Cristiano Ronaldo thinks he’s bigger than Man Utd? He IS bigger than Man Utd…

Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Manchester United. Credit: Alamy
Cristiano Ronaldo in action for Manchester United. Credit: Alamy

The Mailbox attributes the blame for creating the Ronaldo monster. Also: Graham Potter faces an impossible job at Chelsea; and plenty on Qatar…

Get your views in to theeditor@football365.com

 

Chelsea heading for long-term decline
Any manager inheriting this squad is going to have a massive uphill battle. Not including Zakaria, Hall, or Chukwuemeka as they’ve barely played, here’s the state of it:

Mount & Kovacic – good enough to start every week for a top 4 side, and both fit enough to play regularly if we’re a little generous to Kovacic on the injury front.

James & Chilwell – good enough to start every week for a top 4 side, but permacrocked.

Silva & Kante – good enough to start every week for a top 4 side, but either very close to retirement or too permacrocked for a new contract.

Chalobah, Gallagher and/or RLC – good enough squad players who could still improve with time. There might not be space for both midfielders in the long term, Gallagher probably has a higher ceiling, but RLC has a much higher floor, consistency, and versatility.

Azpilicueta, Jorginho & Aubameyang – not good enough for this level anymore. Their magnificent 2021 really broke Kante (see above) and Jorginho in an irreversible way.

Kepa, Mendy, Sterling & Broja – time will tell if any are good long term options. Inconsistent keepers with very high ceilings, a brilliant player who might not quite fit, and a young player who isn’t good enough to be relied on yet.

Fofana, Koulibaly & Cucurella – time will tell but *yikes*. Spending 70 million on someone only just recovered from a serious long term injury is incredibly reckless. After 4 appearances he got seriously injured again, who could have seen that coming? Cucurella’s been doing a good impression of a very confused and agitated rabbit while Koulibaly looks alarmingly chaotic and naive for someone previously so imperious.

Havertz, Pulisic & Ziyech – time has very much told and the news isn’t good. They might excel in another league but they’re done here.

An insane amount spent on transfers in the last 3-4 years alone to end up with 2 players who are fit enough and good enough to build a team around in the long term, and 2 who are good enough to keep in the long run so long as we accept they’ll only be able to play 50% of games a season. If you assume we’ll only keep one of Mendy or Kepa, there’s 9 more players who may or may not make the grade in the long term. Odds are, only 3-4 are likely to really work out.

That’s what years of appalling mismanagement and recruitment look like. So much money wasted on players who simply don’t fit together in any kind of coherent way. Just a shocking, shocking return for money. We’ve also seen so many players either seriously decline in quality or bafflingly be let go despite being miles better than their direct replacements every single time (Costa, Abraham, Giroud, Tomori, Guehi, Rudiger). Years of terrible decision making on every level have got us here.

Two areas are easy to fix. Hall looks ready to job share on the left with Chilwell, money should be thrown at Dumfries or similar to job share on the right with James, and we need to buy a top quality, high energy, injury-free combative defensive midfielder who we can build around in the long term. Easier said than done, but unless Zakaria turns out to be world class we don’t have another option.

The defence and attack however….jesus. Considering the money spent on centrebacks over the summer we’d better hope Fofana stays fit and Potter can coach the living sh*t out of Koulibaly, Cucurabbit & Chalobah. The attack is even more of a headache, I can’t see anything other than a total overhaul but no idea where to begin.

The rumours about Leao and Nkunku are not filling me with hope that we’re learning from our mistakes. Both are wonderful players playing brilliant football in their current setups, but like Havertz, Werner & Sterling their current setups are nothing like Chelsea’s. Sterling flourished as a kind of prolific poacher and second striker at Citeh while KDB, Mahrez, Gundogan & the Silvas carried the creative burden. Chelsea clearly cannot provide that platform. The majority of Havertz and Werner’s goals and assists in the Bundesliga were the end result of pacy incisive counter attacks. At Chelsea, they had to play patient keep ball against packed defences, which is a totally different game. Is no-one at Chelsea thinking about this stuff?

