I’ve discovered that the word “vintage” is a polite synonym for irrelevant. Any studio that releases a motion picture in technicolor, in this age, is deliberately looking to be bankrupt. The 3-D, IMAX, CGI monstrosities, released in this day, will destroy you at the box office. Any football team, employing tactics that make people like Steve Bruce or John Barnes, nostalgic, in 21st century European football, is desperate for an early exit in the Champions League. Or a severe hiding from noisy neighbors. Manchester United seems to be currently free falling on the technical standard meter.
We are now witnessing the return of the technical age in football. The money age is rapidly fading and the target is now technical standards. A technical race has been going on in the football world, and the football community has been on overdrive, desperately trying to dethrone FC Barcelona and the Spanish national team, since 2008. Sophisticated techniques and complex player roles are being formulated constantly. The “false 9”, interiores, inverted wingers and other exotically named roles have become prevalent. Brazil legend Carlos Alberto famously declared the new formation as 4-6-0. No conventional forwards. No traditional wingers. Interchangeable tactics,ironically made famous by the 2006-2008 Manchester United, are no longer an optional style, but an absolute necessity for all top teams.
In all this,United has been going retro. Particularly with traditional wingplay and most importantly, the casting away of the holding role. Box to box midfielders, a zonal marking system based on pre-00s defence techniques, have been a grotesque sight this season. Defenders don’t just become awful overnight. Rio Ferdinand,Evra and Jonny Evans, have all come under heavy scrutiny as soon as United concede a goal. However, the archaic form of defence being employed, which leaves all defensive duties to designated defenders, leaves them outnumbered and under constant pressure. And therefore the math demands that they should succumb to pressure. If Patrice Evra decides not to attack, the play down the left will come to nought. But if he attacks, he leaves a massive gap in his and the LCB’s quadrant. It’s a lose-lose situation. By the same token, Ferdinand and Evans in their centre back roles have faced probably 5 times more action than the likes of Pique, Kompany and Pepe. Jonny Evans has had the best numbers of all the defenders, but has been guilty of a few lethal errors. David De Gea, is actually the best goalkeeper in the league in terms of saves and ground 50-50s. At the end of November, he had saved 79 percent of shots faced for a Premier League high and remains the only top 3 goal minder to have saved a penalty. By that time, he had made 50 saves against the 35 made by both Joe Hart and Tim Krul(who plays behind the league’s best defence).
If the players are doing so well individually, then how come the team as a whole is faltering? It’s elementary stuff. The team is being structured incorrectly. But by whom?
2. From Portugal with treachery
It may sound rather sensational to call Carlos Queiroz a traitor, but from a biased point of view, he looks just that. He came to Manchester United a well respected technocrat whose thesis and philosophies, particularly on building a team from defence, were widely acknowledged within football’s technical community. And that’s what he brought to United. Gradually bringing the team on a par with continental technical standards, his work cannot be overemphasized. A coach of details as Gary Neville recently revealed in his autobiography:
In the week prior to the famous 180 minutes of a semi-final against FC Barcelona, he would lay down sit-up mats on the training ground to mark exactly where each player had to be to the nearest yard. Neville recalls this:
“We rehearsed time and again, walking through the tactics slowly with the ball in our hands.”
It is as clear as day that such attention to detail and tactical competence is out of the picture right now. But CQ knew exactly the state he was leaving the club in. He knew the steady decline in technical standards would accelerate rapidly after some time. He was certain, promising raw talent would not be adequately developed. But he still left. Treason.
3. Ambition is a disease
Wayne “Mr Ambition” Rooney would make a great book or film. One of football’s most incredible creatures, and trouble is never Far Far Away. Regardless of anyone’s opinion, he is a great talent. But lately, his influence on the pitch or lack of it has made United’s attack blunt at times. As much as tactics were contrary at Basel,his sloppy play and seeming disinterest in such a big game, may be indicative. The frequency of his appearances in tabloids for non-football issues, may not be complimentary to the team’s recovery plan( it’s also debatable if such a plan actually exists).
Most importantly, it does nothing for the other more professional players. Like Dimitar Berbatov. It is very difficult to find football reasons for Berbatov’s quarantine. When called upon he has delivered, but you just have the feeling the next bad game would be his last. Danny Welbeck has added something new to United’s attack- i.e ability on the ball. His link up play shows great intelligence and his hunger for goals is evident. Fast, skillful and strong on the ball, he is Berbatov with a British heart. A combination of the two may prove a shrewd one, particularly with proper utilisation of Nani. Javier Hernandez, because of his trampoline ball control and the fact that his ass rotates on the offside axis, should be behind both. Rooney, may need quarantine until he is cured from his indulgences.
4. All things are not necessarily possible
*Not much success is gained by employing an accountant to design a city or a florist assigned to fly a commercial airline. Some actors can sing, some singers can act, but not all 21 year old fullbacks can play in central midfield. Especially with an 18 year old super talent, central midfielder out of contract this summer and pursued, again by Europe’s top clubs, pulling splinters out of his backside.
