One Man Utd player epitomises recruitment described as ‘epic fail’

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Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer with Man Utd badge
Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Ole Gunnar Solksjaer with Man Utd badge

There’s VAR chat but first, Manchester United. Ten Hag is not the problem but the recruitment which has been an issue for years.

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Man Utd have a massive recruitment problem
The greatest failure at Man Utd isn’t Ten Hag or any individual player but their recruitment. Whether that is an individual or the entire top level of the club hierarchy, it doesn’t matter. It is an epic fail.

Ferguson left Utd with an aging side, supplemented by players brought in for one last hurrah. Sure, they had the winning nous—enough to get across the line, as they had done so many times in the past—but not a platform to progress further.

Whether Moyes was right or wrong, he was nobbled from the start with poor recruitment. A stronger club would have either nixed Fergie’s choice, discussed future recruitment before bringing him on board, or ensured they had teed up the right players. Instead of thinking things through, they went for ‘name brand’ managers to match the club’s super status—again, without thinking about the ramifications of the ongoing recruitment.

Eventually, Ole was brought in as a feel-good stop-gap and decided to go the counter-attacking route—a short-term strategy to get the team back on track but not a great long-term strategy.

There are so many examples of terrible recruiting, from bringing in aging attackers for one or two seasons to aging midfielders for who knows how many seasons – but the one that exemplifies it the most is AWB.

Not to pick an AWB, but he was a young signing – one for the future. He was acquired after one decent season for a mid- to lower-table club renowned for defensive solidity and, at the time, one great forward.

Utd bought him in a rush. He was compared to TAA as having much better defensive stats and possibly future England material. This completely missed the point that teams from the top six tended to have much more attacking full-backs and more versatile players. They would get caught out occasionally while marauding up field, and it was more about how the entire team worked together – their pressing, keeping a higher line with goalkeepers playing as a sweeper, that helped bring defensive solidity, not last-ditch tackling.

I think it was Paulo Maldini who said he saw tackling as a failure and a last resort. But Utd went for a player who was praised by the Red Top media for his tackling. He could really only play one position and in one way. He wasn’t going to be picked up by City, Liverpool, Arsenal etc, as he would never be a fit. Especially with a non-sweeper keeper like the one Utd had at the time. (Praised for goal-stopping saves, but how many were caused by him needing a deeper defensive line?) Ole was being pragmatic in setting up his team but where could he take them?

Ten Hag was a success at Ajax with a younger team of varying skills who stuck to the plan and put in a shift. Ten Hag or any manager would be a misfit at Utd if their goal is to play a more modern style, not give up possession, and rely on counter-attacking.

Each team may handle recruiting slightly differently, but the better ones have a plan. The use of Directors of Football to ensure any plan transcends what a single manager may want or do. And to bring in new managers who can work with the base of players they have – and not need a wholesale swap out as was seen in the past.

Managers are the focal point of a club – the spokesperson in chief – whether they like it or not – it’s a tough but incredibly well-paid spot to be in. Ten Hag may not be the right manager for Utd, but he hasn’t been given much of a helping hand.

Perhaps that is what Ratcliffe will bring to the party. A common sense and longer term approach to recruitment. But the pressure is always on for instant success that it ends up being like groundhog day – only they don’t seem to learn each new cycle.
Paul McDevitt

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Who next for Manchester United?
Expectations for Manchester United have been on the floor for some time, but they still find new ways to plumb the depths. The thing that occurred watching Sunday’s game was that there is really no scoreline any longer at which point you can say with anything approaching certainty, “yeah, United have won this.” 3 up against Championship opposition and they can still contrive a way to balls it up.

The sense of shame radiating off the players (shameless Antony excepted), and the utter lack of heartfelt celebrations, come from knowing that their reward is another final against City. They could be given a 5 goal head start in the Final and you’d still put your money on City claming the trophy in the end.

I don’t remember any post-Ferguson manager’s team being this bad, where the scoreline is utterly meaningless and things just happen, permanently outside of the team’s control, but maybe I’m wrong. But Van Gaal’s team being just a bit dull seems a minor crime at this stage.

