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Manchester United rebuild will take years – Old Trafford is where talent goes to die 

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It started off as a season or so, then rose to three transfer windows, about 18 months; but this week Ralf Rangnick gave a more realistic appraisal of how long it might take Manchester United to catch their rivals: six years.

Erik ten Hag was on Thursday confirmed as the new manager so Rangnick can drop the Pollyanna act at last. He no longer has to pretend it is all going to be fine. Rangnick’s briefings on Manchester United’s transition period have always been wildly optimistic. Even a period of two seasons appears over-confident given what we are now seeing.

How many Manchester United players would get in at either Liverpool or Manchester City? Right now, none. City would rather continue without a striker than drop one of their forward midfield players for what is available to United. 

Man Utd need an overhaul - Erik ten Hag's job is not to tinker but to demolish and start again

Man Utd need an overhaul – Erik ten Hag’s job is not to tinker but to demolish and start again

Liverpool’s midfield was once considered functional, but no longer. Bruno Fernandes, previously considered United’s brightest spark, wouldn’t get in there now. The Premier League’s biggest club have been left behind.

United do not need a reset, but a complete overhaul, meaning Ten Hag’s job is not to tinker but to demolish and start again. David de Gea aside, would anyone survive if money was absolutely no object?

Ten Hag will understandably prioritise in the summer but with so much work to do that will leave weaknesses that could undermine any tilt at the title. United pretty much need a new defence, a new midfield, and an upgraded forward line.

Let’s not pretend these are issues that can be resolved in one transfer window, or even three. So many factors need to fall into place. United need bottomless cash reserves — which they no longer have given UEFA’s new financial fair play regulations and an absence of Champions League football — players that want to sign for them, and that can immediately adapt to a new team, and maybe a new league. 

They need so much to go right; and experience suggests football recruitment doesn’t fall neatly into place like that.

Take some of the targets. Declan Rice, Harry Kane. One question: why? It is possible that both players could reach the Champions League this season with their current clubs. Rice is now an England regular, Kane captain of his country. So they’re not doing badly as it is and, if available, Manchester United are unlikely to be their only option, and probably not their best.

United’s rebuild very much presumes they will land their top targets, the type of players their more successful rivals also want. Chelsea have their issues and uncertainties, too, but are significantly ahead of United even in adversity. They will have new owners wishing to make a statement, and a production line of saleable talent far more appealing than United’s.

The ubiquitous presence of former Manchester United players in the media makes them appear an attractive club, but their current predicament undermines this.

Former United men such as Gary Neville and Rio Ferdinand are always trying to sell the outstanding individuals from lesser teams to United. Yet what has a move to Old Trafford done for Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho — even Paul Pogba? United is where talent goes to die right now.

What's a move done for Paul Pogba? United is where talent goes to die right now

You can add the likes of captain Harry Maguire to that list too

What’s a move done for Paul Pogba and Harry Maguire? United is where talent goes to die now

Agents may still love them because the cut’s great — but a player such as Rice cannot possibly look at what has befallen other young English players there and think this is the same club Ferdinand joined. And as Kane continues his search for one elusive trophy, where is he most likely to win it? Where is his perfect foil, his Son Heung-min, at United?

So it is far from guaranteed that Ten Hag lands his targets and, if he does, what is to say they are swiftly successful? Many recruits are new to the English game and few hit the ground running like Luis Diaz.

More typical is Thiago Alcantara. He had bad luck with injury when he first arrived, as did Liverpool, which may have made settling in difficult. So it is only now, more than a year on, that we are seeing the player we recognise from Bayern Munich.

It is the same for Timo Werner at Chelsea. Suddenly, he has clicked. Yet Thomas Tuchel had almost given up on him when that happened. He couldn’t get in the team and had Romelu Lukaku lived up to expectations, who knows where he would be now?

Werner’s not alone. Some of the greatest imports to this game — Didier Drogba, Jaap Stam, Dennis Bergkamp — had slow starts. The idea that United will sweep up a virtual starting XI who will adapt effortlessly and instantly to the Premier League is fanciful.

Pogba was familiar with English football but has never lived up to expectations. And playing for Manchester United contains unforeseen pressures that can intimidate even the most confident soul: ask Alexis Sanchez.

