All posts by jim @1211plussubs

A Manchester United follower from Busby to Mourinho.

Young Players In Search Of A Dream : From Starlets To Forgotten Men

A lot of funny things have been happening in the transfer market recently especially around and about Manchester United. Perhaps ‘funny’ is not the right word, maybe ‘perplexing’ would be more appropriate. Not a day goes past when Manchester United are linked, not linked, linked again, not linked again etc, etc,  with players mainly from foreign lands with strange sounding names (with the exception Burnley and Micheal Keane).

Yet for all the excitement of a marquee signing, it can be argued that from the days of Sir Matt Busby it has been the youth and youth development that has given supporters much more pleasure. Perhaps the Busby Babes are, for most supporters now, only flickering film images or black and white photographs spoken of in awe and great esteem. However, the class of 92 are still clear enough I suspect in the minds of most supporters; if only by watching pundit work on Sky or BTSport, proof that the phenomena of youth still has a strong hold.

The Busby Babes and the class of 92 are exceptions to the rule of youth development, in the sense that a club develops a core of players to take them on to become perpetual winners; it’s very rare. What is much more likely is that an individual in the youth setup breaks into the first team and has the skill not only to stay in the team, but also become a crowd favourite or even a hero. However, even at a club like Manchester United; does that happen anymore? The answer to that is yes (think Marcus Rashford), but that it does not happen as frequently as it used to, or one could argue as often as it should.

When United or any club sign a youngster with potential, perhaps at age 9 or 10, they are investing in the future and like any investment there are risks. Setting aside serious injury there is a long long road ahead for both the youngster and the club which not every prospect can manoeuvre.

Even if a player  comes through the youth set up and makes the first team there is always the chance of a new manager not liking what he sees in the player, Louis van Gaal and Danny Welbeck come freshly to mind.

There are a lot of variables no matter how talented a player may be that will eventually see him make it or not. Has he the stamina, is he a team player, how does he live his life or lifestyle and does the manager want to take a risk on him? Manchester United, perhaps because of their history with young players are a seminal club when it comes to the dreams of youth.

You need look no further than the story of Adnan Januzaj who now seems destined to leave Old Trafford this summer. After the pre-season tour of the United States in 2013/2014, Januzaj  finally looked to have achieved first team status and was included in some early premiership matches, scoring the winning goal at Aston Villa under the management of David Moyes.

In his break through year of 13/14, Januzaj started 19 times in the first team, made substitute 16 times making 35 appearances and scored 4 premiership goals.  However things did not look so rosy for Januzaj under the authoritarian Louis Van Gaal.

As if by magic or black magic Januzaj was gone, sent out on loan for a season to Borussia Dortmund. To his credit Januzaj vowed to come back stronger and fight for a place in the United team. Yet Jose Mourinho allowed Januzaj to go to Sunderland on loan, where if truth be told, the link up again with Moyes did not do either of them any favours.

Januzaj of course joins many other names that for one reason or another have, after a long apprenticeship, had a glimpse of the fame of being in the first team, only for that promise to eventually become unfulfilled.

James Wilson is another man who having worked his way through the youth system now seems excess to requirement. Although there is as yet no transfer talk due to his injury there will come a time when for the betterment of his career he will move on.

I found it interesting that in the last home game of the season when Mourinho gave the chance to play in the first team to a number of reserves one of them, Josh Harrop has decided to move on. What is unusual here is that if you believe the press Harrop turned down the chance of a new contract to join Preston North End.

Perhaps Harrop a United fan all his life, has read the signs of the times and at the age of 21 recognised that the regular first team football was not about to come his way at United. That United at the moment have enough players to fill his position let alone any new arrivals in the transfer market.

Michael Keane an England international since departing from United and who until the Victor Lindelof signing had interested United, now looks to be on his way to Everton this summer. It shows that there can sometimes be advantages to a career after what must be a difficult decision to leave the club you joined as a young boy.For those with longer memories Francis Burns, Josh King, Carlo Sartori, Jimmy Rimmer, Alan Gowling and David Jones to name a few have all had various careers after leaving United.

As I alluded to there are so many variable as to why a promising youth player never makes the first team on a regular basis that there is little point in second guessing on an individual basis. It would be difficult to have a sense of the emotion players go through when the realisation comes but as supporters it is possible perhaps to feel a little empathy.

MUTV used to have a programme, and maybe it still does called “When The Floodlights Fail”. It was a rare programme in the sense that MUTV took the time and trouble to follow up where players went after leaving Manchester United. Its value was not, as far as I am concerned, in discovering if an individual was successful in their later career. It was more that the caring side which developed in the era of Sir Matt Busby and the Busby Babes is still alive at United. That those players whose dream dies a little are not forgotten for the time, in many cases years, they spent at the club they love.

jim@1211plussubs

Manchester United History: The Start Of Season 1985-1986 Takes A Lot Of Beating

As another premiership season is assigned to the history books Chelsea rejoice at being Premier League Champions. Tottenham, Manchester City and Liverpool have the consolation second prize(s) of reaching the Champions League and Arsenal achieve third prize, the Europa League.

