Showing posts with label Ron Atkinson. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ron Atkinson. Show all posts

Murtough breaks new ground

Manchester United pitching for players from their rivals in European G14 teams in Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, and in their prime like Raphael Varane and Leon Goretzka is a clear shift in transfer policy under the first Director of Football John Murtough. As highlighted in a previous post this type of transfer has been unusual at Old Trafford who would avoid contacting players from these clubs out of respect. Previously Bastian Schweinsteiger and Zlatan Ibrahimović had joined United after their best years at Bayern Munich and Paris St Germain. It must be noted that United did come close to signing Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid in 2015 but only to be used in order to negotiate a better salary for the player. This time around the player in question has changed his agent to CAA Base Ltd whose primary clientele are Premier League players.

John Murtough is perhaps the major success from David Moyes era, both of whom worked together at Everton before he was made Premier League's first Head of Elite Performance a program which was introduced in 2012-13 and slowly adopted by clubs since then. Its key function has been described as "Through a systematic, evidence-led approach the Elite Performance function aims to add value to player development throughout the age phases (9-23) and across a multi-disciplinary platform, including physical, technical, tactical and psychological development." This has led to successful introduction of academy players Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Mason Greenwood into the first team. Having revamped the youth setup and headed the group to introduce data science, being appointed as Director of Football seems like a natural progression: "overall leadership and responsibility for operations and strategy across all football functions." 

Raphael Varane has the distinction of winning the most Champions' League trophies before joining Manchester United and at 28 in prime of his career! At 24 he unseated Paolo Maldini as youngest defender to win three of Europe's most elite competition, played ahead of more experienced Pepe at Madrid, won the 2018 World Cup with France by playing in all the games. Due to muscular problems recurring through his career he hasn't played in more than 32 league games per season though he has missed just 1 to 6 matches at a time in short absences. Varane's two mistakes led to City winning 4-2 on aggregate in last season's round-16 match in Champions' League and he accepted the responsibility for it. Sir Alex Ferguson pursued Varane in 2011; fellow countryman Zidane clinched the deal on behalf of Madrid. Philip Anthony Jones joined United as part of a trio including Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans identified by Ferguson to eventually compete and replace perhaps United's greatest centre-back pair of Rio Ferdinand-Nemanja Vidic. Having been disastrously unsuccessful in selling or loaning out Jones, United must hand the jersey number 4 to Varane.

Schweinsteiger was 31 when he came to Manchester in 2015 on the back of playing his last and 500th game at Bayern Munich, lifting the World Cup with Germany in 2014 and winning the treble of Champions' League, Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal Cup in 2012-13 season. His appearances for Bayern Munich decreased due to recurrent injury problems at his patella and ankle, and also when Pep Guardiola took over as coach in 2013. He was fans favourite for a long time as an ideal replacement for Roy Keane since 2005. 9 year wait! Under Louis van Gaal who also was his manager at Bayern for two seasons, placed full faith in the German at United. His team selection was often questioned especially when he paired 34 year old Carrick with Schweinsteiger and got found out for lack of pace. He then switched to 'Schmidfield' with Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin that drained all creativity from midfield and made watching United a bore. Jose Mourinho took over and instantly froze the German who was made to train with U23's but came out of hibernation in a FA Cup match vs Wigan with a goal and an assist to win 'Man of the Match'. Mourinho was more than happy to let him leave United for MLS in 2017.

Another past connection were re-united when Jose Mourinho got Zlatan Ibrahimović as a free-agent from Paris St Germain after winning two consecutive French domestic trebles. Earlier the pair had worked at Inter Milan winning the Scudetto in 2008-09. Ibrahimović scored on his debut for Manchester United in Community Shield, Home league game, Away league game, Europa League, League Cup and FA Cup in a single season and at 35 years became the oldest player in Premier League to score 15 league goals in a season. United under Mourinho with Ibrahimović won the Europa League - only trophy that club had not won in its illustrious history, League Cup and Community Shield. However in April while playing against Anderlecht he suffered cruciate ligament injury that made him to stay out of football for a year. His recovery since re-joining AC Milan in January 2020 has been amazing 28 goals in 47 games, and if compared with similar injury suffered by Radamel Falcao prior to joining United that full and complete recovery from cruciate injury is about 2.5 years! Zlatan could not be at his best for a year each at United and LA Galaxy while Falcao could not be at his best on loan at United and Chelsea only to later win the Ligue 1 with Monaco by scoring 30 goals in 43 games.

