Were Man Utd’s struggles all part of Fergie’s long-term plan?

Date published: Friday 18th January 2019 9:57

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Was Fergie planning this all along?
It’s rush hour here, so I rather write to you than get on that freeway.

I’m sure you all have read by now, that we United fans are just f****in ecstatic for the last few weeks. But it got me thinking, especially after last game against the Spurs that maybe just maybe this was all planned out (well not entirely but you know….mostly?)

Basically, that old genius, the real G.O.A.T Manager, knew that an immediate successful transition maybe too much of a n ask. Especially with many clubs strengthening financially (not just Citeh) and the league overall getting a financial windfall (TV Rights), it was going to make things much harder for his successor. So why not try luck with a lowering of expectations (Moyes) and then let things run its course downward (LvG and Mou) until the time is right to appoint one of his proteges to continue his methods. Apart from that class of ’92, I think Ole and just a handful of few are dear to SAF (Bruce, Fletcher, CR, Anderson, Keane (just kidding lol)) and he knew it won’t work to get any of them any success without changing a few things around it.

At the same time, we’ve all read about SAF’s admiration for Poch, all those lunch/dinner meetings with a Spurs coach are meant to be something right? I think his emergence as a potential great coach had SAF keep an eye for the outsider, who could give the club everything the old man wants to shape it for years to come.

Either way, if SAF really had a say in any of this, I just cant thank him enough. In a really long time, we are not scared of playing anyone, we may very well lose but it wont be due to fear before even the ball is kicked.
AVM, Phoenix

 

Football’s butterfly effect
As it is a Friday mailbox and i have some long train journeys today, I wondered if some of the mailbox contributors, often so knowledgeable about football history as well as offering insight into tactics and club structure, would like to play football counter-factuals? Apologies if this has been asked recently – i read the mailbox most days but may have forgotten.

For example: if arsenal has signed N’golo Kante instead of Chelsea they would have one the title that year and Arsene would still be in charge.

A larger example would be: if Michael Thomas hadn’t scored that goal, Liverpool win the first division and subsequently would have dominated the 90s, because…

A few others I thought of but don’t have the knowledge or imagination to back up include: if Harry Redknapp hadn’t been forced to play Bale left wing, Bale would be a reckless leftback at Villa and spurs would have been relegated; if Mourinho had lost in the CL last 16 at porto he’d have gone on to build a reputation at Valencia as a tactician who delivers impressive results on meagre budgets, actively critical of big spending – with big consequences for the tactical development of english football; and if Cantona had been injured in the warm up at Palace, Keegan would have held on to win the league with Newcastle the next year, and then…

In short – change one result or decision and speculate. If you want to go broad and silly with it: if david beckham hadn’t scored from the halfway line then hipster beards would not be a thing; or, if sven had won the world cup with england then david miliband would be prime minister.
Richard, Arsenal fan in Bristol
PS: Come to think of it, i’d quite like to read Steve Chicken on the hipster beards one and Johnny Nic on Sven/Miliband if there is some sort of ‘requests’ option at f365, then i’ll leave my quid on the jukebox for that.

 

Accountants rule
Having read the transcript from Biesla’s press conference it’s confirmed the well known assumption that the modern game is based upon statistics and how to minimise risk of failure.

On this basis I still don’t understand why Woodward at Man Utd is constantly derided as an “Accountant who doesn’t understand the sport”

As (ashamedly confesses) a Qualified Accountant myself, my professional career is based upon data analysis.

I understand the game very well (I like to think) it’s my secondary passion in life after my family.

Being a football person and an Accountant is not a mutually exclusive concept.
Brian (Not boring at dinner parties/knees up down the boozer) BRFC

 

Bielsa’s hardly a one-man band
I seem to be one of the minority in thinking that the majority of Bielsa’s press conference wasn’t as incredible as it’s being made out.

Notice how he says “we” alot? I can guarantee that every Prem and Championship club has plenty of performance analysts whose sole job is to analyse the film of both their own team and opposition matches – many clubs hiring unpaid interns to do this (that’s a gripe for another day). They are the ones spending hours and hours tagging footage with sometimes brief instruction of what the coaches are actually after, and it is them who then present it to the coaches in a manner that they will understand.