Manchester United started off season 2016-2017 by winning the FA Charity Shield 2-1 against Leicester City. In February United won the EFL Cup 3-2 against Southampton. Finally United ended the season winning the Europa League Final 2-1 against Ajax and therefore also gained a place in next season’s Champions League.

It might be argued that, but for a seemingly ridiculous red card for Ander Herrera in the FA Cup tie at Chelsea, United might have added a fourth trophy to the season’s collection.

Inevitably however supporters minds, including those of United,  now turn to the summer transfer market and wonder who their team’s starting line ups for season 2017-2018 may include.

Maybe Manchester United will finally sign Antoine Griezmann, maybe James Rodríguez or the surprise player Jose Mourinho hinted at in his recent interview, we wait in suspense.

However the truth is that the start of next season, or any season, whoever is bought and brought into a particular squad, can often be very misleading. Manchester United fans need only cast their minds back to the start of season  2013-2014 and remember the team beating Swansea City 4-1 away to echo that sentiment.

After a successful 2-0 Charity Shield win against Wigan a week earlier the match inaugurated the start of the David Moyes era. An era which failed in every way to live up to the hype, if hype there was, and which did not even last its full first season term.

Offering proof if it were needed that many a false dawn is heralded, many a champion proclaimed, before winter arrives, and with it the cold light of day.

Back in May 1985 at the old Wembley Stadium, Manchester United beat Everton 1-0 with the Norman Whiteside ‘wonder’ goal and United fans enjoyed the following summer as FA Cup winners. With Everton having already won the first division title that season the joy was extra special because United stopped Everton achieving the domestic double.

A few months later in August 1985 Everton gained some revenge by beating United 2-0 in the Charity Shield at Wembley Stadium. The Charity Shield was notable that day for two particular reasons, it was Gary Lineker’s first competitive match for Everton, and Alan Brazil of Talksport fame was a Manchester United substitute.

The start of the 1985-1986 season began in earnest on Saturday 17th of August with United beating Aston Villa 4-0 at Old Trafford. Jesper Olsen, Norman Whiteside and 2 goals from Mark Hughes got the season off to the best possible start.

By the time August was over United had also beaten Ipswich, Arsenal, West Ham and Nottingham Forest. Five wins from five matches, home and away, the United team were top of the league and setting records, they were taking the first division by storm.

The start of September 1985 saw more of the same as United, with goals from Hughes and Frank Stapleton (2) earned a comfortable victory over Newcastle at Old Trafford. United had now won their first six matches and a growing belief that it was Manchester United’s year for the title was difficult to dismiss both for team and fans alike.

Oxford United 3-0 (h) Manchester City 3-0 (a) and West Brom 5-1 (a)  were all beaten in some style. United scored 11 goals and only conceded 1 against West Brom with Brazil scoring twice in that match.

So as incredible as it perhaps now sounds, Manchester United had played nine matches and won nine matches before they took a slight break to play Crystal Palace in the League Cup. The cup match was decided over two legs with a Peter Barnes goal at Crystal Palace and a Whiteside goal at Old Trafford seeing United through to the next round 2-0 on aggregate.

The next league match, after the first leg of the League Cup, was at Old Trafford on Saturday 28th September 1985, United beat Southampton 1-0 with a goal from Hughes.

On the 5th October 1985 United were on the verge of history and faced an away match at Luton Town. However a 1-1 draw, another Hughes goal, left United one match short of the record of 11 straight league wins and while there was some obvious disappointment around the club there was also a belief that it was still going to be Manchester United’s year.

Following the second leg of the cup tie against Crystal Palace in October 1985 United beat QPR 2-0 (h) drew with Liverpool 1-1 (h) beat Chelsea 2-1 (a) and beat West Ham 1-0 (h). Finally at the start of November 1985 after a 2-0 win at Old Trafford against Coventry City, United finally faced defeat 1-0 at Sheffield Wednesday.

The final league game of the 1985-1986 season on Saturday 3rd May saw Manchester United draw 1-1 at Watford. Another Mark Hughes goal rounded off United’s total of 70 goals for the season, a season in which they collected 76 points.  Overall Manchester United won 22, drew 10 and lost 10 in the 42 game season. 

No doubt for the supporters watching Manchester United that season, after such an auspicious beginning, finishing 4th in the first division left a feeling of flatness. The inevitable thoughts of ‘what could have been’ mused on as that particular season entered the history book. In hindsight it was an amazing and incredible start to the season, a season to live through and one that has never been replicated, at least by Manchester United.

Perhaps the moral here might be not to get too carried away at the start of the season with what at first looks like a footballing miracle or even a footballing disaster. Good starts and bad starts are only ‘starts’, for all supporters it is where their team finishes in May that really counts.

Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United

It is not everyday you win a trophy, even Jose Mourinho would agree with that. However if one man could at least stake a claim to do so, I suspect it would be Mourinho himself. Having won the EFL Cup for the fourth time in his career in England, Mourinho now equals the achievements of other great managers from the past and surpasses others.