Laurie Cunningham became the 1st English player to play for Real Madrid in 1979 and later in 1982 spent a season on loan at United, playing only 5 times as injury curtailed his reunion with manager Ron Atkinson under whom he gained prominence at West Bromwich Albion as 'Three Degrees' with Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson. Since then many United players have joined Madrid starting with David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Gabriel Heinze, Cristiano Ronaldo and Javier Hernandez. King of assists the Argentine Angel di Maria joined United from Madrid for a record #59 million fee after not favoring a new formation by manager Carlo Ancelotti and left Old Trafford just after a season under Louis van Gaal despite starting off in splendid form donning the iconic number 7 jersey

Raphael Varane is a consummate professional looking for a new experience as Madrid still chase his signature to extend his deal. Varane crucially has pace which could allow Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to abandon the double pivot of McTominay-Fred to make way for more attack minded midfield. Like the signing of Gary Pallister(24) for Steve Bruce(28) or Nemanja Vidic(25) for Rio Ferdinand(28), comes Raphael Varane(28) for Harry Maguire(28) though not in terms of age. Maguire-Varane have a short time of 2-3 seasons to cement their status amongst other stellar United centre-back pairs!

Diego Maradona RIP

Italia '90 World Cup was the start of my life-long passion for football, and Argentina came into the tournament as defending champions and favourites. They dramatically lost the first game against Cameroon 0-1 and discovered their mojo in Naples, a city where Diego Maradona had taken its team Napoli to the summit of Italian Serie A single-handedly by winning the scudetto twice and a UEFA trophy. There they beat USSR with Maradona saving a goal-bound shot with his hands and got away with it, again! They became the favourites when they beat Brazil with Maradona taking them head-on and played hosts Italy in Naples of all cities in the semi-finals. Result was pre-destined especially if it was to be decided on penalties. Finals against Germany was a bit of an anti-climax as injuries and suspensions had robbed Argentina of Claudio Cannigia amongst others, lost by a penalty to Germany led by Lothar Matthaus who by 1990 had become perhaps the finest sweeper transitioning from box-to-box player being compatible with his age.


Visit to Napoli in 2013 made them my favourite team from Serie A. Most striking feature of the visit was the mural near a church that depicted Maradona more than two decades after he left them. While still on loan at Boca Juniors he was tempted by the prospect of playing in England where his senior teammate and 1978 World Cup winner Ossie Ardiles played at Tottenham Hotspur. Maradona was being linked with Arsenal and he claimed to have watched the 1979 FA Cup final which Arsenal won 3-2 over Manchester United. Those links never materialized and instead he headed to Barcelona where he was joined by his former Argentina coach Cesar Luis Menotti.

Manchester United made it to the quarter-finals of 1984 Cup Winners Cup their first in a European competition after a 15 year gap and faced Barcelona for the first time in a competitive fixture. Ron Atkinson's team always played attacking football in the United way that delighted the fans and this fixture wasn't going to change that. 19 year old Graeme Hogg made his European debut in the first game at Nou Camp and scored an own goal. Captain Bryan Robson was clear on goal yet uncharacteristically didn't score and missed another chance. Big Ron asked everyone to not dwell on mistakes. Maradona was not very effective and had to be substituted. Late on they scored a goal to lead 2-0. Bryan Robson wrote an apology to fans and everyone trained hard, winning two league games before the second leg to go top of the league which gave them and fans lot of hope.

Bryan Robson played the match of his life to make amends for the 1st leg by scoring two goals while dictating play box-to-box aided by his partners in midfield Ray Wilkins, Arnold Muhren and Remi Moses. Graeme Hogg marked Diego Maradona effectively to nullify any threat. Frank Stapleton scored the winner and for last 35 minutes United were able to soak any late threat to hold on to the lead and win 3-2 overall. Fans played a big part in the match, amplifying every United attack. Official figures are of 58,547 to have attended the match but actually felt like over 70,000 who crowded the pitch in joy after the final whistle, lifting their skipper Bryan Robson in adulation. Robson was also the England captain under his name-sake manager the great Sir Bobby Robson. Injuries and suspensions to Robson, Wilkins and Muhren meant United lost to Michel Platini led Juventus 3-2 on aggregate in the semi-finals amid talks between Robson and Italian giants which never progressed due to 3 million asking price.



