Cristiano Ronaldo returns to protect his Manchester United legacy

Manchester United fans rejoiced yesterday as announcement came that five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo was returning to the club despite having seemed certain to join bitter rivals Manchester City that very morning.

Manchester United fans rejoiced yesterday as announcement came that five-time Ballon d’Or winner Cristiano Ronaldo was returning to the club despite having seemed certain to join bitter rivals Manchester City that very morning.

Yesterday was the epitome of a game of two halves.

As a Manchester United fan waking up there was a slight sense of dread. Will it really happen? Will he tarnish his status amongst United fans by moving to City? If so, how will it feel if he guides them to glory? Or even their first Champions League title?

All of it sent slight shivers down my spine. However, all I could do was put on a brave face and pretend he never mattered in the first place.

Cristiano Ronaldo? Nah, never heard of him. Played for United? Think you’ve got the wrong bloke, mate. Three Premier League titles and a Champions League? Pull the other one. Moving to City? Couldn’t give a toss.

By 6pm, with Ronaldo’s Manchester United return all but confirmed barring a medical, the mood had been turned upside down.

Cristiano Ronaldo? What a player. 117 goals during his first spell? 118 actually. Greatest of all time? Sure. 36-years-old going on 28? Can’t disagree. United legend? Most definitely.

The match at Wolves on Sunday will probably come too soon for his second debut, therefore the attention instantly turned to playing Newcastle at home in a fortnight.

I thought Ole has to start him, surely? Imagine the ovation when he walks out. The first legend since Paul Scholes to return having initially left. Will his second spell be Mark Hughes or George Best like I wonder? Running down the wing? More like poaching around the six-yard box.

Never mind, let’s just savour his return and sing Viva Ronaldo.

I got my first season ticket in time for the 2006/07 season. United had gone three seasons without a league title. Jose Mourinho had arrived and taken Chelsea to great heights. Arsene Wenger was still guiding Arsenal towards the latter stage of his peak. Rafa Benitez had the red-half of Liverpool under his spell.

Meanwhile question marks were being asked of Sir Alex, despite a League Cup win the previous season.

Ronaldo, Rooney and Saha spearheaded the side, anchored by Van Der Saar, Ferdinand and Vidic. Giggs and Scholes offered the winning pedigree, with Michael Carrick proving the final jigsaw by cleaning up and pinging passes from all angles. The squad had the taste of something special.

My first three years as a season ticket holder saw three league titles and the holy grail of a Champions League. Cristiano Ronaldo scored goals for fun. Then as soon as the Ronaldo/United dynasty began, it came to an end.

After reaching the pinnacle of European football by winning the 2008 Champions League final in Moscow, Ronaldo instantly set about an exit strategy. He wanted out straight away. Sir Alex reaped another year out of him which saw another league title and coming close to retaining the Champions League only to lose to Barcelona in Rome.

Ronaldo got his move in 2009. He joined Real Madrid for £90million. An absolute bargain when looking back and comparing to the figures seen since.

He achieved more than a goal a game at Real Madrid with 450 goals in 438 matches. Ronaldo amassed a further four Champions League titles and yet another four Ballon d’Or accolades.

Whilst his stint at Old Trafford was to be forever cherished, there was also a sense of what might have been had we managed another season or two out of him.

He then moved to Juventus and scored yet another 101 goals in 134 matches. Now at 36-years-old he returns to Manchester United. Certainly not in his pomp, but I think United’s most ardent rivals would agree this just isn’t your average footballer.

His dedication to the profession is second to none. From hiring chefs at a young age to having enough of an entourage to efficiently run The Lowry Hotel. Ronaldo has squeezed absolutely everything out of his talents and more.

He now returns to Old Trafford very much a different individual to the one who first walked through the doors in 2003.

Where once he walked the corridors as a spotty showboating teenager, he now walks as the revered winning-machine and arguably the greatest to have played the sport.

A three-nation league title winner, five time Champions League winner, five time Ballon d’Or winner and the only Portugal captain to lead his side to a major honour by lifting the 2016 European Championship.

How might the likes of Mason Greenwood look at him? Working with such an individual can only improve the young star’s game. Elsewhere in the squad, there will surely be a boost – it’s only natural. The Cristiano Ronaldo-type players of this world are very much rare. They naturally drag teammates up a level. They show strength in leadership when others fold.

A £20million figure for a 36-year-old might sound astounding. Yet it really does need reminding that this isn’t the average 36-year-old. Add to this the acquisitions of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane and it makes even sweeter reading.

