Man Utd are not a badly run club, Bruce at OT, Rafa out and more

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Man Utd linked Steve Bruce and Rafa Benitez on the touchline

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Man Utd are not a badly run club
So there’s been a lot written about United in the last 48 hours (years?). Most of it with the same narrative; United are a badly run club. Well I’m going to offer a counter. What I’m not saying here is United are doing well on the pitch. What I’m not saying is that they are playing free flowing attacking and importantly, winning football. That is patently not true. But a badly run club? I don’t think it’s that clear cut.

The story posited by most outlets is this. We could all see Ole wasn’t the right man for the job, why did it take the board that long to see it and why didn’t they have a succession plan in place? All of this is true but I’m not sure it makes them a badly run club per se. Football is no longer the cosy community hub that helped bring people together in post-war eras (and then in the 80’s gave men an identity as their livelihoods were destroyed – but that’s for another day). At the top end it’s about entertainment and making money – the premier league saw to that.

The other stick used to beat United in recent years is the noodle partner. It’s silly isn’t it? To have a noodle partner. Noodle’s a funny word and it invokes a non-domestic fan base, just like the London based United fans. They’re silly because they don’t live in Manchester either. But the commercial arm of Manchester United is an incredibly well run outfit and the last time I looked they didn’t put the bowl of noodles in goal. Right up until they made CR7™ their latest noodle partner, but he happens to be one of the greatest players to grace the pitch. Every club in the league is looking for its noodle partner because it allows them to invest on the pitch. If you think your club is better because it hasn’t exploited it’s commercial potential, then think how good they would be if they had. Even when done successfully though it’s no guarantee of longevity, look at Barcelona. Sure it’s got noodle partners and sub-Saharan mobile phone partners but a series of terrible £100m+ squad additions has left it running on fumes this winter. United have navigated this incredibly well. Big names have arrived, success hasn’t followed but still more big names have followed. Their commercial acumen saw Ole invest £400m even though they’ve had no significant, sustained on-pitch success post-Fergie. And the Glazers keep getting richer. The money must be coming from somewhere.

But noodles partners aside (it is a funny word) on the pitch hasn’t been a total disaster either. Would I rather have had City’s sustained excellence over the last decade? Yes, 100%. But not every club can have that, it’s the zero sum nature of competitive sport, one team wins so another team has to lose. City play beautiful slick passing football and beat Everton in a nice game that looked easy to win. So what’s second best? Blood and thunder chaos and last minute winners? I’d take it. It’s a lot of fun to watch, and what’s football to the casual observer but tribal entertainment?

So to the current situation, why was Ole in charge at all, and why for so long? Ole was a noodle partner. It looked like the blood and thunder chaos was sort of working. Unsustainable yes, but effective? Well, actually sort of yes. United got the Europa League final and came 2nd in the league. Only 2 teams did better than them in both competitions. It’s actually not the bin fire it felt like. He was given the opportunity to turn it round (patience that is often being called for) but it didn’t work. Should Ole have left? 100% yes. Are united a badly run club? No, Barcelona are.
Joe (Bristol – a noodle slurping United fan)


Solskjaer made some positive changes…
I really wanted to write in and praise Ole for the good work he had done for the club over 3 years because despite his obvious deficiencies there were positive changes made by him which definitely improved the club and the team, then I watched the ‘Exit Interview’. Ole is a really nice guy, I don’t think anyone could dispute that, and I’m sure he saw the merit in doing the interview as a way of parting ways politely, a send off to the fans and all that bollocks, he probably even thanked them for the opportunity. However what I saw was the whole hierarchy of the club pointing at Ole and saying “it’s his fault, this is the man to blame!”. It was so similar to interviews with politicians falling on their sword when whatever scandal got exposed, it’s damage limitation, get a the marketing guy to write the questions and make sure to look humble. Its another bit of fakery and smiling through teeth, it’s the state sponsored broadcaster saying ‘all is well’ as the capitol burns in the background.

Ole had to go, of that there is no doubt, but for sure there should be other heads rolling. Where is the Woodward interview explaining the decision to hire Ole in the first place when Poch was all but lined up for the job, and then giving him a new contract just a few months ago. Where is the John Murtough interview explaining exactly what football he directs given Joel Glazer has final say over all player and manager decisions. Where is Fletcher’s explanation of his worth as a technical director when technically we’re a fucking shit show in a dumpster fire. They are puppets everyone, towing the line and watching the share price, the club is filled to the brim with incompetent sycophants so sure of their own excellence that they’re blind to the truth, they are the problem.

