Weird Man Utd optimism growing, Eriksen ‘exposes fraud’, Ronaldo, Sancho, VAR, Arsenal and more

Date published: Monday 5th September 2022 2:54 - Editor F365

Man Utd midfielder Christian Eriksen claps supporters

The Man Utd optimism is growing in the Mailbox for the first time in a while. Plus, Eriksen > Pogba, Ronaldo, Sancho, VAR, Arsenal and lots more…

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Weird optimism
Well this is a weird feeling. A Utd fan but firmly staying cautious. After the hopeless collapse of last season, and the transfer mess into late July, I was not surprised to see us routed by Brentford.

Fast forward 3 weeks, 4 wins and and ETH just made sensible, practical and correct selections with Maguire in particular and CR7, and taken away the unwanted side show.

I’m not going to overly criticise these two, as they have often been as much influential as poor performers, but their order in the squad is more than justified.

No, the real difference is having an ego free manager with the understanding as to how to make this group play, and also increasing competition for places. Against both Liverpool and Arsenal this was more evident than ever. Haphazard though it was, the end of the window has given us perhaps the most exciting group we have had for a while.

Martinez is stronger than predicted so far, Malacia is looking fast and hard to beat to the ball, And now Antony is there, it’s a dynamic we haven’t had since Greenwood was arrested. Whatever the outcome, no one wants wants that in their club.

As lovely as some of the personalities we used to have were, it’s been great to see Mata, Matic and Cavani replaced with quality and dynamism, and in Eriksen, I genuinely believe we have THE signing of the summer.

Not only did he exhibit the best cover play against Arsenal but the pass to Rashford was with the knowledge that all football fans outside Merseyside would be happy to see a beaming Rashford. That’s good for the nation especially as Southgate has always factored him in his squads. He’s not perfect but a very good option.

Eriksen’s link up play in the last 3 games has clearly brought the best out of Bruno, and you can see McTominay and Fred learning from him. Plus he’s been in inches away from scoring, with his efforts. A truly lovely player to watch.

McFred – No longer relied on as a duo, they look competent with one of them starting until Casemiro is fully ready, but in the meantime they look assisted in the right way.

Casemiro has little to learn. He just looks happy to be there and enjoys closing games out, and Fred can not just clatter into people, but enjoy playing with a midfield that can move the ball. I like the Brazilian numbers in the team too. I’m sure they will be good for eachother in the pissing rain and cold which seems to fall here from Sep 29 until May 30th!

And I’m looking forward to 3 Ant(h)ony’s taking apart lesser teams at periods over the next 9 months.

It’s a welcome distraction to the running of the club, and that undoubtedly needs resolving, but credit to the directors for getting these players in, and a manager who is honest and frank and takes responsibility without any apparent mind games.

It’s an extraordinary length  of a season so I’m hoping we can train well and keep injury free, but it’s refreshing to see a bunch of agenda free players playing clever and mostly exciting football.

Last season now seems like a very bad memory. Let’s see where we are in May.


Not to get ahead of ourselves, but United have just bounced back from two terrible performances to have stuck 4 on the bounce, including against two of the big sides.

Now, while no one is suggesting United are back and ready to make a push for the title, at what point do people start to acknowledge that maybe it’s not that other sides are rubbish but that we are actually playing well? When we played Liverpool, the narrative switched from “United are at the bottom of the barrel” to “Liverpool aren’t very good / have lots of injuries”. On Sunday, we beat Arsenal pretty handsomely but it’s now that “Arsenal are mentally weak”. It is possible that both the criticisms of the current table toppers and our bitterest rivals are true, but ALSO that United are actually looking decent.

Sure, there are things to improve, but our defence is looking solid, our midfield is working well and our attack is scoring goals. This is game 4 of these players playing together.

Cautious optimism is well warranted. As is a little bit of praise for Rashford, McTominay, Martinez and Eriksen. And I believe our big money signing made a decent debut too.


