All posts by Jamie Ward

It should still be Poch…no, Ole…no, Poch

Prior to the Tottenham game this past weekend, I had decided that, whatever the result, I would upload a post claiming that Mauricio Pochettino should still be the next manager of Manchester United. However, the game, and victory, threw a huge spanner in the works…

I think we can all agree that nobody expected us to walk away from Wembley with three points. It has been widely publicised that Solskjaer’s first five games as caretaker manager of Manchester United were all games that he was expected to win. Hell, even Paul Ince claims he could have equalled Solskjaer’s start. However, delving deeper into the aftermath of Sunday’s 1-0 win has enhanced the United legends stock when it comes to taking over the reigns permanently.

Let’s be honest, the five games prior to the Spurs game didn’t really tell us a lot in regards to what Solskjaer’s style would be for the rest of the season. Sure, the attacking flair was back but we were rarely in a position where a ‘Plan B’ was needed. Tottenham was always going to be the game where we gained a measure on what could be achieved during the remainder of the season.

Billed as an audition between Ole and Poch, it is certainly the former that has edged ahead based on Sunday’s showing. United were ahead just before half time courtesy of a cool Marcus Rashford finish off the back of a sublime Paul Pogba pass and few could argue that we were not good for the lead. In fact, the first half was just like the games prior. The real test would be the second half when the inevitable Tottenham backlash began.

Tactically, Solskjaer got the second half down to a tee. Sure, we were under the cosh for long periods and, yes, De Gea was a brick wall but it is already forgotten that Hugo Lloris himself pulled off three decent saves to prevent United extending their lead. In short, Solskjaer had a Plan B. Pochettino, however, didn’t.

Tottenham switched formation at the beginning of the second half, a move immediately mirrored by Solskjaer to alleviate the threat posed by Ben Davies and Keiran Trippier. The enforced Erik Lamela change just before half time proved to be disastrous as Poch then stuck Christian Eriksen out on the wing to accommodate the more centrally-minded Lamela.

The Tottenham manager refused to make any more changes until the 81st minute, removing Harry Winks for Fernando Llorente, in what looked like a desperate final roll of the dice. Admittedly, at this stage it looked as if Tottenham were good value for a goal. However, with United tiring, the change should have come at least 10 minutes sooner. Solskjaer responded immediately by withdrawing Jesse Lingard for Diego Dalot to reinforce the defence.

Pochettino failed to make a third substitution as he, quite simply, ran out of ideas. Tottenham’s fail safe ‘Plan A’ just wasn’t working and he had no idea how to change it, despite only making two substitutions and leaving Danny Rose on the bench. Introducing Rose and his pace into the game could seriously have hurt a tiring United defence. Poch, simply, got it wrong.

David De Gea has quite rightly earned the plaudits for his Wembley heroics but Solskjaer should take just as much of the glory. He won’t, because he isn’t Jose Mourinho, but he deserves every iota of praise he has received. Not only did he out think Pochettino, he got the better of him tactically and wasn’t afraid to react instantly to what was panning out in front of him.

At this point I would say my preference would still be for Pochettino to be the next permanent manager of the club. However, not for one second would I be disappointed to see Ole be retained beyond this season.

It’s only Fulham…

“It’s only Fulham”

It was inevitable really. Lose and further fuel would’ve been added to the rumblings to remove Mourinho from the post of Manchester United manager. A draw would’ve returned the same result. Scrape a win and it would’ve been unacceptable. Batter them and ‘it’s only Fulham’. Continue reading It’s only Fulham…

What is going on??

Those of you that follow me (not many I know) will know that I have been very much in the ‘Mourinho-In’ camp for some time. Whilst many, including our very own Mark Goldbridge, have pitched up tents over in the ‘out’ camp, I have remained across in my field, like an old man at Glastonbury a week after the festival has finished. Continue reading What is going on??

Is a Zlatan return a good thing?

“To some at United, it is not a coincidence that disharmony within the squad has become an issue since Ibrahimovic moved away.”

The above quote, published by Mark Ogden, will no doubt attract criticism and ridicule on social media but is it really that far wide of the mark? Continue reading Is a Zlatan return a good thing?

Mourinho out? Here we go again…

Immediately following last night’s defeat to Sevilla I turned my phone off. Not because I was a sore loser. Not because I was sulking. I knew we got what we deserved. The two legs were terrible, devoid of anything resembling the so-called United way. No, I turned my phone off because I knew I would be tempted to go on Twitter, see the usual ‘Mourinho out’ brigade and end up in an argument I didn’t want to be in.

Even after watching that performance last night, the thought of Mourinho leaving Old Trafford is one that wasn’t even close to entering my mind. To jump on that bandwagon would see me as a hypocrite, as a man who has constantly backed our manager. Unless things drastically change, you will not see me calling for Mourinho’s head. Why? Because I’m a realist.