Liverpool’s recruitment has been masterful but the cycle that eventually produced this squad has still included the purchase of Takumi Minamino, Ragnar Klavan and Marko Grujic. Not everyone adapts and, needing to recruit in such numbers, United cannot afford too many misjudgments.

It is close on impossible to reshape United’s squad in a window or two. Pictured: The club's owners Avram (L) and Joel (R) Glazer

It is close on impossible to reshape United’s squad in a window or two. Pictured: The club’s owners Avram (L) and Joel (R) Glazer

The presumption is that Manchester United will be back, because they are a big club, and the modern game is set up to benefit its elite. And this may be true. Liverpool eventually won a Premier League title; Arsenal are creeping towards a Champions League return.

Yet it is close on impossible to reshape United’s squad in a transfer window or two; so much needs to be done, and so much needs to go right.

Ten Hag will want to be optimistic, but Rangnick’s most recent pronouncement has most bearing on reality. United are coming… in 2028.

SOMETIMES WOMEN’S FOOTBALL EXPLODES, OTHER TIMES IT BARELY POPS

This season’s Europa League final will be held at the Ramon Sanchez-Pizjuan Stadium in Seville. Quite why UEFA would make it a potential home match for a club that has won the tournament in four of the last eight seasons, who knows. They’re either incompetent or corrupt and it is sometimes hard to know where one stops and the other starts.

Thankfully, Sevilla are not there, but potential home advantage is no longer the only problem with the location. It’s too small. Sevilla’s ground holds 40,000 and one potential finalist, Eintracht Frankfurt, took 30,000 to a quarter-final tie in Barcelona. 

If they are not there, West Ham will be and the numbers are likely to be similar. Rangers could end up in Seville, too, if they overcome RB Leipzig. So three of the four semi-finalists could overwhelm the stadium on their own. 

Yet UEFA were not to know; 40,000 would be a reasonable capacity for many of the clubs in the competition and who wants a half-empty bowl as there would have been in Baku had the organisers not papered the hall when Chelsea played Arsenal in 2019?

This brings us to the European Championship, and the claim that the Football Association has sold out the women’s game by using the Manchester City Academy Stadium as one of its venues. Iceland international Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir is incensed that her country will play two of its matches there, calling it ‘a training ground’.

‘I don’t know what’s going on in their heads or if they’re even following women’s football,’ she said. ‘If you would, it’s just common sense. Women’s football’s exploding.’

The use of Manchester City's Academy Stadium (pic) for Euro 2022 was criticised by Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir - but it is a home for one of the best teams in Europe, not a training ground

The use of Manchester City’s Academy Stadium (pic) for Euro 2022 was criticised by Sara Bjork Gunnarsdottir – but it is a home for one of the best teams in Europe, not a training ground

She obviously means matches like the recent Champions League game between Barcelona and Real Madrid which drew 91,533 to the Nou Camp. A fabulous, landmark occasion.

Yet Barcelona made tickets available for free with just a small administration fee to its 147,000 members. They are still the best supported women’s team in Spain, but average attendances are nearer 2,500.

So that’s what the FA were trying to balance: the difference between 92,000 and 2,000 — or less.

For if Gunnarsdottir was across her sport as she feels the FA should be, she would have heard about something called the Arnold Clark Cup. It was played in England in February between four of the top eight ranked women’s teams in the world.

The FA selected two Premier League stadiums and one in the Championship as venues, all with capacities of roughly 30,000.

England’s three games fetched a decent average of 12,505 fans.

And the others? Spain versus Canada at Molineux, Wolverhampton: capacity 32,050, attendance 877; Germany v Spain at the Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough: capacity 34,742, attendance 249; Canada v Germany at Carrow Road, Norwich: capacity 27,359, attendance 119.

Try to plan for that, then. Try to gauge the appetite for international football in this country, based on the fact the final could be a record sell-out but the entire crowd for a match between the fourth and sixth best teams in the world recently could have travelled in two standard size coaches.

So Iceland have sold out in Manchester — a genuine home for one of the best club teams in Europe, not a training ground by the way — but not yet at the New York Stadium, Rotherham, for their final group game against France. Capacity 12,000. We’ll see.

The logistics around football, particularly in the women’s game, are never straightforward, because like any work in progress sometimes it explodes, other times it barely pops.