England got off to a poor start in the 1986 World Cup losing their opening game to Portugal and then drew 0-0 with Morocco where Bryan Robson dislocated his shoulder when opposing player pulled him in the penalty box. So concerned were the England players that they tended to their skipper and not at the referee to award the penalty! Bobby Robson asked him to be around the England team and not fly back to be operated upon. This later impacted the start of United season which unfortunately led to the sacking of Ron Atkinson. He missed the next two matches which England won by 3 goal margin including a hat-trick for Gary Lineker and faced Argentina with confidence in quarter-finals. Outcome might have been different with Bryan Robson in the side. Though 'hand of God' goal gets more attention but its the other goal that Maradona scored against England taking on players from the right of midfield through to the defense to score past Peter Shilton from his brilliant left-foot the greatest World Cup goal of all time dubbed 'Goal of the Century'. Purists point to the team goal that Brazil scored against Italy in 1970 that encapsulates the dependency amongst every member of the team to be the rightful owner of that moniker.



To compare the greats is a thankless yet unavoidable task. To have managed to unite his national side and win the World Cup apart from club success will keep him above Lionel Messi, which the likes of Sir Alex Ferguson dispute. While Ronaldo will perhaps eclipse George Best by winning not only at club level but with Portugal, similarly Zinedine Zidane edges his compatriot Michel Platini. Johan Cruyff and Pele still seem unmatched head and shoulders above the rest. As South American teams have suffered a decline in the last 15 years many argue is international football still relevant? It certainly adds a different dimension in the ability to bond with another set of players to win the quadrennial event amidst nationalist sentiments and tremendous pressure that it naturally entails, unlike the often serene and contained surroundings of the club football.

Opening day loss at home: how bad is that for United?

Just the second home loss to the start of the Premier League season for Manchester United. First was in 2014 under Louis van Gaal's first match in charge when United lost to Swansea 1-2 with captain Wayne Rooney's consolation strike while Ander Herrera made his debut and subsequently club signed Angel di Maria from Real Madrid who left after just one bad season. United finished 4th in the Dutchman's first season in charge improving from 7th under Moyes previously. Solskjaer had taken the team from 14th after the draw with Liverpool to 3rd in the last season but is a slow start warranted yet again?

Lost 1-3 to Crystal Palace in this seasons' opener. A much heaver defeat for Solskjaer than van Gaal with a much better squad though. Main reason is the lack of rest after a pandemic enforced break and subsequent lack of pre-season to bring players up to match fitness required for the demands of the grueling season. Paul Pogba was rushed back after just recuperating from corona virus. Donny van de Beek came on for Pogba looking sharp and scored a goal on debut. Did Scott McTominay provide enough protection for the defense? Perhaps van Gaal's honest assessment forced United's hand to break British transfer record for di Maria "To win the title this season would be a miracle. But that isn't to say that it isn't possible, I think the Glazer family understand this or I would not have accepted this job." Solskjaer hasn't said anything as striking for Glazers to act.

Prior to 2014 loss the next one was far back in 1972 season a 1-2 loss to Ipswich Town, that's 40 year proud unbeaten home record in between. Frank O'Farrell lost his job midway through that season after a nine-game winless streak at the start did not improve league position enough and United were hovering over the foot of the table ushering in the Tommy Docherty era. That unbeaten record withstood the changes in managers from Docherty(2 matches unbeaten in opening home fixtures), Sexton(2), Atkinson(4) to Ferguson(15). It is a blemish on Solskjaer's reign unfortunately especially since he is so steeped in United's rich history.

Absence of fans makes the loss less scathing but equally affects how tamely the team might respond. Would Solskjaer have used Timothy Fosu-Mensah, Scott McTominay and David James in front of fans at Old Trafford in the first match of the season? Is it a subtle dig at the Glazers to force Jadon Sancho transfer? Even Jose Mourinho managed to win both his two home games at the start of 2nd and 3rd year in charge. Could Solskjaer instead have taken advantage of not having fans to start with two defensive midfielders in order to neutralize the opposition before unleashing Greenwood for the last twenty minutes?

