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Analysis Opinion Insight

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sir Alex's biggest influence

The rapid decline in fortunes suffered by Manchester United this season has got many pundits, fans and hopefully the players wondering where it has all gone wrong. Multiple factors have been analysed by fans and ABUs alike, with many holding Mr Moyes solely responsible for the poor results and lack luster performances. The attitude and performance of the players has been scrutinized, the transfer dealings during the European summer and MrWoodward's part in them, the pre-game and in-game tactics and strategies employed by Mr Moyes  and his decision to replace the coaching staff with those of his own choosing, have all been found to be lacking in comparison to the expected quality.

Obviously the poor results and performances are a result of all the above factors as well as the simple fact that between the injuries, and the general decline in pace and acceleration that comes with age, the players we relied upon to win the league last season are no longer up to that herculean a task. No doubt, there are some things Mr Moyes has not got right. At times, his natural tactical instinct runs in contrast to what is expected of his United side by fans, as most fans would rather win 4-2 than 1-0, and his predilection for using wingers and playing through the flanks, though very much a United tradition, is seen by many to be a fruitless exercise as the wingers currently employed by the club are not performing as expected.

Although there are some tactical errors being made by the manager, I think the players have got to take more responsibility for their performances and the collective output that has led to the results.



Comments like these only scratch the surface on what I believe is the problem.

I think the problem is more mental than tactical, especially in terms of winning attitude and spirit.

Coaches like Sir Alex and Jose Mourinho get their players to play "for them", and manage to replace the internal determination and drive for success with a yearning for approval from "the boss". For so long, our squad of players have been mentally conditioned to perform for the boss, and I believe that such a drive is based on a fear of failure and punishment, rather than an urge to please or satisfy. (call it pop psychology, but i think it might be at play in this situation). Just as Jose Mourinho's old sides always seem to take time to re-build, i think Sir Alex has had an even greater effect on the mental fortitude of his players. England's failure to perform in the last few tournaments can also be partially attributed to the influence Ferguson and Mourinho have had on England's leading players, with Rooney, Lampard, Cole, Terry, Ferdinand, Cleverley, Carrick, Jones, Cahill, Smalling and Welbeck all performing well but never to the level their club fans have enjoyed.

Changing the manager relatively abruptly, without a corresponding change in the playing squad, has left Moyes with a bunch of players who seem to be playing without a purpose. On the other side of the touch-line, Moyes also looks like he doesn't know what to do or say to motivate his players to play to their previously showcased capabilities.  At Everton Moyes had only ever worked with what football journalists love to call the "honest pro", professionals who get the job done for the sake of the work, who are playing to extend their contracts and work towards personal goals, like getting a pay raise, earning an international cap or a move to a bigger club. It's therefore not hard to motivate players in these frames of mind.  But motivating players to perform at their peak when they have either won everything there is to win in the game, or think they've "made it" in football isn't the easiest of jobs. Doing what Sir Alex has done, for so long, is a truly remarkable feat, but if Moyes is to be a success, he to must learn that art.

If Moyes is to become such a mentally influential manager, and personally I think he must firstly get rid of the players who are no longer good enough for Manchester United's lofty ambitions. For me, this includes Vidic, Ferdinand, Evra, Giggs and potentially RvP, whose on field attitude since the managerial change doesn't merit his high salary and position as 1st choice striker.

Making his own mark on the squad as soon as he can will increase his power over the club, which will only improve his influence over the players on-field performance. I think it's the first step that he needs to take to get the United empire back to its position of power.



Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Being a fan

The Telegraph, Daily Mail, Guardian and Mirror are all running opinion/news pieces with varying nuances on the theme that Sir Alex's mere presence in the director's box is a distraction/ is applying pressure on the current manager. 