And so the next man, whoever it may be, will face the same systemic issues, the same lack of vision, the same ill prepared wannabes in snappy suits. The new manager may be successful (after all Ole did lay some decent squad foundations to build on) but sooner or later the bones will show through the skin and this disease ridden husk of a club will be looking for it’s next victim.
Dave, Manchester


When we look back at Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s reign, it doesn’t need to be binary.

1) Ole did a fantastic rebuild – stablising us, improving several individuals, progressing year on year, building a good squad and restoring our soul.

2) Ole wasn’t getting the best out of this season’s squad, the tactical structure has turned into a mess, the players stopped believing in him, and he needed to go.

The two statements above aren’t mutually exclusive – they are BOTH true. Unfortunately we live in an age where people just want to say “I was right” and have memories that go no further back than a couple of months.

Ultimately he’s left us in a better position than any of the previous 3 managers which is no bad thing at all.

Going forward – I still think Poch is the best option. He’s a good cultural fit like Ole was, but coaching wise he would get far more out of this squad IMO.

I can’t believe people are still moaning about not hiring Conte. It’s not just about track record or CV. Finding the right FIT is equally important – the last 8 years have shown that.

If Liverpool or City were looking for a new manager, would they consider a Conte or Simeone? No – because they’re not a good FIT.

Likewise, Ole had the worst CV of any of our post-Fergie managers. But because he fit our culture, he’s actually done the most to set us up for long-term success.

That’s why I think out of all the attainable managers out there, Poch would be the closest balance of fit and track record (albeit he hasn’t won much yet).

It was definitely the right time for Ole to go, but thanks for the memories, chaos, progress, entertainment and giving us our soul back.


Bruce for United
I promise that if it comes to pass that Bruce is appointed as Utd’s manager, even as an interim appointment, I won’t have anything on my Christmas list this year as I and the rest of the football supporting world will already have been spoiled.

I cannot see how this would not be delicious in so many ways regardless of how it pans out.

Can you imagine Ronaldo being told that the new training schedule was only half of what it was before, and non-internationals get all the international breaks off? That the new tactics would be 5-3-1-1 with McTominay, Fred and Matic being a holding trio in front of a flat back 5, with Ronaldo and Fernandes the only two asked to play above the half way line? Man Utd’s average possession stats hovering around 30% at home, less away?

Bruce may continue his long-standing record of having never got a side in to the top 8, and would have to really scratch his noggin on what excuses he can come up for that one.

BUT consider the alternative – he succeeds. The squad pulls together, somehow they grind in to the top 4 and win the Champions League, Ronaldo proclaims Bruce the best he’s worked with and that he’s learned so much and will be the next Utd manager with Bruce’s wisdom on hand as Utd’s new Director of Football. That would somehow also be such fun to watch.

So please Santa, all I want for Christmas is Bruce (at Utd).
James B


Man Utd are bound to get the decision wrong…
If United are keen to compensate for the money they might lose by not finishing fourth, they really should appoint Roy Keane. An All or Nothing equivalent series where we could watch Roy Keane spend nine months shouting at Pogba, Lingard, Maguire, Martial and others would make millions.

In all sincerity, they’ll inevitably get the decision wrong. Or appoint an interim manager who does better than expected, offer them the permanent job to cash-in on goodwill and sentiment, and then enjoy another three years of underachievement.
Chris MUFC

Middlesbrough boss Neil Warnock waves

Neil Warnock, Phil Neville, Steve Bruce… *mwah*
Loving some of these names touted for the it’s job, this is the only reason I care about ins and outs in general football stuff, unpredictable stuff happening. Throw Roy Hodgson in there, I don’t think he’d pass up a 6 month spell managing a club of such size and resources even if he’s retired. But I’ve just thought of the best possible one now, Sam Allardici. I think this is my new fantasy, we’ll finally get an insight into whether or not he truly is Real Madrid or Inter Milan standard.  Half seriously, give the job to Chris Wilder. If nothing else he’s shown he has a bit of invention, he can improve a club. It would never happen, but out of all these names I think it’s the one that could be interesting. Then again, monolith clubs have a habit of swallowing up people who don’t have the requisite ego size.

I’m going to predict Ronald Koeman, no matter who he gets sacked by or falls out with he always seems to fall into an impressive job at an impressive club. He is that rarest of unsuccessful managers, he never fucks down, he always fucks up or across. It’s quite impressive, if he doesn’t end up at Utd he’ll end up at another club relatively big to huge in their country.

Admittedly this email has begun to eat itself, my joy writing it revolved around the idea of English cloggers getting the reins in some mad kind of way. Harry Redknapp would be the ultimate, wouldn’t he?