Leao’s best asset is his pace and dribbling in wide open spaces (again, often on the counter attack) but, partly due to our pitch being a bit small, speed merchants have never really flourished at Chelsea. All our successful attackers have either been tricky intelligent types who thrive at manoeuvring in tight spaces to create and score against packed defences (Zola, J Cole, Gudjohnsen, Mata, Oscar, Hazard, Pedro) or brick sh*thouses (Hasselbaink, Drogba, Costa). You’d have to go back to Robben and Duff for our last old school speedy wingers that did well.

Nkunku has a much more varied skillset (he can genuinely do anything) but he’s only ever flourished in a lightning fast counter attacking team (with that man Werner again). Would he hit the same heights at a team that simply can’t play that way?

Both are good enough to play for any club in the world, but that doesn’t mean they’ll *fit* into any team in the world. It all looks very Glazeresque, both in our belief that incompatible marquee signings can simply be squashed together to form a marquee pie, and our inability to learn from past mistakes.

tldr, I can genuinely see us sliding into a years long cycle of massive spending with no trophies to show for it and I don’t envy Potter one tiny bit.
Ollie (sorry if anyone read this entire thing and ended up thoroughly bored)

Read more: How Graham Potter can fix Chelsea: Trust Boehly, avoid short-termism, bend principles and…

 

Taking Portugal down with him
I’d like, if I may, to combine the two “hot button” issues of the day; Ronaldo and the World Cup.

You see, Portugal are my prediction to be the flops of the tournament; maybe to not even get out of the group stage. Why? Ronaldo. He’s absolutely undroppable for them, the team will play to him and sadly for the nation of Portugal, he’s done. Finished.

Since sometime around mid to late September, I’ve sighed whenever he’s been in the starting XI for United. He makes us, and the stats bear this out, demonstrably worse when he’s on the field. His powers have been on the wane for a good 5 or 6 years, but he’s now finished as a top level player. Sorry to any American readers, but it’s MLS time.

All that said, for claims he’s been incredibly overrated in his career… behave. He’s probably the greatest ever athlete (note “athlete”, not “player”) to ever play the game. The best header of the ball in the game, can finish with aplomb off either foot and back in his day, devastatingly quick. However, there’s an extra detail to his pace. Dan James is quick. Theo Walcott was quick. Neither of them have any power though. Bar peak Gareth Bale and Haaland now, I can’t think of many that can match that level of running power. It’s not running incredibly quickly past players, it’s running incredibly quickly through them. There’s a difference.

The guy is a rampant narcissist, whose ego has supernova-ed to the extent that he cannot accept his diminishing powers; I want him out of the club at the earliest possible opportunity. That said, he’s still the best player I’ve seen play for United in 35 years of watching them (note “best”, not “favourite”).

It’s a sad end, it’s all fairly pathetic, but there we are.
Lewis, Busby Way

 

Ronaldo IS bigger than the club
No player is bigger than a football club. We all believe this to be true.

The problem with Ronaldo is that he now IS bigger than the football club. As a Man Utd fan I can’t believe I am making that statement, and wish for it not to be true, but it is. According to Wikipedia his is the most followed account on Instagram (567million followers), Facebook (154m), and he’s 6th on Twitter (105m). Man Utd in global eyes of branding, marketing, public interest, public demand and influence are evidently not at the same level.

He has elevated himself beyond football player – he is a cultural icon, and as such he has created a world where he simply CANNOT be seen as anything other than numero uno. He can’t be subordinate. He HAS to be the biggest influence on himself, otherwise how can he be the biggest influencer? That is why he’s willing to set the club on fire in every way possible to maintain his profile and standing as an icon, without losing face.

As much as I’d like to see him punished for his petulant antics, left to rot in reserves etc. that will only bring more negative press obsession on him. The best solution is to cut him loose asap. He’ll likely have to take a huge wage cut or go play in an oil rich footballers graveyard – two things I don’t think his ego can handle. That is punishment enough.
Red Jim

 

Ok, Boomer
Cristiano is a millennial, but he sounded like a boomer when he claimed that the younger generation would not have long careers because they don’t follow his example. But then it makes sense. It football (and probably most sports) years, he is in his late 60s to early 70s.

