Small Steps For United

Juan Mata of Manchester United celebrates Robin van Persie scoring their first goal during the BarclManchester United got back to winning ways last night against Cardiff and it was good to see but the performance of the team was very much like Juan Mata’s debut – smooth, subtle, possibly understated, nothing to get carried away about, and I think at this moment in time that step back from all the highs and lows might be the best thing for David Moyes.

I thought Mata was good and did well in what he actually did, without ever setting the world alight. I’m sure he will, and in many ways it’s encouraging to see such a debut.

Even with that in mind and many supporters accepting the title race is over this season, even if the speculation dies down, the rebuilding job that David has to do will continue and I’m just pleased that things seem to be going right for him at the moment.

It was great to see Rooney and van Persie back – those two, alongside Mata, will be fighting to prove themselves in what will be the key World Cup in all of their careers. Rooney will get selected regardless but has had two poor World Cups so we can all see how desperate he is to go into Brazil with a good run of form; he might not get another chance. At Robin’s age, the same could be said for him, and getting a goal so soon into his comeback will do wonders for his confidence.

While this season we’ve seen – so far – a number of squad players under-performing, what David has done in offloading Anderson, and soon Fabio and Zaha too, is shown the others that he will not hesitate in offloading those he deems are not up to it. Ashley Young last night scored a great goal but he doesn’t do that enough – he doesn’t do enough to make himself undroppable and those occasions where he goes missing, or brings controversy upon himself, might be enough to tip the balance against his favour. Young, like Kagawa, might find himself collateral damage as David shakes up the squad – and Javier Hernandez, or Chicharito, might be another, which would be a shame as I’m a big fan. There are only so many places in the squad and good players want to play.

One thing they’ll notice if and when they leave is that they might be a star at another club but they’ll quickly learn that there’s nothing quite like being at United and I don’t care what club you say to me – once you leave United, you’re going to a lesser team.

We’ve seen that with Juan Mata, talking about the size of the club. Juan came from a club that is big but is already talking about how big United are; he’s sure to be saying that a few times over the next few months. As good as Mata is, he can’t make the difference all on his own – could he, for example, have realistically affected the loss at Chelsea? David Moyes has finally addressed the elephant in the corner and publicly admitted United need a midfielder and a left back. While Evra probably has a couple of years left in him – he’s got a very good engine and has been an excellent servant – we do need strengthening in that area, if not to replace Evra, to assist him.

In midfield we definitely need someone and in my opinion Toni Kroos fits the bill – a player who I hadn’t thought would be someone Bayern might let go but when you look at the situation, it draws comparisons with the one that Mesut Ozil had at Real Madrid. Bayern have an embarrassment of riches in midfield and Kroos, like Mata, might see this World Cup year as being one where he needs to be guaranteed to be starting.

Kroos, to me, would be an ideal player to make an instant improvement to us in the middle of the park and put us back among the contenders again. That’s not to say that David’s job will be miraculously finished – there’s work to do, but that would keep us fighting in the short term. People speak about improving the side but it’s a long game and it should be said that searching to improve Manchester United is a never ending process – and that’s what makes the club what it is.

Explaining Mediocre Manchester

marouane-fellaini-hairstyles3So last week, before the Chelsea game, I was quoted in the press as saying that the current Manchester United team is the worst I’ve seen for around 25 years. Understandably that upset a few United supporters but I wanted to take the opportunity to clarify that; I explained a few things on my Twitter account, but I wanted to put my thoughts here on my personal website where they don’t have to fit into a few words or won’t get taken out of context.

In my opinion, how can anyone say anything other than this – and not just by United standards – is a mediocre team? There have been so many changes with personnel and the team that the short term negative effects have become crippling problems which have had a profound impact on the teams performance; the players don’t know who’s playing from one week to the next and it’s fair to say that David Moyes himself probably hasn’t known either. He’s given players a chance and though we’ve had injuries, he’s six or seven months into his reign and no nearer knowing what his strongest eleven is.

Under Sir Alex, there were plenty of times when United were mediocre, but they either got results, or weren’t poor for long – that’s why they were successful. David’s problem is that mediocrity has become the norm and, crucially, that is the standard which is now expected whenever United step on to the pitch. That is unacceptable and David, while we’re all hopeful you’ll get it right, I can’t help but feel that my confidence in your ability to do so is waning slightly.

Of course the players have to take responsibility but let’s have a look at what we have; Chris Smalling is an okay defender but is he any better than John O’Shea or Wes Brown who we let go? Does he have the long term potential to build United’s defence around? I can’t be sure.

In midfield, we have serious problems – Darren Fletcher’s return, where he has come back and given what we have been sorely missing has been great to see but worries me even more. There’s no long term guarantee on Darren’s fitness and it’s frustrating that the other midfielders do not look at what he brings to the team when he’s barely match fit and not understand that his is a level of commitment they have to match.

It’s no secret that, to be polite, I had reservations about the signing of Fellaini. Well, he cost £28m, and he’s played 11 games out of about 30 since he signed. People talk about injuries and getting used to life at Old Trafford but that’s a pitiful return, even worse than I thought it was before I checked out the figures. His release clause would have gone back down to £23m if we had waited until January. Has the return we had from him so far been worth £5m?

