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20 Oddball Ultras

Second and winning the Europa League. You’d accept that as a very decent season for Manchester United. Not every season, but this season. The FA Cup would have sufficed as “the trophy” too. United need to win silverware. The trophies are what you remember – not league positions, unless you’re champions.

That Leicester cup defeat hurt as badly as the one at Energy Drink in December. Maybe it’s because losses have been relatively rare – and that’s a positive. Every one is met by a barrage of utter fury, though. Did it used to be like this? I think not.

United have always lost games, but maybe we’re dwelling on defeats too much during lockdowns and spending too much time amid online negativity. Social media’s algorithms accentuate that, clickbait journalism too. It doesn’t matter to so many readers that they’re being played and whipped up into fuming anger, nor that they’re being told half-truths or lies. That they’re engaging means they’ll keep getting served the same.

A few days prior to Leicester, United had excelled in Milan, before going to the East Midlands to play a side that had already been binned from the Europa League – just as they’d been knocked out of the top-four race after United beat them away in the final game of last season. If you get asked by Ole naysayers to recall decent tactical performances under him, that should be right up there.

Maybe United’s excellent record against Leicester raised hopes that the team could win again against a side who’d had a week to prepare for the cup match, but it was poor and rare for United to go out of a cup before the semi-final stage. It also showed that United’s squad needs strengthening. As someone on the inside pointed out to me after the game. “The clear-out has to continue. We’ve started and we need to finish. We have one player who Man city would take (Bruno), but would he even make their team given their player stats? The board has to understand the depth of the squad and the lack of quality.”

The mad thing about United is that the team beat city more often than not.

There is progress. Most thought third would be United’s best-case finish this season. The no-time European champions remain clear at the top of the league and out of everyone else’s league – except when they actually play United. They’re reaping what they sow – since they recruited better than United in the last decade and they have an exceptional manager. Here’s to city blowing up in the Champions League once again.

city’s funding means they don’t have to worry like other clubs. They’re not in debt like United; they have effective state support that takes the pressure off financially. I always remember interviewing Graeme Souness when he was at Blackburn. “It’s all about the football here and that’s so refreshing,” he said. Well, of course. He had a benefactor in Jack Walker to smooth the politics.

But city are smart too. Everyone knows they have dough, yet they refused to go as high as United for Harry Maguire or Alexis Sanchez. I met a leading football agent last week and he told me: “city pay well but they’re not stupid. If they were to sign a Haaland or a player who everyone wants, they’d have to break their pay structure. They just have a continuity and the managers come and fit into their system rather than changing their system – though obviously they can pick the team how they like.”

United’s system has stuttered and stalled. Managers have been bestowed absolute power at a cost – since it leaves a massive hole when they’re replaced – but Ole has been a manager overseeing everything and he needed help. That’s one reason he asked Darren Fletcher. Van Gaal didn’t care for the youth system, as he had enough on his plate with the first team.

There’s more of a system now and while Nicky Butt will be a loss, Fletcher is a gain. Let’s see how he works with John Murtough and if he has power to do his job properly.

This season is still in play. I didn’t like talk of Ole getting a new contract before the end of the season because he still has to prove that he’s worth it by what he does this season. No top four and no trophies should not be rewarded, but so far, so good. Not great, but good.

Enjoy this issue, Andy

21 The king of volleys

26 Growing up playing for United Simon Andrews scored 41 goals in 58 appearances

28 Koln away in ‘78

32 Colombia, Juan Mata and me

34 The great digital divide

41 Granada Resident James McGlade on our Europa League opponents

REGULARS 04-07 manUvia 08-09 Guttersnipe 12 Jim White 18 Keith Dewhurst 42 GAWI

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