All the articles saying that Moyes is being haunted by SAF are self indulgent pieces of non-sense. The British print media love going on small power trips just to see how much influence they have at various clubs, via fan associations, the board or the chairman.  Having gotten rid of Steve McClaren and Fabio Capello from the England management position, they have, in my opinion, targeted certain managers (Villas- Boas comes to mind) relentlessly. After having their power checked by the FA, when their favourite candidate Redknapp was overlooked in favour of "dour, unimaginative, charisma-less" Hodgson, the ultimate success would be to hound Moyes out of the Manchester United job
I've seen first hand what influence such journalists such as Mark Ogden, Martin Samuel and Ollie Holt have, with various friends sharing their articles and espousing those stated opinions as their own.  With 20 plus years of success, the younger generation of United fans have grown up believing that United have always been winners. Having read about the history of the club and its fallow years in the mid 20th century, I've come to place Sir Alex's tenure in its proper context and am more appreciative of the success we've enjoyed in the last 20 years. 
So disregard the papers for a few months and keep your own counsel; enjoy the spectacle of seeing the new manager adapt to the club and make changes as he sees fit. If nothing else, trust in the fact that Sir Alex recommended him, Sir Bob agreed and that David Gill and the Glazers also thought Moyes to be the right man for the job.   



They claim to be telling the fans what they want to hear, and are reflecting public opinion, but are in fact leading and directing public opinion, say if Mark Ogden were to say SAF is not a factor and that anyone following his tenure needs time, money and patience, instead of piling on with the rest of the papers in calling SAF unwanted distraction, the fans wouldn't be so quick to call for Moyes' head, given how highly he is usually regarded in regards to his knowledge and contacts at the club. 


I've learnt a lot from fans of other clubs, who've learnt to appreciate good performances and be entertained, without being too caught up with long term results and expectations of trophies. Given the size and stature of the club, it's right for us United fans to expect that the club should remain competitive in all 3 domestic competitions while remaining a contender in the Champions League knock-out stages. But we must realize we can't have it our way all the time, that a new manager needs time to get his coaches working efficiently with the players, to get the players playing in his preferred style, to get the style to work and to get his systems in place to get everything else working properly, such as scouting and squad management.

 So disregard the papers for a few months and keep your own counsel; enjoy the spectacle of seeing the new manager adapt to the club and make changes as he sees fit. If nothing else, trust in the fact that Sir Alex recommended him, Sir Bob agreed and that David Gill and the Glazers also thought Moyes to be the right man for the job. 



Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Maturation and Stagnation

With the season competitively done and dusted with Sir Alex Ferguson's side securing the title with 4 games to spare, many fans' mind's have turned to summer mode. Following in the the great manager's lead, United fans across the globe have taken time to assess the side's performance over the previous 51 games of the season, which saw the side reach the FA Cup Quarter final stage, the 4th round of the Capital One Cup, the last 16 of the UEFA Champions League and a 20th Premier League title.

Carrick and Van Persie combined for some very productive football, with Kagawa finding space, time and form in between the lines supporting RvP.  
This season's stand out performs were without a doubt Michael Carrick, Robin van Persie and Patrice Evra, with notable mentions to De Gea, Ferdinand, Evans,  Rafael and Rooney. In contrast, the form, fitness and fortunes of Vidic, Young, Valencia, Nani and Anderson have concerned professional onlookers and supporters alike. The fact that the wingers have had such below average, underwhelming seasons is a cause for concern, not just due to our subsequent reliance on central creativity to score goals- but because their poor performance has also decreased the goal scoring threat of Welbeck, Hernandez and Rooney, who prefer chances being created for them from wide positions over intricate or direct passes from central positions, a style which Carrick, Kagawa, Cleverley and van Persie all enjoyed playing and proved fruitful and effective. 



Could all four of these red devils be on their way out?
As such, improvements need to be made, with Anderson, Nani, Hernandez and Rooney all being touted in the media for moves away from the club, with various players being linked to big money moves to United. With Nani, Anderson and Rooney having all served more than 7 years at the club, there is talk that, given their individual form, fitness, lifestyle and potential, it may be time to build from a position of strength and "trim the fat" from the squad by selling under performing players and replacing them with some  proven performers such as Gareth Bale, Kevin Strooman,  Lewandowski, Falcao, the out of contract Frank Lampard as well as up and coming talented youngsters like James Rodriguez, James McCarthy, Cristian Erikson  and Victor Wanyama.   The big deal that has been rumoured for a long time though, is the potential return of our former player Ronaldo.  