Some might wonder how the likes of United are able to spend such figures given the effects of Covid on everyone’s wallets. Though you really do need to bear in mind that United are among the most self-sustainable of clubs – this despite the £1billion+ taken out of the club’s coffers by the Glazers since they took charge.

On the Glazer point; whilst signing Ronaldo does make sense on the field and as a nostalgic moral booster too, surely they also thought back to the effect Tom Brady had on their NFL side Tampa Bay Buccaneers just last year? Upon joining from New England Patriots the veteran quarter-back guided them to the Super Bowl, might they hope for the same from Ronaldo’s return to United?

Nevertheless, all I can say as a United fan is his second debut will be extra special.

Having already witnessed his talents and lost my voice countless times singing his name during his first stint, his Old Trafford return will surely make many a grown man emotional – myself included.

Viva Ronaldo will ring around Old Trafford like never before and I’ll enjoy the ride whatever it may bring.

Though that 21st league title would be more than enough, Ronnie.

Featured imaged sourced off Wikimedia.


New Man Utd season ticket system branded a ‘joke’ with fans unable to forward tickets

Manchester United season ticket holders have branded the club’s new season ticket system a ‘joke’ with some fans left unable to forward and receive tickets just two days before their opening league match against Leeds United at Old Trafford.

Manchester United season ticket holders have branded the club’s new season ticket system a ‘joke’ with some fans left unable to forward and receive tickets just two days before their opening league match against Leeds United at Old Trafford.

The club have brought in a new online ticket system for this season. This meant the end of the traditional season ticket card, with the season ticket now being fully electronic as part of your mobile device’s ‘wallet’.

However, the new system has seen nothing but issues.

On Tuesday 3 August season ticket holders received a text stating: “We’re still working hard with our ticketing system provider to ensure this functionality is available prior to the Leeds game next week.”

Then on Monday 9 August an email came through confirming the online ticket forwarding function was now available to use. The email included pointers on how to forward tickets on to friends and family and an apology for the delay.

As of today, Thursday 12 August, many Man Utd fans are still having issues. The club ticket office are refusing all calls, not answering replies to a text-line or online social media enquiries.

Issues range from being unable to setup crucial ‘relationships’ to pass on and sell your ticket, meant recipients of the forwarded ticket never receiving their ticket and issues accessing the new online ticket portal.

Fans are now at risk of being unable to attend the first match of the season. Each ticket that is unable to be forwarded will also see ticket holders lose out on around £30-£55 per ticket.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Manchester United know they must deliver trophies with both Sancho and Varane on board

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United head into the new season knowing that trophies is a must to keep on showing signs of progress.

As Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United head into the season on the back of a 4-0 pre-season win against Everton, both manager and club will know that trophies is a must this upcoming season – anything less would be deemed a failure.

A very respectful year-on-year improvement has seen Manchester United push on under Solskjaer. Having finished sixth on 66 points in his first season, a third-placed finish followed again on 66 points and a second-placed finish last season on 74 points. Goal difference spiked by +19 from 2018/19 to 2019/20, with a one-goal decrease last season to +29.

To consider results alone would be unfair on Solskjaer. He has transformed the club from top to bottom. Emphasis is now once again placed on youth recruitment and signing players with a desire to win and excel in the red shirt, rather than the big name who lacks determination and might be more willing to sit on a large pay packet.

Signings are much more targeted than they once were – it seems that gone are the days of haphazard transfer policy whereby the club made do with whoever was available or whichever player was pushed on them by certain big-name agents.

Just look at the signings under Solskjaer. Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Daniel James, Harry Maguire, Bruno Fernandes, Donny van de Beek and Alex Telles. No square pegs for round holes and,  whilst some might have proven more success than others, they are all decent enough players who seem to possess a real hunger to do right by the famous Manchester United badge.

Edinson Cavani might be deemed an exception to the rule given his ripe age. However, the Uruguayan has been nothing but a hit since arriving at Old Trafford. Solskjaer will have been ecstatic when Cavani signed on for another year – his experience and guidance must prove invaluable to the likes of Mason Greenwood, whilst his eye for goal certainly isn’t diminishing if we go on his form from last season.

That brings us to this pre-season. Having finally tied up Jadon Sancho (a year late for some..) and later Raphael Varane – once again, all we see are well thought out signings.

Right-wing, despite all of Dan James’ effort, was still an issue. Whilst Greenwood is an intriguing option from the right, he will certainly move central at some point over the coming years. Therefore a very talented attacker like Jadon Sancho should prove crucial when it comes to tight games both at home and away.

Then we have Raphael Varane. Since joining Real Madrid, Varane gathered 18 major honours including three La Liga titles, one Copa del Rey title, four UEFA Champions League titles and four FIFA Club World Cup titles. He was also a World Cup winner with France in 2018.