They are bereft of leadership, of confidence, of any kind of tactical style or organisation. They cling on to any slight sense of respectable achievement through muscle memory, of a handful of genuinely talented players who care enough to raise just the most basic level of big-club pride to keep a slight sniff of European qualification in their nostrils.

Debates about Ten Hag are moot at this point; he will never lead them to a title. Any progress will be undermined by the knowledge they can and probably will slip back into being a rabble. He will never carry the aura that great teams and their managers require.

If Hansi Flick can’t be tempted, Tuchel is probably the best available bet. De Zerbi and Potter would fail, Moyesesque in their inability to fill shoes so large. Southgate would be an English Ole, his style wholly unsuited to a big club, a well-meaning, well spoken middle manager, rarely so bad as to merit dismissal but never good enough to win anything of any significance. He would be a waste of three and a half years.

Tuchel obviously has some tactical smarts, and would have a huge point to prove, but brings no guarantees. But short of rocking up at Carlo Ancelotti’s house with a blank cheque and just saying “name your price,” he’s probably the best bet right now.
Alistair Gilmour, Glasgow

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Premier League team of the season
With 5 or so games left I think now is a good time for a team of the season debate, partly because why not but also so the final couple of games don’t cloud judgement of individuals based on a team performance. It shouldn’t be much of a surprise that the teams at the top of the league feature heavily here – they are simply better players having a better season.

GK – Raya. 13 most clean sheets so far, a clear upgrade on Ramsdale and has proven everyone wrong. Good Gk like Ederson and Allison haven’t stood out enough. Vicario has done ok but conceded nearly 50+ goals!

(You might want to consider somebody you have ignored for reasons that will soon become clear – Ed)

LB. Really tough one to pick, Robertson injured too much, Arsenal swapped their LB a lot, Gvardiol? Udogie? certainly no one at Chelsea or Man U. Have Digne or Moreno warranted the position? I’m sure fans of mid table clubs will tell me how great their LB has been this season so let’s try to appease the anti-top 6 brigade and go for a 50/50 call between Antonee Robinson at Fulham and Alfie Doughty at Luton.

RB. Walker. His current injury makes you forget that he was the one guy in defence Pep just didn’t rotate. Not many stand out full backs generally this year but I think Walker is still the best even if he’s looked a bit tired and shaky in recent games. Konsa is unlucky to miss out and I’d accept the argument for him to be in the 11. Porro has done well at Spurs when people thought he’d struggle being a regular RB (although Ange has him as an 8 most of the time) Ben White has been consistent and not being rated by Southgate isn’t the biggest criticism.

CB. Gabriel + Saliba. The heart of the best defence in the league, and I’d argue the best defence by a decent distance. Van Dijk has done well to hold Liverpool together at the back but it feels like he’s made a few more mistakes than usual. I’d expect Liverpool fans will want Van Dijk in over one of the Arsenal pair and that is fair comment if you think so. Van der Ven has been excellent for Spurs despite the horror show at Newcastle but I can’t put a CB from a team who will concede 50+ goals

CM. Rodri and Rice. Rodri is the annoyingly the best in his position in the world and he’s added more goals and assists this year. Rice has more than justified a level of fee that so few do. Both have been real driving forces behind their teams’ seasons. Mac Allister and Douglas Luiz have been really good but just miss out for me.

AM: Foden. It’s felt like a changing of the guard season or at least a clear view to City have a worthy and clear successor to de Bruyne. Foden has stepped up to be the go to man this season. Absolutely brilliant in those central positions, best player on the half turn in the league, could easily win Player of the Season.

LW: Gordon. Quite a few eyebrows were raised at the £45m odd Newcastle spent, but he’s got better and better. Goals, assists, pace, direct dribbling and a real threat in every game with hardly a thread of his Clare Balding quiff out of place.

RW: Palmer. He’s simply carried Chelsea this season, pretty much the only bright light for them. People may point to a lot of penalties but even without them I think he’s been the standout player this season. Saka has had a strange season, doesn’t feel like he’s been as good as last year but his goals and assists are up from last year. Salah hits high numbers but can’t beat Palmer for me. Bowen with another solid season.