3 to leave and 1 to return?
With many United fans hoping to see  him back, I'm sure that most wouldn't mind seeing a deal struck that brought Ronaldo back to United with one or two players + cash going the other way, even if it were to mean the loss of Hernandez or others. Personally, I don't think United will get such a deal done, as Madrid are more likely to want a straight cash deal, not wanting to force players on a new manager (with Mourinho showing not too subtle signs that he'd like to leave), and United, unless they secure the cooperation of a principle sponsor such as Nike, AON or Chevrolet, are unlikely to want to spend all their transfer budget on a luxury player in a section of the squad that is already full, unless they plan on selling 1 or more winger and a striker, given the special position Ronaldo likes to play. (Such an arguement can also be made for the signing of Bale- where would Sir Alex (or someone new) play him? )

I'd add Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia to the aforementioned sell list, with the aim of generating enough cash to fund the purchase of a few younger talented wingers. No doubt the members on my sell list  are talented players, but I fear that in aiming to gain consistency and defensive tactical responsibility, they have eroded their strengths. While Anderson and Nani secured big money moves to United after showing signs of immense talent at an early age, Valencia and Young earned their moves my frequently showing skills that directly attributed to goals for Wigan and Villa, with both of them becoming a reliable source of goals in their final seasons at their respective clubs. 
Valencia's burst of pace that took him away from midfielders and past flat footed defenders to either shoot or cross, a move that set up a large proportion of Rooney's goals in the past, though it now seems that he either doesn't trust his body to be able to do make those runs, with it now more likely to see him dither around the 20 yard line waiting for Rafael to catch up and provide a safe passing option than dart into the box and attempt a shot or a dangerous cross across the face of goal for an arriving striker. The evolution of his game has seen him become much more aware of his defensive responsibilities and his tactical positioning when the side don't have the ball. In my opinion, this facet of his game is what is keeping him in the side ahead of Nani and Young, who are more attacking players, but aren't as much help to Rafael. Ashley Young as an inside out winger, has been worked out and his threat has been blunted by defenders who know to show him to the left corner, from where they can pressure him off the ball, intercept a backwards pass to Evra or cut out a left foot cross that he eventually delivers. Being most dangerous on the reverse diagonal run/dribble/cross/shot, he is in effect attempting to overcome potentially 4 players to have a clear sight of goal, and to be honest, he is no Messi. 

Whether through injury or lack of form, all 4 of them have not matured into the players fans had hoped, with inconsistent moments of brilliance book-ended with frustrating periods of mediocrity and wastefulness. There is only so far a hard working player with limited talent can go, and having bought Valencia and Young, players how sustained form above their base level of talent for multiple seasons, it could be argued that reversion to the mean was always going to happen. Even those blessed with extraordinary talent must possess the mental capabilities to make use of it. Nani and Anderson fall into this category, with neither player able to consistently deliver performances that allow them to command a starting position. 

Yes, the United hierarchy could go on with these players, challenge for league titles off the brilliance of the central midfielders and striking talent and hope that another upturn in form from these 4 could propel United to a Champions' League title ( given that Nani and Anderson played small but crucial roles in in the 2008 victory), but it would be a big risk not to move for other players who may possess the necessary combination of talent and aptitude to surpass their exploits. The likes of Zaha, Januzaj and Tunnicliffe need to be given time to prove themselves either way, for there is no point limiting their exposure to the big league by keeping them in the reserves, then becoming annoyed when they prove a hit elsewhere. 




News re: Sir Alex

Mark Ogden at the Telegraph is reporting that Sir Alex is seriously considering his position at United.
Others are rationalizing that given the state of his health, given he is expected to have surgery on his hip over the summer added to his existing heart condition and trouble with excessive travelling, it seems his old promise that he'd only quit for his health might be coming true. He has also indicated that he'd only retire if the squad was balanced and "on the up", and that he'd leave on a high and that he'd never announce his retirement too far in advance.

