Showing posts with label Wilf McGuinness. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Wilf McGuinness. Show all posts

Disappointing season finale

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains in the company of Wilf McGuiness, Frank O'Farrell, Dave Sexton and David Moyes as trophy-less post war manager of Manchester United after fumbling against minnows Villareal in the UEFA Cup final in Gdansk. Final took place on a historic day, 26th May synonymous in United folklore with birthday of Sir Matt Busby and victory over Bayern Munich to complete the treble in 1999 under Sir Alex Ferguson. Solskjaer has managed to finish in top four in last two successive seasons a feat not achieved since retirement of Ferguson, and improved upon four semi-final losses by claiming his first runners-up medal. Progress seems labored and sluggish at best, aided by rivals Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur having a bad season at the same time!

Transfer spending has not been a problem despite criticism of Glazer ownership as Solskjaer has spent heavily on Harry Maguire (80m), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (50m), Daniel James (15m), Bruno Fernandes (67m), Edinson Cavani (free), Alex Telles (18m), Amad Diallo (37m), Facundo Pellistri (9m) totaling a staggering 276 million pounds in two and half years. Style of play still does not reflect the DNA of the club which is well-known to Solskjaer and over reliance on Bruno Fernandes who again won player of the season award for two straight seasons. In contrast flamboyant Ron Atkinson with star signing Bryan Robson won two FA Cups in '83 and '85 while Solskjaer meekly surrendered opportunities against Chelsea in semi-final last year and to winners Leicester City in quarter-finals this year. Outwitted by Sevilla in last year's UEFA Cup semi-finals and in league Cup semi-finals by Pep Guardiola's City for two straight season's. On that previous evidence the loss to 7th placed team Villareal in Spanish La Liga in Gdansk albeit on penalties was not a surprise.

As a player who is fondly remembered for his goal scoring exploits off the bench as a substitute being dubbed 'super sub', Solskjaer the manager is the anti-thesis with inflexibility and lacking plan B. Many point to his bench strength arguing about its depth but the same lot fail to acknowledge that unbeaten away from home record this past season was sustained mainly due to changes introduced in second half in Cavani and Greenwood being 3rd and 4th choice strikers behind Martial and Rashford. United had a brilliant shot stopper in Sergio Romero (released at the end of his contract after 6 years on 04-June) on their books but could not use him as he wasn't anywhere near the squad all season despite earning huge salary. Romero was the keeper when United lifted their only UEFA Cup trophy under Jose Mourinho in 2017 with Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Darmian, Herrera, Mata, Fellaini, Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Rashford. Eight of those have moved on in such a short space of time and replaced by more vaunted players like de Gea in goal, Shaw, Maguire (was injured replaced by Bailly), Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka, McTominay, Pogba, Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford and Cavani. The result in 2021 was poor but it puts the spotlight clearly on the manager unable to pack a punch let alone punch above.

Fiasco over Super League flirtation will force the Glazers to spend more than usual this summer. That will directly increase the pressure on Solskjaer to deliver next season. In this context a new 3-year deal for Solskjaer seems unlikely to be completed while his existing one enters its final year. An extension sounds more prudent. Solskjaer's repeated assertions about being a man-manager than a coach raises doubts about his present backroom staff which might need augmenting. Assistant manager Mike Phelan, a former United player was crucial to the initial days of success under Ferguson and later his trusted assistant, Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna are relatively early in their respective coaching careers, Martyn Pert is the latest addition credited with Fred's turnaround and Richard Hartis who is back as goal-keeping coach. Addition of former United defender Michael Clegg as head of strength and conditioning has resulted in lesser injuries to players this season, he now occupies the same position in coaching set-up that his father once did. Bizarrely Mourinho hasn't yet won a trophy without his former assistant Rui Faria when they last lifted that UEFA Cup for United. Rui Faria is yet to sign a contract with any club since he left Al-Duhail SC while Steve Cooper at Swansea prefers 4-2-3-1 like Solskjaer and Carlos Corberan has stabilized Huddersfield Town in his first full season in the championship. Meanwhile United academy under Nick Cox have made an excellent appointment in Justin Cochrane former England U-17s coach to replace Nicky Butt as Head of Player Development.

