IN ADVANCE of the Rangers-Hibernian match this lunchtime I’d have to say that both Mark Warburton and Alan Stubbs were right. They’ve had their differences this summer while hogging the back pages pretty much every day, but some perceptive comments have trickled out of Ibrox and Easter Road as each has sought to have the last word on Sc*tt All*n.
Warburton was right, as the most recent little disagreement was blown up to grade-A stooshie level, when he said that if football management was all down to money, then running Manchester United or Real Madrid would be easy.
Very few doubted that Van Gaal was the man to return the club to glory
And Stubbs was right to question why the transfer window stays open for all of the first month of the new season, given that it can leave some clubs, though usually not many of the big ones, with their carefully-assembled strategies in chaos.
Warburton’s point is being borne out at United and also Chelsea right now. These are clubs with gargantuan funds at their disposal and yet who are cocking-up on a grand scale. This may be surprising – astonishing even – if you buy into the hype and mythology surrounding Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho. Less so if you don’t.
Meanwhile on Stubbs’ point, why should Man U and Chelsea, given that they’ve got all the money, all the status, all the indulgence and all the time to get their squads sorted before the big kick-off, then be permitted to make, for instance, £100 million worth of repairs to a midfield perceived as dull after just two games and a defence regarded as creaking, especially since their manager is supposed to have all the Special One nous necessary to have identified such problems beforehand?
The £100m is what it would reportedly cost to bring Paul Pogba and John Stones to Stamford Bridge, the latter from Everton, who presumably hoped to have the defender available for the whole season and not just the photocall. But the Goodison club wouldn’t have banked on football’s tectonic plates being disturbed by John Terry plonking his slowed-up backside on the bench during last week’s defeat at Manchester City, having been subbed for the first time ever.
Stones had been identified as Terry’s medium-term replacement but now the need is more urgent. Or maybe he’ll replace Gary Cahill and Kurt Zouma will come in for Terry. Either way the defence needs quick surgery, what with Branislav Ivanovic enduring such a dismal start to the new campaign as well. Lack of pace has been a problem for a while but Chelsea’s rivals all had bigger problems last season and they were able to finish as champions. Terry performed admirably but a drooling cult has built up around him, similar to what happened to David Beckham in the autumn of his career, where flaws are forgotten and everyone looks forward to the grand retirement party of an English great. The myth of Terry, though, is outdone by the myth of Mourinho. The manager should have been more decisive and more ruthless.
Mourinho is fortunate, for now, that he can seemingly throw lots of money at the problem. For failing to act quickly to deal with such a crucial issue, other managers get sacked. As Chelsea’s deficiencies appear more glaring, the prices quoted for the replacements will keep rising. This may not bother an owner of Roman Abramovich’s means, or at least not yet.
But I am no more unimpressed by Mourinho right now than I am by Van Gaal. Chelsea may be losing games while United are winning theirs, but they’re doing it without any style, and given the traditions of the club that’s almost worse.
A fascinating sub-plot of the two men’s present difficulties is the significant parts played by women. While Mourinho has had his well-publicised row with Eva Carneiro, his treatment of the club doctor doing little for his legend, Van Gaal has had Barcelona’s Pedro nicked from under his permanently-inflamed nostrils by a combination of Stamford Bridge director Marina Granovskaia and Cesc Fabregas’s girlfriend Daniella Seamaan.
Should super-rich Manchester United – the club of the chant “Attack! Attack” Attack!” – be losing out on a much-decorated forward two games into a new season when the need for support for Wayne Rooney after so many high-profile departures from Old Trafford was pinpointed a while back?
Can they be taken seriously as title contenders without the presence of a commanding central defender and with last season’s best player – David de Gea – intent on leaving? It is the smaller clubs who can lose their top men just before the transfer window closes; this shouldn’t happen to the Mighty Reds.
Very few people doubted that Van Gaal was the man to return the club to glory after David Moyes’ short, unhappy spell in charge. Very few looked beyond Holland’s stunning victory over Spain at the start of last summer’s World Cup – featuring Robin van Persie’s Superman header – and thought about how boring the Dutch were after that, and how there might have been too much haste in declaring the water-break which disturbed Mexico and the introduction of a new goalie for the penalty shoot-out which unnerved Costa Rica as managerial miracle-working.
Moyes didn’t have a good first transfer window, then threw lots of money at his next one. Van Gaal decided to throw lots of money at his first – a British record fee on Angel Di Maria. But the abrupt departure of the Argentine must count as a failure of his man-management. And why couldn’t he get more out of Superman?
Who will come to United and Chelsea to stop it looking, even this early, like Manchester City’s season or maybe even Arsenal’s? United have the brilliant history, Chelsea have the shopping. And of course United have the crazed, egomaniac genius in charge and Chelsea … well, they have the crazed, egomaniac genius.
One has passed a Colombian superstar on to the other, as you might a Colombian cigar. That’s Radamel Falcao, who Chelsea hope won’t now crumple like a cigar. At the same time, Mourinho is trying to shift another Colombian, Juan Cuadrado, written off as an expensive mistake because Chelsea can.
The rich of England’s Premier League just get richer and more ludicrous, and in United’s case, embroider the greatness of Sir Alex Ferguson still further, without him doing anything more than peer down on the stilted action from the stands. Meanwhile, in Scotland’s Championship, Mark Warburton and Alan Stubbs wonder if there’s still time to bring in a couple of other guys you’ve never heard of …