Winning Champions League is really f***ing difficult…

Date published: Wednesday 9th May 2018 1:58

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Winning the European Cup is really bloody hard
The 1993/94 season ended with a Manchester United league and FA Cup Double, an incredibly rare feat. The FA final was against Chelsea, an astonishing 4-0 spanking featuring two Cantona penalties.

Having been denied entry to European competition in the back half of the 80s, it seemed that England had finally pulled together a team that could compete with the best from the continent. United had won the Cup Winner’s Cup in 1991, but the actual European Cup was a different beast. With one of the finest 442s in history (I was 8 and had all the Man United on Video series, so may be just a wee bit biased), playing blistering attacking football, at full strength they were a match for anyone. Unfortunately they wouldn’t be able to play at full strength against anyone due to the Three Foreigners rule.

At the time a side could only have three foreign players on the pitch at any given time. Foreign was decided by football nation eligibility, not by passport. Not a problem for the rest of the continent, but a big one for any team in the UK. Ryan Giggs, the spaniel chasing silver paper in the wind – foreign. Denis Irwin and talismanic British transfer record smasher Roy Keane? Foreign. (I know Ireland really is a different country, but they were from somewhere as close to Manchester as London and it felt rather incongruous for them to be, by the letter of the law, as exotic as a Brazilian playmaker (again, 8, fairly biased).) Mark Hughes, returned from Barcelona, with the mightiest thighs this fine sport has ever seen? Foreign. Even the stalwart Brian ‘Choccie’ McClair, aging but still contributing, a wise head to see out a game. All foreign.

United were scuppered. Fair enough for Cantona, Schmeichel and the infinitely watchable Andrei Kanchelskis, but for all the home nations to be included was a massive blow. Several key players became unavailable for every game. Who do you drop? World-class goalkeeper, inspirational creator, tireless runner? The intention of the rule was to stop what is pretty much expected practice today, of pilfering all the best talent from across the world with a big fat cheque book and thereby both unfairly tipping the scales through unsporting means and through destroying any real sense that a team is representing their nation. I mean, the team from Italy should really be made up of Italians, shouldn’t it? So whilst the Three Foreigners were expected to be a dash of spice to mix things up, like the Dutch contingent at Milan, they weren’t really meant to be your homegrown youth team player from 30 miles down the road.

Squads weren’t the size they are now, there wasn’t the same kind of wealth of strength in reserve and Fergie couldn’t find the balance. It took a few more cracks at it to get it right – it’s a different competition to the Prem, one which no one in England had had experience of for a number of years. The tactics were significantly different to the English game, Fergie had to learn on the job. It was more intense and aggressive as well – have a Google of the Galatasary away game. We didn’t do flares being thrown onto the pitch in England and it really unsettled the players. After the first couple of times of experiencing that atmosphere players started to get used to it, but at first, in combination with the disruption to the side and having to adapt the personel so drastically, it was enough to throw them off their game. To invert the adage, it’s one thing to do it on a wet Wednesday in Stoke, but can you manage to get the job done on a stifling evening in Istanbul whilst getting pelted from the stands underneath a banner reading Welcome To Hell and getting screamed at by Turkish ultras?

The XI going into the 94/95 season was a strong as any Fergie had: 98/99 was a better squad, with the rotation of Cole/Yorke/Sheringham/(you are my) Solskjaer; the Ronaldo-Rooney-Tevez team (07/08?) was superb as well of course. Between the culture shock of the different ways of playing, the different behaviours of the fans, inexperience in the competition and the fact that Fergie couldn’t play close to his first XI, it meant that the team that had so dominated England the season before didn’t get a real crack at the big prize.

As SAF gained more experience of European competition, as he shaped squads with Europe in mind, as the harsh Three Foreigners rule was weakened and eventually discarded (can you imagine it today?!), United became an established force in Europe. Whilst often in the top handful of sides across the continent for around 15 years of his tenure, it does still seem a bit inconsistent that they only won the two cups.

There was the final against Barca in full tiki taka dominance mode (though that doesn’t explain Ferdinand and Vidic letting Messi score a f’in header against them). The one where Mourinho won it with Porto I think Scholes had a goal disallowed incorrectly. I think Rooney got metatarsal’d during a particularly plentiful purple patch, possibly against Bayern in the knockouts? I suppose the point really is that United were rarely the out-and-out best side in Europe. Often in the top two or three, but there was often a team, like Pep’s Barca, who were just that bit better.

