October 22, 2021

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MARTIN SAMUEL: If the Glazers want Manchester United to win, why keep it a secret?

It is a tradition now that the winners of the Super Bowl take part in a ring ceremony. There are speeches and official presentations of the elaborate diamond and gold bands that are the equivalent of medals.

Tom Brady has seven, the most of any player. His last, from Super Bowl LV, was won with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. His speech was interesting, too.

‘We went to the White House the other day and I forgot to thank a few people,’ he began. ‘The Glazers, obviously. The Glazer family, I think, from all of us — the players, the organisation.’

Man United fans don’t see Joel Glazer as a man desperate to win sporting silverware

The Glazers' decision to stay off-grid at United has created a huge disconnect with the fans

The Glazers’ decision to stay off-grid at United has created a huge disconnect with the fans

He addressed his next comment to a specific audience member.

‘Joel,’ he said, ‘I remember when we spoke for the first time, you said, “Tom, I just want to win — I just want to win”. And it takes a lot to do that…’

And on he goes. He thanks the team, he thanks the coaches, he thanks the families, he thanks the lady who designed the rings, but Joel Glazer, the man who just wants to win. Where the hell did he come from? It is not a portrait recognised by any follower of English football, and certainly not any Manchester United fan.

When do we ever think of the Glazer family as prioritising winning? When do we ever consider them having the same desires and dreams as us? If Brady’s testimonial is true, this must surely be the biggest public relations failure in modern sport.

Had a senior player at Manchester United spoken in public the way Brady did, at the very mention of the Glazer name, the room would be in derisive uproar — even if the Premier League trophy was on display by his side.

If Manchester United were to win the league — and they could, because they certainly have the personnel now — it will be thought they did it despite the Glazers rather than aided by them. It is never considered that the Glazers could care about the scoreline, as well as the bottom line.

Tom Brady's description of Joel Glazer as prioritising winning would be laughed away at United

Tom Brady’s description of Joel Glazer as prioritising winning would be laughed away at United

This is not a plea for clemency. We all know what the Glazers did in cahoots with owners of five other Premier League clubs and it has not been forgiven or forgotten. Yet nowhere was the disconnect between executives and fans as apparent as Old Trafford. Nowhere was the reaction so extreme.

The Glazers may have thought they were being smart, staying off grid for two decades and, at first, it was probably wise given the negative reaction. Yet, as time has worn on, the resolute desire to let nobody see a face beyond that of dead-eyed venture capitalism has been a mistake.

The man that Brady met, the man who just wanted the Buccaneers to win, is unrecognisable in this country. No one could imagine him saying it, no one could imagine him caring, as long as the money rolled in.

One of the reasons it is thought Manchester United have stopped winning, is because it is not a priority for the owners.

Yet look at the money Manchester United have spent, the managers they have burned through. Nobody appoints Louis Van Gaal or Jose Mourinho for an easy life.

Nobody spends £76.5million on Jadon Sancho, £80m on Harry Maguire, £56.7m on Bruno Fernandes, £53m on Fred, £76m on Romelu Lukaku, £89m on Paul Pogba, without wanting to win. And those are just the big ticket items.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson stood down, Manchester United have been consistently active in the transfer market in a way that goes far beyond burnishing a brand. They have beaten Manchester City to multiple targets. They have raided Real Madrid, Arsenal, Chelsea and Juventus. They have shown every sign of wanting to win.

Nobody spends £76.5million on Jadon Sancho (left) and £89m on Paul Pogba (right) if they don't want to win

Nobody spends £76.5million on Jadon Sancho (left) and £89m on Paul Pogba (right) if they don’t want to win

When Roman Abramovich spends it is always depicted as evidence of his enormous ambition. Manchester City’s investment shows how much they want to win the Champions League. Yet Manchester United get through as much, if not more, without similar motivations being acknowledged.

It was always going to be difficult for the Glazers at Old Trafford, as for any owner, particularly those from beyond these shores. Loyalty is valued — which is why ‘where were you when you were s***?’ is such a favourite — and owners cannot boast that.