FW: Watkins. So consistent, 20 goals already and loads of assists to prove his all round play. He’s almost Harry Kane like in that you can’t really find a weakness in his game. Haaland would get picked if I went with a 4-4-2, but I’ve gone with the 4-3-3 that most teams play and Watkins has been better than Haaland this season. Solanke would be 3rd on this list, great season for him. Isak with some recency bias but hasn’t been consistent enough this season.

So I’ve ended up with 4 x Arsenal, 3 x City, 1 x Villa, 1 x Newcastle, 1 x Chelsea and 1 of Fulham/Luton for my struggling left back position. Liverpool fans won’t like this as they are neck and neck with Arsenal and City, but whilst I can make the case for a number of Liverpool players making the team of the season bench I’m not sure I can make the case for them to be in the 11 – probably more of a team effort this year due to some injuries and sharing responsibility. Spurs fans will also no doubt curse my Arsenal bias, that’s fine, show your own working, I’d use similar reasoning for the omission of Liverpool players.

Over to the mailbox for this to get completely torn apart.
Rich, AFC


Actually, still a fan of VAR here
After an incredible FA Cup Semi-Final that saw Manchester United nearly complete the mother-of-all-cock-ups by losing to Coventry after being 3-0 up, people are understandably feeling a bit robbed. VAR has taken a kicking with numerous mailboxers commenting on it then Jonny Nicholson deriding it in a piece demanding it banished with immediate effect. I like Jonny and appreciate his candid, no-nonsense approach but feel his suggestion that anyone who doesn’t hate VAR is a drooling Brexiteer with no brain to be a bit extreme.

I must be alone because I am a believer in VAR. I don’t think it’s perfect but it’s moved the boundaries so we talk about the human error in contentious decisions in more detail and with closer decisions being the centre of attention.

VAR corrects a decision in the 120th minute that denies a giant killing of stunning proportion (with lots of egg on Manchester United faces). It was close. As Coventry boss Mark Robins put himself it was a toenail’s width of being onside. But it wasn’t. What are we arguing? That because VAR didn’t fit the narrative we should scrap it entirely and go back to just the on-field officials? The margin for error just gets bigger and worse decisions go against teams.

Would everyone then be happy if we scrapped VAR, then next year through complete coincidence Coventry and Manchester United are playing each other in the FA Cup Semi-Final, and in extra-time Coventry are denied a stonewall penalty because officials didn’t see it? Or if Manchester United score a goal despite an obvious offside to win it late on?

Would that make it better, because it was just the fault of the on-field officials and not VAR officials despite the mistakes being much larger? No, it wouldn’t. VAR reduces the margin for error, and that’s surely what matters most when it comes to officiating games.

“In 2018/19, before VAR was introduced, the percentage of correct key match decisions was 82 per cent. With the help of VAR in 2019/20, it rose to 94 per cent.” It’s clearly effective and works. Of course, there is still a human element and with that comes error. We just need to get better at accepting it.

As Jonny so aptly put himself: “There’s a level that cannot be exceeded because people are not perfect. Accept it.”
John-Jack, Tooting


We should know less about VAR
Getting rid of VAR doesn’t stop contentious decisions it just shifts the focus and blame from a general system back to the individual refs like it used to be. That way was shite, which is why we got VAR in the first place. We all want the laws applied in whatever way benefits our team, there is no solution to that problem, all that’s possible is to limit our ability to argue about it. The FA have over the past years tried to make decisions more transparent which is kind of admirable but also stupid. What we need is just the opposite.

Ban all slow motions replays, stop notifying broadcasters of VAR reviews, stop the ridiculous pitch side ref review, stop all the consultations and apologies, and take away all access to the process. We should know less about VAR than we do about picking a new Pope.

They should convene in secret, have absolute carte blanche to alter any decision they see fit, be able to impose draconian fines or bans for any player or coach who even mentions a refereeing call, and their word should be absolute.