So. That was longer than expected. Tl;dr – winning the Champions League is actually, like, well hard, even if you’re as minted as Manchester United and you’re as good a manager as Sir Alex Ferguson.
Jack (get well soon gaffer) Francis


…SAF CL Titles: 2

Managers with more than 2 European Cup/CL titles: 2 (Bob Paisley and Carlo Ancelotti – 3 each)

It’s quite hard to do mate!
Matt, LFC


…Mark, LFC, Hong Kong – Fergie has actually gone on record as saying that not winning the Champions League more times is one of his biggest regrets. There may have been a level of naivety at times with regards to tactics against the best teams in Europe, but I reckon the main reason was simply that winning the Champions League is f***ing difficult.
Jimbles, WFC


…One of the main reasons United struggled for a good few years in Europe was due to the 3 foreigner rules in place at the time, the team that got us in Europe through the early 90s never played together in Europe due to Mark Hughes, Denis Irwin, Ryan Giggs, Peter Schmeichel, Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Brian McClair, Andrei Kanchelskis etc all being classed as foreign players. Fergie had to juggle a team with young Englishmen and not quites to try and deliver in Europe and just couldn’t get there, when the rule was scrapped United started to consistently perform well in the Champions League. I honestly think if the side of Schmeichel , Parker, Bruce, Pallister, Irwin, Giggs, Ince, Robson, Kanchelskis, Hughes and Cantona with Keane etc in reserve we would have won one or two more.
Paul Murphy, Manchester


Griezmann could be perfect for Man United
It looks like Griezmann is set to move to Barcelona and United appeared to have cooled off their interest in the player after purchasing Lukaku. I also harbor doubts over whether he could adapt to the physicality of the PL and United have too many weaknesses in midfield and defense to be investing more in their attack over the summer.

However, I still can’t help but think Griezmann would be the perfect signing for United. Over the course of the season, we have seen Lukaku more and more willing to become the provider rather than be the sole striker. I can see him becoming more of a player in the Firmino mould where he can not only link up play to provide assists to his wingers but also be there to score goals.

With Griezmann and Sanchez, both wingers who have the experience and capability to play as strikers, this could become a deadly partnership which the opposition will find very hard to control.

Lack of goals has been a United problem for years. Even this year they are 5th in the league for number of goals scored. Even Arsenal who are 17 points behind have scored more. This is a dismal record indeed.

You would expect this trio to easily score at least 50 goals a season. Griezmann has also experience with parking the bus tactics and playing on the counter attack under Simeone so would adapt quickly to Mourinho’s system.


Buvac for Arsenal? Really?
In reply to JR from this morning’s mail. You say the new manager needs to sort defence out as the attack is already good then state that you want Klopp’s replica in to do the job.

Without wanting to sound like Carlos Carvahal, is that not like asking a sow to impregnate another sow?

Arsenal are essentially a poor man’s Liverpool so unless you want scintillating attacking football that somewhat masks defensive leaks, Buvac is not your man.

You state you want someone who can improve defences and players on a budget and neglect to mention Simeone. That man turned Athleti from the Backstreet Boys to the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club on a shoestring – less than QPR’s relegation transfer/wage budget in 2014. In his tenure he has improved elder statesman like Gabi, Miranda, Thiago and Juanfran. Improved and/or sold on imports like Costa, Falcao, Courtois, Oblak and Godin to world class levels and brought through Koke, Saul, Partey, Gimenez and Hernandez from the academy.

If I were Arsenal I would pay whatever it took to get this man to the Emirates. All the spinelessness would disappear and the classic early Wenger/George Graham spirit would return.
Joe, Midlands – Did Dan Storey base his article on my mail from a few weeks ago – own up.


…In response to JR in this morning’s mailbox, you say Buvac is the man you want at Arsenal.

One thing, Dave Wagner recently said how surprised he was about the rumours because “he (Buvac) isn’t the person who likes to speak”. So it strikes me as very odd that Arsenal would go for a guy as manager who, by all accounts, is just a tactician.

Now that’s not an insult, tactics are a huge part of football management, but I raise it because a lot of the criticism of Wenger over the past 10 years or so has been he’s too soft on players. They don’t have any characters. I don’t see how Buvac would change that situation if he doesn’t like to talk too much.

But anyway, I hope Arsenal and Buvac f**k it up. They deserve each other, who walks out on their team midway through a Champions League semi-final?!
James (LFC)


…Interesting email from JR but Im not sure about the reasoning.