They were not at Orient on the first day of the season, Division Two, 1974. They did not make the trip to Cambridge in the League Cup, 1991. But build a relationship and that does not matter. Sheik Mansour was not at Macclesfield with Manchester City in 1998. Nobody holds it against him.

Yet Brady’s speech shows how difficult the Glazers have made it for themselves, and how much potential good will and understanding they let slide.

The team who beat Leeds 5-1 on Saturday were undoubtedly assembled to win. They may even do that. Yet few believe this is what the Glazers truly value. It is a colossal failure of imagination, and communication. The man Brady talked about is invisible to us.

Ligue 1 tipped in PSG’s favour 

Lille, the French champions, opened the season with a 4-0 defeat at home by Nice. That is the problem in France. Paris Saint-Germain aside, every club sells, even the successful ones. 

Boubakary Soumare played 32 games in Lille’s midfield last season, but they took £18million from Leicester for him. Mike Maignan was ever-present in goal but went to AC Milan for £11.7m as a replacement for Gianluigi Donnarumma, who went as a free transfer to PSG. 

Boubakary Soumare (left), formerly of Lille, moved to Leicester this summer for £18million

Boubakary Soumare (left), formerly of Lille, moved to Leicester this summer for £18million

So the competition was doubly weakened. PSG strengthened and, in doing so, reduced Lille, too. The year after Monaco won the league in 2016-17, they cashed in on Benjamin Mendy, Bernardo Silva, Tiemoue Bakayoko, Guido Carrillo and Allan Saint-Maximin, among others. 

It is incredible that PSG ever surrender the league but, when they do, in this system it can only be temporary. 

Muller was a hero… I had the T-shirt   

Growing up, my aunt Pat lived in Germany; and it was Pat who brought over a truly prized possession: a T-shirt with the face of my hero. West Germany striker, Gerd Muller.

It was orange, strangely, and said ‘Der Bomber’, which was his nickname. Not the most popular item to be wearing around Ilford in the 1970s, a shirt lionising the man who had knocked England out of the World Cup.

Not that I cared. I thought Muller was the greatest. Sure there were others more beautiful, there were others who played for my team. Muller was only glimpsed when a major tournament was on, or if West Germany played England.

But that was enough. He just scored, and scored, and scored. I was in awe of that. Still am, really. Still love the guys that put the ball in the net. I can get lost in the numbers surrounding Jimmy Greaves, Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi, even now.

Gerd Muller, one of the greatest, had an innate talent for putting the ball in the back of the net

Gerd Muller, one of the greatest, had an innate talent for putting the ball in the back of the net

And Muller’s numbers were terrific: 62 international appearances, 68 goals; 716 club appearances, 654 goals. In seven of his 15 seasons with Bayern Munich, he averaged a goal a game or better — and in another he averaged 0.95.

Muller came from adversity. He was sent out to work as a weaver at 15 when his father died, because his mother could not afford to keep him at school, and he got his break scoring 51 goals in 31 matches for local club TSV 1861 Nordlingen. Bayern Munich were not even in the top tier when he joined. His first contribution was 39 goals in 32 games as they won promotion from Regionalliga Sud. The club you see now is built on Muller’s relentless finishing.

Later, I ghost-wrote a book about goalscoring with Malcolm Macdonald, and we shared a mutual appreciation of Muller in particular. Malcolm said he had rarely seen him score from outside the area, or hit a shot that didn’t bounce before finding the net — but that no goalscorer had made the penalty area his domain as expertly, before or since.

As for Muller, he explained his gift much the way Greaves did. ‘Somehow, something inside tells me, “Gerd go this way, Gerd go that way”, and the ball comes over and I score. I can’t explain it any better than that. After all, if I don’t know how to do it, no one can find out how to stop me.’ And they never did. Some talents are just innate.

UK Athletics miss the point time and again    

UK Athletics have long been delusional. Responding to criticism of a poor showing at this summer’s Olympics, head coach Christian Malcolm said: ‘If in two or three years’ time things are different and we have 12 gold medals and six silvers, they’re going to say, “OK, he’s done a great job”.’ 