It is totally ridiculous to believe that he attained his longevity due to hard work alone. Sports science and medicine -as well as diets- have made great advances in the past few decades. The new rules -Especially about fouling- have also helped. It would be foolish to bet against further advances being made that would make the number of late 30s/early 40s players still playing for elite clubs in elite leagues rise.

Also, he’s throwing a fit because nobody considers him elite enough to be worth disrupting their team structure. Other than Sporting Lisbon, it seems.

Plus, how did his PR team ever think this was a good idea?
Bolo, Wimbledon FC, Jos (Nigeria)

 

The King is dead. Long live the King
Basically, E10H has squeezed Ronaldo’s balls so tight he’s popped.

Player power at United is dead.

Long live E10H.
Keggy

 

We created this monster
Ronaldo is clearly being a tool but perhaps, like many politicians and celebrities, he’s no more than we deserve.
Aidan, Lfc (love you G)

 

…He’s been the centre of every team he’s played in for thirty years. Surrounded by sycophants and inundated with mainly incredibly positive media attention. Scorer of more goals than anyone else in history and winner of more individual awards and trophies than you could feasibly keep track of. And one of the two best football players in the world for his entire adult life.

So is it any wonder he lacks a sense of perspective? He’s raging against the dying of the light and becoming a bit player because he literally has no experience of being anything other than the best. He doesn’t know how to handle it, how to respond to people who tell him he’s less than wonderful. So everyone who is honest with him about the player he is today lacks ‘ respect ‘ and thus he does not respect them in turn. Tell him he’s amazing or he’ll very publicly blank you.

At some point virtually everyone learns they’re not children anymore and not the centre of the universe – so they have to grow up and deal with the world as it is. We all fail at something to a greater or less extent and that failure teaches us a level of humility and perspective. Most of us will experience that in childhood and will react as children do. It’s part of the path of reaching maturity.

Unless of course, you never have really failed. If all you’ve known is success then you’ve never learnt that humility and in a sense you’ve never entirely and fully grown up.

So when you finally do fail, the response is very childlike. Storming out, refusing to play, screaming about how unfair it is and how it’s all someone else’s fault. In short, exactly how Ronaldo is reacting now. You don’t know how else to deal with failure because you just don’t have that much experience of it to draw upon.

To be fully clear, I’m not defending the man. It’s a desperate shame to see him taint his legacy this way but he really is behaving like a world class arsehole. Man U should absolutely cancel his contract and get well rid of him. The club will undoubtedly be far better off without his constant psychodramas and to do anything else would be to fatally undermine the manager.

What I am saying is that as desperately poor as his behaviour is, it’s perhaps not that surprising at all that he’s reacting this way.

All that being said of course, be prepared to watch Messi behave entirely differently when it’s his turn to be eased towards retirement.
James, Liverpool

 

Qatar and cakeism
Just one though on Lloris and the Qatar-driven narrative that it is disrespectful to arrive in Qatar and then to criticise or disrespect their “culture” of homophobia, misogyny and indentured servitude. While I usually agree that there is an imperative on visitors to any nation to respect the local culture and people, I don’t think the same rules quite apply when your government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars including, apparently, countless paid ambassadorships, sponsorships and kickbacks generally to the various decision makers in order to bring an international festival to their own doorstep.

If they want to bring fans from all over the world to their backyard, fine. But that comes with the responsibility for creating a safe, inclusive environment for those guests. Acting like they haven’t taken a great many steps to sully something beloved by people all over the world for their own personal gain, and that they are gracious even to be hosting those people is incredibly disingenuous. As an aside, I’m genuinely sickened by the likes of Beckham, Neville, Xavi, Messi, Mbappe etc. (all of whom I have thought pretty well of generally throughout their careers). I think it’s morally slightly complicated to choose not to cover the world Cup as a protest, but taking money directly from the Qatari government to add respectability is shameful and they are among the many responsible for this farce.

