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United needs rebuilding from the top down



All the talk this week has been about the sacking of Jose Mourinho and his position as Manchester United coach. I knew the board were in discussion regarding his position as United lurched from one disaster to another. United, like Spanish teams Barcelona and Real Madrid, are not expected to lose and fans and directors demand a top four finish. Under Mourinho, that was looking more and more unlikely and the title is already out of reach. It is ironic that United stayed in the Titanic Hotel before their match against Liverpool last Sunday. They certainly had that sinking feeling. As they toiled fruitlessly against a better organised and more hard working Liverpool team, I watched United vice-chairman Ed Woodward. He was staring intensely at Mourinho and his face was a picture of anger…I knew then it was the end for the manager and sure enough, two days later, he was gone. Woodward had already spoken with the club owners on Friday and it was decided that if the Liverpool game went wrong it would be Mourinho’s last.

Mourinho knew nothing of this. Next to Woodward at the match sat United and England legend Bobby Charlton, an ambassador for United and a board director. His face was a picture of disappointment and misery. Sir Alex Ferguson also sat nearby and I watched him visually screw up his face at some of the poor play coming from United. I caught Woodward leaning towards Charlton, whispering with his hand over his mouth. It is obvious they were discussing the end of Mourinho.

The facts are that vice-chairman Woodward and the Glazer Brother owners care little about the football and they want only a good return on their investments. They are businessmen, not supporters. Sure, they want United to win but they have their own agenda. Last year, the Glazers pocketed £22m in dividends on their shares and this is largely due to United being football’s top brand. That is Woodward’s area of expertise.

Losing games and finishing outside the top four damages that brand and the financial rewards and that is the real reason Mourinho had to go. It was the same reason why Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich sacked Jose at Chelsea. He kept criticising the club when he lost games and the worldwide sales of merchandise went down which lowered the share price and again Mourinho had to go. United is a huge business and under Sir Alex Ferguson the value of the club soared with one success following another.

Woodward said a terrible thing in New York last summer when asked a question at the shareholder’s meeting. He said, “Playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercials side of the business.”

To supporters of this great club those words are distressing. However the United situation is not as simple as you might have read. The fact is Mourinho had lost 90% of support in the dressing room.

The Pogba confrontation was only the tip of the iceberg and Pogba, Sanchez, Lukaku and Martial had all stopped playing for the manager. The true reason David De Gea has not signed a new contract is that he would not do so with Mourinho still the manager. The same with Anthony Martial. They just did not want to play for Mourinho any longer. Woodward secretly spoke with players on Monday and found almost all of them wanting Mourinho out of the club. The in-joke at the club was that Mourinho had lost 90% of the dressing room but no one knew who Mourinho’s 10 percent of player supporters were! When Mourinho was summoned to the training ground at 9am on Tuesday morning he was met by Woodward and told he was no longer manager.

Mourinho was visually shocked and he immediately returned to his hotel to summon his agent and legal team. Then he packed his bags, left the hotel bill which has cost United £500k over the two and a half years, and went straight to his London home where his wife and children live. When the players were told about the sacking, Paul Pogba went around all the players high-fiving and there were big smiles from most of the team. That is how toxic the relationship between the manager and his players had become. Former players are wading into the argument by voicing their opinions.

Ex-captain Roy Keane and full back Gary Neville believe United need to be rebuilt from the boardroom down. They argue for a strong Director of Football who understands the game with the specific task of finding new talent and not just buying big names like Sanchez and Pogba who have offered United very little. They also need a manager who will compliment the egos of the big stars in the style of Claudio Ranieri and it is no good coming in with a sharp tongue and criticizing the players because the big stars will not respond. Teamwork and team spirit has to be rebuilt at United.

There is much speculation on who will be the long term manager but I can tell you exclusively that there will be a series of meetings starting immediately after Christmas and as yet no specific name is being discussed within the club. As a final note on this, it is interesting that one of the first phone calls Jose received after the announcement of his sacking was from the President of Real Madrid.