My thoughts on those calling for his head are simple. Are their memories so short-sighted that they do not remember the dross that was served up under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal? Do they not remember that LVG famously stated how he had guided us back into the Champions League after Moyes’ failure, only to see us crash out of the competition at the group stage? I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, Mourinho inherited the worst Manchester United squad of recent times.

Fixing this squad was never going to be a quick fix. Before anyone jumps on the hundreds of millions that have been spent, it was always going to take more. In a market where strikers now cost £150 million and defenders cost £75 million, the amount of money spent is almost irrelevant. £80 million for a player these days is what £30 million would have bought you less than five years ago.

The Manchester City comparison is always going to be at the forefront, particularly because of the dominant nature in which they will storm to the Premier League title this season. Guardiola has also spent an astronomical amount of money but it is true that he inherited a better squad than what Mourinho did at United. However, what scrutinises Mourinho’s position further is that, whether we care to admit it or not, Guardiola has City playing in the way in which us fans want to see our club play.

 

 

Whichever way Mourinho is criticised, there is no getting away from the fact that United under him have improved. Sixth last season, five points clear in second this. Try and disguise it all you want, but progress is progress. The former Chelsea manager stated he wanted to win the Premier League within three seasons. That target is still more than achievable, and his record at other clubs, for me, confirms that he is still the best man in the job to do this.

Some are saying that his comments after the defeat last night were unacceptable. Listen to them back now that the adrenaline has subsided. Was it that bad? What he said was factual. United are used to crashing out of the Champions League. Fergie ‘only’ won it twice. The great man himself will be the first to admit that he should have won it many more times. Mourinho did knock us out twice, and losing to that Porto side was unacceptable, whether they went on to win the competition or not.

Last night was horrific, but it was under Fergie at times. Many will point to those classic nights in Barcelona and Moscow but who remembers going out at the Group Stage in a group that contained Benfica, FC Basel and Otelul Galati in 2011. Did we call for his head then? Of course we didn’t.

Guardiola represented our chance to grab a manager who would play in the way the fans want to see. We didn’t take it, opting instead for blind faith in LVG. Mourinho was the next best option, still perhaps the best option given his track record in the Premier League with Chelsea.

Ashley Young watches on as Sevilla take the lead (pic: gettyimages)

My response to the Mourinho out comments every time I see them is always the same. If not Mourinho, who?

Usually this argument lands at the feet of either Mauricio Pochettino or Carlo Ancelotti. Ancelotti I can kind of understand. Premier League winning experience, various trophy-laden seasons across the continent, including three unrivalled Champions League wins, and currently out of work. However, would it be anymore of an upgrade to a manager that also has Premier League winning experience and multiple trophies across Europe.

The Pochettino argument I really struggle with. Yes, he is a manager which plays an exciting brand of football, but at what cost? Mourinho is being rightly chastised for his team selection against Sevilla and how wrong he got it tactically. Rewind one week when the exact same scenario panned out at Wembley. Tottenham 3-2 up on aggregate three quarters of the way through a two-legged tie against Juventus. Instead of shutting shop, the Argentine manager pressed for a fourth, instead conceded two and lost the tie.

Mourinho gets it wrong and crashes out of Europe…sack him. Pochettino does the same…hire him. Get your heads around that one. And, remember, Pochittino famously guided Spurs to a third place Premier League position when they were in a two horse race for the title.

My suggestion for the Mourinho out brigade, be very careful what you wish for. Slowly but surely, he is starting to rebuild our club. It isn’t pretty, but rebuilding it he is. 65 points last season at this stage would have had us in a title race, and then who would be complaining?

Marouane Fellaini – It’s Not All Bad, Is It?

Marouane Fellaini – now there’s a player that divides opinion. By divide opinion, I mean that Manchester United fans normally debate on whether he is simply just not a Manchester United player, or he is downright terrible. Myself included.

A quick look through my Tweets which include our Belgian maestro’s name since he signed back in 2013 read something like this…

 

 

 

 

It’s fair to say that I’ve been pretty scathing over the years, as I am sure have most of you. But, here’s the thing. Something strange has happened. It’s painful, so I’ll just come out with it. And here it is…

My name is Jamie Ward, and I have warmed to Marouane Fellaini

When Jose Mourinho was appointed manager in May 2016 we all thought Fellaini’s days as a Manchester United player were done. As every second during the transfer window last summer, again in January and then the current one, we all prayed that this was the one player that would be let go. But he didn’t. Morurinho constantly claimed that he was happy with the 29-year-old.

“But why, Jose?” we all screamed.

But now I’m beginning to see it. Fellaini has not started a single game this season, and nor do I expect him too either. However, what he has proven during the early stages of this season was that he has now become a valuable squad player. Mourinho sees this. He offers us something different. In a squad that now oozes flair and pace, Fellaini is the type of player that does the messy things, and actually does them reasonably well. He is never going to be a footballer that gives us that wow factor, but he does have his uses…trust me.