Er, yes, but that’s a wish-fulfilment fantasy. Nobody garners praise now because of a dream of unprecedented success scheduled to arrive in 2024. 

Indeed, what has happened since Malcolm gave himself a rousing endorsement is that CJ Ujah has tested positive so an underwhelming tally of medals may be further reduced with the disqualification of the entire sprint relay team. 

CJ Ujah testing positive for a banned substance could shrink UK Athletics' already low medal tally even further

CJ Ujah testing positive for a banned substance could shrink UK Athletics’ already low medal tally even further

Sir Hugh Robertson, chairman of the British Olympic Association, went from smug pronouncements about proving the doubters wrong — although a record 5,773 new coronavirus cases in Tokyo last Friday, with 227 severe symptom hospitalisations challenges that — to bleating it would be a ‘tragedy’ if the whole team lost their silver medals over Ujah.

No, it wouldn’t. A tragedy, potentially, is those numbers in Tokyo. A team losing their medals because a key member has tested positive is no more than a pity for those who ran clean. 

If Ujah’s positive is upheld it is absolutely essential the team are disqualified, although expect further rationalisation from UK Athletics. 

What would we all be saying if we had won 12 golds, and nobody had tested positive or been linked to the coach that was working with Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria, disqualified after a positive test for human growth hormone, eh? What would we say about that?

Championship is a knife fight in a phone box  

Publishing league tables after one or two matches is a relatively modern trait — it used to be three games before one appeared — but this weekend’s standings did throw up a rather illuminating statistic. 

Have a look at the Championship: 24 teams, all played two games each, and not one have recorded back to back victories. In League One, four teams have a 100 per cent record, the same with League Two — and Harrogate’s game was postponed or it might have been five.

Yet the Championship is already a knife fight in a phone box. There is no harder league for those seeking promotion, which is why the fuss made about parachute payments is bunk.

Why a home flag in the away end?

Aggravation at the Tottenham Stadium on Sunday around a large LGBT flag, mysteriously centred in the away end. 

At the end of the game, some Manchester City fans tried to take it down, stewards reacted and a confrontation ensued. Homophobia? Apparently not. 

Tottenham confirmed the dispute was about sight lines, not the message. Yet the positioning still seems strange.

Why place a banner featuring a giant Tottenham cockerel there? It’s bound to cause antagonism which is hardly a good look given the context. Surely a better site could be found. 

£1million to screen Bundesliga is about right  

The harm the big clubs have done to their own domestic leagues is beginning to show. Bundesliga TV rights in China were sold for £1million because, let’s face it, where’s the attraction in watching Bayern Munich win the league every year?

Meanwhile, in the Middle East, beIN Sport have dropped Serie A and rival offers have been so pitiful the Italians are now considering broadcasting their own games on a YouTube subscription channel. 

Bayern players celebrate their record-extending ninth consecutive Bundesliga title

Bayern players celebrate their record-extending ninth consecutive Bundesliga title

Again, they can thank Juventus’s recent stranglehold on the competition — finally surrendered to Inter Milan last season — for the dwindling interest.

Why some of these clubs thought there was a market for the same old fixtures, between the same old teams, with no surprises or jeopardy is a mystery. Having killed domestic competition they would have done the same for the European game, over time.

A Russian Olympics would be a travesty 

Russia is preparing a bid for the 2036 Olympics, with St Petersburg the favoured location. Lovely city, St Petersburg. 

No doubt they would do it well. But this is a country whose state-sponsored doping programme has tainted a succession of Games, causing the Olympics huge reputational damage. 

If Russia are given the event within the lifetimes of those at the top responsible, it will be a travesty. 

Balance and agility… but no marking

There is often amusement to be had reading the season previews after the first round of results are in. 

Leeds have been sprinting on trampolines, apparently, to test balance and agility. 

Useful stuff, no doubt, but if you’re not going to pick up Paul Pogba and Bruno Fernandes, ultimately worthless. 

Leeds may have tried quirky things in pre-season but they were truly undone at Old Trafford

Leeds may have tried quirky things in pre-season but they were truly undone at Old Trafford