Ronaldo positives
Watching the Return of United yesterday I had the thought that the whole Ronaldo saga might actually be a blessing in disguise for United and Ten Hag.

For the past few years Ronaldo has been able to point to his status and goalscoring record and tell his manager that no he absolutely will not change his own game to fit into the team, you need to mould the team around me. The Old Lady bowed to this, as did United last season.

But now EtH has come in with a vision, conviction, and authority and told Ronaldo that no the team will not revolve around you. We have a way of playing and you need to fit into it or sit on the bench. This initially looked like a problem, but there are huge upsides here, both in terms of Ronaldo himself and the wider squad. If Ronaldo can’t/won’t do it, we’ve shown we’ll be OK. If he can and does, then we’ve got a phenomenal goalscoring option who is willing to put in the hard yards. He came off the bench yesterday and sprinted around closing down keepers and centre backs like it was going out of fashion, so early signs are it may be the latter.

But the bigger impact may be on the squad. EtH’s biggest challenge was always going to be motivating and harnessing this disjointed and sometimes disinterested squad to pull in the one direction. Now they see that the manager is willing to tell Cristiano Ronaldo, the biggest personality, ego and profile in the squad to buck up or ship out – that has to focus the minds. Ten Hag has been able to use the Ronaldo situation (and Maguire to some degree too) to say that nobody is guaranteed a spot, everybody must conform, these are the rules, no exceptions. For a squad that has had it all its own way for years, that is a massive and positive change.

Credit to Ten Hag for taking what looked like a situation that might be impossible to manage, and turning it into one of his biggest and most important early successes.
Ryan, Coillte


Erikson exposes fraud Pogba
Don’t know if I’m alone in this but watching Erik and Bruno yesterday further highlights the truth about the saying “good players always find a way to play together”. Erikson have been an impeccable presence alongside Bruno so far. Infact they were involved in all the 3 goals scored yesterday. There’s no talk of Erikson needing someone more sophisticated than Mctominay to ‘unlock his potentials’. He was okay with McSause. Then there comes Fraugba. His entire Man utd career revolved round him needing some else to be beside him before he can play a simple football game. How brilliantly Erikson×Bruno partnership exposes that sh*t talk already. Especially Erikson, he’s an ideal version of what we expected of Fraugba or maybe he’s not a good player afterall.


Too much anger here…
Dear Editor,

I’m 54 years old, an Arsenal fan and a long time reader of your excellent website (not sure I’d get through the working day without it).

I’ve been supporting Arsenal since I was a teenager and I was a season ticket holder for 25 years. I love it when Arsenal win (regardless of the opposition) and I’m gutted when they lose. The thing is, and I realise this might be an old-fashioned view, I treat every game as a different experience and enjoy it (or not) for what it is. I seem to remember Stewie Griffin once saying that he was an Arsenal fan but no one person can have that much anger and vitriol aimed at one club and claim to be a fan. Stewie, find something else in life. Be happy. It’s not worth carrying around that much anger.

I enjoyed the success that Arsenal had under George Graham and Arsene Wenger and I celebrate every FA cup win like it’s our last but at the end of the day it’s all about the game and the enjoyment we get from it. If trophies or qualifying for Europe was the only thing that mattered there would only be 5 or 6 clubs playing. Think of all those fans who go through every season without any realistic hope of silverware (Fleetwood Town, Macclesfield, Spurs) but still keep going and supporting their teams just for the love of football.

There’s too much anger in the mailbox, but I suppose that’s what we all want to see and why this mail will probably be viewed as far too boring to get any reaction or even be worth printing. Sorry about that.

Oh and just in case this does get printed, can Barry Fox please write in again as soon as possible. Your mails make my day.

Dave (cheer up, Stewie), High Wycombe


One-trick Sancho?
Can anyone who watched Sancho for Dortmund tell me if he ever used to actually run with the ball at pace?

I’m sick of seeing him slow down the play and pass it sideways or backwards despite being 1 on 1 with the full back. He earns 10 million a year for that. I could perform that same trick just as easily and would gladly accept just 20% of Sancho’s salary.

