Short of exhuming George Best and propping him up with a brandy in the Old Trafford dugout there could have been no greater sign of a club living in the past: Manchester United snatched Cristiano Ronaldo from City’s clutches, we were told, and brought him home to where he belonged (reality: he was happy to sign for the Blues but they baulked at his wages and now the Guardiola camp enjoys the psychological victory of their neighbours reveling in one of the causes of their own undoing).
United’s decline since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure in 2013 has seen its share of staging posts. The 4-0 humbling by MK Dons in the Capital One Cup in 2014, when the League One minnows moseyed through a rout their manager Karl Robinson realistically described as “comfortable.” The 2016 travesty at FC Midtjylland in the Europa League Round of 32, when Louis Van Gaal’s men succumbed to a Scandinavian triple word Scrabble score outfit. The 1-6 rail-riding served up by Spurs just a year ago in front of a covid-bound ghost-stadium full of cardboard cutouts.
As fans poured from the Old Trafford exits at half time on Sunday, then, we could reflect that it is not now exceptional for the world to watch as the club is flogged over a gym horse.
“Vehicle running dangerously low on nostalgic fumes…” is how the Stretty News blog put it.
We can of course only imagine the Zoom meeting Joel Glazer chaired on Monday with outgoing chief exec Ed Woodward and his proposed successor Richard Arnold. At the very club where in the 1990s Sir Alex practically invented modern footballing psychology – weeding out players from the dressing room to the public’s bafflement long before their sell-by dates seemed to be upon them – was there any recognition at all that building a team, commanding a dressing room, devising a marketing strategy around the rose-tinted memory of CR7 might be club-sinking folly? That it might send a message to every junior player, every fringe squad member, every first team star, every press officer, every matchday hospitality gladhander that this is a club where merit and forward thinking come second to reputation?
We can’t know the details of Solskjaer’s inquest once his players had reconvened at Carrington on Tuesday morning. But there’s no shortage of pundits to help him translate the above into Ronaldo-facts on the ground. To summarise: at 36 he can’t play on the break as United would prefer against strong opposition. He has the worst pressing stats of any forward in the league which he masks by making pointless analytics-friendly runs. With no one to balance him in the team there’s no cover between the thirds so it’s easy to play through United as Liverpool did on Sunday. It makes no sense to build around an ageing star rather than a player at his peak like Bruno Fernandes, who now has to work twice as hard off the ball as he used to.
With his 4am ice baths and steamed vegetable blood transfusions Ronaldo may still boast the greatest preparation in the world. What we’re witnessing at Old Trafford, though, are the consequences of fielding a former best player in the world.
Forget Ralph Milne, Kleberson and Eric Djemba Djemba…if it leads to a house of cards collapse United’s worst signing of modern times may come to be regarded as Cristiano Ronaldo.
Greta and greta
Musician Greta Carroll was so annoyed at the paucity of women to have featured in Manchester’s feted musical history she decided to do something to draw attention to it. Having contacted 6 Music’s Freak Zone show – Stuart Maconie’s weekly celebration of the sonically off-piste – she was surprised when the producers commissioned her to come up with a playlist [click the link]. Last week’s takeover, then, proved a fascinating pot pourri of weird and wonderful sounds from women working the underground of Manchester’s music scene.
Electronically-inclined and avant-garde in its leanings – reflecting her own output in the guise of hip musical avatar CURRENTMOODGIRL – we’re thus introduced to the summery likes of Sonny Bliss, the grungy pyschosis of Inland Tiapan and the dreaming J-pop of KYŌGEN. What’s intriguing, as Greta points out, is that none of these women could in any way be described as being members of a ‘scene’.
“Literally, there’s almost no one,” she tells us. “And almost always side-people. I was literally crying when I came to research it. Gillian from New Order, Una from The Fall. Denise Johnson, Rowetta, Lonelady nowadays…I’ve had a lot of women get in touch to say Manchester really hasn’t been the best friend to me. The reaction’s been amazing.”
Hailed by the likes the The Face and The Quietus in recent times you can check out Greta’s playlist here and CURRENTMOODGIRL’s brand new ‘Side Split’ EP here.
A buff-up for Bury Market. Restoration for Ashton Town Hall. A bridge for Salford University. Campfield Market office spaces …the little piecemeal projects paid for by the chancellor’s ‘Levelling Up’ fund aren’t worthy of the name, right? “Levelling up?” That’s surely talking down?