Who does the mailbox want to see get the job who obviously won’t get the job?
Dave (Chris Hughton’s available), Dublin


Rafa out?
I’m genuinely surprised there isn’t more talk of how precarious Rafas position at Everton is. Can we just ignore 1 point n the last 5 games? Including beating a woeful Norwich at home and its 5 points in 8 games. And excluding Man City they weren’t hard games. I accept West Ham are playing very well but if we can’t hope to beat them at home what’s the point?

We are going into a December with Liverpool (shudder thinking what they will do to us), a resurgent Crytal Palace, Arsenal looking pretty good and Chelsea (need i say they are flying?). I struggle to see us getting more than 1 point from that.

We are going to be in a relegation struggle come January and thankfully I can see 3 teams worse than us but as of now I can’t see us finishing the season higher that 14th-15th.

Rafa has to go asap IMHO.
Steve, Limerick, Ireland


I was going to email right after the end of the City game, but never getting in amongst the Monday morning Ole chat am I?

Everton now have a nightmare run of fixtures up until Christmas. Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea as well as a new manager bounced Newcastle, a solid Palace side and plucky newcomers Brentford. To be honest it could be Accrington under 13s and I wouldn’t fancy our chances.

Benitez will take the blame for our inevitable 2/3 points from this run, but I think a fair few Everton fans had their minds made up on him as soon as he was appointed. There’s a lot that Evertonians can forgive, but being manager of our rivals and calling us a small club isn’t something some of these heads will ever let slide. I personally don’t mind Benitez. I wouldn’t have chosen him but I’m happy to get behind him whilst he’s here. The problem is is that the pressure on him is going to be turned up to maximum if we perform as poorly over these next fixtures as our recent performances suggest we will.

The real blame should fall on the board, as multiple years of profligate spending and giving money to numpties like Steve Walsh and Koeman have left our hands tied financially. This meant we had no money to spend to bring in sorely needed reinforcements. This won’t be rectified any time soon either, so by the time we go into March we could be staring at a relegation battle. To put it in perspective, here are the players from the entire Everton squad who are generally good enough to finish top half:

Pickford (just about), Keane (just about), Digne, Mina, Allan, Doucoure, Richarlison, Calvert-Lewin, Gray, Townsend, Gordon (arguably).

We can just about scrape 11 players who’d be good enough, and with the injuries we’re getting we’re at about five or six competent players on a weekly basis, the rest of the time settling for players who are past their prime (Coleman) or just nowhere near good enough for the Premier League (Iwobi). Coupled with this seems to be a general lack of spirit in the team. We don’t battle and we capitulate to adversary like a paper boat in a storm. January won’t hold the answers, but even if we were to wave a magic wand, we’d need a minimum of ten players to rectify this situation.

Everton are in trouble.
Joe, EFC


Aaron Ramsdale
Big contrarian words from James there on Ramsdale, especially after one game than would have been 7 or 8 without him.

I have to be honest, as an Arsenal fan, I am likewise a bit weary already of Aaron being hailed as Lev Yashin reborn – I preferred it a couple of weeks ago when Arsenal fans were in the same camp as Bournemouth and Sheffield United fans as the man in corner of the party meme, saying “They don’t know that Aaron Ramsdale is the best keeper in the league”. His save from Maddison’s freekick was somewhat overhyped (it’s still amazing though) and he was like ‘it’s no big deal’ when asked about it.

But in truth, he’s won two consecutive POTY awards at his previous clubs, has great communication, distribution and unerring cat-like reflexes and tracking of the ball when he is mid/post-save. This makes you, as a fan, love him. That and him winding up opposing fans, which is great craic cos everyone loves a shithouse goalie.

So yeh, less over the top praise is welcome, Arsenal have been burned by transfers starting hot and then going ice cold and he’s still part of a growing team. But calling him a second rate Joe Hart makes you seem like a bit of a wally to be honest. Maybe watch all his other games for Arsenal first, then you will see what we’re on about.
Tom, Walthamstow


Dinosaurs, Worms and the Grand Canyon
Dear Football365,

Has a fixture ever felt less likely to finish 3-3 than Burnley versus Crystal Palace?

*An injury for James McArthur meant a change of formation for Palace. Patrick Vieira adopted a 4-2-3-1, with Cheikhou Kouyate and Luka Milivojevic as two defensive midfielders, but Palace’s play still revolved around Conor Gallagher, operating more as a number ten.

*Normally, Palace games take a while to warm up. Saturday’s three goals before half time was more than they had managed in all of their previous games this season. Christian Benteke opened the scoring with a shot from outside the penalty area after only eight minutes, the second earliest an Eagle has found the net in 2021-22.