Something to think about, Glazers.
Silvio (Antony actually trying to make things on the opposite flank was sweet relief) Dante


Man Utd vs Arsenal
Can someone explain to me why a defender is allowed to lean his chest against the back of a striker, and wrap his right arm around the striker, hand on chest, to keep that striker from moving or turning, and this is not a foul?
Ron Jeremias (Virginia, USA), Arsenal

I agree with Nic(holson)
After many weeks of criticism of Johnny Nicholson wanting to return to the 70s, I thought I’d write to say I agree with his piece this week. I think VAR should be binned.

Every goal is celebrated at 70% just incase you get a VAR call.

It’s too inconsistent to be able to be used seriously.

It did get correct calls this weekend (Coady was technically offside, Bowen caught Mendy (if im being honest I’m not sure why that one’s controversial or why the PGMOL said it got it wrong ))

If they are going to persist with it some tweeks are definitely needed.

As John said, clear and obvious should be clear and obvious, so a decision should be reached in the time it takes to celebrate, also measure just feet for offside.

But they won’t and the controversy will continue.
Graham, LFC


Dear Ed

I have a simple question to ask about VAR.

If the assistant referee always tries to stay in line with the defenders, shouldn’t there be a camera which is always in line with the defenders, to help determine if the attacker was onside or offside? People tell me I don’t understand camera angles but my argument is that the same incident, shot from different angles, can look different.

Camera positions must be standardised throughout stadia (probably impossible) and a camera should be tracking the defensive line/last defender (impossible) for VAR to effectively work. Computer must also be taught to draw straight lines based on an image, it shouldn’t be manually inserted by a moron human.

Wik, Pretoria (also, who decides what is the best angle for the VAR to make its decision? System is too fallible), LFC


VAR, Tierney and more…

What a pity a contender for goal of the season, scored by Martinelli, was ruled out by petty VAR interference. Never mind quality football VAR must have it’s day ! There were several far worse fouls, by both sides, which went completely unpunished.

There is one constant in Arsenal’s failures over the last few seasons and that is Granit Zhaka. Why is he still with the club ? It has been said that he is an improvement this season but whilst that is debatable he remains an on the edge liability with his slack passing in crucial areas, his senseless fouls and subsequent cards and or suspension. Get rid and buy the proper defensive midfielder we have clearly needed for seasons.

Why do we not play arguably the best left back in the league – Kieran Tierney ? The first goal yesterday would not have been scored had he been playing as the scorer had all the space and time he needed with no one near him. Zinchenco is a great addition but is not a left back. Why not try him in Zhaka’s place for the next few games although he is not defensive player he is far more reliable and talented ?
Macca, Herts


Refs are essential and we should remember that
The idea and genesis of VAR is good – eradicate the howler. As a Liverpool fan who conceded a goal to a beach ball (true story) this is something that is necessary, and will improve the game.

The problem with VAR is that referees run it without any help. Hear me out. Anybody who has played football at any level knows that referees are viewed as the “other”, the “anti-footballer” and somebody who is there to spoil your fun and stop the world recognising your and your team’s unarguable brilliance.

This is palpably not true – refs are most likely football fans (Mike Dean said he wanted to be a ref to watch brilliant footballers play up close) and want good football, but are there to ensure player safety and that unfair advantages are not gained, i.e. the game is fair (which all sport depends on). To do this well – refs have to focus on individual events and judge them on their merit.

Without refs it would not be possible to play the game, we should be grateful for them – this has been forgotten because VAR has trapped refs are in a vicious circle of who-can-be-the-most pernickety one-upmanship. This is because you have refs looking at individual events (their job) on a screen. On the pitch, the flow and context of the game is unavoidable – the ref is in the middle of it. On a screen, with all the angles and super slow-mo, the ref disappears into an abyss of over-analysis.

