Saturday, 30 July 2016

POGBA CAPTURE MAKES UNITED LOOK FORMIDABLE AGAIN

Manchester United are set to smash the world transfer record by re-signing Paul Pogba



At some stage in the not so distant future, it will be official that Manchester United have re-signed French midfielder Paul Pogba for 100m quid or so. Is the fee ridiculous? Of course it is. However, in an age of football where David Luiz would cost you half that sum, it is not exactly preposterous that a player who would walk into every club side in world football would command double the fee.

For Manchester United, his capture completes the major surgery of the spine that the club has has been desperately short of since the summer of 2010. In that summer, Sir Alex Ferguson replaced Cristiano Ronaldo with the combined signings of Michael Owen, Antonio Valencia and Gabriel Obertan.

The knight's ruthlessness at picking up silverware hid the dearth of quality in his side. Indeed, United only lost the title to Chelsea that season by a solitary point. The 2011 triumph was perhaps the most functional title win of Sir Alex's time at the club. United were hardly the oiled machine and often played akin to their shortcomings especially in midfield but ground out the results required to win the league with a couple of games to spare. Only once, against Barcelona in the Champions League final of 2011 was the scale of United's limitations laid bare for all to see. How could the English Champions be so out-thought, out-fought, outplayed, out-classed by the Champions from Spain? Was the gap between the two leagues really that big?

The answer lay in the depth of quality between the to sides. Whilst United were still reliant on an effectively retired Paul Scholes and Michael Carrick to provide silk and steel in the middle of the Park, the Catalans could call on a generation of Spain's best midfielders all time.

Sir Alex's single mindedness at instilling a winning mentality in his players ensured that the club still managed a title challenge in 2012 and he only needed to acquire Robin van Persie to reclaim the league title in 2013 from the Bitters down the road.

Since his retirement however, the club has suffered for a lack of leadership with the same mindset to inspire a group of players to perform beyond the sum of their parts. David Moyes failed to push United beyond the levels of quality they had and Louis van Gaal quite simply didn't 'get' the club.

Jose Mourinho's summer spending, has targeted the spine of the team that has since been abandoned ever since the days United count themselves as a side with a solid spine across the team. In Bailly, Pogba, Mkhitarayan and Zlatan, Mourinho has a balance he can wok with that his two predecessors lacked. Ironically, he has achieved it with less money spent than what Louis van Gaal was backed with to achieve the same.

United's plight over the past three seasons has underlined the importance of acquiring a manager who matches the club's ambition and mentality. All the financial resources in the world would matter little if a football club cannot get itself the right leadership.

Having hoarded the club around the world to 66 sponsors for just about everything you can get your hands on at Old Trafford, it made for little logic that the club couldn't transform its financial superiority to silverware.

The only caution that the new management ought to take is that the club prides itself with mixing the best of Europe with home grown talent. It remains a facet of the club that fans take pride in. Even so, building the spine of a team in the way the manager is just as necessary. Indeed, it eases the orientation of breakthrough talent if they are brought into a team with a strong spine.

If, Jose still has doubters about the morality of his appointment as manager, he is doing a pretty good job of showing up the two men before him and in effect validating his appointment.     

Tuesday, 26 July 2016

UNITED'S PREPARATIONS FOR NEW SEASON IN SHAMBLES AFTER FARCICAL CHINA TOUR


It can't be just for the money. Surely it's got to do with the fact that United are a global club and brand and therefore the good ol' folk in China, by their millions, deserve a chance to see the club's players in flesh. That is all noble and just but we also know that it's really about the commercial aspect that sets the club on an ill-managed tour in apparent disregard of the need to have proper preparation for the season.

Indeed, Wayne Rooney and the rest of his England contingent made the plane to China because the club was pushed to come good on its commercial obligations. No sooner had the players hopped off the sponsored jet in Shanghai than a select few were whisked off to attend to commercial obligations.

Of course, it must be remembered that the club's incredible array of sponsors are the reason the club can afford to lay out 100m quid on Paul Pogba. Perspective though dictates that, above all, Manchester United remain a football club whose aim is to ultimately be successful on the pitch. As such, everything around the club should be tailored to achieving that goal.