Given that all of these condition have been to an extent been met, the conclusion reached by pundits, bookmakers and punters alike is logical and reasonable. I however, don't think it'll happen so soon. I think it's more likely that Sir Alex is going to continue for at least a season, but is taking a short break to get his health back to order, and he's leaving the side to his team of assistants under a new number 2.

As for the odds on David Moyes being the next United manager being slashed, I don't think it would be a great idea bringing in a guy who has optimized the performance of a mid range club, rebuilt their squad  multiple times over his tenure, but has failed to win a trophy and has only once finished in the top 4- though they got knocked out in the qualifying round. No doubt he's deserving of a chance at a bigger club, with title aspirations, but having never had the chance to spend serious money or challenge for trophies on multiple fronts, i think the risk involved will be too great, especially as the club is a "somewhat" listed company, though it is still under the control of the Glazers.


A manager with no links to United would be a big risk and will have crippling pressure on him from all sides, something i don't think someone like Moyes could handle. A safer option would be to allow someone like Ryan Giggs or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to have a pressure free crack at the top job, in which they either prove themselves to be the next Pep Guardiola, or finish a season or two without damaging their long term prospects in the managerial game, while someone like Moyes or Bruce goes off to Germany/Turkey/Ukraine/Spain/Russia to get some serious champions league experience before getting their own chance at the job.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Attacking combinations, RvP, Welbz, Kagawa and what I'd do with Roo

Since Rooney's omission from the side that faced Real Madrid last month, a lot has been said about Wayne Rooney's future at Manchester United.  Robin van Persie's 12 game almost  goal drought has led many in the public to wonder why the goals have dried up. 
There are some not uncommon factors that have contributed to RvP's form slump:
1- fatigue- it's been a while since RvP has had to play 30+ games in back to back seasons, and even last year he had a mid-March form slump, and came back strong at the end of April to fire Arsenal into the top 4 with a final flourish. 
2- injury- having picked up a few knocks in previous games, and with 2 to 3 games scheduled for each fortnight, small injuries have little time to recover and given that they do not keep him from playing, may compound the problem, impacting upon the confidence he has in his own body and his footballing form. 
3-partnerships. Having played every side once, new ways of unlocking opponents are needed every game to continue good form. Early in the season, his partnership with Carrick and Young produced a lot of his goals, and without Rooney, he performed under pressure and delivered the goals in a rather direct fashion.    
 We are now playing a more possession based game, with Rooney and 2 wingers, the partnership between him and Rooney will be important in the next calender year.  


A lot of ex United players and fans have made some great points about the RVP/ Rooney potential partnership, I'd like to give you my take. 
Firstly, 
1- RVP and ashley young seem to play really well together, as do RVP and carrick. the 2 pairs seem to have a natural understanding of space and time between them, and the midfielders don't seem to have a great understanding with Rooney. 
2- Wayne Rooney and Valencia, and Rooney and Welbeck seem to have a really good understanding. 
3- Kagawa has shown moments of brilliant interplay between himself and both RvP and Rooney,  
--> so i think it won't be too long until we see RvP, Rooney and Kagawa all click together. 

4: I do wonder about Rooney's long term position in the 1st XI, as I think Welbeck and Kagawa create better options for carrick and cleverly to find, and are more mobile and agile, and arguably have a better first touch.  Rooney doesn't really seem to like receiving the ball on the half turn, and usually gets very square on, back to goal, which makes it rare for him to hold the ball up, subsequently Carrick doesn't pass to him very often. 

I wouldn't mind seeing Rooney deployed as a central midfielder alongside Carrick and Cleverly in a 4-3-3 with Kagawa, Welbeck and RvP in the attacking trio. It'd make the most of Rooney's passing range, allow him to play his cross field passes, get him into mid range shooting chances, (goals of which we hardly ever see from United players any more) and allow the interplay between Kagawa, Welbeck and van Persie to flourish without him getting in the way too often. He's also got the tactical and positional sense to know when to attack from deep and when to stay back and shield the area in front of evra or rafael.