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Solving a Pressing Need

Thanks to a vicious Andy Carroll tackle during Manchester United’s 3-1 victory over Reading in the FA Cup last Saturday that, somehow, escaped a booking (although the Liverpool flop and Boyzone fanatic did pick up two yellows later), Christian Eriksen will be out for most of the rest of the season.

Surely, United are screwed, right? Eriksen has been one of the club’s standout performers this year and his creativity and guile have been instrumental in the team’s uptick in form. Without him, our dreams of winning silverware are shot, right?

Maybe. But at least United were able to put a contingency plan in place.

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Putting the Cart Before the Horse

And that’s why you don’t get carried away with league title talk when you haven’t seriously challenged for one since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. I was worried Manchester United players, fans and ex-players-turned-pundits were getting way ahead of themselves after last week’s surprising and stirring victory over Manchester City. Sure enough, after blowing a late lead against Crystal Palace in midweek and then losing to league-leading Arsenal in the 90th minute, United aren’t looking like a title threat anymore.

Still, there are plenty of silver linings to take from Arsenal 3-2 Man Utd:

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Friends, Romans, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Players

Typically, teams preparing to be sold try to keep their expenses and liabilities low so they can attract as many bidders as possible. This also makes sense from a sporting perspective. Why should a team spend big now, knowing the next owner might have different priorities or plans?

As such, we shouldn’t be surprised that Manchester United have decided to pursue loan deals instead of permanent moves in the just-opened January transfer window.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing, though.

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Welcome Betinho!

Manchester United restarted its Premier League campaign with a stirring 3-0 victory over hapless Nottingham Forest. There were plenty of talking points before and after the match, most notably:

  • Marcus Rashford’s continued run of great form and the re-emergence of his once-dangerous partnership with Anthony Martial. Rashford scored the first goal and assisted Martial on the second, giving hope that they can make up for United’s lack of an established, proven center forward.
  • Raphael Varane bravely and selflessly volunteering to play after illness sidelined the club’s only two available senior center halves, Victor Lindelof and Harry Maguire. Despite being excused from the match due to his country’s run to the World Cup Final, Varane felt his team needed him and stepped up.
  • Luke Shaw volunteering to play center back to help ease said defensive selection crisis. Like Varane, Shaw played well and gave his manager something to think about moving forward.
  • Casemiro’s ongoing brilliance. The Tank dominated in his usual role after filling in at center half against Burnley in the League Cup the previous week. He also showed off his playmaking skills, turning two defensive stands into quick counter-attacks that resulted in goals. He even got a slick assist on Fred’s goal late in the match that sealed the three points.
  • Jesse Lingard’s first match at Old Trafford since leaving in the summer for Nottingham Forest. Say what you will about JLingz and the way he left, but Lingardinho scored some big goals for his boyhood club and always gave his all on the pitch. After leaving early in the second half with an injury, Lingard finally got the warm send-off he had been denied the previous spring, as Old Trafford gave him a nice ovation thanking him for everything he had done.

But the one that got the most attention was the sudden addition of a forward named “Betinho” to the club’s active roster. Was it a purported clerical error, as the club later claimed? Or did someone jump the gun before a transfer became official?

And who was this mystery man, anyway? Was it the Portuguese forward currently playing for S.C. Espinho who made one appearance with Brentford in 2014? Was it a heretofore unknown nickname for Atletico Madrid’s misfit playmaker Joao Felix? Was it a new, tongue-in-cheek identity for in-form Brentford striker Ivan Toney, who could face a long ban for allegations relating to betting on Premier League matches?

Or was it this man?

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Buying High

The World Cup can be unpredictable, but there are always a few guarantees.

Expect a worldwide drop in workplace productivity (including technological innovations designed to hide your time-wasting from your boss).

Your World Cup pool will include casual fans who will pick Brazil to win simply because they remember seeing Pele or Ronaldo play once. Or Argentina and Maradona/Messi.

Finally, there will be several players who parlay an impressive performance at the tournament into a big-money transfer to a top club.

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Ronaldo: Pressing is For Sandwiches and Suits.

UPDATE (11/22/2022): Cristiano Ronaldo has left Manchester United by mutual consent. According to reports, Ronaldo will forfeit the estimated £16 million left on his deal in order to leave the club immediately. Guess the World Cup will be even more important to him than we initially thought.

On the one hand, Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t make any major revelations in his recent interview/therapy session/bridge burning with friend and sycophant Piers Morgan.

We’ve known that the Glazers don’t care about the team and only see them as a marketing cash cow. We’ve known that United are stuck in the past (Zlatan Ibrahimovic said the same thing) and that the club’s facilities and infrastructure are in desperate need of upgrades (a process that finally started over the summer). We’ve known that he almost went to Man City last summer and that it took a last minute intervention from Sir Alex Ferguson to change his mind (although, for the record, City put out a statement a couple of days ago denying this).

What we didn’t know was just how much contempt he had for Ralf Rangnick, Erik ten Hag, and modern managers and tactics. In that vein, it’s not only clear that his homecoming was never going to work out, but that, in many ways, Ronaldo is stuck in the past every bit as much as United are.