We’re about to splash the cash again, about to break our transfer record for Juan Mata from Chelsea. He’s a very good player but I feel his value is around £25m – United, as we often do, are paying a premium because of who we are, and as good as he is that is a lot of money for someone who is for whatever reason not fancied by the club he’s currently at and someone who’s not a guaranteed starter for his country.

He’s got a number of things to prove to answer the kind of questions that will be asked of him and I hope he has the character to do so. United have 16 league games left and if we’re supposed to give him the same kind of gentle introduction to life as Fellaini he’ll play about 6 games. I’m being sarcastic of course – Juan is a player who is going to be needed, a player who we ought to be building around at that price.

It’s something that we have to take as a positive, that Mata is arriving with hunger and something to prove. It’s the kind of hunger that seems to be lacking in some of our players who have achieved everything and might be looking at their next move at the end of the season and those questions are being asked of Rooney and van Persie too. Their future at the club may be in question but at least with those two, with question marks over their fitness, they’ll be desperate to prove their ability from now until the end of the season. To be fair to Wayne, he has been excellent when he’s played, so whatever his motivation, it’s been good for the team.

What’s good for the team now looks like being a Champions League place at the end of the season – that’s what would constitute an acceptable achievement on paper by David at this point but United are going to need to start looking a lot better on the pitch from now until the end of the season to convince a lot of doubters about his ability to do the job for the long term.

West Florida Flames

I just wanted to share a couple of audio and visual things I did this past week.

As you know, I am regularly on the podcast where I talk about Manchester United. You can listen to the latest episode here or, if you want to keep updated, every week (usually on a Friday morning) the latest episode will be at this link.

This past week I was interviewed by the guys over at West Florida Flames where I am currently doing a little bit of coaching. Below is a video of the interview with the director John Orr, and it may be of particular interest to you if you have seen my UK tours and wish to know a little more information.

Nothing New In The New Year

Well, it’s a New Year but sadly not a new start for me back at my old club as after a discussion with the chairman at Millwall, John Berylson, he informed me that he was going to appoint someone who had recently been sacked in the game.

I know there were some who felt my application was unrealistic but I wanted to answer that by saying I have every belief that I would have been a good manager for the club and still believe I have plenty to offer the game. I understand John’s position and wish nothing but the best for my old club going forward but I have to confess that I have been left a little disillusioned with the state of events in the British game at present.

You can see the pattern of the game throughout; and it’s not always a pretty sight. There was some disbelief when Tim Sherwood was given a contract as the new manager of Spurs but that was a breath of fresh air to me – a young English manager being given an opportunity and he’s certainly matched his talk with performance so far.

Tim’s at the start of his managerial career; there’s plenty of life in me yet and I have plenty of ideas too. I cut my managerial teeth at Chester and people look at the financial restraints placed on the club at the time and judge that situation unfairly – it’s left unnoticed that I did a lot of hard work with the youth system at the club over a long period of time there. It’s a hard world out there and I appreciate that I’ve not been in a managerial role but it’s the same old story – foreign managers getting chances or those that consistently get sacked and bring nothing to their clubs. It’s the only profession where you can get sacked and end up in a better job! I suppose it’s “who you know”, isn’t it.

Nobody is more passionate about Millwall succeeding than I am and as I say, I wish them all the best. As for me, I will continue to look for opportunities to get back into the game and show what I can do. That may be in the UK or it may be in the US – one thing’s for certain, having spent so long in the game in youth development, I’m ready to take that step back up to working with senior professionals again.

It’s a side note, but one that only served to frustrate me a little bit more the other day when I read “More than 1,000 coaches gathered recently at the National Football Centre – St George’s Park – for the FA’s Licensed Coaches Club Conference with ‘developing creativity’ the central theme.” – Gathered to pat each other on the back?

This was in an article on the BBC website talking about the lack of creative players or the lack of encouragement for them and I have to admit that I agree with that. Of course football is about winning but first and foremost it’s a game to be enjoyed and over the years I’ve been concerned with what I’ve seen with regards the coaching of talented individuals.  In 2014 the FA have now decided to have a pow wow at St Georges to discuss creativity in the game as their main theme – have they just woke up and smelt the coffee after 25 years of seeing it disappear?!

It seems they want it all; regimented players who are like robots but who are also capable of Brazilian skill and flair. Tell me one thing – where are the coaches? I like Gareth Southgate, he’s passionate about what he does and there would be few better qualified in teaching people how to observe the offside trap but where are the coaches who are going to identify and encourage ingenuity?

With all due respect, I looked at the list of recent FA appointments and none of them fill me with overwhelming optimism. Mike Rigg from Manchester City. Wow. Dan Micciche from MK Dons. Wow. I don’t wish to sound bitter but it can be frustrating to miss out on these opportunities I feel I’ve more than earned with my contribution to the game.

Nobody knows how to teach it but everybody wants to see it, don’t they? Yet there are those that are in a position to help develop but don’t get the opportunities.

Now, flair and creativity is seen as a foreign attribute, not an English one. English players who are capable of something off the cuff have been dismissed as luxury players over the last twenty years, going right back to Matt Le Tissier and Glenn Hoddle. And what are those two guys doing now? They’re television pundits who can’t get back into the game, despite how often Glenn for one has tried.

I suppose it’s a theme that ties in with the above point too – people want positive change but are too scared to actually try the most logical option. And they wonder why English football is always playing catch up.