Varane’s pace will prove vital alongside Maguire and although some worry he might take some time to adapt to the Premier League – long term worries should definitely be quelled given his obvious talent and proven pedigree. This is a centre-half who should also be approaching his prime at 28 years-old and has averaged 32 La Liga matches across each of the last three seasons.

Ultimately, however, the currency at a club of Manchester United’s stature should and will always be silverware.

The second-placed league finish, Europa League final appearance, League Cup semi-final and FA Cup quarter-final was decent enough but will never be deemed good enough for Manchester United.

Some cause for concern emerges when you look closer at the limp defeats to both Villarreal in the Europa League final and to Leicester in the FA Cup quarter-final, as well as the rather weak surrendering of the league in the second-half of the season.

Yet the new three-year contract certainly offers an added sense of security to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s managerial position. Still a valid question mark remains against Solskjaer and this squad’s ability to get themselves over the line on the biggest occasions.

Obviously all of this is subject to change. Varane’s winning mentality might be all they require. Or it might be that Sancho’s added x-factor was all that was missing. A packed Old Trafford crowd will be eagerly awaiting some answers against Leeds United next week.

One thing for certain is the upcoming season for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United will either be the catalyst to bigger and better things or a case of what might have been for this romantic partnership between legendary player and former club.

Safe Standing Roadshow lead talks football stadiums, fans’ future and his beloved Union Berlin

Jon Darch, Safe Standing Roadshow lead operator, talks exclusively to Football Foyer about stadiums, fans’ future and his beloved Union Berlin.

By Danny Wyn Griffith

“Safe standing offers equality with fans of other sports,” says Jon Darch, a leading football safe standing campaigner, in an interview with Football Foyer.

“It will remove the illogical discrimination that says it’s safe to stand, for example, at rugby, but not at football. The ban never made any logical sense. It was always based on a discriminatory view of all football fans as hooligans that was rife in political circles in the 1980s. It was an ill-founded view then and is an anachronism now.

“Safe standing will also, of course, give all fans choice. For those who like to stand, it gives them a dedicated area in which to do so, configured in accordance with strict safety criteria. And for those who want to sit, or simply can’t stand for 90 minutes, it gives them the peace of mind of knowing that all the fans around them will be of a like mind and will also prefer to stay seated. Everyone wins!”

A former radio industry executive, Jon Darch (seen left in the main image) makes his living these days by translating German to English and acting as an agent for a manufacturer of stadium seats, whilst his connection to football has been deeply entrenched from a young age.

“I’ve been a supporter of Bristol City since 1967 and of Union Berlin since 2008,” he starts to explain. “I’ve also been a member of the Football Supporters Federation (now Association) for many years and a card-carrying member in absentia of Wrexham Supporters Trust, owners until any day now of Wrexham FC, having worked in Wrexham in the late eighties and developed a soft spot for the club.”

He recounts his first football memory as hearing on the radio that John Galley had scored a hat-trick on his debut for Bristol City at Huddersfield Town. That was back on 16 December 1967, whilst Jon was at a Bristol Grammar School event with his father. He recalls both being thrilled by their new centre-forward’s instant impact.

On a visit to Hannover.

Jon is the face of the Safe Standing Roadshow campaign spearheading the push for it to be introduced at all levels in English football. His passion for safe standing can be traced right back to when he used to stand on the uncovered terrace at Ashton Gate.

“That goes back to those early days of going to football with my dad,” he says. “We used to stand on the ‘Open End’ at Ashton Gate (i.e., an uncovered terrace). He made a wooden stool for me to stand on so that I could see over the heads of the men in front.

“As a teenager, I then stood on the ‘East End’ with my mates. Twenty years later, when I was taking my nephews to games in what by then was an all-seater stadium, I thought it was a great shame that they couldn’t experience that same rite of passage. And I thought that the standing ban was illogical. And I hate things that are illogical!”

Good examples of safe standing can be seen on the continent, with German football being the prime example, whilst Celtic introduced their own safe standing section in 2016. In the higher-levels of the English pyramid, however, the story is different.

“The Thatcherite all-seater policy is still in force,” he says. “It stipulates that currently some 70-odd grounds must provide only seated accommodation. Since the end of 2018, clubs governed by the policy have been allowed to install “seats incorporating barriers” as a means of enhancing safety in areas where they have an issue with persistent standing, but they are not allowed to operate such areas as formal standing areas.

“The current Government won the last election on a manifesto that included a pledge to bring in safe standing. Had it not been for Covid, that would probably have happened by now. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait too much longer. In fact, what better way for Boris and co. to show their commitment to this than to say now that safe standing will be allowed from as soon as we can have capacity crowds again.