Picking up what the hand signals at corners mean? It won’t have been Bielsa.

Yes, it is up to Bielsa to transfer the information provided to players (with help from analysts) but don’t think that he is the only manager with that amount of data. Having a powerpoint with lots of data does not instantly make him a better coach than Lampard – the performance of his team on the field does.
Adam (how can premiership clubs justify an unpaid internship for a graduate level role?), Birmingham

 

…I’m with Ollie, Bristol. I read most of that with my trousers around my ankles.

As a football mad Data Analyst, I have to say that Bielsa presser is pretty much pornographic material.
Mark Danger Endicott, MUFC (Also Bristol, maybe there’s something in the water down here?)

 

Coutinho’s overrated
I have to admit I read Rowan’s, Red Devil Dub e-mail on Coutinho with a smile on my face. I couldn’t agree with him more.

Coutinho, in my opinion, was the most overrated player in the Premier League while he was here.

Now, let me clarify, yes I am a Man United fan but that has nothing to do with it. Coutinho is in no means a bad player but the esteem he was held in by some Liverpool fans always boggled me. Granted he played some great games and scored a couple worldie’s but was inconsistent and ,as pointed out by Rowan, his output was never that impressive in terms of goals and assist.

Just look at how Liverpool have fared after selling their apparent best player. They’re really missing him aren’t they? Hats off to Liverpool for getting that kind of money as I felt he would’ve soon been replaced anyways in the next season or two.
I still remember one of my Liverpool supporting friends trying to argue with me that Coutinho was on par if not better then David Silva, seriously like?

Anyways like Rowan I hope to god United don’t sign him but while Ed Woodward has a say in things it could well happen. Can see Ole in a meeting saying we need defensive reinforcements, another proper CM and May we a winger. Ed reaches under the table and hands him Coutinho. Great!
Jack, Ole In, Cork.

 

..I completely concur with Rowan from the Mailbox and his views on Coutinho. What he only touched on, which I think has been under discussed, is how fortunate Liverpool were with that transfer. A player who didn’t ever really fit the Klopp vision, one that I suspect Klopp didn’t rate as highly as others at his disposal (Firmino for instance) and they end up getting the second highest fee of all time which permits them the funds to pay top dollar for the goal keeper and centre back they so desperately needed. Their current title charge has been funded by Barcelona’s largesse (TBF, they’ve spent the money superbly and capitalised on their stroke of luck).

Personally, I never rated Lukaku and was adamant when he signed that Rashford would have kicked him out of the No. 9 spot before too long. Feeling pretty smug and vindicated at the moment!
Lewis, Busby Way.

 

…Rowan, Red Devil Dub is missing a key factor in the price of a footballer. He said he couldn’t figure out the €146 million Euro’s price for Coutinho.

I think the money in football is insane and I was amazed that Liverpool were able to command such a price but the fact Coutinho signed a new 5 year deal on July 1st 2017 was a key element of the overall fee. Six months later he was being bought out of that contract by Barcelona. When Giroud (given as a comparison by Rowan due to his “cheap” 30 million cost) signed for Chelsea in January 2018 I believe his last Arsenal contract had been signed in 2015 and only lasted until the summer of 2018.

Now I have no idea how much of the 146 million was down to the contract but I know that buying a footballer out of 6 months of a contract is going to cost way less than buying them out of 54 month contract. You’re not comparing apples with apples Rowan.

None of that even takes account of how badly Barca needed someone for that position, how old the players are (26 and 32), how many shirts they will sell, how good the “Little Magician” is compared to “Socks” (Giroud’s nickname as a kid apparently!) or how well the teams involved negotiated, etc, etc.

You’re welcome.
Adam Reep LFC (comparing apples with brussels sprouts since 1972)

 

…I recall us Liverpool fans getting rather giddy, as is our want, when we first felt we had a player on our hands. Famously one mailboxer wrote in to chastise us insisting that Inter only did business for such a modest fee and with such relish as he was sh*te. I have since been published a number of times asking the whereabouts of this fellow but he seems to have gone to ground.

