Did Man United actually ‘f***ing nail’ transfer window?

Date published: Saturday 31st October 2020 9:06

Man United and Ole continue to dominate the mailbox. Send your thoughts to theeditor@football365.com

 

Ole gives us reason to believe
I think I’ve had something to write for a while now, but just couldn’t find a coherent way to write it. So I decided to write anyway, and whether it’s coherent or not will just have to be a shot in the dark…

First of all, to those who cannot see any good in Solskjaer’s reign, or cannot understand why any would like him to stay, I get it, at least sometimes. Many might respond after a stand-out performance as if it proves their point, but it isn’t a particularly convincing reply on the back of one or two games. Overall the answer I would find for myself would simply be one thing – the sense of something to be optimistic about at last.

I was always willing to give previous post-Fergie managers time, but I can’t say I can actually remember a single time during their reigns that I felt like United could actually be something special again. But at the moment I do. I’m not necessarily convinced that they will be, and I don’t always feel this way, but they could be. There are good signs. That in my book makes it a better time to support United than under any of Mourinho, Van Gaal or Moyes. Maybe not a better manager than any of the above, but at least there are possibilities now. So it’s fine to criticize Ole, no problem, a lot of it is probably correct. But it’s still more positive than what came before. And maybe some of what Ole has done well has been a bit overlooked…

Which leads to my second point. I would love to see a little more understanding of the work that goes into building a really successful team. Not that I understand it particularly well, but I would love to read some really insightful pieces that explore it. Many of the articles on F365 are excellent, although often negative about Ole. Have I feel that F365 were biased against Ole / Man United? Not exactly – the writers in general have been quite consistent with what they feel their own brand of footballing philosophy should be. But often it is all just a little too… reactive? Look at the tone of articles over the last few weeks and you will see a variance in tone that certainly matches the performances, and I have no issue with that (although Mediawatch clearly does have an issue with that).

But so often the necessity for a club manager to be successful very quickly is referenced without being questioned. To change the attitude of a team takes time. To bring in leaders on the pitch takes time. To coach one system of play takes time, and it surely is best to coach one system clearly first, before starting to coach alternative systems? Then more time is needed for each additional system to be played to a good standard. And of course the state of the team in the first place has a massive impact on how much time it takes. Ole has managed to change the attitude, the style of play, the level of resilience, the leadership, the adaptability of the team – so much that should be in place to be successful. Wasn’t that Klopp’s approach as well? Didn’t it similarly take some time before it moved on from some exceptional results against big teams to a more consistent approach, even with a board who most would agree are clearly superior than United’s board? Wouldn’t everyone agree it was worth the time?

On top of that, Ole took the very “Ferguson” approach of not buying in replacements for every single position if it allowed a young talent the game time to develop. That takes courage and a long-term view, despite the short-term pressure that everyone else might load on his shoulders. Look at where the team is, and it would be hard to argue there is amazing progress results wise (although considering their pre-season basically had to actually be competitive matches… maybe it’s not too bad). But then again, they have Rashford, Greenwood, Martial, McTominay, Fred all having developed significantly. Even Lindelof, although deserving of criticism at times, is better than under Mourinho. Add to that some very good signings – Fernandes, Maguire, Cavani all have excellent leadership qualities too – and the team has potential. Even the ones who weren’t Ole’s first choices, such as Cavani for that matter – needed his approval, and it is interesting that Cavani brings a lot to the team without blocking the route to the first team for important young players.

Ole might not be spot on with everything. Teams put out by Ferguson were outmanoeuvred tactically from time to time, and were on the end of some famous whippings as well. But I’ll be quite happy if Ole gets the Ferguson approach to team-building spot on, even if he has some clear weaknesses, and even it never reaches the same level of effectiveness. His work so far is surely deserving of respect at the least, particularly when you don’t only look at football as simply a tactics game. It is far broader than that, and even though Ole has proven that he is not as tactically weak as some believe, it is the broader development of the team, in less than ideal circumstances, that is most impressive. Considering the fact that very well-respected coaches such as Moyes, van Gaal and Mourinho all failed to make United contenders, to only give Ole grudging praise for developing a team that inspires some optimism at least seems churlish. His team is better than theirs. So… Respect.