Their decisions should come down like gospel from God, no interpretation, explanation, or justification. Their members chosen in shadowy rituals and paid obscene sums from offshore slush funds. All knowing and all powerful.

This won’t solve the issue but it might make all our arguments hollow without evidence to back them up. We’re all generally ok with other undemocratic opaque institutions ruling over our lives so it might even feel comfortable. We can collectively hate them and oppose them but know we have no influence.

Like whatever government has power they’d become just ‘a set of bastards’ that you have no choice but to shrug at then get on with your day. There’d be a certain unity to the impotence, players, managers, clubs, pundits, fans, all completely in the dark and at the mercy of VAR.
Dave, Manchester


And the Coventry goal WAS offside
Am I the only one that thought the Coventry “goal” was offside upon first viewing of the replay?

As much as I wanted Coventry to win, their “penalty” should never have been given and that “goal” was offside.

The problem isn’t VAR, it’s the standard of officiating who get decisions wrong even with the benefit of video evidence.

I’ve said it once and I’ll say it again, the job needs to be taken away from football referees and given to former cricket umpires – those people who can spot a nick or a glove that the average lay person in the street misses every time.

Genuinely gutted for Coventry as I have always had a soft spot for them and their fans.

Good luck to United in the final – viva the red cartel!
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London


Do we just need robots?
Genuine question for all at F365 Towers and the Mailbox crew: would you be happier with VAR if it was entirely automated?

In a Q&A with Phil McNulty on BBC just now, he questioned the use of VAR on marginal offsides but then said he couldn’t wait for offsides to be automated.

Are people just annoyed because the rules are being applied by beautifully fallible humans? Because unless some sort of margin for error is introduced automating offsides will only further enforce the “toenail” offsides.

I understand people being upset that we didn’t get the fairy tale ending yesterday – I’m even disappointed as a United fan – but automated offsides still would’ve ruled that goal that. The arguments about there being no real advantage become moot – unless a degree of grace is written into the rules.

What’s the deal? Do we not trust referees to that extent or are is everyone just super excited to bow down to our benevolent AI overlords?

Ash Metcalfe


A strong argument against VAR
So much has been written about VAR it feels like we’re all drowning in a sea of words, arguments and counter arguments, so I thought I’d see if I could strip it all back and see what we’ve got.

Before VAR: Mistakes were made but goals could be celebrated with wild abandon.
After VAR: Mistakes are made and goals can’t be celebrated with wild abandon.

Conclusion: Get rid of VAR.
Jo (Antony really is a plum, isn’t he) Kent


Yes, Antony is a plum
Let me get this timeline straight as I wasn’t watching the Man Utd Coventry game and was relying on the BBC website for my updates – Antony replaces Garnacho on 66 minutes with Man Utd 3 goals ahead – Coventry score 5 minutes later and go on to score 2 more to make it 3-3.

He doesn’t take a penalty in the shoot-out – and yet is the one player to goad the Coventry players after they lose the shoot-out?

He really is a very unlikeable individual and doesn’t do himself any favours – to be fair I support a team with an equally divisive player in Emi Martinez – but at least he backs up his antics with his own performance on the pitch.
David Horgan, AVFC, Dublin


Forest are a joke. Pass it on.
Isn’t it funny that after all the farce of English football (as well as English clubs in Europe) in the last week the one thing we’re not talking about today is the massive increase in season ticket prices Forest announced last week?

PGMOL once again have made a mistake by allowing themselves to be accused of bias. They probably weren’t, the referee probably should’ve given at least one penalty and VAR probably would’ve overturned one of them on another day, but I don’t think they ACTUALLY cheated. Aren’t they supposed to be bias against Everton anyway? By using Atwell though, they have fed the conspiracy theories. Did they need to use him?

Forest though, are ridiculous. Their owner is clearly a clown. He’s paid out enough money for about three squads worth of football players, broken spending rules, accused referees of cheating and now threatening legal action against them. Yet their in relegation danger not because of the mess he has created but because refs don’t give them decisions?