First away loss was in the inaugural Premier League season against Sheffield United 1-2 with Mark Hughes scoring the only goal and ultimately United went on to win their first league title after 26 years. Next one was against Aston Villa 1-3 when Sir Alex Ferguson introduced his fledglings that made Alan Hansen to say "you can't win anything with kids" that helped create a siege mentality to unite the squad winning their second double of Premier League and FA Cup. United lost 0-1 in 2004-05 to Chelsea under their new coach Jose Mourinho in his first match in the English Premier League. United finished 3rd and trophy-less that season. Injury hit squad were without both strikers in Ruud van Nistelrooy and Louis Saha while captain Roy Keane played as centre-half. Team: Howard, Silvestre, Gary Neville, Keane, Fortune, Miller, O'Shea, Djemba-Djemba, Giggs, Scholes

Solskjaer rightly pointed out that United must rebound quickly. They face Luton Town away in League Cup 3rd round on Tuesday wherein the squad will be much different than the one that faced Crystal Palace with Dean Henderson certain to make his debut in goal, before visiting Brighton & Hove Albion in the Premier League at the Amex Arena on Saturday. Amidst an exceptional season due to the pandemic form book goes out of the window more often and United must do their bit first to take advantage. League Cup can serve as a tough practice match as the Hatters defeated Derby County and Reading in their first two rounds, and help United regain their sharpness. Is giving important players a vacation one after another like Ferguson (Beckham, Scholes, Schmeichel) did during the treble winning season the answer? Due to Euro 2021 having been postponed to next summer, next season clubs might face the same issue? Hope Glazers understand that squad depth and rotation certainly helps before the transfer window closes.

Point to prove and avoid the double by Cherries

United this season have never won the game when their direct top four rivals in Chelsea have slipped up first. Drawn with Wolves and lost to Burnley, Liverpool, Arsenal when Chelsea had dropped points recently. Now the Blues have lost to their local rivals West Ham and United response is awaited with the visit of Bournemouth to Old Trafford today who are aiming to do the first double over the Red Devils having won the reverse fixture 1-0 in November which was one of the most dismal away performances by Solskjaer's side amid rain and injury to Scott McTominay.

The Norwegian was pragmatic when asked about the seemingly easy run-in against teams from the bottom half of the table whom United have not beaten this season: "I've seen lots of quotes that we have an easy run in. But then the next five games they are against Bournemouth, we lost to them in the previous game. Aston Villa, we drew to them at home at Old Trafford. We have Southampton, which we drew to, we lost to Palace, we lost to West Ham, so there's teams that we've got a point to prove against." If the attitude to prove the doubters wrong is maintained it can be an advantage.

Solskjaer deserves to eclipse the 17 game unbeaten record of Mourinho from Nov, 2016 to Jan, 2017 and is approaching game number 16 today. Finally he has a starting XI that picks itself up and, will they start for third game in a row after astounding 3-0 wins over Sheffield United and Brighton & Hove Albion? Young Mason Greenwood could be rested and instead Daniel James might start. Bruno Fernandes took a knock but might still start and come off in the second half. Fred had a run of more than 20 consecutive games that really transformed him this season and could be back if Matic is to be rested. Eric Bailly has not been convincing to dislodge either Maguire or Lindelof based on that FA Cup win away to Norwich. Andreas looks much better than Lingard to deserve to be in the match day squad. Giving the newly promoted right back Ethan Laird a cameo would be superb.

Fine form has seen Solskjaer nominated for Manager of the Month award for June while Bruno Fernandes and Anthony Martial have been nominated for Player of the Month awards. Reports emerged from Germany informing of Borussia Dotmund completing a deal for Jude Bellingham. After Erling Haaland this is the second high profile teenager that has chosen BVB instead of United which confirms that although Red Devils have done a course correction under Solskjaer by appointing Nicky Butt as head of first team development at the start of this season, it is a recent appointment and sufficient time hasn't passed yet to see the desired results. Angel Gomes did not sign a new contract with United. Positive news on Jadon Sancho that he has agreed personal terms with United and now both clubs need to agree on a transfer price.

Home of AFC Bournemouth is Dean Court known commercially as Vitality Stadium is the only arena in the English Premier league with less than 20,000 capacity, to be precise its just 11,329 that is lowest in the league by a big margin. Five years in Premier League by Eddie Howe is fantastic. Bogged down by injuries to majority of the squad earlier in the season they haven't regained their form of last four years. Tough for them to get back into the top flight immediately if relegated. “If you’d have said to me 12, 15 years ago that Bournemouth would be playing in the Premier League one day, I’d have thought you were off your head. What’s happened here has just been beyond belief." Harry Redknapp who did a giant killing by managing the Cherries to win against defending champions MUFC in FA Cup 3rd round 1983-84. Following that 0-2 loss the first shouts of 'Atkinson Out' were chanted by United fans. United atoned that defeat by thrashing them 3-0 in next years FA Cup 3rd round!