A lot of us couldn’t see the logic in bringing Fellaini on against Leicester, with the game finely balanced at 1-0, whilst Ander Herrera continued to warm the bench. And this is why we’re not the manager. What Fellaini did during his 20 or so minutes on the pitch was add a different dimension. Leicester were producing the type of football that they have perfected over the last three or so seasons. Sit back, soak up the pressure and hope to capatalise on any mistakes made by the opposition. We needed something different. The 2015-16 Premier League champions had to chase for the equaliser, and Mahrez was beginning to show glimpses of his obvious class. Fellaini gave us that something different.

The former Everton midfielder complimented Matic well in the middle of the park, bullied Leicester into making mistakes, offered us some height up top and was eventually rewarded with a goal. Yes, it was a messy goal, probably the type of goal that some might say suits his end product.

His performance against Swansea was perhaps a little more understated but the end result was similar. Fellaini entered the fray at 1-0, put in a shift similar to that against Leicester and United eventually ran out 4-0 winners. No, I’m not saying that this was down to the Belgian, but I’m perhaps beginning to realise that Fellaini changes our style when he comes on which perhaps unsettles the opposition.

It’s fair to say now that Fellaini is perhaps a victim of what can now be referred to the dark era, the Moyes era. Fellaini was indeed a panic buy once Moyes realised that taking over Manchester United in real life is nothing like taking over Manchester United on Football Manager. Once it became apparent that he couldn’t attract the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Cesc Fabregas and Sami Khedira, he turned his attentions back to Fellaini. After being teased with big names all summer, we were disappointed to end up with just the big, bullying midfielder from Everton.

In hindsight, we never forgave him for that. It wasn’t Fellaini’s fault, but he was on the back foot from the moment he stepped into Old Trafford. Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not defending all of his performances over the last 3 or so seasons. What I am saying is that it is now perhaps time to take off our blinkers, maybe appreciate the fact the he adds something different to the squad, something that may be extremely useful as the season drags on.

So, in response to one of my above, aged Tweets, I say this….Marouane Fellaini, in Manchester United hearts since 2017.

Morata ready to force United move

The transfer saga of the summer has taken another twist as Alvaro Morata has reportedly told Real Madrid he will not return to pre-season training with the club, as reported by metro.co.uk.

Jose Mourinho made Morata his number one target in the race to replace Zlatan Ibrahimovic following his failure to lure Antoine Griezmann to Old Trafford but has so far seen any approaches rebuffed by Real Madrid. However, the Spanish international is so intent to switch his native Spain for the English Premier League that he is prepared to try and force his way out of the club.

The 24-year-old has apparently become disillusioned with how long the deal is taking to reach a conclusion and feels he now has no choice but to show his hand. Competing against the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale and Karim Benzema, Morata found it increasingly difficult to tie down a regular starting berth at the Bernabeu, making just 14 league starts last season. The striker has also been convinced by Mourinho’s long term plan at Manchester United.

Mourinho is keen to tie up the deal before the pre-season tour of the US begins next week and have reportedly seen a new offer of over £70 million rejected by Madrid, although the revised bid does come closer to the club’s valuation of the player, believed to be around £79 million.

Mourinho Claims Martial Still Suffering Confidence Crisis

Anthony Martial returned to the starting eleven for the weekends victory over Watford, putting in the kind of display that United fans became accustomed to during his debut season at Old Trafford under Louis Van Gaal. Despite finding the scoresheet for his seventh goal of the season, espnfc.com have reported that Jose Mourinho still feels that the Frenchman is low on confidence.

“The Anthony Martial I want is the Anthony Martial of the last two weeks of training, because if he trains in the way he did in the last two weeks and performs naturally the way he did today or better, because I think he still misses a bit of confidence. I kept shouting to him to attack the defender. He needs that confidence but he is working very well.”

United fans will be encouraged to see Martial back in the side having voiced their support in recent weeks over social media. Despite beating champions Leicester City 3-0 at the King Power Stadium in the previous fixture, Mourinho opted to change the side, bringing Martial back into the side in place of Marcus Rashford. It proved to be a wise decision as the 21-year-old was a constant thorn in the Hornets side, assisting the opener, scored by Juan Mata, before finding the net himself in the second half.

Despite Mourinho’s comments, striker Zlatan Ibrahimovic had a different take on the scenario.

“When he plays, he is playing well. He isn’t a guy that speaks a lot; he is quiet and very professional. He always tries to do his best, trains hard and that is paying off, just like in this match.

“I think it depends on every individual and what kind of person they are and their approach, how open he is. It is different for every person. He is not going around with his head down. He is training hard, he gives a lot of energy and he wants to play, which is normal.

