Dom Raynor*, the editor of ESPNFC.com and therefore Monsieur Salut and Pete Sixsmith’s boss when Salut! Sunderland goes on tour to his pages, is also an avid Manchester United supporter who passes all sorts of arbitrary Salut tests of entitlement to follow this or that club. He studied in the North East so knows all about football in our region (well Darlo, anyway) and shares Sixer’s Rugby League passion. Dom talks about a Sir Alex genius in which stage boorishness and dewy eyes are part of the package, accepts the Poznan row was daft, worries about Martin O’Neill’s managership and drools over Cantona’s lob vs SAFC. Prepare for a cracking read (does that qualify me for a pay rise?) …
Salut! Sunderland: Out of the Champions League but looking certainties for the Premier and still in the FA Cup. Is that an adequate response to last season’s disappointments?
At the start of the season the Champions League wasn’t a realistic consideration as far as I was concerned, given the level Manchester United were at. Although it was obviously disappointing to go out in such a manner against Real Madrid, any triumph in Europe would have been an exceedingly large cherry on an equally gargantuan cake. Wrestling the Premier League title from Manchester City (although it’s not been much of grapple thus far) is more than enough success. To win the FA Cup too would represent a huge achievement.
And assuming United do win the league, would that be a good moment for Sir Alex to bow out? If not, for how many more seasons can he realistically continue; if so, who should replace him?
Well that Real Madrid Champions League game seemed to double as a job interview for Jose Mourinho and with that ‘the best team lost’ line he certainly laid it on thick. It would take somebody like the normally spikey and self-confident Portuguese to make a success of United after Fergie leaves and prevent a similar loss of direction to that which occurred after Sir Matt Busby retired in 1969. The problem is, Mourinho will more than likely be available this summer and I doubt if Fergie is willing to go just yet. United could miss the window to land Mourinho. So to go back to the question, there would never be a good time for Fergie to bow out but maybe the summer would be the least worst option. Did I just type that? He can’t go on forever as much as that would be ideal.
Looking at SAF’s record, the footballing achievements are outstanding and the passion, even at the age he has reached, beyond question. Do you simply overlook the boorishness we also see in him as a price worth paying for his genius?
Everything he does is well calculated and so the pokes and jibes and boorishness are all part of the package that makes Manchester United a success. But he can also play it the other way and one of his most masterful performances was the press conference after Wayne Rooney handed in his transfer request when Fergie appeared shocked a dewy-eyed… Rooney signed a new deal shortly after. The success Fergie brings enables us the fans to overlook many things, but sometimes I have to laugh, as some of the utterances he comes out with are so ridiculous that even he must wince when saying them. However, I would hazard a guess that all the critics who claim they can’t stand Fergie would have him as manager of their club in a second, particularly if they could roll back the clock.
If there were to be major changes in the squad make-up this summer, who should leave and who should be bought?
Anderson. It’s been five years and he has done nothing. Get rid. There are also players out on loan like Fabio and Macheda that may not have ‘it’ but they should definitely be given another chance in the first XI before a decision is made as to whether they should be discarded. What United need is real box to box midfielder capable of a crunching tackle and finesse when going forwards. The ‘new Yaya Toure’ would be nice, whoever that may be.
MUFC excite fiercely competing emotions and detractors often cite arrogance as the reason for their disdain. Could you envisage supporting a club that didn’t expect to win more or less every game?
Manchester United have not always been successful, relatively speaking, in my lifetime. During the late seventies and early eighties the cup provided the only real source of sustenance as Liverpool hoovered up the league titles and such like. I thought the 1985 FA Cup final victory over Everton, when Kevin Moran was sent off and Norman Whiteside scored THAT goal to ensure 10-man United won, was as good as it was ever going to get, and would have been happy if it was.
However, having become fat and greedy (and arrogant?) after feasting at the top table for so long it is difficult to imagine not competing at the same level. And while part of me would secretly like a few barren years so younger fans can feel what it’s like, the other half of me shudders at the thought of not being able to attract top quality players as a result.
I follow Warrington Wolves (although they will always be the pre-rebrand Wires to me) in Rugby League and they had not won a trophy in my lifetime until 2009. So I do have a point of reference of a sort.
Many Sunderland supporters laughed at the notion that MUFC might somehow need the incentive of Poznan-induced anger to make sure of beating us. You must regard the return fixture as so obviously an away win that SAFC should save us all a lot of trouble and fax the points over.
At the time, being ridiculed concurrently with losing the title it was not something that sat well with me. But now the moment is not so raw I look on it as a clever and non-abusive riposte to United, rubbing their nose in the fact that they failed to win the Premier League title despite beating Sunderland 1-0.
If opposing fans doing the Poznan is chief among your worries then you don’t have much to worry about.
Have you been surprised at how poor Sunderland have been and have you see enough of their games to identify a root cause?
When Martin O’Neill took the reins at Sunderland I thought that lacklustre performances from a number of players would be over and the club would move up the table. The opposite appears to be the case. So while I haven’t seen enough of Sunderland to deliver an in depth tactical analysis, I think questions have to be asked of the manager.