Problem: Arsenal have a good attack undermined by an unstable and unreliable defence.

Solution: Appoint the number two of a rival who is famous for an electrifying attack but is equally famous for collapsing in defence.

I don’t quite follow…

I obviously have a vested interest in Buvac not going to Arsenal, but I can totally understand why many Arsenal fans want to go for that sort of figure. On an emotional level Arsenal fans seem tired of old methods; old faces (even if accomplished). They haven’t had any new ideas or faces at the top since 1996 and it has become painfully clear that Arsenal are a long way away from being at the cutting edge of football. Allegri and Enrique embody establishment and safety, a stable return to CL revenue and fulfilling the wishes of Stan Kroenke. Arsenal fans have been so patient since the stadium move to slowly see their team slip from world beaters to also-rans. They’ve been told to balance frustration with their team’s performance with positive figures on a balance sheet and they are allowed to have a bit of an ill-advised blow out after leaving a 22-year-old marriage.

Honestly, I’d love to see Arsenal go for an ex-player (Arteta or Viera) or someone legitimately mad/with a point to prove (first to admit my knowledge of foreign managers/leagues isn’t the best but someone who has won a bit but has not got a top level job e.g. Serri, Simeone). United have had the better season this year in terms of performances, but Liverpool fans have had the better season in terms of memories (or at least they seem happier). I think Arsenal needs to give it’s fans some new great memories rather than stable league performances.

The other point I don’t quite follow is F365’s stance. On one hand F365 lambast West Brom and Southampton for going for a name when appointing their managers (and, to be fair to the clubs, those managers had a track record of short-term success) and point out the lift West Brom have had from appointing someone that gets the fans, the players the club. On the other hand, they recommend Arsenal appoint managers that have no connection to Arsenal and for whom Arsenal will just be another job, interchangeable with managing Chelsea or Spurs.

Emotionally, more than anything, it seems Arsenal fans need a very enjoyable, and potentially disastrous, fling. Once they’ve had their fun they can settle into another sensible, stable relationship.
Matt, LFC


The new Arsenal manager should be…
Mediawatch recently published George Graham’s quote ‘Never buy a player who is taking a step down to join you, he’ll think he’s doing you a favour.’ It seems to me that this should also apply to managers, perhaps even more so, and this should rule out Allegri.

What sort of manager can Arsenal get? What sort of manager should Arsenal get? No manager with a potential CL winning team will step down, no manager hoping to move to a CL winning team will risk their career stalling. The number of times Mourinho’s move from assistant to manager is mentioned should also tell us how rare it is that this is successful and it would be a brave move to pick an ex player turned pundit and throw them straight into managing a top team after recent failures.

So what is left? Managers making unfashionable teams punch above their weight in the top leagues or managers doing well in lesser leagues. I also expect Arsenal to pick someone relatively young (under 55 at least) as they will be hoping (perhaps unreasonably) for another long term manager.

Who have I described? Brendan Rodgers, Brendan F*cking Rodgers that is who. God I hope I am wrong.


…As speculation mounts about Arsene’s replacement, it seems like one very obvious name hasn’t received much focus (he has been mentioned though) – Julian Nagelsmann. He saved Hoffenheim (a tiny German club) from relegation in his first few games as manager, got them into the champions league qualifiers in his first full season (from almost getting relegated and without much money to spend) and has Hoffenheim sitting in 4th (playing Dortmund this weekend to confirm whether or not they will make champions league again) after losing Sule, Ruddy and Wagner to Bayern.

He is young, coaches on budget and has achieved tangible success (based on a club of Hoffenheim’s stature). Given that Gazidis has mentioned that we are looking for someone who plays attacking football (check) and is a good youth coach (check) and the stories are that we do not have much money to spend and are looking at young coach (Naggelsman is 30 and the youngest coach ever in the Bundesliga) he seems to tick all boxes. Plus, reportedly, Sven is a fan.
Fur, AFC, Dar es Salaam


More on Saints
I read that you only got one message on the Saints-Swansea game – so here’s another one! Would love to see more variety in 16 conclusions, to cover important games beyond just the top four (such as season and club defining relegation battles!). No digs at the current format and coverage, it is great, but why not strive for more?

Absolutely thrilled to see us ‘safe’ or thereabouts. Also absolutely convinced Hughes should be given his £1m as sincere thanks, and then promptly sent on his way. He has proven he can’t offer much more than a relegation scrap – and as fun and nostalgic as this relegation battle has been (clearly a few of our fans yearn for those worse days) – we should be aiming for more.
A saint.