Credit to Solskjaer for finishing second and go unbeaten away from home for the first time in Manchester United history in a Covid-19 impacted season. Without proper rest between seasons for players and no pre-season either the team got off to horrific start with 3 defeats in first six games claiming 15th position. Tottenham Hotspur coached by Jose Mourinho inflicted joint heaviest defeat 1-6 at Old Trafford that made Solskjaer to fixate Mc(Tominay)-Fred in midfield for majority of games stifling creativity and Donny van de Beek's chances. Not the 9-0 win over Southampton but beating Leeds United 6-2 on their return to top-flight was the best match of the season. Bruno Fernandes' goal against Everton in an Eric Cantona manner was easily goal of the season. Loss to Istanbul Basaksehir away was the low point of the season leading to United crashing out of Champions' League group stage and failing to win any points from their last two group games against Thomas Tuchel managed Paris St Germain and Julian Nagelsmann managed RB Leipzig, both of whom went through. At one point in the season United's local rivals City were favourites for the quadruple until Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel not United stopped their juggernaut in FA Cup semi-final and Champions' League final respectively! Lost to Arsenal at Old Trafford for the 1st time in 15 years! United's joint biggest Premier League win (9-0 vs Saints) and loss (1-6 vs Spurs) occurred in the same season! United also continued to lose at least one match to relegated teams for 4th straight season, in a 1-2 loss to Sheffield United at home! Most bizarre match was 3-2 win over Brighton & Hove Albion with the penalty coming after the final whistle scored by Bruno Fernandes who ended the season as top goal-scorer with 28 goals.


Solskjaer deserves another season for rebooting the club as per its tradition of emphasis on youth development in an non-acrimonious manner unlike Jose Mourinho. Solskjaer did not get the players he requested last summer yet did not lose his composure unlike Mourinho and consequently the team still attacks mainly from the left via Luke Shaw or through Bruno Fernandes in the middle, and if this changes due to United finally getting a right winger like Jadon Sancho or Ousmane Dembele the impact can be huge. John Murtough the first director of football at United assisted by technical director Darren Fletcher will oversee their first transfer window (that opens on 9th June) since being appointed. They will be tempted by the prospect of availability of Cristiano Ronaldo and for sure that will appeal to the commercial side of United. Another tough one will be to convince Paul Pogba to sign a new contract as his present one enters its final year. Losing Pogba and not getting Ronaldo will seem like commercial disaster for Glazers especially Richard Arnold favourite in-house executive to replace Ed Woodward.

Declan Rice must be on top of their radar as McTominay and Fred do not create enough chances from midfield and confidence in Donny van de Beek is low. Maguire-Lindelof does not seem convincing to win the league as they lack speed and the absence of Maguire to injury exposed the lack of leadership that has made United to look at experienced player like Raphael Varane. Ben White is the best English bet to recover from high defensive line. Links to right-back Kieran Trippier who will turn 30 seems odd even though he is a Manchester lad while Max Aarons seems too pricey being in the right age profile. Player sales might generate considerable sum to augment the squad as likes of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Nemanja Matic, Andreas Pereira, Phil Jones seem surplus to requirements but their high salary will remain a constraint to get a move. Juan Mata who has been a brilliant pro but will probably look to play more games in a less competitive league as his contract comes to an end this summer. James Garner on loan at Nottingham Forest and Teden Mengi on loan at Derby County were the two best prospects this season. Solskjaer handed senior debuts to Anthony Elanga, Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbri and Will Fish.