Whilst the club cannot be blamed for the adverse weather conditions in Beijing that forced the cancellation of a pre-season fixture against Manchester City, it is general metrorological knowledge that at this time of the year, the rains come down hard in that part of the world. Where was the planning in that respect?

So far, the club have a a couple of pre-season games under their belt, one of which was no more than a outing against extremely inferior opposition. When United came up against a side of equal footballing stature in BVB Dortmund on Friday, they endured a football lesson against a side that is far down along their pre-season schedule--even though United start their season before the German side.

A fixture against English opposition (and a rival) would have further given an indication as to where United are in terms of preparations for August. At least Joe Mourinho had the presence of mind to quickly note that the club's summer schedule was fixture light and added a couple of fixtures to it. As such, United remain with a game at the weekend in Sweden to step up their preparations.

Incredibly, it means that if the club had remained with Louis van Gaal, there would have only been a maximum of two pre-season games (including the Wayne Rooney testimonial) before the Community Shield as the China tour would be reduced to one game.

As it stands, Jose Mourinho would have to make headway with a week at the club's training ground back in Manchester before they fly out to Sweden. United's preparations this season hinge on how well they can get back, recuperate and make up lost time on match fitness.

With the rest of the squad returning from holiday next week, and the season kick-off less than three weeks away, Jose has his work cut out to get United ready for the big kick-off. 

Monday, 18 July 2016

JOSE GETS HIS ERA UNDERWAY WITH FINE OUTING AT WIGAN ATHLETIC



Not much should be made of pre-season games because they are simply that. Indeed, Louis van Gaal masterminded United's best pre-season form in recent memory during his two year spell, only to have everything quickly unravel when the real business started in August.

Jose Mourinho has adjusted the Dutchman's pre-season schedule by adding a couple of fixtures to the statutory three that United had hitherto planned to play. It allowed for an earlier start to the preparations, and on Saturday, United made the short trip in the NorthWest to the DW Stadium to take on newly promoted Championship side Wigan Athletic.

In what turned out to be an efficient run out, the manager used all 22 players in the squad available to him, notably affording Juan Mata and Daley Blind roles. The Dutchman could yet have impressed the manager with his versatility, slotting in at centre back and wide left respectively. In a squad of 24, you feel that it is important to have a player of his qualities. Whilst the manager stated in his first presser a preference for 'specialist players', every winning team needs a jack of all trades somewhere in there. If only to offset unprecedented long term injuries over the course of a season.

Juan Mata, bless his soul, will claim that he impressed with his display at Number 10, setting up Will Keane for the opener just after halftime, even though it was from a goalkeeping howler. The Spaniard's future at the club will remain a developing story throughout the summer.

Of United's new signings so far, a couple were on show on Saturday. Eric Bailly, who will head into the season as the premier league's all time third most expensive defender, started nervously but grew into the game with a calmness and stature that began to explain his quick rise to the top. Henrikh Mkhitaryan was however the brighter new addition, adding a verve of penetration and creativity at the top that United have lacked for a while. The Armenian will certainly improve life on the Old Trafford terraces with is inventive play. Indeed, his finishing is much better than the chance he blazed over the bar. A touch of rustiness perhaps given that this was only game one of pre-season.

On the whole, it was evident that United's style under the new management will be more exciting than the bile served up under the old regime. In truth, it was always going to be harder to make it worse than Louis van Gaal managed. There was less obsession with possession and a genuine desire to build as many attacks as possible.

Much sterner opposition in China awaits the Reds in the form of BVB Dortmund on Friday and Manchester City on the Monday. We'll definitely learn more about the new regime after those games, not for the results but for the style and performance. Until then, it's safe to suggest that Jose has finally got his era at Manchester United underway.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

2016/17 ULTIMATE SEASON PREVIEW

Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward shows new manager Jose Mourinho around the club's complex

It's been a minute! Not since the final season of Sir Alex Ferguson have expectations and excitement at Manchester United ahead of the new season be this high. In the managerial sense at least, David Moyes and Louis van Gaal managed to damp expectations about their campaigns with unorthodox comments. Whilst the Scot failed to acclamatise to the size of the club he managed, the Dutchman sought to drag the club to an incompatible philosophy that was, at best, standing in the face of everything the club is about.