“The safety sector is persuaded of the fact that rail seats have a “positive impact on spectator safety” and have told the Government so. It now just needs the Government to amend the all-seater policy, or permit a more nuanced interpretation of it, for clubs to be allowed to operate formally approved safe standing areas in line with safety guidelines that are ready to be put in place.”

Rail seating concept.

He hopes that as soon as fans are able to return to stadia at full capacity, clubs will be given the green light introduce safe standing. Better still, if they are told now that this will be the case, the clubs can plan ahead so that they are ready for the change.

“There is no team that doesn’t want it,” he states. “Many are actively making plans even now during the pandemic. Once the crowds are back and we’ve got the green light from Westminster, the vast majority will go ahead.

“Spurs have already installed seats incorporating barriers and Manchester United announced their intention last year to do the same. However, until the rules change, neither club is allowed to operate any area of their ground as safe standing. When the rules do change, the areas concerned will also need to be checked for compliance with any new safety regulations for standing areas that may come in.”

The situation at European competition level is slightly different. When clubs play in Europe there has to be a seat available for every fan. UEFA do not stipulate, however, that the fans must sit down.

Yet, are UEFA for or against the concept?

“Agnostic, I guess,” he starts to explain, “Rail seats were invented to satisfy their requirement that their matches be played in all-seater stadia. Rail seats do that, while enabling the areas concerned to be operated as standing areas for domestic games.

“UEFA – and FIFA too for that matter – have had no problem with this and regularly pick stadia with rail seats for some of their most prestigious games. Hamburg, Dortmund, Nuremberg, Hannover and Stuttgart, for example, were all World Cup 2006 venues and all of those grounds have rail seats.”

“Safe standing allows fans a choice,” he goes on to state. “And takes away the stain on our reputation placed there by a standing ban based on the false narrative created around the cause of Hillsborough.

“Five years from now, I would hope that by then there is no longer any such safe standing movement because it has become the accepted norm that all grounds provide a mix of seated and standing accommodation.”

Away from the safe standing campaign, Jon’s beloved Union Berlin are performing above expectation in the Bundesliga, currently placed eighth. Union gained promotion to the German top flight for the first time in the club’s history in time for the 2019–20 season.

“In short, Union’s forerunner club was founded in 1906,” he tells when asked about the history of the club.

“In its current guise, it was founded as the ‘civilian’ club in GDR East Berlin 1966; many years of unfair competition followed against the Stasi-backed other club in the east of the city (who won the league title ten years on the bounce). Then several financial crises happened post reunification, that were followed up with rescue acts by the fans; rebuilding of the stadium by the fans; rise from the 4th tier to the top flight; and next? “International”, perhaps!”

Last year saw the 100th anniversary of the club playing on the site of the current ground. The name of the stadium can be translated as ‘The Stadium next to the Old Forester’s Lodge’, and the ground is indeed on the edge of suburban woodlands, which mean that the walk to the stadium is along a muddy track through a tunnel of dark, overhanging trees.

Having previously visited the Stadion An der Alten Försterei back in 2018, I have some personal knowledge of the club, and the hard work that’s gone on behind the scenes to lift this club to the top-flight.

“Fans came to the rescue and around 2,000 individuals gave some 150,000 hours of free labour to help bring the stadium up to scratch.”

“Until 2009, the stadium was open terracing on three sides, with a puny little grandstand for about 2,000,” he describes. “Weeds were growing up through the terrace concrete, which in turn was crumbling. It was deemed inadequate for the second tier, let alone the Bundesliga.

“So, Union asked the fans – the members – what they wanted from a ‘modernised’ stadium. They said ‘standing’! So, plans were drawn up to tidy up the three terraces, give them a roof and, as phase two, to upgrade the main grandstand.”

Still there was a hitch. The club was once again short of cash. Therefore the fans came to the rescue and around 2,000 individuals gave some 150,000 hours of free labour to help bring the stadium up to scratch.

“Now we have a beautiful ground with three covered terraces and, since phase 2 was completed, a spanking new main stand. Capacity is 22,000-ish, 18,000-ish standing, and – pre-Covid – it was always sold out, so expansion is on the cards. A planning application has been submitted to expand to 37,000, with an upper tier above the three terraces. Again, largely standing. In all, in future it will be 8,000-ish seats and 28,500-ish standing – more even than at the Westfalenstadion!!”

Throughout Germany football fans are well known for achieving change in their domestic game, from kick-off times to the 50+1 rule. Might there be anything UK fans could learn from their equivalents on the continent?

