This weekend I travelled to Dublin for a few rest & relaxation (read: drunkenness) with my friends. One of them is a staunch Manchester United supporter and so I thought it would be interesting to have a chat with him about the fortunes of both of our clubs. Then one night in a brilliant little pub called O’Donoghue’s, where locals gather to play instruments and sing Irish folk songs, I also got chatting to a German called Uta.
Uta was from Gelsenkirchen, heart of Schalke country. She had some interesting things to say about Jürgen Klopp and the invasion of German players to the Premier League, so I thought it would also be worthwhile to note her comments down for posterity. As a side note, I had a brilliant time in Dublin and would recommend it to anyone. It gets a bad rep for being too expensive but I didn’t really find it any pricier than a normal capital city. Anyway, on with the chats…
Adam The United Fan
I’ve known Adam as a friend for about eighteen years now, having been in the same school as him for more like 25 years but moving in different circles to begin with. He is perhaps best described as being forthright with his opinions and is also known for having something of a potty mouth. That is true at the best of times but is especially the case when watching football. If United aren’t performing well he’s known to break out the c-word on a regular basis. I’m not going to put his more colourful language in here, but if you’d like to imagine it then go right ahead…
Obviously chatting with a United supporter only really allowed for one main topic of conversation just at the moment: José Mourinho. I personally am of the opinion that the Portuguese manager is something of a busted flush. Football has moved on from where it was even two years ago, with the current cycle being about pressing football rather than parking the bus. I was interested, therefore, to see what Adam thought of him.
“The United board made a mistake in hiring him”, he told me candidly. “They’ve put all their eggs in the wrong basket but I’m not sure what’s going to happen if it doesn’t work out for him. I don’t really understand why they sacked Louis Van Gaal if their plan was to bring in Mourinho. The football was abysmal under LvG but José has never played exciting, free-flowing football. It’s pointless”.
Any Signs Of Improvement?
I asked him if he thinks that the former Chelsea man has shown any signs of improvement at Old Trafford, if the football has got any better. “No. His tactics are poor and, worse than that, what’s the point in parking the bus if you’re going to leave the windows open? It’s all well and good trying to stop the opposition from scoring but if you don’t succeed and you have no desire to get forward, like we saw at Anfield, then you’re going to struggle to win matches”.
The LvG comment was one that I found interesting. When it was clear from the middle of last season that the Dutchman was on his way out with Mourinho his likely replacement, I did wonder how long the United fans would put up with him. The self-proclaimed ‘Special One’ isn’t exactly known for the fun football that his teams play; something that Manchester United have prided themselves on ever since the Ferguson era got properly underway.
So would Adam really have preferred that he kept his job? “The football was terrible, but that’s not improved. LvG had us bubbling around the top four and he won us an FA Cup. The weird thing is that the United board are too conservative, which is why they went for Mourinho. But actually he was quite a risky choice when you consider what went on at Chelsea last season”.
Most commentators feel that Mourinho’s final season at Stamford Bridge was an anomaly; that he often goes through a cycle of two good years at a football club followed by one where he sets the place on fire. Did Adam think it was just history playing out, or something more than that? “He’s always full of excuses. When things start going wrong he needs a scapegoat. He started trying to blame the players but it didn’t wash, so he turned on the medical staff instead”.
“Eden Hazard won all of the plaudits there were to win in the 2014-2015 season. Is he really going to believe that he’s suddenly become a terrible player just because Mourinho said as much? His decision to blame Eva Carneiro was just weird, especially when you consider that the players were apparently quite close to her. The biggest worry for me right now as a United fan is that he doesn’t know how to get teams out of a funk. He’s never had to do it before”.
“He’s been playing Rashford because he didn’t want to get the United fans offside immediately, but he’s not the sort of manager who turns to youth. He’s trying to buy his way out of trouble like he normally does, but it isn’t working; at least not yet. The thing is, when you spend a quarter of a billion pounds you can’t have a poor squad, but it’s not ever close to being one of the best in the league”.
Again, this comment caught my ear. As a Liverpool fan I’m used to our supporters slagging off our squad and praising that of others, so I was interested to hear thing from a United perspective. Does he really think that they aren’t good enough? “Well let me put it this way, which of our players would Klopp want? Maybe Mkhitaryan to try and make him into the sort of pressing player he was at Dortmund, but otherwise? There’s no one that’s good enough, particularly not in defence. That’s an area of real concern for us”.