“When we eat breakfast and he is beside me or if he passes me, we talk. I think everyone talks to everyone. It is not like you try to cheer him up; it is a good atmosphere and the guys are all good guys, very professional.”

Mourinho has been criticised in some quarters for his tough approach when it comes to his under performing stars. However, with Martial seemingly back in the fold, and Schweinsteiger, another success story when it comes to winning over the manager, back in the first team squad, it seems that the boss knows exactly what it takes when sifting through the driftwood.

The Curse of the Number 7 Shirt

There is no escaping the history of the prestigious number 7 shirt when it comes to Manchester United. Best, Robson, Cantona, Beckham, Ronaldo. All have worn the famed shirt and have elevated the number to near legendary status. It is seen as the ultimate accolade when one is handed the illustrious squad number at Old Trafford. However, since Cristiano Ronaldo’s exit in 2009, the number seems to have been hit with a curse as player after player have failed to live up to the hype that comes hand-in-hand with wearing the famed shirt.

I’m too young to remember the genius of George Best and (just) too young to remember Bryan Robson elevating himself to club legend status. Eric Cantona was where it all started for me, and he is the reason I fell in love with the number myself. Seeing Cantona strut around the Old Trafford pitch with his collar up and the number 7 on his back made me dream of following the Frenchman as the next owner of the shirt. Of course, that didn’t happen, with that accolade falling instead to David Beckham. Becks still remains something of a cult hero at Old Trafford and, upon departing the club for Real Madrid, youngster Cristiano Ronaldo was handed the task of filling the boots of the then England captain.

Ronaldo celebrates another goal for Manchester United
Ronaldo became one of the most famous bearers of the number 7 shirt during his time with Manchester United

During his six years at the club, Ronaldo embraced the history of the shirt, beginning his journey as a lightweight, although fast-footed, youngster before leaving the club as the best player on the planet. However, since then, the shirt has almost died a death.

With his prodigal son leaving for Spain, Sir Alex Ferguson produced what was seen at the time as a masterstroke by bringing Michael Owen to the club from recently relegated Newcastle United, and immediately handed him the number 7 shirt.

Michael Owen in action for Manchester United
Michael Owen scored some important goals, but injury hampered his progress at Old Trafford (Picture: michaelowen.com)

Knowing he would forever be chastised by Liverpool fans, Owen remained excited by the prospect of finally winning a Premier League winners medal (something he later achieved) but injury seriously halted his progress at the club. The former England international will forever be remembered for his injury-time winner against Manchester City in the thrilling 4-3 win in 2009. Despite that, Owen managed just 52 games over three seasons before joining Stoke in 2012.

Then, almost inexplicably, Sir Alex Ferguson decided to make his last owner of the number 7 shirt Antonio Valencia in 2012. We’ll skip over this period swiftly as this remains one of the darkest moments in the history of the shirt, before Valencia himself admitted that the expectation that comes hand-in-hand with the shirt was too much to bare, before reverting back to the number 25, a squad number he still holds to this date.

The number remained vacant during the ill-fated David Moyes tenure before Louis Van Gaal made a huge signal of intent upon his arrival by bringing Real Madrid superstar Angel Di Maria to the club for a then club record £59.7 million. The Argentine was immediately handed the number 7 shirt and gave us all reason to believe that he could live up to the huge expectation which comes with the shirt.

Di Maria left Old Trafford after only one season at the club
Di Maria carried a huge expectation when he arrived at the club (Picture: dailymail.co.uk)

It all started so brightly as well. Some sublime early form was capped with a superb goal against Leicester City in 2014 was one of the goals of the season, leading to some sections of the media to claim that the Premier League had a new best player. However, that form was short lived as injuries, break-ins and personal problems led to Di-Maria becoming disillusioned with life at the club. It soon became clear that Van Gaal was unimpressed, and dropped his record signing for much of the remainder of the season before allowing him to join Paris Saint-Germain the following summer.

Then came Memphis Depay, our current 7. Memphis arrived with a swagger as we all took to YouTube to witness his excellent goal scoring abilities for PSV Eindhoven and we all believed that the Dutchman was the man to raise the number 7 shirt from the ashes. There was some early glimpses as Van Gaal believed in his acquisition but this belief has not been shared by current boss Jose Mourinho who has limited the 22-year-old to only four substitute appearances in the Premier League this term, and has confirmed that he can leave the club should the right offer come in.

As things stand, Everton are thought to be the front runners for his signature, although it is believed that the two clubs differ in opinions when it comes to the specifics of the deal.

So what next for the number 7 shirt? Rashford? Martial? How about a new signing? Griezmann? An unlikely return for Ronaldo?

If the past eight years are anything to go by, maybe the club should just retire the number altogether, save face while they can. What are your thoughts? Have your say below.