George Best played his last 5 league games of his career for Bournemouth in Third Division in 1982-83 season whose aspiring owner wanted to double the gate receipts and that desired aim was achieved easily. In January when United were desperate for a back-up striker they had approached the former academy graduate Josh King now playing for the Cherries. If that would have clicked it would have been 3rd player to have been transferred directly between the two clubs and remarkably all three were strikers; other two being Jack Rowley 'the Gunner' scored 211 goals in 424 games for United despite the interruption of second world war, and Ted MacDougal a bona fide Cherries legend but flopped at United due to managerial changes. Thankfully Odion Ighalo has not disappointed. United must seize the chance given Leicester City are stuttering and Chelsea blowing hot-n-cold while Wolves are on United's heels.

Tough away test where United have lost in their last three visits

Brighton and Hove Albion have won the last three home games versus Manchester United which includes a 1-0 win in November 1982 and the last two games at the Falmer Stadium known commercially as AMEX arena. Its a sort of record that an top 4 aspiring team like Manchester United must beat who have changed their squad significantly with 5 players not in the team since the 1-0 loss in May 2018 - Darmian, Smalling, Rojo, Young and Fellaini.

The Seagulls are unbeaten since the restart with a draw at Leicester and a win against Arsenal. Both teams in top-half of the table! Snapping up the best talent from the Championship in Adam Webster and Neal Maupay their top scorer with 9 goals has yielded them great results. Graham Potter their coach wanted to sign Daniel James having being instrumental in his development when he managed the Welshman at Swansea but Wales manager Ryan Giggs' tip off to Solskjaer ensured Reds got him instead. In January transfer window they snapped up Chelsea youngster Tariq Lamptey. In both their home wins against United their German midfielder Pascal Gross has made crucial contributions but now comes on as a sub replaced by Australian Aaron Mooy in starting XI. Lewis Dunk and Shane Duffy as centre-back pairing has given them the solid platform.

United needed extra time to get the better of Premier League's bottom club Norwich in the FA Cup quarter-finals with goal from captain Harry Maguire. Solskjaer made major changes to the squad by giving chance to the likes of Romero, Bailly, Dalot, Lingard, Mata and Ighalo. It was a tepid performance and soon enough the regulars were introduced in the second half to secure their 30th semi-final in the FA Cup a record they now share with Arsenal. It highlighted the lack of bench strength and their lack of match time as many of them previously had raised their game back in November to win this reverse fixture 3-1 in the absence of Pogba, Shaw and Matic. Then Andreas Pereira was ahead of the Jesse Lingard in team selection!

United are on a 14 match unbeaten run their best of the season so far coinciding with the arrival of Bruno Fernandes. Solskjaer can name an unchanged side that won 3-0 against Sheffield United or reinstate James for Greenwood who has to be given consistent game time at the right of front three. Matches against the bottom half teams in Brighton, Aston Villa and Crystal Palace will improve their dismal record of just 4 away wins this season. With Chelsea beating City to move further up and Wolves leapfrogging United into fifth position, Solskjaer cannot afford a slip up.

Luke Shaw has played in all 14 of those matches and its refreshing to hear from Solskjaer about individual plans for every player and different stages of its development cause every player is different in physique, mentality and behaviour: “Well, we manage a squad and manage players differently and, as you say, Luke has had a good upturn in form. He had a spell out earlier on in the season and he's worked his way to full fitness. He's worked over the lock down and he's playing some good football. Let's see if he starts this one.” Best part was the last line - there are no guarantees at United and every player needs to earn his place.

Last United win away at Brighton was on 24th April, 1982 at Goldstone Ground a 1-0 result under Ron Atkinson with Ray Wilkins the scorer but headlines was made by Norman Whiteside making his debut coming on for Mike Duxbury. This made Whiteside the youngest debutant since the greatest Duncan Edwards. Whiteside's assist earned United a draw against the Seagulls in the 1983 FA Cup final and went one better in the replay to score to become the youngest ever. That year Whiteside had played in the 1982 World Cup for Northern Ireland breaking Pele's record to become the tournaments youngest player before the start of the season and ended it by scoring in both the FA Cup and League Cup finals!