Stay safe everyone.
JJM (Mayo, Ireland)

 

Has Ole been enabled by Man United?
I have to say how much I enjoy the pinging and ponging of opinions in the mailbox, with Ole Solskjaer cast alternately as Angel/Demon (or should I say Devil) depending on whether Man United have produced a good or a bad performance in the preceding days. As usual with most things in life, especially during such polarised times as those we seem destined to endure in the present day, the truth is, probably, somewhere in the middle. As boring as that is.

Let’s take ‘Ken – Wisconsin’ and his mail declaring Ole as a “brilliant tactical mind, hamstrung by the incompetence of his bosses,” as an example. I enjoyed the mail, and am not intending to be critical of Ken here, I just wanted to write a mail on this subject, and his was the best of the previous bunch that roughly fits the mould.

Is Ole Solskjaer a ‘brilliant tactical mind’? Yes, when compared to the world population as a whole. Probably not, when considered amongst his peers. Or at least, not in all respects. Yet.

Ole is a talented but inexperienced manager. He has always possessed a natural affinity for spotting holes in the opposition defence during games, and is learning to exploit the gaps he sees as a manager, as ruthlessly as he was able to as a player. I cannot remember a player who was more of a ‘super’ ‘supersub’ than Ole during his time at Man United due to this skill, honed to devastating perfection over the course of his career.

Ole is improving at this, assumedly learning to communicate his insights to his players, so that they can jog on to the pitch and exploit the gaps that he sees, in the brutal manner that he used to do as Fergie’s not-so-secret weapon. Crucially, Ole requires players on his bench that are as physically and mentally able as he was himself, to carry out his instructions.

If you are looking for an explanation as to why Rashford was able to score a 15-minute hat trick, coming on as a sub against Leipzig, then the above may be close to it. Ole was able to add Scott McTominay, Bruno Fernandes, Edinson Cavani and Marcus Rashford into the game – subs, all of whom possess the requisite credentials to execute his work-around of the German side’s defence. These credentials being, professionalism, intelligence and discipline, enough to follow his instructions. And the talent to make it pay.

Where Ole is nowhere near as skilled, is in spotting where the holes exist in his own defence, and plugging them accordingly. That is not to say that he will never develop such a talent, just that he is not there yet. United’s humbling at home to Spurs exemplified this nicely. Up against a manager with similar abilities in terms of exploiting his opponents defensive weakness, Ole got totally mullered. Clearly, he is able to do ‘sure things up’ in some games, but certainly he has not been able to do it in all of them so far this season. Against Spurs, he had no clue whatsoever and seemed, to me, to give up entirely.

Another issue is that when Ole does not have players like McTominay, Fernandes, Cavani and Rashford on the bench, because they are in the starting eleven for example, he is much less able to influence a game in the manner that he would like. In Pogba, Martial, Greenwood, Matic and van de Beek, he has players with the requisite talent to do what he needs them to, however, he has to be able to man-manage them in a way that ensures that they are also professional and disciplined enough. Can he do it? Pogba’s performance coming on a sub in recent games is a good sign. Time will tell if Ole is able to turn Pogba into a model professional for Man United. If he can tame the mercurial (i.e. arsehole) Frenchman, then he can surely do it with anyone!

So far this season, Ole has also struggled to put out a starting eleven that is able to defeat ‘lesser’ sides, who play a more conservative game against United. In my view this is simply a matter of time. I expect these early season wobbles to become more and more rare as his players get into the swing of things. Especially if he is able to achieve the above.

The second part of Ken’s earlier quoted statement, being that Solskjaer is “hamstrung by the incompetence of his bosses,” is also worth a look. Are Solskjaer’s bosses incompetent and does this ‘hamstring’ Ole Solskjaer as Man United manager?

Yes, based on everything prior to 19th December 2018, they are incompetent. However, based on everything since then, they are at least less-so, in my opinion. In addition, I am convinced that Ole Solskjaer, as Man United manager, has not in any way been hamstrung by his United overlords. If anything, he has been enabled by them. Why do I say this?

If it hadn’t been for their incompetence prior to his appointment, then he would never have got the United job. In a million years. Neither would he have been able to keep it, simply, by just-about-exceeding the low-bar expectations set as a result of that prior incompetence. If United, prior to Ole, had not exhausted all of their ideas and options, they would never have given him the job, let alone the time and freedom to re-shape the squad in the wholesale manner that he has. He would never have been given the time and patience to test out so many youth-team players, often at the expense of on-field results. Nor, the faith and financial backing to dispose of so many underperforming, highly-paid and expensively-acquired ‘stars’, often at a loss to the balance sheet.