Dave Sexton lost his job despite winning his last seven matches to finish eight in April 1981 but importantly he hadn't won a trophy in 4 years despite finishing second the season before and losing the FA Cup final in 1979. Solskjaer needs to be acutely aware of that! United are in their longest trophy drought in three decades (since 1985 to 1989) i.e., 4 years since beating Ajax in Stockholm.

Defining week for Solskjaer that seem familiar with McGuinness and Moyes era

Wilf McGuinness and David Moyes had taken their teams at Manchester United to the semi-finals of the League Cup which they lost in 1970 December and 2014 January and went out of the FA Cup 3rd round respectively with the former's reign ending in December itself while the later lasted till April. That predicament could soon befall Ole Gunnar Solskjaer if the tie against Wolves in the 3rd round of FA Cup and against Man City in the league cup semi-finals over two legs do not go right, nor if he fails to stitch together a run of victories in the league to secure the 4th spot.

The patchy results in the league despite the victories over Spurs and Man City he has clearly failed to bring consistency that normally would have meant a run of 5 or 6 straight victories increasing the confidence of his young charges. Unbeaten at Old Trafford since the loss to Crystal Palace in late August and six game unbeaten run that included three draws are the only two positives that have protected Solskjaer in the results oriented business of football management. Loss to Arsenal was a consequence of two bad choices by the Norwegian: Lingard instead of in-form Andreas and James instead of Greenwood. No Angel Gomes in the squad either who traveled but did not make it to the bench due to issues over his contract. To resurrect the confidence of David De Gea MUFC appointed a new goal keeping coach Craig Mawson from Burnley.  Fans would have loved to see a hard fought draw given the hectic schedule and eke out a result to maintain another run of games unbeaten.

All focus was once again and unfairly on Paul Pogba who did not play in the match after Solskjaer had hinted that he might be involved earlier in the week. Two events clearly points to non-cohesion between the football and commercial management at the club. Firstly after MUFC pulled out of Haaland deal Pogba's agent gave a damning indictment saying "It’s a club out of touch with reality and without a sporting project. I wouldn’t take anyone there, they would even ruin Maradona, Pele and Maldini." Huge loss of commission from that Haaland deal seem obvious but why should MUFC allow such a diatribe from an agent of a player employed by the club. Second is more worrisome actually spoken by Solskjaer "How long is Pogba out for? Three or four weeks maybe, I don't know. He's been advised to have an operation by his people and he'll probably do that." It reminds of Mourinho wanting the Frenchman out but could not due to Management disagreement over the loss of revenue vis-a-vis social media. Despite Solskjaer maintaining utmost restraint so far this season to put a brave face on a tough situation given the weak squad this admission does demand an transparent revelation of the exact injury suffered by Pogba. No talks about contract extension with Pogba who is already in his final 17 months of his existing one does bare out the hard truth.

Without Pogba and more importantly McTominay for a whole month could jeopardize what could possibly be achieved this season. James Garner and Dylan Levitt may get more game time but its probably a year too early for them to be playing in the Premier League every week. MUFC must reignite the interest in Kalvin Phillips or Sandro Tonali based on Solskjaer's template of young and hungry, after sounding out their first tier targets in Grealish and Maddison. The iconic number 7 jersey remains vacant and is still a big draw for an aspiring midfielder seeking world wide acclaim. Ferguson wasn't a fan of January signings either but did bring Vidic and Evra when required. Saul Niguez, Donny van de Beek, Arturo Vidal, Fabian Ruiz, Marco Verratti are pricey options that should be considered. Although experience is the key driver to bring a midfielder given that McTominay might be the first choice Denis Zakaria or Boubakary Soumare may be looked in purely from availability point of view only if none of the other names work out.

The sheer passion shown by Solskjaer coupled with courage to chart through the tough times for the club does deserve more praise than scorn. He is also perhaps caught in the clash of classical manager versus the modern hands on coach from varied background that has inundated the game. The loss to Arsenal away followed by the loss to Wolves in the FA Cup quarter-finals in March was the start of unraveling of deeper issues that led to a collapse towards the end of last season. The same opposition and a year later will the performance and result be any different now? Worse given the same two fixtures are early in January this season if the deficiency in midfield isn't managed by the way of player acquisition the fallout can be disastrous for the 17 remaining league games.