“Organise, organise, organise!” he remarks. “The walk-out in protest against ticket prices on 77 minutes at Anfield a few years back organised by Spirit of Shankly and Spion Kop 1906 shows that fans do have power. But only if they organise themselves and work in unity. That’s what the German fans are so good at, and definitely what we can learn from them.

“Spouting off as a keyboard warrior is futile. Tens of thousands of fans voting with their feet in the real world, however, can move mountains!”

Find out more about Jon’s work with the Safe Standing Roadshow.

Super Frank Lampard departs Chelsea as Thomas Tuchel arrives

Chelsea Football Club over the last few years have had a nasty habit of sacking managers at a whim, but their latest sacking of fans favourite and club legend Frank Lampard seems very harsh.

By Tommie Collins

Chelsea Football Club over the last few years have had a nasty habit of sacking managers at a whim, but their latest sacking of fans favourite and club legend Frank Lampard seems very harsh.

This is especially the case when fans of other clubs leave you messages such as “madness”, “brutal” and “out of order”, it’s at this point you realise that the club make such decisions without even thinking about fan opinion – the ruthless truth being that football is now sadly but a business.

Looking back in time, another excellent manager in the making, Eddie Mcreadie, left the club in 1977 and fans were also seething back then, and to be honest the club didn’t recover until the arrival of probably our best manager (not the most successful) John Neal in May 1981.

Things didn’t start well for Neal. We nearly got relegated to the then Third Division until a Clive Walker goal at Bolton Wanderers gave us a 1-0 win to save us the heartache. Then to his credit, then Chairman Ken Bates backed Neal in the summer of ‘83 with some superb signings bringing in Pat Nevin, Joe McLaughlin and Nigel Spackman, all relative unknowns at the time, whilst also adding Welsh Goalkeeper Eddie Niedzwiecki and Kerry Dixon.

Neal had an eye for talent and the 1983/84 season was the beginning of our revival and, for some of a certain age, probably our best season ever culminating in gaining promotion to the 1st Division. Sadly Neal had to step aside in the summer of 1985 due to illness and again the club took a long time to recover – oh what might have been.

The arrival of Glenn Hoddle revitalised the club but he left to take the England job in 1996 – since then our managers have rarely lasted more than a few seasons, with Ranieri nearly completing four.

Chelsea fans thought they got the real deal when 18 months ago we appointed Frank Lampard. Enough was enough of the managerial merry go round, and this was the appointment where we could settle down and surely give a club legend, who had been learning his trade at Derby County, that word which does not resonate in a Chelsea boardroom – time.

I’d really like to get into that boardroom and find out what they really want from a manager say season by season. There’s the League Cup, FA Cup, possibly a European trophy and the Premier League, whilst not forgetting the all-important Top 4. There’s not much to go around is there!

Some fans want to win trophies, with some thinking this is a must or they’ll desert the club, whilst some want to see entertaining football. Others want runs in the European competitions, whilst some are content just to support the club whatever they achieve.

Therefore in his first season in charge, Frank Lampard achieves a top 4 finish and an FA Cup final without being able to sign players, he then gets handed a lot of money, splashes the cash and come December we’re top of the Premier League and still in Europe.

A month later we’re ninth, some of his big money singings have been poor to say the least but we’re still in Europe and the FA Cup with a manager who’s still learning the job, so what exactly do the board want?

Whilst manager of Derby County, he took Mason Mount and Fikayo Tomori on loan and in his first season at Chelsea had to play youngsters due to the transfer ban imposed on the club. This is what the fans wanted to see, academy players coming through the system and thriving; Tammy Abraham, Mason Mount, Reece James and Callum Hudson–Odoi.

Things haven’t since turned out well for Fikayo Tomori after such a promising start. He recently joined AC Milan on loan but Mason Mount has excelled under Lampard and was handed the captaincy on Sunday against Luton Town in the FA Cup. Maybe Lampard was being sentimental in giving Mount the armband, maybe he knew his time was up.

Personally I want someone who identifies with the club, Jose Mourinho did the first time and Antonio Conte did briefly. Fans disliked Rafa Benitez because of his Liverpool links and things he’d said, Maurizio Sarri was just Sarri, no charisma no interest in gaining a rapport with the fans. However, Frank was our man.

Who can forget how he celebrated at Tottenham. Jurgen Klopp has entrenched and endeared himself with the Liverpool way. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a Manchester United legend and currently the club seem happy with him. Mikel Arteta was toast before Christmas but has since turned things around to a degree, whilst Pep Guardiola is still comfortable at the Etihad despite failing to win the UEFA Champions League.