When you see him live and particularly when he initially fully embraced Der KloppMeister’s geggenpress you realise the dimunitive Brazilian is a tireless worker. Unrelenting in the high press and fearless in the tackle. He allied this to a wicked level of skill and a surprising turn of pace when he has done his ‘turn away from the defender on the outside foot thing’ that you know is coming but seems nigh on impossible to stop.

He does have the whole ‘set the defender on his right foot then drop the right shoulder and lash a curling, dipping worldie into the keepers top LH corner thing’ down pat but I will admit he reverts to this slightly too often. Particularly when we might have been chasing a game or failing to break down an obdurate defence at home. More often than not it can sail high, wide and not particularly handsome.

Let me be clear Rowan, MUFC, Dublin: Dimiflop Berbaflop he ain’t.
Gregory Whitehead, LFC

 

Perfect sponsors
In terms of perfect club sponsors, Brighton and Hove Albion peaked at the start of the 1999/2000 season. The club had been on the edge of financial oblivion two years before when their former owners decided to sell off their stadium the Goldstone Ground so it could be demolished and turned into a retail park.

The club had just moved into the Withdean Sports Complex in Brighton having shared Gillingham’s stadium for two seasons. The Withdean however was not a stadium. It was a running track around a bit of grass where previously the local schools held their sports days. Some scaffolding with benches on was thrown up around the track for the fans.

To mark this momentous move and to sum up the club’s financial situation they signed a sponsorship deal with Brighton based record label Skint. It was too perfect a match.
Danny, Brighton

 

Left and right
I have to call BullRoar on Bren’s email…

I’m not denying your entire first paragraph and the science behind the right sided players playing on the the left and how their brains are built.

I am simply calling bullroar on the “…when people complain about players only being one-footed. It’s the way their brains are built and no amount of training will make up the difference”

Let me elaborate, I was born right footed, I’ve been kicking a ball since a very small age, i always played on my right, however when i was around 10/11 i must have seen some left footed players and thought “wow i want to be like that on my left foot”, so i proceeded to using my spare time kicking the ball against a wall on my left foot, this was at age 10/11 bear in mind, i am now 32!

I am fully able to play on my left side, i can use my left foot to shoot, dribble and control, basically everything to a very good level… however my dominant side is still my right, it’s of course more comfortable naturally… I completely disagree that you cannot train your mind or your body to become a little but more comfortable on the other foot, i believe you can as i am the product of that training.

It bugs me that strikers are so one footed, because they will get countless chances to score goals on the opposite foot and always decide to go with the wrong foot when at a worse angle or position to try and do so.

I’m a central defender and of course I might not set the world alight, but when i play and move forward, i’m able to use either feet to get myself in a better position to attack, shoot, whatever really… Imagine how much better PL footballers would be if they could use both feet??
T, CFC, London (I’m sure there are some brilliant 2 footed players in the PL)

 

…Man City at the moment, they can field a team containing Ederson, Laporte, Delph, Silvas David and Bernado, Mahrez and Sane with Mendy and Foden on the bench. That’s seven lefties out of eleven players. Are there other teams right now that can do that? Is there even another club somewhere with as many left footers in the first team squad?
Ehis (child lefty, adult righty). North Bank, Nigeria.

 

Mailbox maths
There has been a bit of chat about the average finishing position – starting with Arsenal, but expanding to others. The analysis has all been on the mean position, whereas I would argue the modal average is better. For those of you who don’t remember your GCSE maths, the Modal average is the number that occurs most frequently in a set of numbers – so in our case, the position in the league which a particular team has finished in most frequently since the resumption of football after the war. I have looked at the current top 6 teams and their modal position – plus the position they finished in 2nd most just for reference.

Liverpool – 1st, 14 times (11 times 2nd)
ManC – 15th, 5 times (4 times each of 1st, 4th, 5th)
Spurs – 3rd, 10 times (7 times 10th)
Chelsea – 6th, 8 times (6 times 3rd)
Arsenal – 4th, 13 times (8 times each of 1st & 3rd)
ManU – 1st, 16 times (14 times 2nd)

So, based on history, you should expect ManU & Liverpool fans to expect to finish in the top 2, Spurs fans to expect to finish 3rd or mid-table, Arsenal fans to expect to finish in the top 4, Chelsea fans to expect to finish between 3rd and 6th, with ManCity’s numbers making little sense . . .