Welbeck is a fading dream and Wes Brown has been very unlucky but O’Shea’s game has deteriorated – our match report the other day asked if he was “the worst passer of the ball to have played for Sir Alex Ferguson” – and Bardsley seems on his way out. Is there some truth in the common taunt that United players are often found out once they leave?
There is truth to the statement. Those that Sir Alex Ferguson allows to leave Old Trafford for good – I’m not talking loan moves of course, Jonny Evans and Danny Welbeck both joined Sunderland and have been greatly improved – are either not going to get into the first team, or have come to the end of their usefulness. So by definition they won’t be as good elsewhere as they have been at United. Also, their new team-mates are not of the same class as at Old Trafford in many cases.
When you think of all the players that have left Old Trafford over the years, relatively few have gone on to do better – Cristiano Ronaldo, Gerard Pique – or just as well – Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Jaap Stam, David Beckham.
Do you have any stand-out memories, good, bad or amusing, of past encounters between our clubs?
It would have to be Eric Cantona’s sublime lob against Sunderland in 1996. He picked up the ball in midfield, created space for himself, received the return pass from Brian McClair and then chipped goalkeeper Lionel Perez from the edge of the box. His celebration, such as it was, was just as good.
And any thoughts on Sunderland the club, fans, region?
The harsh truth is that some clubs will never be able to challenge for the top places in the Premier League as they just don’t have the capability and resources, but Sunderland are not one of them. The fan base, and the cash that generates, is all there but the club just don’t seem to be maximising its potential – new stadium built, new manager in, record signings arrive, but at the moment the club are not delivering. Clubs such as Swansea seem to be doing so much better with less money and a sensible set up and that must be infuriating. I look at Sunderland and wonder why they are not doing as well as, or better than, Everton.
With regards to the region I spent three highly enjoyable years in the North East at university but spent most of my time there watching Darlington win promotion in the lower leagues.
Give us the top four in order and, without feeling any need to spare our feelings, the bottom three. And with a tough replay coming up very quickly after our game, will United win the cup?
Top four: Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs. No real surprises there, other than possibly Tottenham.
Bottom three: QPR, Reading sealed their fate by sacking McDermott and I think Aston Villa are going to slip back in as Wigan deliver another great escape.
Will United win the Cup? The exit from Europe makes me say yes.
Who are the greatest players you’ve seen, or wish you’d seen, in United colours and is there anyone you feel should have been allowed nowhere near them?
Maybe it’s the rose-tinted spectacles but I always fondly remember the likes of Mark Hughes, Brian Robson and Norman Whiteside. Then there is obviously Scholes, Giggs, Keane, Schmeichel and it’s easy to forgot just how good Beckham was at United too. I’m very lucky as the list just goes on and on, there are too many names to mention. Strangely, Ronaldo, never really stirred the emotion in me. I would have loved to have seen Best, Law and Charlton in person though.
What was your route to United support and what have been your own highs and lows as a fan?
I come from a Manchester United family. My Dad and Uncle Bob took me to my first game in 1986, in the days when you could walk down the old train tracks and buy tickets at the stadium on match day. I still vividly remember clunking through archaic turnstiles and climbing the steps into the Stretford End, the bright green pitch and the huge amount of swearing in the in the stands.
West Bromwich Albion, Ron Atkinson’s former club, from whom he had pilfered both Bryan Robson and Remi Moses, were Manchester United’s opponents and Jesper Olsen became my hero on that day. The wispy Dane, with shirt untucked, scored a hat-trick to secure a 3-0 win. After that, I always played with my shirt hanging out.
Have diving, feigning injury, manhandling at set pieces and time-wasting become so commonplace that we may as well accept them as part of the modern game? If not, which form of cheating annoys you most and how would you tackle it?
Don’t get me started. I can’t understand why something hasn’t already been done. Just book players for all of the above with no quarter given. You might end the first day of the season with only 16 players on the pitch but it won’t happen again after that.
The diving and feigning injury combo makes me turn purple in with rage. Sergio Busquets is my bête noire.
Club versus country. Who wins for you and why?
Unlike many Manchester United fans I have always had an affinity with the national team and regularly attended games at Wembley. However, since 2008 I decided to stop wasting my time on a bunch of players who talked much and delivered little – I’m talking about effort and quality, obviously not trophies. However, I have hope for Hodgson’s England. The side he selected for the Brazil game was refreshing. More of the same please Roy.
So, to surmise: at the moment it is definitely club.
Will you be at our game, how will you keep tabs if not and what will be the score?
I won’t be at the game because I will be working at ESPN towers and watching the game one of our feeds. The score will be 2-0 to United… but then I would say that.
* Dom Raynor on himself: I’m a Manchester United fan who was weaned on the Atkinson diet before feasting at the table of Lord Ferg. Now a journalist and editor for ESPN FC (http://espnfc.com/?redirect=false&cc=5739) he considers himself to have shed the red blinkers of his increasingly distant youth, but still won’t have a bad word said about Jesper Olsen. You can follow him on twitter @domraynorespn
Interview: Colin Randall