At a point when Manchester United risked oblivion and slow decline into the mediocrity that still plagues Anfield, the club simply had to get the third appointment right! As fate would have it, at a time when one of the more assured managers in the game was out of a job, Louis van Gaal's position at the club became untenable. Indeed, there is remarkable fortune in Mourinho's availability at a time when just about every top manager in world football had committed to a top European club for 2016/17.

As it turned out, United were able to get in their own managerial statement ahead of a season that is already the most anticipated in the premier league era. Quite simply, there is little room to keep everyone happy. Six cannot go into four and yet Jose will be joined by Antonio Conte, Pep Guardiola, Mauriccio Pochettino, Claudio Ranieri and Arsene Wenger to make an impression on the league next season.

For Manchester United, the last three seasons will have made for modest expectations among fans but events of the past three months have accounted for a somewhat rebirth of the club's swagger as England's first club and the world's most commercially successful brand. Ahead of a season when the club will announce record revenue for a football club, the stage has been set for what should undoubtedly be a memorable campaign in one form or the other.

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Because of what he has achieved in his career so far, and the immediacy with which it has been done, Jose Mourinho has an infectious attitude about himself. Unlike the last two managers, he will not and indeed has not moved to damp fans' expectations ahead of the new season. Indeed, here is one manager with the attitude of winning the lot.

At his unveiling, the Portuguese was careful to express himself in a manner that suggests that the club have finally appointed someone whose personality matches the its size. There was no bickering about modest targets such as an immediate return to the Champions League or leading a modest title challenge. The target is very much to win in the immediate future. And why not? The former Chelsea manager is not known for sticking around too long. It is just as well that he sets up his goals for the short term.

Now, Jose Mourinho is not a manager known for breath taking attacking football. No. But goodness me, given the three seasons of dour football that United fans have endured, the Portuguese's style will feel like Brazil 1974. Where Louis van Gaal set up the side to muster one shot on target, there is no defensive formation in Mourinho' school of thought that has such a miserly attacking statistic.

At least we can be guaranteed that United will have much more of a go next term. Indeed, at times last season, that is all United fans were desperate for. In that respect, it is not possible for Jose to set up the side in a more tasteless philosophy. It means even before he has tried, Mourinho has already succeeded in improving the style of play at the club. Such are the dismal standards that anyone was going to inherit from Louis van Gaal.

Perhaps the most crucial box he ticks in comparison with his managerial rivals for the elite positions is that Jose has is the most experienced title winner in the premier league currently. Indeed, it is debatable whether Arsene Wenger, who challenges his tally, even remembers what it takes to last the distance in the increasingly money-laden league.

The Portuguese, often with a knack of leading from the start, knows all about the proverbial guts it takes to 'do it on a cold Tuesday night in Stoke.' He will not a refresher course about the pitfalls of a league that remains the most unpredictable in world football. Certainly, that Leicester City kick off the season as defending Champions should be a substantial warning to the managerial debutants about the wacky nature of the premier league race.

Having had his fingers and no doubt his ego burned by his most recent season at Chelsea, the manager is on his own mission to prove that what went wrong at Stamford Bridge was no fault of his. Indeed, if the target to remain a candidate for the top jobs, the jury will be firmly out if the disaster of London is repeated in Manchester.

The transfer window so far suggests that that is not likely to be the case. Indeed, the Portuguese claims that unlike the summer of 2014, Chelsea's owners did not fund his transfer plans in 2015 and as a result set him up to put up the worst defence of a league title ever. At Old Trafford, the manager's transfer plans have been duly executed with such precision that at times, it is already feeling ominous for the rest of the premier league. If history is anything to go by, Jose's decisive transfer window has a 'Champions' tag to it. No pressure then!

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic

As at July 12th  2016, United's summer transfer spending has resulted into the captures of Eric Bailly from Villareal CF, Zlatan Ibrahimovic on a free transfer from Paris Saint Germain and Henrikh Mikhitaryran from BVB Dortmund.