Success is also minimal with part-time, generalized players. A 19 year old, who is never sure what his role would be on the weekend, is a successful formula for certain failure. We can all see he is not designed for central defence or disciplined midfield roles, which makes him either a right back or an attacking midfielder based on his attributes. Not both.
Keeping Nani, United, may soon become an impossible task. But to blame the player is gross ignorance, considering his handling by the manager historically. Without a doubt, he is the club’s best talent, but negotiating him with Bayern Munich in July, says very little about confidence in the player. Limiting his talent on the pitch will have gross repercussions in the next transfer window, particularly if he impresses, as expected, in Poland-Ukraine.
For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. I don’t fully believe that, but there’s a lot of truth in it. You can’t play defenders in midfield and forwards on the wings or suppress the super talents of a highly regarded young midfielder in the Reserves and expect no reaction. The day of retribution may well be on it’s way to Old Trafford.
5. New Year’s Resolutions
Michael Carrick should be given back his wheelchair and should be close enough to the goalkeeper for gay rumours to emerge. Mike Phelan to be reassigned to the museum section of Old Trafford, given his appreciation of archeology. A midfielder should be hired in January and yes, that excludes 37 year old R.E.D.’s. Carlos Queiroz to be kidnapped in the Middle East as soon as Vidic is fit enough to limp. The physios and doctors to be charged with fraud and gross misrepresentation. Sir Alex Ferguson to heed the instruction of ex-Red goalkeeper Mark Bosnich and “pull his finger out”.
The So Far Awards:
1. Best Team Performance
2nd Runner Up
vs Wolverhampton Wanderers 10 December(Old Trafford)
[Total passes: 422(81% accuracy), Ball Possession: 51%, Shots(on target): 20(12), Corners: 8 Tackles won: 17, Interceptions: 17, GS: 4 , GC: 1]
1st Runner Up
vs Wigan Athletic 26 December(Old Trafford)
[Total passes: 475(84%), Possession: 60%, Shots(ot): 20(8), Tackles won : 24, Interceptions : 13, Corners: 10, GS: 5 , GC: 0]
vs Fulham 21 December(Craven Cottage)
[Passes:500(88%), Ball Possession : 57%, Shots(ot): 18(8), Corners: 10, Tackles won: 23, Interceptions: 11, GS: 5 , GC: 0]
2. Individual Performance
2nd Runner Up(joint)
Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans vs Wigan Athletic 26 December
Evans[Passes completed: 42(88%), 3/5 long balls, 3 tackles , 1 interception, 10 clearances, 1 shot blocked, 8/12 aerial duels]
Ferdinand[ Passes completed: 25(81), 6/8 long balls, 0 tackles, 2 interceptions,20 clearances,0 shots blocked, 12/15 aerial duels]
1st Runner Up
Darron Gibson vs Wigan Athletic 26 December
[Passes completed: 76 Pass rate: 95% Long balls: 7/7 Shots(on target): 4(1) Key passes: 1 Assists: 1
Luis Nani vs Fulham 21 December
[Passes completed: 40 Pass rate: 77% Through balls: 1 Key passes: 4 Assists: 2 Shots: 2 Goal : 1]
2nd Runner Up
Crossing tactics vs Basel 7 December
1st Runner Up
Team selection vs Blackburn Rovers 31 December
Defence: GK- De Gea, RB- VALENCIA CB- CARRICK CB- Jones LB- Evra
Midfield: RM-Nani RCM- RAFAEL LCM- PARK LM- WELBECK
Forwards: Berbatov, Chicharito
11 first team injuries- 31 December
2nd Runner Up
Paul Pogba, 0 first team appearances
1st Runner Up
Dimitar Berbatov quarantine 2011
Michael Owen health bill and credentials of Manchester United medical facilities and personnel.
2nd Runner Up
“I don’t like playing in central midfield at all. I am an attacking player, not a central midfielder…better a second striker than a central midfielder.”
Wesley Sneijder showing United actually DO need him. Watch out Mr Rooney.
1st Runner Up
“When they took a 2-0 lead, it seemed to me they maybe didn’t take us seriously enough. But we know they’ll take us seriously now…”
Basel captain Mark Stroller’s conclusive remark is off the mark
Mr Suarez: “Porque tú eres negro”(Because you are black).
Mr Evra: “Say it to me again, I’m going to punch you.”
Mr Suarez: “No hablo con los negros.”(I don’t speak to blacks)
Mr Evra: “I’m really going to punch you.”
Mr Suarez: “Dale, negro, negro, negro.”(Okay blackie, blackie, blackie)
Extract from “Uruguay: The Tourist’s Guide to friendly chatter”
[Statistics and Analysis excludes Carling Cup matches]