New documentary on Busby recounts the greatest story that sport can ever tell

Sport based movies are best told with actual footage aided by conversations from the players or peers who were involved rather than recreating the drama as actors who can never substitute for icons of the game. Busby the movie by Joe Pearlman does exactly that. It has apparently taken inputs from the very best biographies of Sir Matt Busby from the likes of Eamon Dunphy, Michael Crick, Patrick Barclay and Roy Cavanagh as per the BBC review.

My personal favourite quote about Sir Matt is from Willie Morgan his last major signing "Everything that's been said about Matt since he died was said before he died. That's the greatest epitaph that he could have."

Would be interesting to see if it mentions about rumours of Sir Matt getting the sack in Jan 1951 after a string of poor results 15 months before winning the first league championship, two lost Babes -  Johnny Berry and Jackie Blanchflower, weather playing havoc over the return flight after playing Dukla Prague and how the team reaches Manchester just in time to play in the league, the take over of Louis Edwards immediately after Munich, cruelty of FA to snatch Bobby Charlton by holding a friendly at the same time as MUFC ravaged by Munich play in the semi-finals of European Cup, FA declined the offer from UEFA to invite MUFC in the European Cup season immediately after Munich, Real Madrid helping Manchester United by playing an annual pre-season game to raise funds and profile of the club post Munich, reaction after the shock loss to Partizan Belgrade in '65 European Cup semi-final, sale of John Morris & Johnny Giles, tussle over player wages, concerns over Busby's health after Munich that necessitated an annual summer holiday to recover from the stress of the season, lack of spending in the later years, failure to sign Mike England & Alan Ball, the succession...etc.

A constant source of support through all the ups and downs of those 24 glorious years was Sir Matt Busby's first signing his assistant the Welshman Jimmy Murphy. What a partnership! Busby first met Murphy at Bari towards the end of WWII and heard him taking a training session for an army match and described it as "It was as if he was delivering a sermon".

Louis Rocca the chief scout of MUJAC who was responsible for being in touch with Sir Matt Busby through Manchester Catholic Sportsman’s Club and tried to sign him from City as a right-half in 1930. Rocca  eventually brought him to Old Trafford in February 1945 as the Manager impressed by his straight talk of complete control with a clear plan. Rocca was succeeded by Joe Armstrong in 1950 ably supported by Billy Behan, Bob Bishop, Bob Harper, much admired trainer Tom Curry whom Busby called 'the best trainer in England' and an ex-MUFC player and coach Bert Whalley both were lost to Munich with eight Busby Babes and eight journalists, ex-MUFC player and trainer Bill Inglis, club secretary and twice the caretaker manager Walter Crickmer, MUFC supporter Willie Satinoff, Jack Crompton the goal keeper of Busby's first great team who joined the coaching staff as a trainer immediately after Munich and was the caretaker manager during MUFC Far East tour in 1981 after Dave Sexton was sacked and before Ron Atkinson was appointed, Wilf McGuinness whose career was cut short due to injury at the age of 22 and succeeded Jimmy Murphy as reserve team coach in 1964 and later replaced Sir Matt Busby in 1969 at just 31 years of age!


Busby is set to release on digital platforms on 15 November and on DVD from 18 November on Amazon.

Clamour for a similar documentary on Sir Alex Ferguson will no doubt be loud as the footage is still ripe in memory but the tales of Tommy Docherty to bring the club back up and the Ron Atkinson era be more prudent as it probably takes 30 years or a generation to completely comprehend those events from all angles.

Only sport based DVD which I own is Richard Harris starrer Lindsay Anderson's "This Sporting Life" about rugby set in 1963 that told a tale of a working class man rising up the social ladder.

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