THE BLAME GAME
The Fiver lives by a simple rule. When we mess up, it’s the world’s fault. When we do something right, it’s all on us. Sadly for the hapless, tactically clueless Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the opposite is true. The events of 2020 have provided incontrovertible proof that, when Manchester United win, it’s entirely down to Bruno Fernandes; and when they lose, it’s all because Ole’s still at the wheel, careering round another corner with a smile on his face.
The Fiver’s detailedish analysis of media coverage – traditional and social disgrace – confirms that, had Solskjær done his job properly and not been so embarrassingly out of his depth, United would have won 100% of their matches under his management. Instead the figure is 56%, only the third highest win ratio in United’s history and a despicable 4% below Lord Ferg’s. Solskjær showed his limitations again on Wednesday night by failing to secure a third straight victory against a team with a £361m forward line, and particularly by failing to foresee that a referee was going to send Fred off for a good tackle.
The contrast with elite managers – the ones who aren’t from Scandinavia, that kooky little backwater where people are humble and try to be kind to each other – is clear. During Liverpool’s awesome 4-0 win (agg: 4-3) over Barcelona in the Big Cup semi-final of 2019, Andy Robertson got away with shoving Lionel Messi about the head in the first minute. Admittedly it was one of The Fiver’s favourite moments that year, watching Messi’s entitled confusion as he was unjustly exposed to the rougher extremes of Scotland’s principal elemental force, but Robertson was lucky not to be sent off. Jürgen Klopp noted Robertson’s loss of control, substituted him at half-time and then protected him by telling everyone Robertson had calf-knack.
Solskjær has been more heavily criticised for leaving Fred on the field than Mikel Arteta, the tactically sophisticated, in-his-depth manager of the Premier League’s 14th-placed team, was for allowing David Luiz to stagger round like a Basil Fawlty tribute for 40 minutes at the Emirates on Sunday. And the shame just keeps piling up for Solskjær and United. In the Premier League, even if they win their game in hand at Burnley, they will still be behind Frank Lampard’s champions-elect on goal difference. Had Solskjær done his job properly, United would be six points clear at the top with a game in hand, defending their record-breaking 2019-20 title win in style.
The greatest disgrace is that, having been drawn in the toughest Big Cup group United have had for 22 years, they are merely joint-top with one match remaining. United will probably lose in Leipzig next week and go out. Solskjær will then be back where he belongs – in Big Vase. If so, he will join Leicester, Arsenal, almost certainly the Pope’s Newc O’Rangers and probably Spurs in the round of 256. All the British clubs play later, with O’Rangers v Standard Liège and Lask v Spurs the games with something riding on them. Spurs are currently engaged in a three-way qualification tussle with Antwerp and Lask, proof if ever it were needed that José Mourinho is back to his best. And what a contrast with Solskjær, who couldn’t even see off two of last season’s Big Cup semi-finalists with a game to spare.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY
“We’ve been wanting them to come back from day one. Even with 2,000 I expected it to be non-stop singing and pushing them. It was very, very quiet apart from some negative shouting. I get the players didn’t do very much to get them on their feet” – Charlton boss Lee Bowyer welcomes the return of fans to the Valley by holding them to account after the 1-0 defeat to MK Dons.
Some Football Weekly Extra for you.
“Can I point out that the social distancing sign in the Carrow Road bogs (yesterday’s main photo) is tautological? The sign reads ‘maximum occupancy not to exceed 13’ and clearly needs to lose the word ‘maximum’ or the phrase ‘not to exceed’” – Pete Green.
“I was explaining Andy Morrison’s rant about the greatest Goat (Fiver letters passim) to my brother. He, a health and safety officer, flew into a proper rage about the ‘morons’ who approach him every day to ask if a certain piece of equipment needs PAT (portable appliance testing) testing” – Marten Allen.
“All this Goat talk reminds me about this story of a village hall meeting being run by researchers into the paranormal. They asked if any assembled villager had ever had intimate relations with a ghost. At which point a man raised his arm and was invited on stage. He walked very slowly (on account of his age) and, when he finally arrived, was asked to share any memories. At which point he looked very surprised and responded with: ‘I’m so sorry, I thought you said [Snip – Fiver Taste Ed]’” – Tim Allen.
Send your letters to email@example.com. And you can always tweet The Fiver via @guardian_sport. Today’s winner of our letter o’the day prize is … Pete Green, who wins a copy of The Got, Not Got Football Gift Book – Every Fan’s Catalogue of Desires, by Derek Hammond and Gary Silke (postage available to UK only, sorry – Fiver Postal Ed].
NEWS, BITS AND BOBS
Almost nine months into the UK’s Covid-19 outbreak, Premier League suits have finally agreed a £250m support package to help EFL clubs survive.
The Premier League has adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.
Stéphanie Frappart has made Big Cup history, becoming the first woman to referee a match in the men’s competition as Juventus beat Dynamo Kyiv.
Barcelona’s interim president, Carlos Tusquets, would have let Lionel Messi go in the summer. “In terms of what you save on the wage bill as well as the money you make, it would’ve been desirable,” he honked.
Manchester City have hit back at Porto’s “ill-judged criticism” after an official club newsletter [tea-timely? – Fiver Ed] threw shade at Pep Guardiola and Bernardo Silva, among others.
And where are the top 10 teams separated by four points, with the top quartet all failing to win? It could only be the Championship.
STILL WANT MORE?
The Ibrox disaster: football’s forgotten tragedy. A harrowing but essential read.
The National Football Museum has pledged to devote 50% of its displays to the women’s game by 2022. Suzanne Wrack finds out more.
Raúl Jiménez featured in 86 consecutive Premier League games for Wolves. Ben McAleer looks at how they’ll cope without him.
Montpellier’s English forward Stephy Mavididi tells Ed Aarons how Cristiano Ronaldo and Thierry Henry helped him find his feet.
From homesick teenager to Arsenal’s new star defender; the rise of Gabriel.
Tumaini Carayol calls in at the Valley, where 2,000 Charlton fans at least got to enjoy free hot chocolate.
Oh, and if it’s your thing … you can follow Big Website on Big Social FaceSpace. And INSTACHAT, TOO!