Sunday, 26 January 2014

Juan small step for Man...United

First of all, an apology.

I'm sorry that I have marketed* my collection of incoherent nonsense as an all-sport blog, when my last few entries have focused almost entirely on Manchester United. Therefore, I'm going to the dignified thing and...continue to talk about United tonight.

* - I say marketed, this blog hasn't made me a penny, and it probably never will. Strip away the analogies and it's pretty crap.

I'm aware that as an editorial 'all-rounder', I am as successful as I was an all-rounder for my school cricket team (my batting average was below two and I had an illegal bowling action). I'm also aware that my last three pieces have been less an objective view of United's current plight and more an impassioned plea for support for David Moyes. But it's my blog, I can do whatever I like with it. Until you beg me to stop.

Let's begin.

The recent signing of Juan Mata has brought a lot of optimism to Manchester United, and there is hope that things might, MIGHT start to turn around. Yes, Mata cost over £37 million and yes, no one is quite sure where Mata will fit in the United team, but we bought someone! An actual player! A player renowned for talent! Not his hair!

But let's not kid ourselves, the signing of the former Chelsea player remains the embodiment of the phrase 'polishing a turd', even if he is dam good polish. In spite of Mata's arrival, United look as fragile in defence as an ice condom and as ineffective in midfield as condom. For all our optimism and proclamations of a return to the glory days, Juan is not a better defender than Chris Smalling and he is not a better holding midfielder than Darren Fletcher. He is merely the first step of a long journey. The tip of the iceberg. The foothills of a mountain (the Mata-horn?).

At the time of writing, there are five days until the transfer window shuts, and United probably need at least one more signing to justify the new-found good feeling around the club. There have been whispers of a bid for Southampton's Luke Shaw in a bid to shore up (pun intended) the left-back position, which looks set to be vacated by Patrice Evra in the summer. Even if Evra seems to be the only person not to know this. In fact, Evra looks more and more like a naive husband blind to his partner's rather obvious infidelity.

Of course, most United fans would welcome this news. Shaw looks as good a future left-back prospect as Gareth Bale once was. Gareth Bale, the Real Madrid right winger. But even so, although left-back is in need of a revamp, there is another area in more urgent need of an overhaul. I'll give you a clue: Cleverley, Carrick, Fletcher, Giggs.
Can you tell what it is yet?
Bingo! Central midfield indeed! Over the last four weeks, as I have anxiously checked every available gossip column for news of a new midfield powerhouse, I have experienced giddy excitement before inevitable, crushing disappointment. Stellar names are mentioned and then consigned to the scrap heap as players sign new contracts out of pure fear of having to play for us, or as clubs apply for restraining orders to keep David Moyes and Phil Neville away from their stadiums. And to stop going through their bins.

I've become so desperate that I've even stopped believing in my own mantra: if CaughtOffside say it will happen, it will not happen.

Yohan Cabaye is the latest player United won't buy. Although he would be a vast improvement on our current stock of midfielders, he would not make us good enough to compete in the years to come and certainly won't justify the huge transfer fee Newcastle are likely to demand. Besides, we'd find a way to make him one-paced and totally average. We'd find a way to make a French player predictable.

Another far more exciting prospect is Arturo Vidal. Ahhh Vidal, you tease! Will he join us? Won't he? No, he won't. Or will he?! No, he won't. Why would Juventus sell him? Why would Vidal leave a team which is top of Serie A for United? What can we offer him, other than a bit more money? A Twix? Michael Carrick's parking space?
If not Vidal, we only said Juve could BORROW Pogba, right?
However, I can still dream. Vidal is so good, I would put my hand in a blender and listen to Justin Bieber albums for three weeks just for the chance to see him come to Old Trafford, nutmeg Tom Cleverley, give him a wedgie and leave, never to return. He is that good. But we won't buy him, we'll probably spend £50 million on Leon Osman instead.

This week, I found myself walking to work with a spring in my step at the mere thought of United buying Mata, a player we don't really need. Imagine what buying a central midfielder of real class would do to me. I'd probably explode.

That said, I don't expect United to make any more major moves this month, with the signing of Mata likely to be an exception rather than the rule. Then again, nobody expected that Spanish acquisition, so anything is possible.  

I knew I'd shoe horn that Monty Python reference in.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Things can only get better...right?

Hi everyone, thanks for coming out. Please stop laughing.