Anyone know any good bootleg streaming sites?
Jamie

 

…FIFA doesn’t care about human rights, they don’t really believe in diversity, they just care about money. You can finger most host nations with reasons that they shouldn’t have held the World Cup, in this day and age, Qatar should have been no-where near it. This World Cup is just another ding of the cash register as football sells its soul piece by piece.

The fake fans footage doing the rounds on Twitter is ridiculous, I wrote in during the pandemic to say the money men will soon realise that they don’t need real fans anymore, in fact if they take it away from the traditional fan base they could actually make more money. Atmosphere might be shit? Pay a someone to pretend they are fans, if they don’t make enough noise? pipe the noise in, we’ve got loads of rich mates who would love this shit! We can even shake the cameras a bit when someone scores to make it look like the 70s – you know like they did at Chelsea in the early oligarch years.

The trouble with sport washing is not that it works, no-one really believes that anyone in the Middle East is sitting there thinking ‘I’d love to regenerate the poorer areas of Manchester/Newcastle/maybe Liverpool’, it’s that rich people get away with it. The rich want something so they just pay for it and apply an airbrush so it looks like the brochure. No football culture? buy all the clubs, buy the World Cup, buy some fans and hey presto – football is ours!

It obviously means a lot to the players and I hope for their sake the England boys do well. Ideally Qatar will get battered (I won’t be watching) but I am actually wandering whether it will feel good if (and that’s a big if) England start to click. My son is 10 this year, he’s just joined a local team and this should be the World Cup that lives with him forever, it’s meant to be his Italia 90, his Mexico 86 – instead it’s the one World Cup we shouldn’t have bothered with.
Tom (Just listening to the World Cup preview on 5-live and all of a sudden it’s drifting from ‘it shouldn’t be here’ to ‘it looks great here’ ‘what a job they’ve done’ etc etc.)

 

FIFA unfixable
Has anyone watched the Netflix documentary on Fifa yet? I watched it this past week and it showed me a few things:

1) Corruption is a function of bureaucracy. Fifa has been rotten pretty much since it was founded. Scandals and deals are baked into it’s DNA
2) The nature of its structure also invites corruption, with people able to buy votes etc for their benefit
3) I don’t think you can reform something like that? Maybe they need whole sale replacing (what that looks like I don’t know, maybe the Mailbox has ideas)
4) I still can’t believe that Russia and Qatar were awarded and retained the right to host these tournaments when it was demonstrably proven they bought the right to host for sportswashing purposes
5) I don’t think those people love football, they love money and the power it confers more
6) There are possible solutions. Give weighting to votes, this can help overcome the way CONMEBOL have a disproportionate number of votes to other bodies. This is not to penalise any of those nations, just ensure that each ‘body’ has the same number of votes.
7) Put in place criteria that ensures a country is suitable to host. I know these exist already, but make it transparent.
8) Make voting transparent, show who each nation voted for
9) If you have a special council at the top, that is where the corruption will be most insidious. I know people think we need ‘leaders’ to make decisions, but it obviously doesn’t work.
10) The ultimate conclusion I reached was you cannot fix that organisation. So the best thing would be to burn it down and replace it with something new. A radically transparent organisation who’s budgets are available online for all to see, to see how it is allocated globally etc. This I think would help them move past corruption.

I know a lot of people will boycott watching the World Cup. As is their right. But one last question. If, and it is a big IF, England were to get to the final, how many boycotters do you think would watch? I’m guessing a hell of a lot.
John Matrix AFC

 

Clubs are responsible too
Do clubs realise that going to The Middle East might offend their supporters. Seemingly not. If my sexual preference is one that put you in jail, they shouldn’t be going there. Based on your very interest list about how clubs are dealing with the preseason break I see so many teams are going there.