Now confirmed as our new manager is former Mainz, Borussia Dortmund and PSG coach Thomas Tuchel who according to some reports won’t take orders from above and is a control freak – that augurs well for the future, although I wish him all the best.

Fans are fickle and no manager, player, boardroom member is bigger than the club so fans will move on. At the end of the day there’ll be a split – some will not accept Tuchel due to their loyalty to Lampard, whilst others won’t accept him as he possibly won’t buy into the club. Some won’t care as long as he wins those coveted trophies – but what if he doesn’t?

It’s just a shame that currently fans aren’t allowed in the ground as things could be hostile towards our beloved board members.

I wish the board would be open and honest with us the fans, being clear as to the bare minimum he has to achieve. I wonder if, say, in another 18-months, we still haven’t lifted the Premier League or Champions League, which Tuchel has failed to do thus far – what fate then awaits him?

I think we all know by now.

Football without fans: Pass me the remote

As football continues to be played behind closed doors, Tommie Collins looks into whether the special connection between us football fans, our teams and the beloved game is slowly being lost, or was it in fact already lost some time ago..

By Tommie Collins

Do you remember the very first time you attended a football match in the flesh? Was it a relative who took you or were you old enough to go on your own?

In the early seventies, I remember my uncle taking me down the Traeth to see Porthmadog in pre-season friendlies against Tranmere Rovers and Stoke City. He also took to my first ever Wales game at the Racecourse circa ’73, then to see Chelsea for the first time at Hereford circa ‘76.

These are all good memories since replicated with my kids. Taking my daughter aged two to Villa Park for the last game of the season which Chelsea drew, I remember holding her hand walking up the steps through the tunnel. When witnessing the vast stadium, she stopped and kneeled down seemingly in awe at the stadium. I then took my two boys to their first games at Torquay and Blackburn Rovers respectively. Another highlight for me was taking my eldest lad, then age six, to Marseille circa ’99. That I tell you was an experience and a half.

He also came with me aged 10 to the Parc des Princes to see PSG V Chelsea. These games made my kids the fans of today, going to Wales away matches and the occasional Chelsea match.

PSG v Chelsea, Parc de Princes 2004.

Yet why the ‘occasional’ match I hear you ask. Well, time has since seen the experience change with the abundance of live televised games. The odd live game here and there was all well and good. Then with the creation of the Premier League in 1992 came higher ticket prices which prompted the loyal travelling fan to question whether he could afford going, especially with the way it has since developed with silly kick-off times on any day of the week.

Many fans soon realised that they weren’t worthy pundits no more and that the game was in fact being turned into a TV event for the armchair fan, where pubs would be packed to the rafters.

Then with social media since coming into play it really has gone global. We all remember your club having a supporter’s branch in Wales, Ireland, Australia and the USA. Now any person in any country is blessed with a platform to give their own wonderful insight worldwide. Everyone has something to say and an opportunity to be heard which leads to outrage on social media sites. 

The old school supporter who got priced out of the game still supports their club and will still go when finances and transport allow. However, the global fan who might be based on the other side of the globe will do nothing but decry the old fan. They spout they are as much of a fan due to getting up at a god forsaken time to complain or lament a manager who possibly won the league the previous May, or who might be a club legend (i.e. Frank Lampard) but according to them he is already burnt toast.

Looking ahead to this upcoming summer’s Euro 2020/21 Championships, currently planned to take place across 12 different countries, this despite being in the midst of a global pandemic.

On 5 March, an announcement will be made on how many fans can attend or whether they will be held behind closed doors – actually, let’s just call it football without fans. Only last week UEFA offered to refund supporters if they didn’t/couldn’t attend this year, but why now? Why not wait until after 5 March to see what that announcement brings, or leave it until April even, where the vaccine situation could have changed things dramatically.

The pandemic has led to enough games being played in empty stadiums worldwide. Being at a live game allows you to criticise loudly, support and go ballistic when your team scores. One of my most recent games before the pandemic was Tottenham away at the their excellent new stadium. Chelsea came out on top and, even at my age, it meant something to be present.

“The game was made for supporters to attend, not for a watching TV audience which sadly it has since become.”

The train journey down, socialising pre-match, the buzz entering the ground, jumping like a madman when we scored, even at home watching Wales or Chelsea I could get emotional with a crowd there, but now I like many others sit there unattached, hardly watching the game.

Additionally, for years now there’s been a live game almost every night – it has been saturated to the point where I rarely watch a live game unless it involves Wales or Chelsea. But to the armchair fan, it’s sheer bliss and for UEFA to even contemplate playing the Euros without fans is nothing short of scandalous.

