hierarchy and those t-shirts will remain a blot on our legacy for years.

As it should be.

But this is something different.

To conflate the support of Suarez to the abuse endured by Rhian Brewster is a gigantic leap of logical fallacy, but one cannot deny the end product.  Those shirts may have been appalling but Suarez and LFC suffered from consequences to their collective actions.

But my God, what is wrong with some people?  At this moment a 17 year old child is making the choice to step up and speak out about something in a way that most of us will thankfully never endure.  That he plays for Liverpool should be beside the point.

This is not about Luis Suarez.

This is about Rhian Brewster.  This is about what needs to be done NOW to protect a child.  This is about holding UEFA to account for their utterly disgusting disinterest in addressing this issue. We Liverpool supporters live with the disgrace that is Luis Suarez every day by losing ourselves in the fantasy of 2013/2014 and that is our problem to deal with, UEFA can play no more part.

But it can help Brewster.

It must help.

This is a 17 year old boy being threatened and the utter impotence of the governing body of the sport to even acknowledge the issue, let alone deal with it.

If we let this slide on account of a previous disgrace, if we choose to accept the status quo because in the past Liverpool has failed in it’s duty to uphold the dignity of the sport…then it’s not “silly season” or the TV money that is to blame for the lifeblood being sucked out of the game.

No, if we let this pass it’s only us to blame.  VVD be damned, this is too important to ignore.
Matthew, LFC, Washington DC


That article in The Guardian from Rhian Brewster is honestly so sad to read. Initially I assumed it was just racist bell ends in the stands but to hear it’s players from Sevilla youth saying such awful things it really makes you wonder what on earth is wrong with these kids. They might be young but they really ought to know better. I guess it’s no great surprise that Fifa have done fuck all to try and resolve the issues but that’s equally disappointing.

Players ought to stop getting involved in stupid racism campaigns until the powers that be actually sit up and introduce fixed and harsh punishments for such things. Full stadium bans for the first team for youth team conduct would be a good start. If a player can be coached to play football they should also be capable of training them to not be such closed minded little wankers.

Even more disappointing is the reaction of fans of the game. Sachin Nakrani posted before hand to say a big article was coming related to Liverpool and the number of “shoulders shrugged” responses because it wasn’t about a transfer was an embarrassing indictment of fans (or Twitter users, perhaps).

Full disclosure; racism is close to heart. I’ve had plenty of exposure to it in my own life and can’t help but feel that without buy in from fans, players, clubs and the authorities Football will never really be a force for change. It’s time it actually did so.
Minty, LFC


Not sure if we a get a right to reply via the lovely mailbox, but just in case: I greatly appreciate Chris’s (CTID) email about time-wasting being a ‘tool’ of the smaller clubs, it’s good to hear from someone who has been on both ends of it. This is definitely the reality of the situation – the powers that be and football have allowed inequality to basically create a farce of a ‘league’, whereby it is impossible within the laws of the game for teams in the same division to compete with each other.

Let me clear, time-wasting within the rules of the game is totally fair – as City did spectacularly (and even as a United fan, hilariously) in the derby. They are within the rules. All the tricks Chris mentions to ensure the ball is not in play – surely that is violating the spirit of the game, and referees should do something about it?

What Chris is highlighting is that referees are already trying to level the playing field, by treating two sides in a single match differently. Why should the rules be different for a team leading as opposed to one chasing a lead? Why should only one be expected to treat free kicks, throw-ins, subs etc in a certain manner? It’s just really odd. I guess it helps with drama, but as someone with North American sensibilities, it’s bizarre.

Quick note on Matt’s email too – it’s part of Pep’s brilliance. I watched a lot of his Barca, and 90% of matches were over at the 65th minute, because that team was utterly incredible at cynical fouls, strategic cramping, ‘drawing’ of contact and passing it around between the back 5. It’s the only way they could press for the first 60 minutes so effectively. The number of times Messi or Iniesta gently clip a defender looking to release the break without being booked is almost as impressive as their close control.
Ryan (just get Giggs in with this squad, and use that as a barometer of Jose’s ability. Someone will be proved wrong)


Following up on the comments about time wasting and other cynical play, I think most fans would agree such tactics are annoying at best and cheating at worst, especially (only? 🙂 when it’s your team that is trying to ‘play football’.