In terms of incoming transfers since Ole was appointed, I would suggest that in signing Maguire, Wan Bissaka and Fernandes, in particular, United have done good business. While the jury is still out on James, the relatively low transfer fee and wages justify the risk.

A few weeks ago, I wrote in suggesting that United needed to sign four players this summer. A centre-back; a left-back; a central midfielder in the mould of Bryan Robson / Roy Keane, primarily with the ability to arrive late in the box and add dynamism to the midfield; and a striker with guile, presence-in-the-box and experience, to fulfill the role in the squad legendarily occupied by the great Teddy Sheringham.

This summer, United signed Alex Telles, a left back; Donny van de Beek, a central midfielder in the mould of Bryan Robson; and Edinson Cavani, a senior striker with presence in-the-box, guile and experience. While I may have preferred Jack Grealish and Cristiano Ronaldo, those two suggested signings were unlikely, and totally bloody ridiculous, respectively. The arrivals of van de Beek and Cavani are more than acceptable alternatives. I haven’t seen enough of Telles to judge him, however, his arrival seems to have given Luke Shaw a kick-up-the-arse that may well render the player himself largely redundant, should Shaw maintain his fitness (unlikely, but…)

Okay, United didn’t bring in a centre-back, but three-out-of-four ain’t bad…

While United signing exactly the type of players that I thought they needed is absolutely and in no way proof of their competence or otherwise, it does render me in the unfortunate position of being entirely unable to criticise them for their summer transfer business. As far as I am concerned, they f**king nailed it.

Best,
DD, MUFC, Liverpool

 

Man United are the old Liverpool
First of all I’ve been noticing how MM, the Man U fan from India is basically obsessed with Liverpool and their fans on the mailbox, reminds me of the Joker’s obsession with Batsy, so MM cheers mate, love the attention.

Second of all, the chatter around the media about Man U reminds me of the time Liverpool were talked about, when we really weren’t a proper challenger to the throne.

One good match and they paint you as the next great thing about to happen before falling on your ass to a mid-table/bottom-table side.
Paris, Chelsea, Leipzig and I’m not sure but I think they’re going to face Arsenal.

It’s basically a rollercoaster and I actually feel for the rational United base, because the media are treating them like clowns who are kicked in the nuts at children’s birthday parties.

One week they write about Ole being a brilliant tactician awaiting to awaken his inner Fergie; the next week they’re calling the same guy as the most incompetent man in the history of the game. The fact that the football club is being run primarily as a business and the football is an after-thought is just sad.

Now I should be feeling all joyful as our traditionally fiercest rivals are being treated as a joke on and off the pitch, but I would also want to see the league being fought for by these two great institutions of football (albeit, hoping that we be winning most of the trophies at the end)

Get well soon, our nemesis; We want the Joker to our Batman to be a good all season fight.
Mihir, Mumbai, LFC (Consolation for the haters is that we’ve been eff’d in the B too, injury wise)

 

Home and away…closer each day
I was watching the football last weekend during another terrible fantasy football week, worst start I have had in years, and I was trying to do some soul searching. Have I been found out or lost the dressing room I thought to myself, those dreaded clichés that no manager wants to hear. Especially not when managing a team where you have no control over performances and they don’t hear you shouting expletives at them when they pass to a team mate instead of shooting themselves – “ffs Salah!” (as if). I’m doing the same as usual – checking form, checking fixtures, jumping on players who are on a good streak, seeing who passes the eye test or who has good underlying stats and, as a result, my team is decent on paper. I suppose I could argue I am having no luck, and luck plays a big part in this game, but I have gone through periods of bad luck before, whether it’s clean sheets decimated in injury time or VAR ripping out my soul as a goal I tried not to celebrate (given club allegiances) gets chalked off over inches, yet it has never been this bad. Then it occurred to me, I am not the issue here (because of course my strategy is flawless and I could never ever be at fault) but the world around me has changed.