And yet even for Mourinho the season has not been as successful as he and the Manchester United supporters might have hoped. With at least fourth place in the premiership a dreamers wish, sixth place was and is their permanent home for season 2016/2017.

The achievable goal once fourth place was recognised as unattainable was to win the Europa League Final. On Wednesday 24th May amid sadness and unimaginable sorrow Mourinho’s United embraced  the one remaining piece of silverware not on display at Old Trafford. In defeating a youthful but overawed Ajax 2-0 there was a sense of completeness but not closure at the seasons endgame.

Jose Mourinho if nothing else is a pragmatist and whilst the Europa League Final was another trophy on his outstanding CV, the main prize was entry into next season’s Champions League. Ironically it was achieved in what was arguably their easiest fixture for some considerable time.

The expectations were high when Mourinho was named the new Manchester United manager last May. Following two seasons of Louis Van Gaal’s sideways, backwards possession football and his confusing philosophy, although to be fair, it ended with victory in the FA Cup Final. The David Moyes regime prior to Van Gaal started with a root and branch dissection of the club, beginning with the backroom staff, arrogance which Moyes never overcame.

A brief interlude of four matches after Moyes was sacked in May 2014 saw interim Manchester United manager Ryan Giggs achieve two wins, one draw and one defeat in his short spell in charge. The Manchester United board deciding in the end to offer the managers job to Van Gaal with Giggs taking on the assistant managers roll.

Mourinho arrived at least as a proven, if somewhat tarnished winner, from his enforced wilderness experience.For many his tenure started three years too late, whist for some, not in the Mourinho camp, it probably should not have started at all.

Supporters who feared that his particular baggage would not suit the Old Trafford club had a point, and perhaps after Mourinho’s recent body language, excuses and expressive antics still do.

Sharing his opinions on Luke Shaw in public for example whether rightly or wrongly, has not gone down well. The flip side of which some argue is the inability of players today to take any form of criticism. In fairness when Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson disciplined players, it was generally behind closed doors, generally.

Add to this the odd curve ball which Mourinho is apt to throw from time to time like naming Marouane Fellaini the Manchester United captain at Sunderland. If Mourinho has a blind spot then it has Fellaini’s name written all over it. In the same vain, for some supporters but perhaps to a lesser degree, you can add the name of Jesse Lingard.

On the plus side Mourinho has become the first Manchester United manager to win two major honours in his first season, three if  the Charity Shield is included.

Mourinho supporters and doubters alike have already had one, two, three days in the sun, something to look back on in the summer months amid the transfer merry go round.

On the debit side of course there has been too many home draws, this coupled with the inability of the team to score goals. An over reliance on Zlatan Ibrahimovic before his injury resulted in the footballing equivalent of putting all their eggs in one basket, the basket of the Europa League.

In the days prior to United winning the Europa League Final at the Friends Arena in Stockholm if you believed the media soundbites, top players would not want to sign for United if they could not be offered Champions League football.

The addition last season of Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba argued against that but even for United it might still have been a difficulty to overcome. That is now irrelevant and a shopping list complied two months ago, according to Mourinho, can be put into action.

This Mourinho who has now won three trophies within twelve months is the same man who, in his first press conference as Manchester United manager was forthright, focused, determined, passionate and very quotable.

For Mourinho it was not a “dream job”, in the sense that “it is reality”, he said, “I am Man United manager, it is the job everyone wants and not many have the chance to have, and I have it.” When asked what his aim was for the coming season, Mourinho performed a rallying cry for the watching media and the club’s world wide supporters.

He stated, “I want to play well, what is playing well, playing well is scoring more goals than the opponent, is to concede less goals that the opponent, is to make your fans proud because you give absolutely everything, is to make your fans proud because you win”.

“So we want everything at the same time, and again, it is aggressive approach by myself, I want everything. I want to win matches, I want to play well, I want to play young players, I want to score goals, I don’t want to concede goals. I want the fans to be behind us because in the last ten minutes we are chasing a result, I want the fans to be behind us because in the last ten minutes we are defending a result. I want everything, of course, we are not going to get everything, of course, but we want too”

Those desires have not changed but perhaps what has, or is in the process of changing, is the impact on Mourinho personally of being the Manchester United manager. Growing pains should be expected in his transition from the chosen one of Chelsea to the right one at Manchester United.

In stating that he hopes to stay longer than his three year contract at United, Mourinho is recognising perhaps that he needs stability now he has reached a certain age in life and wants it to be in Manchester.

However Mourinho knows in football there are no guarantees and longevity, excuse the pun, is almost a thing of the past. Paradoxically even being a proven winner is not always a pre-requisite for a stable secure football life, ask Claudio Ranieri.

The Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger recently said that for him fourth place in the premiership was like a winning a trophy. Unfortunately that was also a dream too far for the London club which even winning a real trophy, the FA Cup, will not erase. For Arsenal next season lie the uncharted roads of the Europa League and the Thursday, Sunday rotations.

I suspect those words would be anathema to Mourinho and in that sense music to the ears of all Manchester United fans. Even those who are not yet in the Mourinho camp for this season at least.