It is often said that today, the third Monday in January, is the most depressing day of the year. Which means that, as far as my mood is concerned, things CAN get worse.
Could be worse, you could have David Moyes' 'sex face'.

I am of course speaking in the aftermath of Manchester United's chastening defeat at Chelsea yesterday. Emotions remain a little raw, being as I am a drowning United fan in a frigging ocean of Chelsea supporters. Seriously, I am friends with so many of them, it's like escaping a horde of blue-shirted zombies.

But (I may have said this before) do you know what the most upsetting thing is? I'm not even that upset. Desperation has long since turned to despair and even that is now hurtling towards apathy faster than a Chelsea counter-attack on a beleaguered United defence.

Like those tasked with identifying loved ones after a brutal battle in years gone by, I find myself picking up the pieces and searching for consolation among the wreckage of a broken dream and, in many ways, a broken team. If a title challenge was teetering on the edge of impossibility before yesterday's game, it has now been savagely kicked off the cliff, with a long, uncertain fall to come. That's right, United are Mufasa from the Lion King.
Because apparently you need an image to go with that analogy

In fairness, United didn't play too badly. I can't accuse the players of a lack of effort or determination throughout the game, lining up as they did against a well drilled and well skilled Chelsea team. The fact is, ladies and gentleman, that we are not that good. With the exception of David De Gea and Adnan Januzaj, is there anyone in that team who you could describe as currently or potentially world-class? Not at all. We did not play badly and yet we were still comfortably beaten by a Chelsea team which, I hate to say, didn't even play that well.

And so, with the bleakest day of the year, or Blue Monday, now upon us, it is important to keep spirits up. Things can certainly get better, but things could definitely be worse. A win over Sunderland in midweek would see United into a cup final, which is worth celebrating, no matter how inevitable the impending defeat against Manchester City in the final would be. Should we get there. If you are hoping that this paragraph signals the beginning of hopeful, overpowering optimism, think again. This is as good as it gets.

Twelve days remain in this month's transfer window and at the risk of sounding like a spoilt child, United fans need things bought for us. The list of players who we haven't bought reads like a who's who of world football, and many more will be added before the month is out. In fact, I even took the time to build an entire team of players United have been linked with, but haven't bought this month.
Yes, apparently even Vito Mannone won't join us.

Poor old David Moyes, he has spent the best part of the last week scouring southern Europe for the finest available talent, only to return empty-handed. Moyes must feel like one of the contestants on the TV show Coach Trip, travelling to the most exotic locations in Europe with people he barely likes, only to return with nothing to show for his efforts except for obscurity at best and humiliation at worst. That said, it is difficult to go on a scouting mission WHEN EVERYBODY KNOWS YOU'RE THERE. Imagine if Moyes was a spy during the Cold War, he would've sent the world crashing into nuclear destruction within minutes.

It's not that I don't think he's trying. In fact, Moyes must often look at his players and think "what do I have to do to make you less shit?". Under Sir Alex Ferguson, performances were often this bad, but the results masked poor performances and limited players. Yesterday, United were shorn of Wayne Rooney and Robin Van Persie, who together form the world's most expensive wallpaper. In their absence, the huge cracks are starting to show.
How Moyes must be feeling right about now

Not that this is altogether a bad thing. If players want to go, let them go. If players aren't good enough, we shouldn't be afraid to start again without them. In spite of what seems like a comprehensive defeat, United showed enough to suggest that things can improve with the right players. Danny Welbeck in particular is finally starting to do a little more than run around a bit, while Januzaj continues to leave me swooning and making excited gasps that a 23-year-old man really shouldn't make.

However, for United, a flock of chickens big enough to rival Venky's farms are coming home to roost and, like the Venky's were, United find themselves the laughing stock of football. Look at social media; if I had a pound for every David Moyes meme I saw, I would have enough money to bail out Greece, secure a Formula One drive AND buy United a midfielder or two.

In fact, the satire is probably the worst part of this sharp decline. The world is laughing at us, and our riposte is a comeback as futile as the one United tried to stage against Chelsea. For the next few months, it might be a good idea to board up the windows, turn off the lights and ride out this banter storm.

There is still time to turn this around. United's success was never going to last forever, but neither should this malaise. Although United are currently displaying all the urgency and direction of a back-tracking Ashley Young, action must be taken. If not, 'Blue Monday' may be just one of many depressing days in 2014: a year which is fast becoming United's Annus Horribilis.