Ah but you might say ‘they’ve already cancelled it once remember therefore needs be’, so what – why won’t they cancel it again until 2022, then move the Qatar World Cup (another thorny issue in my backside) back another year.  The game was made for supporters to attend, not for a watching TV audience which sadly it has since become.

When UEFA’s inevitable ‘behind closed doors’ announcement comes on 5 March, I will then reluctantly watch the televised games at the Euros. However, I already know I just won’t be able to celebrate the same as if I was there.

Is it just me? Is it my age? Is it that I was brought up in the pre-live game era? Whatever it is, it’s currently a dismally soulless experience

… Pass me the remote.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer silences critics as Manchester United go top of Premier League ahead of Liverpool clash at Anfield

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United side have seen a remarkable turnaround in fortunes. Their latest win at Burnley made it a year unbeaten on the road with 12 wins out of 15, an incredible 33-point swing in United’s favour that now sees them sitting three-points clear of Liverpool.

By Danny Wyn Griffith

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United side have seen a remarkable turnaround in fortunes. Their latest win at Burnley made it a year unbeaten on the road with 12 wins out of 15. To top it all off, Paul Pogba’s winning goal at Turf Moor completed an incredible 33-point swing in United’s favour that now sees them sitting three-points clear of Liverpool.

Who thought such a turnaround was possible this time last year? Actually, who thought Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United would have been anywhere near the top when beaten 6-1 at home by Tottenham Hotspur earlier in the campaign.

I for one certainly had my doubts.

In my last piece in October 2019, I argued that Solskjaer required more time and patience to make Manchester United a success. I stressed that whilst he might not end up being the long-term solution, he deserved more than the one transfer window as permanent manager to cure this squad of the ills left over by previous managers.

Up to that point his three summer signings (Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James) had been positive on the whole, and that more along those lines over the following two windows might mean a half-decent squad in the making.

Since then, Ole oversaw a surge in form once the Premier League got back underway after the Covid-related pause. His free-flowing Manchester United side surged up the table, breaking at pace through Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, whilst bolstered with the Cantona-esque signing of the Portuguese magnifico, Bruno Fernandes.

They fell at the semi-final stage of the League Cup, FA Cup and UEFA Europa League. Promising signs for some, yet a worrying sign of a lack of killer instinct to others.

Ahead of this season the squad was bolstered with the arrival of Ajax’s Donny van de Beek, Porto’s Alex Telles and veteran Uruguayan Edinson Cavani – all of which were league title winners with their previous clubs. Although the off-season will forever be remembered for their failed pursuit of Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho.

As the season’s start approached, clouds hung around from that failed pursuit of Sancho whilst the lack of pre-season preparation caused angst for the coaching team.

This saw United lose their opener at home to Crystal Palace and fail to win any of their opening three league matches at Old Trafford. Only their fine away form ensured they stayed above the relegation zone.

Whilst I wasn’t panicking at this point given the early stage with which the season found itself, there were definitely worrying signs the off-season transfer struggles were once again hampering their on-field performance. Nevertheless, Ole managed to ride the wave of criticism as he already had many times in his still-young Manchester United managerial career.

When his side faced Paris Saint-Germain knowing that a point would ensure qualification, the wheels came loose once again. An initially impressive return to Champions League football soon turned on its head as they were beaten at home by Paris Saint-Germain and then at RB Leipzig.

It was during the home defeat to Paris Saint-Germain that my doubts over Ole’s ability to truly turn the United ship around reached maximum levels.

I found his decision to keep Fred on the pitch, despite a first-half yellow card that may well have been a red, to be blind at best. It felt obvious to all that his next challenge, be it in the 46th or 70th minute (as actually happened), would result in a second yellow card. Yet Solskjaer kept Fred on and later saw him sent-off in a decision that proved the catalyst to United falling into the Europa League once again.

The following week saw me rant at anyone willing or unwilling to hear my ramblings – with my barber definitely getting the brunt end of it. Unfortunately, I had decided once and for all that Solskjaer wasn’t the answer, and whilst the thought of him taking United back to the top was akin to the perfect fairy-tale, like most fairy-tales it never had a chance of happening.

Now I sit here having gladly eaten my words of late. Emphatically he has since turned the United ship around again to see them rock up this coming weekend at Anfield with Jurgen Klopp’s reigning champions now playing catch-up.

Football fans are renowned for being fickle – especially when it comes to their own team and I’m certainly no different. Just as that decision to keep Fred on against PSG was infuriating, his half-time substitutions at Southampton and then West Ham saw Manchester United turn both matches around and provide crucial wins.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer certainly deserves enormous credit for the turnaround and change in squad character since his arrival. His decisions and signings look shrewd on the whole, and whilst the squad isn’t perfect by any stretch, it’s definitely the best and most energetic since Sir Alex Ferguson departed.