As a man who was chucked into a prison in Abu Dhabi for having a kiss with my husband, I feel strongly about this. And yes it was really shit, and yes I know our behaviour might have been incorrect, but to throw us in jail, and take away our phones and passports was in easy terms not acceptable.

I said to them just take us to the airport, but was a respect which was not accepted.

I repeat I know was wrong (In their beliefs) but whatever they think or believe I think booting us from the country would have been the easier option.

And just to clarify I went on business and he came to hold my hand and we f*cked up.

Good luck in Qatar.
A.

Euro 2024 qualifiers - England players line up before a match Credit: Alamy
Euro 2024 qualifiers - England players line up before a match Credit: Alamy

Will we forget Qatar if England win it?
Would we still have all this moral compass navel gazing if win in Qatar? Do readers think England being world champions would be tarnished because of where the world cup was held?

Nah didn’t think so.
Phil, AVFC

 

Why are Mexico a bit meh? 
A World Cup themed question for the mailbox. I’m not sure if anyone can answer it or offer any insight, but it’s something that puzzles me. Why is Mexico not better at football?

They’re clearly not a bad side. They’re always ranked amongst the World’s top 20. They always qualify for the World Cup. They always get out of the group. Then they always lose. In fact their record there is absolutely remarkable. They’ve made the last 16 at every World Cup since 1994. And they’ve lost every time. But shouldn’t they be doing better?

I reckon there are 4 things that make a country likely to be good at football. They are:

1) Wealth. The richer you are, the better you are, all other things being equal. More money for facilities, player development etc. It’s even more true in the modern game, explaining why European nations have started to dominate the World Cup.

2) Population. Makes sense. More people = more chance of having good players.In the past 70 years, every country to win the World Cup has been in the top 25% of most populated countries.

3) Football passion. Countries do better if people love football. Obviously, because more people play it. Even better if football is the dominant sport.

4) Football heritage. Countries like China, India etc. may love football now but they don’t have football heritage. Hence they haven’t developed the systems and infrastructure needed to allow players to play and develop. This needs to be in place.

How does Mexico fit in? Well they tick pretty much every box. Mad about football and the 10th biggest population in the world. They’ve hosted 2 World Cups so have a massive footballing history. The only thing missing is wealth. Mexico is not a wealthy country by Western standards, but it does have the 15th highest GDP in the world. GDP per capita falls between Argentina and Brazil, who massively outperform Mexico in footballing terms.

There’s another curiosity as well. Leaving the performance of the national team aside, the real mystery is why Mexico produces so few top quality players. Since I’ve been watching football (roughly 30 years) I’d really struggle to name many elite Mexican players.,Only one Mexican player, Rafael Marquez, has ever won the Champions League, and I think Hernandez is the only other to play in a final. I’d say there is not a single Mexican player of the last 30 years who you would call a household name.

Many countries that, based on the 4 factors above, are less likely than Mexico to produce top quality players have done so. In the last 30 years Uruguay, Senegal, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Egypt, Denmark, Algeria, Sweden, Norway, Croatia, Chile, Cameroon, Wales & more have all produced an individual player better than Mexico has. And countries of comparable size, geography and population, Brazil and Argentina, have produced dozens.

It’s interesting to look at the Mexican World Cup squad. Only 3 players play in Europe’s top 5 leagues. Then 2 play for Ajax and one for PSV. Compare that with Argentina, where only one player doesn’t play in those 5 leagues. And that’s a reserve goalkeeper. Is it that Mexican players aren’t moving to top European leagues therefore not developing? Or that they’re just not producing good enough players to move abroad?

Anyway, not expecting any Mexican football experts to read the mailbox, but thoughts welcome.
Mike, LFC, London

 

Realistic goals
With the news that Manchester United are targeting Kylian Mbappe, I’ve decided to announce my own intentions to pursue Scarlett Johansson. I’m sure the missus will understand, hell she’ll probably want to join in…
Spoons LFC (fellow resident of Cloud Cuckoo land)

Read more: Newcastle join Christmas table-toppers Arsenal at the summit of the latest Premier League Mood Rankings

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