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#Pogbye

In 2016, when Paul Pogba returned to Manchester United in a then-world record deal, they coined the hashtag “#Pogback”to mark the occasion. United, Pogba’s social media team and sponsor Adidas even worked together on a slick promo video featuring UK rapper Stormzy that was designed to get tons of views and likes.

It was a rollout fit for a king — and appropriate, given how important social media has become in the marketing world (to say nothing of how much elite athletes like Pogba have come to rely on it).

It also underscored just big a statement of intent this was from United. That summer, the team also brought in goal machine Zlatan Ibrahimovic, defensive stalwart Eric Bailly, exciting winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan and hired serial winner Jose Mourinho. Together, this quintet helped deliver the League Cup and the Europa League during their first year together. Surely, more trophies, to say nothing of the league title, would be coming, right?

It’s been five trophyless seasons since then, and on Wednesday, United cut ties with one of the last remaining members of that trio (Bailly is the only one left, and he could be leaving this summer, too). This time, they went the complete opposite route, releasing a written statement announcing Pogba’s impending departure that was devoid of any hashtags.

In other words, United #Pogbade him farewell without resorting to cheap social media tactics. Maybe an anti-climatic statement was appropriate, given how long his departure had been a fait accompli. Pogba had never really settled back in and he and his late agent, Mino Raiola, had constantly #Pogbatted their eyelashes at other teams, especially Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG and, most unforgivably, Man City. When Ole Gunnar Solskjær took over, Pogba seemed happy with his expanded role and even expressed interest in re-signing in 2020. However, the board chose not to engage at the time, and when they finally did offer him a new contract, he #Pogbalked. The club’s current situation made his departure a no-#Pogbrainer.

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To Tell The Truth

Ralf Rangnick’s spell as interim manager was a failure.

His tenure in the Manchester United dugout finally came to an end on Sunday after yet another listless effort — this time, losing at Crystal Palace 1-0 in a stadium where they had never lost a Premier League match. A season that began with so much promise and genuine excitement, had turned into such a nightmare that most people just wanted it to end, consequences be damned. That United managed to back into a Europa League place thanks to West Ham losing summed things up pretty well.

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Farewell To The Special Juan

Monday’s 3-0 victory over Brentford at Old Trafford was all about saying farewell. A farewell to this nightmare of a season. And, specifically, a farewell to outgoing players Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Edinson Cavani, and Phil Jones, each of whom received a warm ovation from the fans. They’ll be joined at the exit ramp by at least three players who didn’t play: Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, and most likely Eric Bailly.

It will be a long overdue housecleaning for United, which has lacked a coherent, consistent identity on the pitch and in the transfer market over the last eight years — a period that began when Mata helicoptered into Carrington looking like a cross between James Bond and a guy who sells bonds.

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It’s The Hope That Kills You

There’s been a familiar pattern at Manchester United, as of late.

United win a couple of matches, and everything is hunky-dory. Ralf Rangnick is a great manager who’s making his mark and could even get the job on a permanent basis.

They lose or draw a couple, and the buzzards start flying overhead. Suddenly, Rangnick is in over his head, and players are questioning his tactics and training sessions (because heaven forbid they start later in the day or work on basic things like team shape and organization). ESPN even reported that the players have started derisively referring to American-born assistant Chris Armas as “Ted Lasso,” after the titular character in the popular Apple+ series starring Jason Sudeikis as a clueless Yankee manager who somehow manages to land a job coaching an English football team.

You know what? United would be lucky to have Ted Lasso right now.

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Asleep at the Wheel

Never let it be said that Ole Gunnar Solskjær wasn’t the ultimate company man.

When Manchester United finally decided to sack him as manager after a series of humiliating losses and poor performances but didn’t want to use that terminology, Solskjær went along with the charade and said that he was “stepping aside.” He even gave an exit interview with ManUtd.com that was full of platitudes and niceties. He even managed, with a straight face, to deliver lines like “It was time for me to step aside” and “I’m going to leave by the front door” even though everyone knows he’s being shoved aside (and deservedly so, but that doesn’t mean he should have to swallow his pride or continuing taking one for the team on the way out). I can only imagine what Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho would have said to that. Probably a two word phrase that starts with the letter “f” and ends with the word “off.”

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Return of the King

A lot can change in 24 hours. Just ask Jack Bauer.

Or Cristiano Ronaldo. On Thursday, it looked like he was ready to break the hearts of the faithful United fans who still sing his name and join Pep Guardiola at Manchester City. In doing so, he would be the eighth player to suit up for both United and City — and the third player from that vaunted 2007-2008 Champions League winning team to do so.

But then the United Network kicked in. Sir Alex Ferguson spoke to the player he’s long had a fatherly affection for and tried to get him to come home, something he thought he had accomplished in 2013 as his last act before retirement. Former teammates weighed in, with Rio Ferdinand calling to try and talk him out of joining City, Patrice Evra keeping tabs via WhatsApp and Wayne Rooney sending a message through the media. Even Bruno Fernandes reached out to his fellow Portuguese international and Sporting Lisbon alum to try and change his mind and sell him on an unlikely homecoming.

It worked.

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