The trio represent a strengthening down the spine of United, effectively adding balance to the side inherited from Louis van Gaal. Of the three, the Armenian is the stand out contributor in terms of his attitude given that unlike the other two, he is in the prime of his career. Mikhitaryan's goals and assists ratio for his German club last term stands at an incredible 23 goals and 32 assists. Certainly, United reliance on the left flank for creativity has been remedied by this single addition. Whether Jose prefers him on the right flank or in the middle remains to be seen though.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic is the more political transfer. The Swede, 35 in October, is very much a free hit of a signing. Given that his commercial value to the club will cater for his astronomical wages, the club will feel that it is they who only stand to benefit from this deal. The dearth of arrogance and experience in United's forward line has been blatant ever since Louis van Gaal ended up with an 18 year old s his prime centre forward at the end of last summer. It was a gap that not even the emergence of Marcus Rashford could fill. You can therefore relate with the manager in terms of where he intends to go with the capture of one of arguably the biggest ego in the game. Not quite Robin van Persie-esque but not just Henrick Larsson-esque as well. More of somewhere in between.

The one with the most question marks is undoubtedly the youngest of the lot. Eric Bailly has quickly progressed through youth levels and and his transfer to Old Trafford sums up the speed at which his development has attracted the eyes of scouts. His talent is borne of the raw physical strength of an African defender but it has since been honed by the ball skills coaching in Spain that has allowed him become a better passer of the ball. It is a combination of traits that gives Jose the confidence of getting the most out of him in a league where his physical attributes will be required more often than they were in La Liga. This is the one signing of the lot that will attest to the manager's eye for talent from less obvious sources. 

United are by no means done with their summer acquisitions but at least unlike the past few summers, the club can approach the final month of the window with a more calculated approach.

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It is now 'a thing' at Manchester United that the position of the captain warrants special discussion. For long, it has been brandished about that Wayne Rooney intends to finish his career in the middle of the park, spraying 40 yard balls around the pitch to anyone who cares to chase them. It's a rhetoric that informed his position for the England national team at the just concluded European Championships.

Mourinho intends to have none of it though! In a statement that tore into the importance of having a player to spray balls from deep, the manager highlighted that his passes without any pressure from deep would be just as brilliant! It leaves the usual number 10/number 9 conundrum for Wayne next season. Pound for pound, he is currently not the best number 9/10 at the club, his club tally of goals notwithstanding. He could however benefit from a manager that appears to have a clear plan of how to use him. It is already apparent that there have been conversations between player and manger and it will be interesting to watch how Jose solves what has now become a persistent positional crisis for the Manchester United capatin.

What the captain has going for him though is that he is just five goals shy of the ultimate record of Sir Bobby Charlton's goal haul for the club. It is unthinkable that that record will last till Christmas. When he does smash it, it will be just reward for his long term consistent outlay of goals over a career at United that started in his teenage years.

Indeed, the club will reward the England captain with a testimonial just before the start of the season against his boyhood club Everton at Old Trafford. Ten years at a club in the modern game is no mean feat anymore. Wayne has over the years tested United's ultra support with two attempts at leaving the club including one to the club down the street. Those unfortunate events have cost him an affection with some fans even though there has hardly ever been public dissent on the terraces of Old Trafford. His name has remained consistently sung in the at the end of every lung bursting run or 40 yard pass let alone goal. He certainly cannot begrudge the United fans for a lack of support despite his off-pitch problems. Indeed, it is expected that he will get a more than decent turn out at Old Trafford for his testimonial.

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As soon as Jose Mourinho was appointed manager, you felt that Louis van Gaal's transfer plans for United were suddenly vulnerable. The club had planned just the two games in Asia before the Community Shield and Wayne Rooney's testimonial. Now that we've got new management in place, there is a strong desire for the new coaching staff to get up to speed with their new players. That cannot be achieved with the limited number of games scheduled by the Dutchman's sports science department.


United have since added a couple of more games to their July schedule, starting this Saturday in the North West at the DW Stadium to take on Championship side Wigan Athletic. Whilst the manager is still short of mostof his star names because of the football engagements, it allows him to run the rule over the young players and the squad players before early on.

It will be remembered though that Jose Mourinho has had his eye on the United squad

The expectations have yet again risen for the club, not least because of new management and it feels like there is a return to the aura that Manchester United enjoyed before the departure of Sir Alex. If that feeling is anything to go by, then United fans should be destined for a long overdue spectacular league season.

It's good to get the footie (or at least some club form of it) back!