*After this, Burnley responded in robust fashion. Their corner strategy involved crowding the goalkeeper (by drawing in defenders) to prevent his movement, in a way that if it proves too effective too often, you wonder if IFAB will start to restrict the number of attackers who can be in the six-yard area, if only to annoy Sean Dyche.  If a game becomes a physical battle more than a mental or tactical one, two of the most effective players are Ben Mee and Chris Wood, both of whom scored to give the Clarets the lead.

*If it was perfect, it wouldn’t be Palace. The set piece defending was not good, but it can be worked on.

*Palace are used to going behind in games, and it doesn’t faze them like it used to. They wrestled back the initiative and got level when Benteke doubled his tally. Before half time, the Eagles had the lead again following a corner. The ball was not properly cleared and eventually fell to Marc Guehi, who put his laces through it in true centre-back style, albeit that it went in off an arm belonging to one of the five defenders on the goal line.

*Maxwell Cornet’s goal was the pick of the bunch, and will be in contention for goal of the month. Just incredibly sweetly struck. Wilfried Zaha nearly topped it with a shot from outside the box, but only found the bar. Cornet is quite the signing – hardly a hidden gem as he arrived from Olympique Lyonnais – but is immediately in the mix with Zaha, Ismaila Sarr and Allan Saint-Maximin as the most exciting forwards outside of the traditional top clubs.

*Late on in the game was a flashpoint involving Wood and Joachim Andersen. Club allegiances probably dictate what you think about this and I was surprised on first viewing it wasn’t a red card. However, looking more closely, Andersen does not grab Wood’s shirt, but puts his hands flat on his back; there is enough contact for Wood to know the defender is there, but no more – if it had been a shove, he would have fallen forwards. Instead, he fell backwards into his opponent, which makes it look like it was him that caused the fall, not Andersen. For a player who had been contesting and winning physical challenges all day, it is baffling that he didn’t try to win this one.

The VAR looked at two possible red card incidents during the game, deciding neither was as serious on second look as it was on first: Andersen/Wood, and an incident in the first half where Matthew Lowton forcefully stood on Milivojevic’s ankle following a tackle. It left the Serbian midfielder in pain, but was not considered a stamp, as it had first looked. After the game, Dyche told the media that he was happy for referees to let some physicality go, and actually wants more physicality in the game, but still thought Andersen should have been sent off. In other words, he’s happy for the officials to let things go when they benefit Burnley, but not when they don’t.

*For Dyche, this game summed up why people always sound daft talking him up for bigger clubs. He is the heir apparent to Roy Hodgson, in that he is overachieving on relatively limited means, but with a largely functional style. The Clarets with Cornet and Dwight McNeil do not look a million miles away from last season’s Palace team with Zaha and Eberechi Eze. Taking this even further, you wonder if the Burnley board might have half an eye on how Palace are doing and whether or not someone could come to Turf Moor and do a similar job.

If the Clarets do decide to change their manager in the future – and there is nothing to say that they will – then it will be interesting to see where Dyche goes. His playing style might be a symptom of his situation, but at the same time, he has not necessarily shown he can go beyond Plan A, which puts him at a disadvantage when it comes to rival candidates for the sort of midtable job he might apply for. Those clubs will also want managers capable of analysis and self-analysis, not someone with his habit of deflecting onto perceived refereeing shortcomings. They might like his talent for getting knocked out of cup competitions quickly though.

There – two paragraphs on Sean Dyche without mentioning dinosaurs, worms or the Grand Canyon.

*Finally, some gratuitous statistical banter:

Ed Quoththeraven


If you don’t hate the opposition then you’re not committed to your team
What is with the narrative (predominantly in football) that you have to hate the opponents otherwise you don’t care enough. If you’re seen having a friendly conversation with someone from the opposite team before a match or after a loss then you shouldn’t be playing. The recent article calling out Solskjaer is an example as well as Hazard after Real lost to Chelsea (and pretty much every time someone is seen smiling – football is serious, no smiling allowed!)

Admittedly I haven’t played top level sport, my claim to fame is provincial hockey and touch rugby but I was the sort of guy who would be friends with everyone before and after the game but then left everything on the pitch. Losing was not an option and I was often a sore loser, but I would always enjoy a pint with the players after the game.

The same can be said for rugby players who batter each other for 80 minutes but then leave that on the pitch and are often good friends off it.

This narrative always irritates me. If it looks like the player is half-arsing it on the field and then is seen enjoying himself a bit too much afterwards then, by all means, have a go at him. But if someone has just sweated blood and then comes off and shares a joke with some old friends then maybe leave him alone.
Edward B