But worry not, I can fix it. Keep the best bits. Lose the rubbish. And it is easy – just do what VAR is supposed to do – eradicate the howler. And that’s it. So:

  1. The help that VAR refs needs is to limit the scope of their involvement to only where actual value can be added – i.e. by what the on-pitch refs and assistant refs cannot see – VAR refs cannot do this for themselves, as they want to analyse the fairness of everything – that’s why they need to be told what they can look at
  2. The limited scope needs to be unseen headbutts, handballs (see below), blatant fouls that un-sighted refs can not see. It is not for debatable calls, or speculative looks at whether their might have been a foul or offside etc – only the ref on the pitch, with his assistants, can understand the context of the event in the game – this is necessarily true, in the same way that it is necessarily impossible for a guy in a room looking at a screen
  3. Additionally, the limited scope needs to be howler-only, literally only something blatantly obvious – anything that doesn’t smack the VAR ref in the face as an absolute outrage (see previous comment re beach ball) goes unreported
  4. Like goal-line technology, which everyone agrees is a valuable addition to the game, make offside a binary, mechanical, non-human decision – I believe the technology is being trialled now. Ref has a watch on his wrist which tells him immediately if the player is offside, same as over the line. As such, VAR have zero involvement. The assistant’s job becomes focussing on foul play – this will make them better at it. Obvs the ref doesn’t blow until the goal has/hasn’t been scored just in case on-pitch events, deflections etc are a factor
  5. Stop messing around with the rules (another symptom of empowering refs too much) – handball used to have to be intentional and everyone just got on with it. Offside used to mention players instead of body parts and favoured the attacker – again simples to implement. Now it’s a mess. Go back to what it was until the automation is in place
  6. Get rid of the screens – this is just technological fetishism and takes up too much time – the VAR ref can chirp the on-pitch ref to say what he thinks he has seen, they talk it through and the on-pitch ref makes a call based on the conversation – this keeps the power with the ref on the pitch, saves time and will stop the micro-analysis – there won’t be time. The on-pitch ref will be like “how sure are you” the VAR will be like “it’s blatant” on-pitch ref blows the whistle. The VAR response should never be “hang on I need more angles” because of point 3 above
  7. Accountability – part of the problem is that TV shows would highlight marginal offside calls and label them a referee failure – this is the reason why VAR is as rubbish as it is now – refs are paranoid of being imperfect, whereas really it is their imperfection, their humanity, that is the only thing that makes them tolerable. Until the automation kicks in, no bloody lines ANYWHERE – if a ref gets it wrong, tough – he’s human. We as fans, pundits etc need to be accountable for our own behaviour and not spit invective at refs for making mistakes as all humans do

Before VAR, your team would be on the wrong end of a couple of howlers each season and it would hack you off no end. With VAR every game for every team is a parade of delays, mistakes and outrage. Johnny Nic is a card-carrying Luddite so no surprise he wants to wind the clock back completely. I feel VAR can have value and can improve the game, but only if you put it back in its (non-telly) box.
Gofezo (managers too, no more ref-shaming!)


VAR and the damage done!
As a Newcastle fan (and as a Football fan in general) I feel rightly let down after this weekends VAR based fun. I have always been an advocate of VAR amongst my friends, often the lone voice! But such awful refereeing genuinely makes me wonder if we should just bin the whole system.

The decision to disallow the Palace own goal on Saturday is beyond comparison as far as VAR mistakes go IMHO, the only way for fans to have any trust in the system, is to hear what the officials are saying to each other as they do in Rugby.

What did Lee Mason say to Michael Salisbury to persuade him it was a foul on Guaita? Patrick Viera said in his post match interview “I think if there is not a Newcastle player then our goalkeeper would get the ball and that contact of course had a massive impact on the goal” is this what the officials told him after the game? Because that clearly isn’t what the pictures show, Guaita wasn’t going to get the ball ahead of Willock, the push by Mitchell is as blatant a push as you will see and if he doesn’t foul Willock then its an simple headed goal for him.