His tenure so far has seen highs followed by all too predictable lows, with no sign of the consistency required to truly challenge the top sides. Now it seems as though something is clicking. It’s unlike anything experienced under his predecessors David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho.

Whilst this Sunday’s trip to Anfield won’t ultimately decide where the title is heading, it will certainly show whether Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s Manchester United are closer to finding their perch once again. Another Manchester United away victory would send shivers through Merseyside and start cementing fears that the Stretford End is arising.

P.S. The return of fans to grounds can’t come quick enough, hence the featured image.

Solskjaer requires more time and patience to make Manchester United a success

By Danny Wyn Griffith

“We can’t change the whole squad but it’s one step at a time. I’m going to be successful here and there are players there that won’t be part of that successful team, but there are many of them that do have it.”

These were the words stressed by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following a 4-0 humbling to Everton back in April. The summer transfer window has since been and gone. Out went Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez, Antonio Valencia, Ander Herrera, Chris Smalling and Matteo Darmian. In came Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James.

Manchester United thumped Chelsea on the opening day. Smiles were spread around Old Trafford. Spirits were high. Expectations had been raised. What has since followed has seen Solskjaer’s Manchester United limp to a lowly 12th place after eight games. They now sit two points above the relegation zone.

“Ole out!” cries have been aired on various social media platforms.

“Back him to the hill!” the hardened reply.

“Ed Woodward, specialist in failure!” they justly shout.

“Focus on the Glazers and the £1billion taken out of the club!” they rightly lament.

Manchester United are approaching a cliff edge. This is a squad short on quality, numbers and confidence. A recipe for disaster is quickly being concocted.

The shortage in numbers has been underlined by the growing number of injuries to key players. This week, David de Gea was the latest to be struck down whilst on international duty with Spain. He joins Paul Pogba, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, Jesse Lingard, Diogo Dalot and Eric Bailly on the ever-growing injury list.

In true Manchester United fashion, the squad has been bolstered by a quartet of youngsters. Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong and Brendon Williams may one day make it in a Manchester United shirt. Yet to expect them to thrive in this floundering Manchester United side is delusional. They might have talent in abundance, but now is not the time to throw them to the wolves. Mooted January loan moves would be the correct call.

In the stands and online, the fan-base is quickly fracturing. Match-going supporters are ready to back the manager and squad through any further turbulence which awaits. The growing number of supporters who tend to voice their opinion online without ever setting foot in the stadium would happily push the eject button on Ole.  

Liverpool awaits this Sunday. The current European Champions and Premier League leaders. They visit Old Trafford striving to stretch their perfect start to nine games as they continue their search for that first league title since 1989/90.

“That’s a perfect game for us.” Solskjaer told the BBC following the 1-0 defeat to Newcastle.

It remains to be seen whether he believes this or whether he stubbornly kept a confident front when fronted by the media. Nevertheless, one thing is for certain, Solskjaer requires time to make his Manchester United managerial career a success.

He had a dream start. That night in Paris will live long in the memory of many supporters. It’s all been downhill since, yet not all should be doom and gloom.

Despite the results, he has shown some promise to his thinking. Ridding the club of the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez took some bottle, especially given the high probability that the board’s incompetence would result in them not being adequately replaced. This squad is made up of players from five different managers. It’s not ideal that some deadwood remain. Still this is a process we’re not even a year into.

David Moyes started his own process when Sir Alex Ferguson retired. That ended in heartache for the Scot, who was clearly out of his depth from the moment he left Merseyside and entered Greater Manchester.

Louis van Gaal brought promise and an FA Cup win. His record in matches against Liverpool was second to none, although dire football towards the latter half of his tenure saw José Mourinho sensing blood.

The Portuguese terrier quickly set about moulding the side into one he could call his own. He brought the League Cup and Europa League in his first season, a second-place finish followed in 2017-18, before the typical third-season Mourinho slump arrived as his vindictive attitude poisoned the club.

Ole now sits at the wheel. He deserves time to see out the job he started over the summer. He might not end up being the long-term solution, but he deserves more than the one transfer window as permanent manager to cure this squad of the ills left over by previous managers.

The switch in thinking back to young British talent bodes well. The three summer signings have been positive on the whole. More along those lines over the next two windows and there might be a half-decent squad in the making.

If not, it’s at that point that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will rightly be questioned. For now though, he deserves to remain. He will remain the manager of Manchester United no matter what the result may be on Sunday. A manager with a behemoth job on his hands.

A job I do not envy.

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