Spectator sport

Why the Reds have got the blues

30 October 2021

9:00 AM

30 October 2021

9:00 AM

Not so much the hair dryer: more a gentle home perm. Contemplating the increasingly less youthful visage of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as he looked on powerlessly while his very expensive Manchester United side were dismembered by Liverpool, you couldn’t help wonder what Sir Alex Ferguson, glowering and irascible in the stands above, would have done with those players. He would certainly have got something more out of the infantile and malicious Paul Pogba, sent off for a mean tackle which betrayed his manager and his teammates. But as Solskjaer was clearly a Ferguson appointment, shouldn’t the old bully take a share of the responsibility? With a weak board and a weak chief executive, Sir Alex is still hugely influential: he could make things very tricky for whoever comes in.

When Solskjaer — for whom anyone with a heart must feel a twinge of sympathy — left at the end, after the most famous away win since Agincourt, his eyes raked over the stands as if bidding a sad farewell.


But once elite defenders start running into each other, as Maguire and Shaw did to set up another Liverpool goal, then the coaching set-up should be torn asunder. However commendable the United hierarchy’s apparent desire to stand by one of their own — well two or three of their own, in fact, as most of the coaching staff are old boys whose skills may not have stood up so well in a more searching environment at say, Chelsea or the Etihad — Solskjaer’s departure can be only a matter of time. But what have Guardiola, Tuchel, Klopp got that Ole hasn’t? Well it’s certainly not money. Instead it boils down to one essential commodity: steel. Solskjaer is just nor ruthless enough with himself, his players or his staff, and the dressing room is clearly hopelessly divided.

With a bit of luck Newcastle United will get relegated, which means that the unfeasibly loaded consortium which owns the club will have to work on the project rather than simply splurge oil millions on it. How do you get players to join a Championship club despite all the potential? Would you leave Dortmund or Madrid or Milan or Paris to play in a lesser division? And here’s a thing: Solskjaer would be a good appointment for Newcastle in the lower division. It’s about the same level as the Norwegian club Molde, where he was very effective.

As has been well documented, Emma Raducanu is a thoroughly modern Millie who’s been to more glittering occasions at 18 than most of us manage in a lifetime. So it was a little alarming to hear the instant superstar talking about learning to coach herself as some players used to do. This would obviously be no more than a temporary measure, but after her first round defeat in Indian Wells it is a further slightly worrying sign of a career not being especially well plotted. We must hope that the story of her journey into Dracula country — and the homeland of her father — for the Transylvania Open has a more agreeable ending than the one dreamed up by Bram Stoker. The sadness now is that it is being played behind closed doors due to Covid, so Raducanu’s colossal ability to interact with her fans will be on hold.

Think back a few years and imagine what would have been a wildly unlikely sporting match-up. How about Afghanistan vs Scotland in the finals of a world cricket competition? But that’s just what’s happened. When I heard on Monday that ‘Afghanistan faces catastrophe’, I thought it might refer to Mark Watt’s left-arm wizardry. In fact it was another news story about that benighted country since it was abandoned by America and Britain. The cricket team, however, looked flawless.

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