It’s that bloody Covid again, there I said it. Obviously people’s lives and livelihoods are of utmost concern, and the impact has been awful, but it took my Friday after-work drinks in the pub, it took my holidays and now it’s now pissing about with my fantasy football team. Covid means no crowds, which is seriously skewing results and it feels like there are a lot more goals and a lot more away wins. So having only had the chance to consider again today, I have done some analysis based on the games so far. Granted the sample is small and this might turn out to be nonsense over the course of a season (assuming it does not already fall under that category) but there is some truth in it thus far. Last season after Gameweek 6 (FF terminology, yuck) 42% of results were home wins, 30% away and 28% games drawn with a goals per game ratio of 2.9. This season, 33% home wins, 45% away wins and 22% drawn with 3.3 goals per game. That’s a massive swing in away wins and healthy increase in goals scored if the pattern continues (last season ended up 45% H, 31% A, 24% D with GPG of 2.7)

In conclusion I have now decided that I am going to try to remove the concept of home and away from my choices; whether this be for fantasy football, football bets or which show to watch whilst eating dinner in front of the TV. I would urge others to do the same until we get a vaccine or the Donald can prove that a good blast of sunshine up the anus whilst downing shots of Domestos can cure all ills. His miraculous recovery and new-found limp suggests he may have been right for once.
Garey Vance, MUFC

 

Is it fair on fringe players?
I’d love to use Jose’s complaints of his fringe players to take a swipe at the grumpy prick but instead I’d like to see if any of you share my thoughts of the unfairness of judging fringe players when they are sometimes basically playing within a second string side. And for context, I didn’t watch the Spurs game, this is more a general comment, so I’ll leave the Spurs fans to comment on your take on that performance and the individuals hauled off at half time.

I’ve often felt that it’s quite unfair on new England players to be judged on a friendly when the majority of the usual team are not playing, or those players who get drafted in on mass for league Cup games or dead rubbers. A guy like Ighalo comes in and is judged compared to Rashford and Greenwood yet he is hamstrung that he has been supplied the service from Perreira and Jlingz rather than Bruno and Pogba. Yes, Ighalo is probably up against a lower league side but they’ll also possibly be playing with 10 defenders.

Similarly, a defender will always find it easier when the midfield in front is strong and the attackers are able to keep the ball in the oppositions half. And midfielders need players around them who can make themselves available to pass to and play an accurate pass back.

For goalkeepers, it probably matters a bit less and could even work in their favour as a poorer set of players in front of them might give them more chance to prove themselves with some shots to save or crosses to collect.

Sometimes talented players just don’t work out, like Forlan, Veron, Kagawa and Sanchez for Utd despite being given every chance. Fred would be an anomaly, he had almost too many chances and he’s finally come good. Even Ronaldo was criticised in his first 12 months or so at utd for too many step overs, diving, giving the ball away and no end product – he didn’t turn out too bad though?

To judge a player properly, he has to get a run of appearances playing with the first team. Whether it’s 20 or 30 mins off the bench, or a couple of starts, players need to be given a chance rather than feel they need to score a hat-trick in their one and only chance to get into the managers thoughts. And it’s not just about giving them a chance, it’s about easing players in so that you know you can rely on them when you need them. You need a strong squad.

There are obviously exceptions which are usually exceptional players but I think fans especially need to consider the strength of the team around a fringe player when they judge that performance.

Maybe some of the talent clubs throw away (Salah, De Bruyne, Depay, Zaha at Utd, Pogba first stint at utd) just needed more of a chance? Or maybe they just matured later or were better suited to another club? (or possibly their agent forced a move to get them on the field)

Mailbox thoughts?
Jon, Cape Town (apologies in advance for limited examples of players, it’s early, I haven’t had any caffeine yet, I’m sure the mailbox gets my point and can come up with better examples or tell me I’m talking sh!t)

 

What has happened to Dele?
Decided to give some of the Spurs game a watch last night, many will tear the game apart in the mailbox but I’ll bring this point up, what on earth has happened to Dele Alli?

In recent years he has gone from an incredible talent who looked like he could become a top tier Midfielder for England and in Europe, he even started hot under Jose Mourinho, but now looks a shadow of the player he was, Spurs fans, please tell us what has happened?
Mikey, CFC

 

Rule change?
Can we all agree, for the sheer entertainment value, that the player fouled in the awarding of a penalty should be the one to take it (unless permanently injured of course).

I’m tired of penalties being an absolute certainty. How great would it be to see Zouma stepping up to the penalty spot after he’s been fouled. Give the player who did the hard work of getting the foul the chance to get on the score sheet too (not that some players would want that responsibility).
Ed

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