However, player power is strong at Real and the players led by Sergio Ramos do not want Mourinho either. If Mourinho stays in football immediately he could end up at either Paris Saint-Germain or back in Portugal as national team manager. He is unlikely to get a job in the elite Premier League ever again. Finally, I wish Ole Gunner Solskjaer the very best of luck as interim manager over the coming months. He is an idol at United where he is loved by supporters and players.

He will walk on to the pitch to deafening applause and cheers. It will spur on the players and they will quickly adopt his attacking style of play. He will definitely unite the dressing room and despite his relatively mediocre managing achievements, the players will play for him and with the tremendous talent the club has, this could be enough to stop the rot. Imagine Pogba, Sanchez, Lukaku, Rashford, Martial etc all playing with commitment, focus and energy…United would be like an unstoppable train. And Mourinho could only sit and reflect on what might have been.

Raise a glass to the new Saints manager

What a way to start your new job. New manager Ralph Hasenhuttl had the Southampton supporters cheering his name before the kick off against Arsenal where they ended the Gunner’s 22 match unbeaten run. The manager had sent all Saints season ticket holders a free voucher for a beer before the match. This weekend he takes his team to Huddersfield and he is sure they can come away with three points.

Sarri refuses to move Kante

Following my comments about Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kante being played out of position, manager Mauricio Sarri has said publicly that he will not change his mind and back down. Kante has won a Premier League title and a World Cup winner’s medal playing defensive midfielder but Sarri has moved him further forward on the right.

Sarri prefers Jorginho in the defensive midfield role due to his speed and one touch football. The argument will continue as Chelsea fans and observers think Sarri has got it wrong.

Big clubs look ahead to January

There is only three weeks to go to the January transfer window when clubs can strengthen their teams with new signings. I have been talking to various clubs to see what is being planned and here is the rundown.

Manchester City: Pep Guardiola is perfectly happy with his squad and plans no activity in the transfer period.

Manchester United: Jose Mourinho acknowledged that his defence was leaking goals with 23 already scored against them and that is only five short of the entire 2017 season. United are looking to sign the huge Senegal defender Kalidou Koulibaly who plays for Italian Serie A side Napoli. New interim manager Ole Gunner Solskjaer will, I am told from Old Trafford, be given £50million to spend in January.

Chelsea: Manager Mauricio Sarri has turned the Blues around this season but still lacks a genuine reliable goal scorer. Alvaro Morata and Olivier Giroud are just not contributing enough when you compare them with previous strikers Didier Drogba and Diego Costa. I keep hearing the name Mauro Icardi at Inter Milan and Sarri is a known admirer. He has scored 40 goals in the same time as Morata has scored 19. Spanish club Celta Vigo has Maxi Gomez who has scored a quarter of their goals this season. The big tough Uruguayan would give the same presence as a Drogba or Costa.

Liverpool: The Reds need a strong attacking midfielder and at the moment manager Jurgen Klopp is being forced to play winger Xherdan Shaqiri out of position to give them strength in the centre going forward. He does however play this role for his native Switzerland national team. Liverpool scouts have sent favourable reports back from Spain about Celta Vigo star Brais Mendez and he is one to watch but at 21-years of age playing in the top flight of the Premier League would be a tough assignment.

Pochettino not in a hurry to buy

Spurs manager Mauricio Pochettino has said this week there is a possibility that he might not buy again in the January transfer period. Fans were angry in the summer when the manager did not strengthen his team but with Spurs firmly in third place ahead of both Chelsea and Arsenal and behind only Man City and Liverpool the supporters are more than pleased. Ticket holders were shown around the new stadium yesterday and it is mightily impressive and should be ready late January. If a quality defender becomes available I have bee told that Pochettino would encourage his board to get out their cheque book because both Toby Alderweireld and Jan Vertonghen are not sure of staying. I have also been told that striker Fernando Llorente is keen on a move to Spanish club Atletico Bilbao but this is yet to be agreed with Spurs. Pochettino also said that he has considered sending Walker-Peters our on loan until he can offer him regular first team football.

You decide for yourself…

I like to finish with an amusing story and this week I was reminded of the time Jose Mourinho styled himself “The Special One”. When Jurgen Klopp arrived at Liverpool he made fun of Mourinho by saying, “Hello, I am the normal one.” Look at the Premier League table now and decide for yourself who is special and who is normal and which one still has a job!.

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