So what does the future hold for United? “As I say, the United board have put all of their eggs in the wrong basket and now they’re going to have to stick with it to save face. I could easily see us finishing eighth or ninth this season but they can’t sack him. Who else could they get? We’re not going to get top four this season so his only hope is to try and push into the top four next season and then go for a tilt at the title the following year”.
If United aren’t going to win the league this season, then, who is? Adam was unsurprisingly reluctant to commit fully to a Liverpool win. “Jürgen Klopp’s my favourite manager in England. I wish we’d gone for him to be honest. I can only really say what the bookies think, which is that City are slight favourites but this is your best chance for years. He’s the real deal, which is a depressing thing to have to say”.
And for United? “Maybe when it’s become obvious that José’s not the solution we’ll go all out for Pochettino. We should have done that this summer, in fairness, but the board’s not brave enough. They went with the ‘safe’ option and now it’s coming back to haunt them. I hope I’m wrong, obviously, but nothing in our performances has led me to believe that Mourinho’s going to be the great saviour that our fans thought he would be”.
I was surprised to hear Adam speaking so negatively about United’s chances. Our mutual friends may well be surprised at that, as he is notoriously negative as a person. Yet he’s always been quite bullish when it comes to football and he shares the arrogant assumption that most United fans hold that their team will win everything on account of simply being Manchester United.
I’m not convinced that Adam’s right. I think Mourinho’s too good not to get United to do something during his time there, especially as he’ll struggle to get another big job if he flops at the Theatre of Dreams. Yet my deep hope is that Adam’s negativity is right and United are only going one way under the Portuguese. Only time will tell…
Uta The Schalke Supporter
My conversation with Uta was brief, punctuated with respectful silences as different people got up to sing an Irish folk song. She was there with her husband Ronan whom she met when they were both doing a hospitality course together. They now own an establishment in the Black Forest and she has been able to persuade one of her sons to follow in her footsteps and wear blue and white all of the time. He other son, Patrick, has no interest in football whatsoever.
“Getting one son to support Schalke was ok. I would have liked Patrick to as well but at least he’s not interested in football at all. It would have broken my heart if he’d supported Dortmund!”
The Revierderby, or Ruhr Derby, is famous in Germany. Dortmund and Schalke fans don’t like each other at all and there are similarities between their rivalry and that of Liverpool and United. The two cities have economic and industrial reasons not to like each other. I asked Uta what she thought of Jürgen Klopp and whether she was glad to see a fellow German doing well in the Premier League.
“I was born in Gelsenkirchen, the most pro-Schalke supporter city and the most fervently anti-Dortmund, so Perhaps I’m not the best person to ask! I don’t like him. I think he’s very arrogant. He loves himself and you might not see it in England but Germans know this as he is on the TV all the time. I was about to buy a seven-seater Opel and then Klopp did an advert for them so I bought a Citroen instead. It’s a much better car anyway!”
I asked Uta if her Schalke supporting ways might just be blinding her a little bit. “Of course! What do you think of Alex Ferguson? I’m afraid because I think he will be Germany manager one day, then what will I do? I love my country and I love watching football, but how will I adapt to the most successful manager of our fiercest rivals taking over as the manager of the national team? It will be difficult to stomach”.
I obviously had to ask Uta about Joel Matip, with the centre-back performing so well for us so far this season. “I don’t want to talk about it”, she said. “He’s such a wonderful player, a joy to watch. You got him for free! Schalke fans weren’t happy about that. We really should have got a lot of money for him. I’m glad he’s doing well but it’s a shame that he didn’t leave earlier so we could have benefitted financially at the very least”.
And what of German players in general doing well in England? “I’m pleased. It is known as a tough division so it is good for German football that our players are holding their own in the Premier League. In Germany there’s really only Bayern Munich of the ‘big sides’, so players need to look elsewhere for a chance at success. In England there are many great clubs with history, so it is maybe a little easier for players to make a name for themselves there. Just as long as Jürgen Klopp stays in England and doesn’t come back to Germany, I’m happy!”
I decided to do something a bit different with my blog this week, with the international break spoiling the fun for everyone. It was an enlightening experience for me, with Adam’s negativity towards United under Mourinho genuinely taking me by surprise. I was also interested to hear Uta speak so negatively towards Jürgen Klopp. We’ve mostly only seen the positive side of him since his arrival last October, so it was funny to hear someone speak so negatively of him. Hopefully our rival fans in England will have nothing but negative things to say about him come May, too…