I’m sorry, I know all Forest fans will be disappointed, but I’m officially moving them off my ideal Premier League Nostalgia list of 20 teams. What are Oldham Athletic up to these days?
Ash Metcalfe

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Were Forest right though?
I have no horse in that particular race, but I checked the Everton v Forest highlights to see what the fuss was about.

Now, it seems to be popular opinion that a ref could not possibly have a vested interest or cheat, so in the interest of avoiding conspiracy theory rabbit holes, I’ll let that go.

What does that leave us?

As a neutral, I thought all three of the shouts had merit. The handball, by our current ridiculous handball rules, was a strong contender. The other two were fouls, especially the latter one.

So, this game was refereed by the best in this country, being the Premier League. So firstly, the on-field ref should have seen at least the two fouls. The more serious one especially. But, he’s on the pitch, gets one look from whatever angle, so he can miss things or not have the best view. Ideally not, it’s his job and is supposedly the best so he should see them. Maybe he thinks they’re not fouls, but then he’s simply wrong and must do better.

However, the VAR guy gets multiple looks from every angle, as we all did. It’s been decided he hasn’t cheated and is specifically there to see things the ref can’t; that’s the whole point. So how could he not have concluded that there was definitely one, probably two, and possibly three penalties? At the very least he should be asking the ref to take another look. But no.

The only reason can surely be a staggering inability to do his job, if we’re agreeing he had no other motives.

Forest undermined themselves with the tweet, but come on, after incompetence at this level, they must have felt they had to do something.

Clearly, on-field refs need help. But VAR isn’t it. It’s not even close, and Attwell should be ashamed to call himself a referee. That was appalling!

📣 TO THE COMMENTS! Are Forest fighting the good fight, or simply off their t*ts? Join the debate here

…I’ve just watched motd to see the Forest incidents for myself. The defence of the first one was that he planted his foot after… but what about losing your balance? The second one was that these incidents were given as handball earlier in the season but the bar is now higher… there was a far softer handball given by var the same day at Wembley! The third there was no doubt whatsoever.

Personally I’m glad Forest said what they did, the pundits said this could start other clubs saying the same… GOOD, the officiating & var decisions have been shameful at times this season & it gets to a point where you stop believing it could just be a mistake!

These are professionals that know the rules inside out, when they do things like they did at Everton you seriously start to question the integrity of those in charge! I said this after the Diaz/spurs incident, the clubs & fans have the power to enforce change & the only way to do so is by putting pressure on the authorities. OUR game is being ruined by these people & var is not currently fit for purpose.

I personally think var could be fixed very easily. Stop using match day officials & employ people whose sole purpose is to ensure the rules are followed in certain incidents. They don’t need to know every rule inside out & it would take away the thought process that begins with “if I was the onfield official this is how I’d be looking at it”. it doesn’t even have to be people that like football, in fact I think it would be better if it was people that don’t care either way, they don’t even have to be watching the whole game… just scrutinising certain incidents or things the referee asks them to look at again.

The whole system is over complicated, simplify it & it would work a lot better… or just scrap the fkin thing!
Marcel G, LFC… and I don’t particularly like Forest, but I do a bit more after this.

READ: That Liverpool VAR cock-up tops our 10 maddest things from this mad season

Hold Forest’s beer
Readers will most likely be familiar with the feeling that you get sometimes when you think, football has totally lost the plot here…

Well, ladies and gentleman, I give you Barcelona goalkeeper Marc-Andre ter Stegen, Balon d’or winner for tone deafness, describing the absence of goal-line technology in La Liga:

“It’s shameful for football, I don’t have the words. There’s so much money in this world and there’s no money for what’s most important.”

I don’t have the words…
James Fisher


Football tics
In the same vein as being unable to hear a commentator say Shaqiri without singing “Shaqiri Shaqiri” in my head, I find it impossible to hear Nicholas Jackson’s name during a game and not audibly go “ooooooh” thanks to Outkast. It doesn’t help that he’s one of those players that the commentators insist on using his full name all the time.

Do any other readers have any noughties pop song intrusive thoughts when they hear a footballer’s name?
SC, Belfast

(Personally drove my family mad with exactly this on Saturday – Ed)