Hughes: The right kind of d***
Mark Hughes is an easy man to dislike and malign. I can see why. He gives the impression of a bad sport who chuck blame at whoever he can in the event of a loss. However, this is exactly what we needed.

Puel and Pellegrino were brought in as calm and cool proponents of a measured possession-based football. They didn’t rant and rave, just quietly tried to impart a more continental way of playing on the team. However, this simply didn’t work. The first thing I noticed with Puel’s side was the loss of aggression that had been installed by Pochettino and Koeman. We no longer got in the oppositions faces and tried to physically dominate teams. Instead we gently tried to pass it around them and avoided the physical side of a game. With Pellegrino this continued, albeit with without the sense of organisation imparted by Puel in his time. Over time this eroded not just the physical fight but the mental also. We were weak-willed, weak-minded and as the players themselves have said, lacking in intensity. Too soft, too tame. Certainly not up for the relegation scrap, with a number of players responding by casting glances elsewhere for a summer move.

Hughes diagnosed this early on and has gone about fixing it. The team has so much more urgency, intensity and fight. The players that weren’t up for this have been left by the wayside (Boufal, Carillo) and those that were not performing due to lack of effort (Bertrand, Cedric, Lemina) have bucked their ideas up. The hatrid Hughes has of losing has rubbed off and created a team who wanted the fight. So for now he is absolutely the right man. He will get the gig longer term and perhaps in 24 months with Saints looking at consecutive 12th place finishes we’ll say that we could have done better. But for now, we are all Saint Mark.
Jon Tucker, Southampton


The view from League Two: Luton edition
I wrote in the mailbox a few months back updating the cult of F365 on Luton Town and the development our manager Nathan Jones. Given it’s the end of the season and nobody really cares about Swansea or Southampton I thought I would talk about another team no one really cares about, Luton Town FC.

So here I go, Luton Town FC 2017-18 a season in review:

We started the season beautifully, 8-2 at home to Yeovil, then a terrible result at away at Barnet and Harry Redknapp poaching our first-choice striker, reality struck and I felt like a Luton supporter again. Then followed some good results including a 7 1 and 7 0 at home, come November we were top of the league and looking formidable.

We headed in to December with crunch games Notts County and Coventry, a draw and lose, while not ideal results we were still in control of the league. A strong festive and early January further cemented our hold on the top (nine points clear at one).

Then winter hits the League Two pitches, our unique brand of football (quickly moving the ball up the pitch and overloading defences with our midfield runners) stuttered. Plus a number of injuries including our captain Cuthbert our first choice centre half and Hylton our leading striker.

We went through mid January to March with a run of seven draws and one lose, this allowed Accrington Stanley to close in. Then we played them in the crunch game of the season, we were up for it and played them off the park, and with the game looking like it was heading for a draw with the last kick of the game they take the lead, three points and top spot.

A few more bad results led to Stanley building up a lead we could never catch, including in this was losing our player of the season Berry to the most horrible leg break I have ever seen. Losing our midfield maestro lead to a change of formation and we cantered to promotion with some pomp.

While friends have consoled me telling me the prize is the same for all automatically promoted sides, I can’t help but feel bitter sweet this season. Yes we got promoted and watched some of the best football I have ever seen at the Kenny but a big if does linger in my mind.

We scored the most goals in the league (94), conceded the fewest goals (46), where the first league side to have both their strikers score more than 20 goals in a season, first side to score more than seven goals three times in a season before Christmas. This is in addition to a very harsh fixture list, we played second four times this season, anecdotal I know but it says to me we played the form sides very often.

But hats off to Accrington, the league table doesn’t lie.

If I was to review the season I would give us an A-, Jones had us clicking for so much of the season, although he should of played more direct football over winter to counter the change of conditions our stats for the season are ridiculous. I can not wait to see how Jones approaches the new season and the new league.

If your tired of talking about the future Arsenal manager or the relegation battle, I would love to hear some more lower league fans reviewing their seasons?
Liam, LTFC (Hylton for England)


Footballers…reveal yourselves
Are there any footballers here currently playing in the top tiers of English football?

We must have some readers at least, come on, make yourself known…

Would be great to get your input on some of the mailbox shenanigans…

You don’t have to tell us your name or club. I’m pretty sure FatManScouse is someone we know in disguise…
T, CFC, London…

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