However, some of the suggestions for preventing/punishing teams for cynical play (diving, feigning injury, etc.) must be opposed by the old chestnut of ‘be careful what you wish for’. Two 30 minute halves with the clock stopping when the ball is out of play? More use of VAR to ‘get the call right at all costs’? These are dangerous suggestions if your goal is to protect the game from cynical actors.

For evidence, watch any broadcast of a major American sport (baseball, football, basketball) and take notice of how natural breaks in live play have been exploited by leagues and broadcasters to cram an insane amount of commercial advertising into the ‘broadcast’. I use quotes because most games are an unwatchable, giant commercial interspersed with bit of live sporting action now (see here). The situation has only gotten worse since replay was introduced.

Stopping the clock when the ball is out of play and adding more VAR increases the opportunity for broadcasters to insert adverts. After all, it’s justifiable because getting rid of cheating is what the fans want, right? Does anyone think such ‘natural breaks’ in play won’t be exploited by broadcasters  exactly like in the USA? So, the real question is which cynical actors do you want to tolerate: underdog teams trying to salvage a measely point against superior opposition or the money men who will stop at nothing to exploit our love of football to squeeze every bit of coin they can from us?
Andrew (somewhere near Oz)


To add to the topic. Three years ago Liverpool lost the title because of the timewasting tactic preformed by Mourinho. Should you have time to watch the game you’d see that from minute 1 Chelsea players were taking close to a minute to put ball to play. It took the ref almost until end of the game to show yellow to a Chelsea player for timewasting. What is the difference to show yellow in the 80th minute and not in the 5th for similar thing? FA and the referee should be asked this question! Of course a more clever coach would have tried to put a pressure on the issue during the game but… most people know Brendan Rodgers is not one…

On a positive side it is better Liverpool wasted the chance. With such a manager winning PL because of Suarez would have stayed for far longer giving the chance to turn Liverpool in new Leeds…
Marin (VVD is a great business. In Klopp we trust!) Sofia


Swansea are Pizza Hut
…that feeling you get when you order a large pizza, but they only have small left. And you want a pan pizza, but they only have thin left. And you want Italian sausage on it, but they only have weird slimy slices of ham left. And you want a side of cheesy garlic bread, but they only have plain breadsticks. And you want a large fizzy Coke, but they only have warm cans of Diet. And you want a nice green salad, but they only have room temperature pasta salad. And then the waiter comes back and says ‘but hey, we have some mediocre pineapple in the back, we can put it on the pizza…pretty cool and charismatic no?’

Of course, you take the pineapple, throw some relegated ham on it, call it a Hawaiian pizza and tell everyone around you that you’re on holiday. Good luck Swansea.
 Dave in Chicago (if soundbites were goals…)


The squad numbers game
No complaints with the majority of Dave’s selections there, but did he seriously pick Patrick Berger as the best No. 15 in PL history over the Serbian Brick Wall™ that was Nemanja Vidic?

Yours in confusion,
Jim (lost little Irish boy), Vancouver


Dave in last night’s mailbox poses a great challenge, but then so many of the picks are locked in – Shearer, Vieira, Keane, Henry etc… that there aren’t a whole host of alternatives.

I hate swimming and whenever I find myself doing lengths on some whimsical fitness drive, I always entertain myself with squad numbers to help count lengths/ pass the time.

My favourite one is this – what’s the best team from your club based on squad numbers – only using 1-11. So there’s no Henry, Keane, Scholes etc…

My Liverpool one to kick things off:
Dudek, Rob Jones, Finnan, Hyypia, Wijnaldum, Babbel, Suarez, Gerrard, Torres, Coutinho, Firmino

There’s a bit of juggling required due to limited choices at 3 and a shortage of central midfielders so Gini makes the team, Jones is at left back and Babbel moves to centre back, though both of them played there for the club so I don’t feel it’s cheating.

Notable absentees include Reina (25), Fowler (who did his best work in 23 imho, before the injuries got him), Carragher (23), Alonso (14) and Hamann (16).

So, how do other sides compare, and which club legends miss out?
Jonny (doing this made me realise how many ropey keepers have worn the 1) Dance

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