What ever the officials saw, wasn’t what 99.9999% of everyone else saw, so an explanation may help, but they have now had 48hours to come up with an answer, when all they need to do is release the transcript of what was said between Mason and Salisbury.

How can anyone trust the VAR system if we don’t know their reasoning behind some of the decisions? The NFL have had referees communicating with the crowd for as long as I can remember, surely a similar system could be brought it. A click of a button and the ref tells everyone why he has given a contentious decision (anything that goes via VAR), how difficult is that to set up? Or is the real reason that every ref has a squeaky Joe Pasquale voice and they are too embarrassed to speak in public?
Neil, Dunston on Tyne


An alternative view…
Nikhil N, CFC.
This is all about perspective and who is perceived as the victim, and goalkeepers get to play the victim more than most.

I have another thought experiment.

Exactly the same incident with Mendy getting the ball, but Bowen goes down instead hoping to win a penalty after the contact on the trailing leg. A classic scenario and so the ref now has to consider whether it is it a penalty, and will of course decide against as Mendy gets the ball. The goal stands though as the ref sees it as just no penalty, play on. Such incidents happen all the time and penalties are not given if the keeper gets a touch on the ball. But neither are free kicks given to the keeper, because he is the aggressor, going to the ground and effectively making a tackle taking the player and the ball.

The difference is perspective. Pretend to be hurt and you will get decisions more often, especially if you are a goalkeeper. Mendy made a meal of his own smothering of the ball, turning him into a supposed victim. Bowen did not make a meal of the contact leaving him with the role of the perpetrator. Everything after that is now viewed through different lenses.

Another thought experiment. It isn’t the goalkeeper. It is a CB sliding in with his feet and hooking the ball away inevitably making contact with the attacker too. It would be ridiculous for the defender to then roll around as if he himself was taken out. It’s him taking the risk to go off his feet and potentially hurt the opponent or himself. It is his responsibility to face the consequences. They know it will hurt choosing to slide into another player. That’s football. You know things have gone to pot when referees forget that key part of the game when making a decision.

Imagine if that was the way now with defenders. Make a successful tackle but fancy a free kick too? Just respond to the inevitable and dangerous collision you have caused by egging up you own resultant pain. After all the attacker didn’t get the ball.

This is a case of classic overprotection of keepers taking another mad turn due to overthinking a decision when a keeper plays the victim. They already get silly decisions in their favour when they jump over other players to catch/punch and miss the ball. They even have been known to get them when they do get the ball but fall and get winded. The attacker is penalised simply for being there. Rest assured this new interpretation will be quickly picked up by other keepers looking for even more referee protection as if they are made of glass.


John Nicholson – Man of Horses
After the weekend just gone I knew we’d get a slew of anti-VAR opinions, and low and behold here’s John Nicholson with the most predictably asinine take that one could expect.

John reminds me of a man with a horse at the dawn of the age of cars. He’ll spend all his time pointing out the teething troubles of a basically brand new technology, ignoring all it’s obvious benefits while lionising an existing process that’s clearly flawed.

VAR undoubtedly has issues, it’s far too slow and is used too often to quibble about marginal calls. But the idea that this renders the technology useless and should be scrapped is just a backwards take. Every single football fan has multiple memories of their teams getting screwed by refereeing decisions, be they massive offsides missed, blatant fouls waved off or a certain Frenchman playing volleyball before scoring to put their country through to the world cup. Many of these type of calls do not balance themselves out over the course of a season, and the idea that we could go back to that and it be generally popular is nonsense. Whether you admit it or not, VAR has almost completely eliminated these types of injustices. The first glaring error missed would cause an uproar and we’d be right back where we are. Let’s keep working on making VAR better rather than seeking its removal.

On a related note, what has happened to John Nicholson? I remember him being a funny ex musician who railed against the boring rigidity and blandness of football coverage and “jobs for the lads”, now he seems to be gammon personified. Take a break John, things aren’t that bad.
Dave, Cork


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