I don’t think this clarifies much at all, now I’ve done it . . .
Sam (London)

 

…Late to the party on this one, but you simply cannot discard Arsenal’s pre-war history and say our rightful place is sixth.

If you remove the 1990s from United’s history, you rob them of Fergie’s first Champions League win, the club’s first league and cup double, their first Premier League title win as well as five titles in total.

So if it’s wrong to disregard the 1990s when talking about United’s success, it should be wrong to disregard the 1930s when talking about Arsenal’s. It disproportionately skews the argument to make an invalid point.
Graham Simons, Gooner, Norf London

 

Penalty-taking defenders
Danny Murphy is a cretin. In addition to Julian Dicks and Stuart Pearce from Andy this morning, can I add:

David Unsworth, Leighton Baines, Steve Bruce, Dennis Irwin, Frank Leboeuf, and the legendary Graham Alexander.

All defenders and all excellent penalty takers.

I remember Brehme for Germany being a beast too. Didn’t Lee Dixon take Arsenal penalties for a while?

Any others?
Paul, London.

 

…Neatly combining the “defenders taking penalties” and “right footers at left back” topics recently in the mailbox:
Andreas Brehme, Germany’s left back, was the one stepping up to put away a penalty in the 1990 World Cup final. He took it (and scored, of course) with his right foot. I’m pretty sure he was left-footed because it was his 2 outswinging left-footed corners that led to Germany’s 2 goals in the 1986 final. To this day I am amazed that he just decided to take the most important kick of his career with his weaker foot just because.

And on the subject of mental press conferences, my nomination for the best ever is Trapattoni while at Bayern Munich.

The full glory of the rant in Italianised broken German is only partly captured by the English subtitles, and fuller unsubtitled versions are also available to brighten up a Friday workday!
James, Zug

 

…I got reminded recently (maybe on this site or the Guardian) that Steve Bruce scored 19 goals in the 90/91 season for Man United, 11 of which were penalties. He definitely doesn’t even fit the idea of a technical defensive type player, but was United’s number one taker until Cantona came along. He was picked ahead of players like Lee sharpe, Hughes, Robson, McClair, Ince etc for this role, and was quite deadly i believe. I also second Denis Irwin, but he was a wizard from a dead ball.
Patrick (Pretty fly for a wifi) K. Chicago

 

Best Defender to take penalties and could hit a damn fine freekick, it’s got to be Mr. Reliable himself… Denis Irwin

Credible mention to Leighton Baines, Ian Harte could bury a freekick too… both lefties too!
Wass (give me Alex Scott over Danny Murphy any day.. and I don’t mean just aesthetically) MUFC

 

VAR debate
Does anyone else feel like VAR is trying too hard to do too much?

Possible solutions:

1. A team gets one VAR challenge per match. If correct, they keep it. If wrong, they lose it. If used frivolously to waste time then possibly they lose their challenge for the next game?

2. Stop trying to fix everything. Referee can only refer to VAR to prevent incorrect calls already made. So no more penalties or free kicks for diving but also some emotion still because if the ref doesn’t stop the game in the moment then no opportunity for review.

I like the first solution because it would force teams to be more honest. Stop appealing like a bell end mate, either use your review or shut up and get on with it. That said I imagine sometimes the game is so fast that maybe the players don’t strictly know what happened. Was it a hand ball in the box or was it the shoulder?

I like the second solution because it keeps the game moving fast and limits the influence of VAR. In the World Cup I felt it slowed stuff down far too much and made it dull, referees leaned on the system too much. I was at Wembley for Spurs Vs Chelsea and had no clue what was going on except for the luck of being sat next to a guy with a radio in his ear.

But last and most importantly, set a timer on VAR. If the original decision can’t be agreed to be incorrect within 30 seconds then it stands and the game carries on. VAR isn’t supposed to be for the most marginal of calls really.
Minty, LFC

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