ADDING SERENA AND LEWIS MAY BACKFIRE 

Serena Williams and Lewis Hamilton are obviously intended to sprinkle a little stardust over the Sir Martin Broughton consortium looking to buy Chelsea. 

It may backfire. The amounts they are believed to be putting in, £10million each, are trifles in the running of an elite football club. Chelsea haven’t bought a player for about £10m since Asmir Begovic joined as the reserve goalkeeper from Stoke City in 2015. 

Serena Williams and Lewis Hamilton are obviously intended to sprinkle a little stardust - If anything it makes Sir Martin Broughton’s consortium seem a little small time

Serena Williams and Lewis Hamilton are obviously intended to sprinkle a little stardust – If anything it makes Sir Martin Broughton’s consortium seem a little small time

These are big names and big in sport, and maybe they will attract sponsors, but a successful football club isn’t short of commercial investors, and it is hard to see what Hamilton and Williams truly contribute beyond their fame. Certainly the money is inconsequential. 

If anything it makes Broughton’s consortium seem a little small time. 

GOLF’S FIRST REBEL IS A MULTI-MILLIONAIRE 

Saudi Arabia’s rebel golf tour has revealed its first name. Drum roll. It’s Robert Garrigus.

You know, Robert Garrigus. The Bobsta. The Garri-meister. Winner of the Children’s Miracle Network Classic played at the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida in 2010, currently ranked 1,043rd in the world, but don’t let that stop you dashing to the Centurion Club in Hertfordshire when he tees off in search of breakaway millions in June.

Even Robert Garrigus - with tournament earnings of $14.9m - doesn’t really need Saudi money

Even Robert Garrigus – with tournament earnings of $14.9m – doesn’t really need Saudi money

Yet here’s the strange thing with golf. Even Garrigus, 44, doesn’t really need the money. He’s won a single PGA Tour event in his career, never ranked higher than 35th, and finished in the top 20 at a major tournament once, at the US Open in 2011 — but even as a complete journeyman he’s still made tournament earnings of $14.9million, before sponsorships and endorsements. 

Seriously, what have any of these guys got to moan about?

IS THREE THE MAGIC NUMBER FOR LIVERPOOL?  

Here are Manchester City’s Premier League results in 2022, broken into handy groups of three. WWD; WWL; WWD; WDW. Notice anything? 

To win the league, they will almost certainly have to get out of the habit of dropping points in one game of three. 

Watford, Leeds and Newcastle constitute the next sequence. 

HAS KEY CHANGED HIS TUNE ON BIG TWO? 

New ECB director of cricket Rob Key spoke to James Anderson and Stuart Broad last weekend before his appointment was announced. It is not known what he said but let’s hope it made more sense than the last time he talked about them. 

After they were dropped for the Caribbean tour and replaced by the inferior Chris Woakes and Craig Overton, Key endorsed the decision. ‘Do I think they’re going to be the ones to take us into a new era and make us the best team in the world?’ he said. 

ECB director of cricket Rob Key endorsed the dropping of James Anderson and Stuart Broad

ECB director of cricket Rob Key endorsed the dropping of James Anderson and Stuart Broad

‘No, I don’t. And they can’t help if they’re monopolising the new ball all the time.’

It’s the same errant thinking that believes Cristiano Ronaldo is the problem at Manchester United, not the forwards who, given the chance to make a case to replace him, never take it.

When a bowler of the calibre of Anderson and Broad comes along, we’ll know it, because he’ll stand out like a beacon in the darkness. And then he’ll get the new ball — because he merits it, not because some bogus artificial plan is being hatched, again.

MARTINA’S MISSING THE POINT

Martina Navratilova came close to tears, discussing Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players. ‘I just don’t think they are seeing the big picture,’ said Navratilova. 

That’s exactly what they are seeing. They are seeing the normalisation of Vladimir Putin’s invasion, they are seeing war, atrocities and the way the prestige of Russian sporting success bolsters a dangerous and corrupt regime; she sees tennis players. 

Right now, tennis really isn’t the big picture. 

Martina Navratilova is missing the big picture when it comes to Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players

Martina Navratilova is missing the big picture when it comes to Wimbledon’s ban on Russian and Belarusian players



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