"He had great vision, an exceptional football brain, and a mental picture of what was happening, second by split-second, in every game in which he played. Apart from all of that, he was also a clinically smooth finisher." Ron Atkinson who made Norman Whiteside captain United at just 20! 
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer gave that distinction to Marcus Rashford, aged 22 against Man City in the Carabao/League Cup in January earlier this season.

Fans favourite moniker is 'Scourge of the Scousers' as he lost just 2 games with United against arch rivals Liverpool in 19 encounters; the highlight being the goal in League Cup final leaving Alan Hansen for dead to score in just 2 minutes into the game. Return of his 1982 FA Youth Cup finalist team-mate Mark Hughes from Barcelona and mounting injuries made Sir Alex Ferguson to negotiate a good deal with Everton who were challenging for the title regularly in the 80's and won it twice. Injury forced him to retire at the age of just 26 and in 278 appearances scored 68 times for United. Sad to hear that he is selling his memorabilia to raise funds. He deserves a proper testimonial as the one arranged with Everton in May, 1992 only 7000 fans turned up as United had just lost the title challenge. Club should help buy precious items from his collection and re-arrange the testimonial.

Can Mourinho emulate Dave Sexton and do the double over United

Jose Mourinho returns to Old Trafford for the first time after being sacked last December ending his two and a half year stint with Manchester United in which he won the League Cup, Europa League Cup and finished second in the league their highest finish since retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson 4 years earlier. At Tottenham he has a comparatively better and balanced side that can not just beat Manchester United but like another ex-Chelsea legendary manager who also managed MUFC in Dave Sexton do the double.

Dave Sexton coached Chelsea to triumph in 1970 FA Cup, 1971 Cup Winners Cup and took over the Managers post at Manchester United at the second time of being offered. He was one of the candidates considered to take over from Sir Matt Busby but refused while still at Chelsea. He succeeded Tommy Docherty in 1977, reached the FA Cup final in 1979 and finished second the same year which was the highest finish since the retirement of Sir Matt Busby and 12 years after the last League title. He is credited with bringing Ray Wilkins, Joe Jordan to MUFC and the flotation in the stock market hindered the ability to buy quality players. He was sacked for lack of playing style as he had previously achieved at Queens Park Rangers in mid-70's despite ending with seven wins on the trot to finish in 8th position at the end of 1980-81 season.

Sexton took over Coventry City in 1981 and did the double over Manchester United; winning 2-1 at Highfield Road on opening day of the new season with goals from Steve Whitton, Peter Bodak and 1-0 win on his return to Old Trafford with Les Sealey in goal for Sky Blues and Whitton again the goal scorer.

Post world war MUFC have had to face their previous managers only on four occasions; Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton, Ron Atkinson and David Moyes due to the longevity of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson. Sexton in charge MUFC did the double over Docherty's Derby County including a 4-0 win at Old Trafford while the fans still called that teams as Doc's. Ron Atkinson famously beat MUFC in the league cup final in April, 1991 with Sheffield Wednesday. Big Ron's side drew 0-0 at Old Trafford on his return with the Owls. David Moyes lost 1-3 on his return to Old Trafford with Sunderland while being greeted with abject silence as if he were the 'Forgotten One'.

Jose Mourinho will be applauded for the trophies he won while rooting for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to do a David over Goliath with the young MUFC squad just like Dave Sexton who once fielded the youngest league side for Sky Blues in November 1982 in a match vs Liverpool, a record that stood for 36 years. Dave Sexton served England managers from Ron Greenwood to Sven-Goran Eriksson, journalist Norman Giller called him "a coach's coach".

That 'Inspired' Ferguson appointment

Defeat to Bournemouth brought the three game winning streak to an early end massively denting hopes of challenging for top 4. Level on points before the game with the cherries who now leapfrog Manchester United to 7th position. Gap of 6 points has already opened up between the top 4 and the chasing pack while MUFC lag leaders Liverpool FC by 18 points after just 11 games in 10th position. 13 points from 11 games is the worst start to a season for MUFC since 1986-87 which saw the sacking of Ron Atkinson and appointment of Sir Alex Ferguson on 6th November, 33 years ago.

Travel for four straight away games and the gutsy conditions needed a freshening up of the squad in Greenwood and Chong nor the alternatives to Scott McTominay were explored by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Brandon Williams merits starting in pacey Premier League while Ashley Young can be used in slower European competitions reversing the policy employed thus far. With Fred and McTominay faring very very poorly in distribution of forward passes the proven Harry Maguire can play as a sweeper in a three man back line to supplement this weakness in midfield.

Sir Alex Ferguson not only led Aberdeen to break the Old Firm hegemony in Scotland but won in Europe beating the mighty Real Madrid in Cup Winners Cup final. Ten trophies in eight and a half years at Pittodrie! At United he faced myriad problems from drinking culture, injuries to major players, poor recruitment that hired mavericks not specialists, scouting and coaching setup. First four seasons were spent correcting those foundations finishing 11th, 2nd, 11th and 13th then trophies followed with FA Cup being the first in 1990. That was the first match from which I started my journey as an MUFC fan while listening on the BBC Radio.

Sir Alex Ferguson had heard from his mentor Jock Stein about his regret of not taking up an offer to succeed Sir Matt Busby which left a deep impression on him. The MUFC board that included Sir Bobby Charlton did not want a repeat of that situation the nor public refusal from Lawrie McMenemy, Bobby Robson, Ron Saunders to succeed Dave Sexton in 1981 and hence met Ferguson a day before sacking Ron Atkinson following a 1-4 defeat in a Cup replay away to Southampton and were 19th in the league(3 Wins, 6 Loss, 4 Draws from 13 games, 10 points). On taking charge Ferguson the optimist said "It's no use me coming here and not thinking that every game we play we can win, that's the only way that we can attack things." Once the enormity of task dawned on him Ferguson said "No manager is prepared for the job at Old Trafford. The legend is huge." and rolled up his sleeves.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has started a similar journey but based on his modest success with Molde in Norwegian league and a resounding failure with Cardiff in the Premier League. He understands the club very well being a legend who scored that goal to win the Treble in 1999. Thread bare squad with eight injured players makes the difficult task improbable.

The fans cannot expect midfield domination so long a staple of MUFC with Paddy Crerand, Ray Wilkins, Bryan Robson, Roy Keane and Micheal Carrick down the years. Solskjaer like Mourinho plays on the counter attack based on the players at his disposal while developing the young Scott McTominay and others. MUFC have an inferior squad compared to Leicester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur let alone the top two but have a very high wage bill that exposes the massive expectation gap. The baggage of incredibly successful history can weigh down or inspire a new evolution of youth rightly being promoted by Solskjaer.

Three away wins last week acts like a tonic to relieve immediate stress but a complete cure needs a longer run and sufficient time to heal. He needs to mix long term corrections with short term fixes perhaps in January transfer window to ensure the club finishes in top 8 if not in top 6. That requires turning defeats into draws or coming from behind to win a game which is a phenomenon yet to happen this season. Key to Solskjaer's next milestone is for the team to demonstrate that 'never say die' spirit else the tame surrender will only yield one result that of another managerial scalp.

Four goal opening match win sets up MUFC for Top 4 finish

Manchester United beat their main Premier League rivals in terms of trophy's won 4-0 in the opening match of the new season 2019. Last four occasions when they have defeated any opponent by four goals MUFC have at least finished in the top 4 right from the post war years.

In 1985 under Ron Atkinson, United beat Aston Villa 4-0 with goals from Mark Hughes(2), Norman Whiteside and Jesper Olsen. Eventually ended the season in 4th place after such a promising start when they remained unbeaten till November.

In 2003 under Sir Alex Ferguson, United beat Bolton Wanderers 4-0 with goals from Ryan Giggs(2), Paul Scholes, Ruud van Nistelrooy. Finished the season in 3rd place.

In 2006 and still under Sir Alex Ferguson, United beat Fulham 5-1 with goals from Louis Saha, Wayne Rooney(2), Cristiano Ronaldo and an Own Goal. Finished the season as Champions.

In 2017 under Jose Mourinho, United beat West Ham 4-0 with goals from Romelu Lukaku(2), Anthony Martial, Paul Pogba. Finished 2nd which Mourinho considered his greatest achievement.

All of the above huge opening days victories were achieved at Old Trafford. In sports records are meant to be broken but here is hoping for a great season from MUFC.

Chelsea opening day fixtures:
MUFC did beat Chelsea 5-2 in 1958 where Sir Bobby Charlton scored a hat trick and Alex Dawson got two more. Finished runners up famously by drawing upon their indomitable spirit post Munich disaster.

In 1952, United beat them 2-0 with goals from the two Johnny's Berry and Downie.

In 1953, United drew with them 1-1 with goal from Stan Pearson.

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