Cantona, Scholes and Rio? Give me Spearman, Steele, and Graham…

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Cantona, Scholes and Rio? Give me Spearman, Steele, and Graham…

Cantona, Scholes and Rio? Give me Spearman, Steele, and Graham…

Pep picks the easy jobs If Pep does indeed end up going to Juventus, will there be anything but a collective shrug of indifference from most football fans? Most would be far more interested about a successor at the Etihad than anything which Guardiola might do in Turin.

A manager who has won everything in England domestically, moves to an Italian side who wins everything domestically, having previously been at German and Spanish sides who win everything domestically–yawn.

For all the praise Guardiola receives, he’s managed the richest, most powerful club in every league he’s been a part of. There’s a reason why Pellegrini, Mancini, Ancelotti, Heynckes, Kovac, Vilanova, Enrique, and Valverde have all won those same medals too. Answer: because it’s a lot, lot easier with less financial restrictions than your rivals.

At least Mourinho, who has gotten flack for the same thing, was able to win the Champions League with European minnows Porto, and over-perform with Inter.

If he actually is leaving, why not actually challenge himself? If Ranieri could win the league with Leicester (a far more impressive accomplishment than City’s treble or Barcelona’s European triumphs), can he not do the same if he really is one of the greatest managers of all time? Would there not be fun in trying?

Cheers, Greg


United’s committee I think Ed misses the point of relative experience vs nous with his point about spotting players…Arrigo Sacchi was a shoe salesman and won back to back European Cups.

I think it’s been well documented that United appear to be considering appointing nostalgia as opposed to experience, but I don’t feel it’s particularly relevant to suggest experience on the pitch equates to experience in “spotting a player”…Michael Edwards at Liverpool played semi-pro and they’ve done alright under his watch – Fabinho, Keita and Van Dijk (who, despite the £ outlay appeared criminally overlooked by the rest of the top 6)

My point being, he earned a degree in business management (here’s looking at you Edwin Van der Sar for another educated example) and his experience there, and subsequent track record, appear much more viable than appointing the Old Boys Club for nostalgia.

I guess my issue is with Uniteds lack of scope (I believe Monchi is available) rather than Ed’s point as a whole.

Best person for the job and all that…rather than “scored in every premier league season he played”. Best, Calum. (Not Callum Best, best wishes)


…While Cantona, Scholes and Rio are proper footballers with an eye for a player… I’d much prefer Will Spearman, Dafydd Steele, and Ian Graham – geeks who I’m not sure could hit the back of a barn with a football.

Their quantitative approach to identifying transfers involves deep analysis not only of their player’s capabilities but how they would fit within team and system. Counterintuitively they try to avoid watching players to avoid bias.

Their screening and identification is akin to Deeper Blue versus Kasparov, or Alpha Go versus Ke Jie. Early computer programs couldn’t beat our grand masters in these games, indeed no one though anyone computer could beat us in Go because of the number of permutations… similarly computers could never have the intuition to identify he best players. However, the times have changed and the results are beginning to speak for themselves.

Graham arrived in 2014/15. Let’s be fair and say that it took them a year to get up and running, since 2016 they’ve done outstanding business in the transfer market- both in their acquisitions and sales:

Arrivals: – van Dijk – Salah – Oxlade-C – Alisson – Keita – Fabinho – Shaqiri – Robertson – Mane – Wijnaldum

Departures: – Benteke – Ibe – Allen – Coutinho – Sakho – Solanke (bought and sold for £~20m profit) – Ward – Ings

The New York Times wrote a great article on them recently though if you can get past them calling football “soccer”. Ben (the numbers) Morton-Harmer


…Reading yesterday’s mailbox I realised that my journey to grumpy old man is almost complete as I was infuriated at the opinions of Ed the Grouch on Manchester United’s potential transfer committee.

Why do so many football fans think that they key qualification to be successful in any position in a football club is to have been an excellent player?!! “I would only suggest that Rio reached the heights required…… to be able to pass judgement on the abilities of others” states the Grouch before naming his picks for the United transfer committee. Excuse me but what a load of absolute balls.

The job of a transfer committee would be to work within a specific budget to fill specific gaps with players who have specifics traits and abilities and who will fit a specific system and style of play or tactics. If you go out and just try to find the best players you end up with a team of Galactico’s who cannot actually play together as a team. In fact, I think there was a team who displayed just such traits this season. You might have heard of them with players like Sanchez, Pogba, Lukaka, Martial et al underperforming for one Manchester United FC. A dismal season by the way which finished with a 2-0 defeat to a team who sacked their manager the very next day!

How many of the world’s best managers/transfer committees over the years have been the worlds best players? Two of the best managers in British history, Bob Paisley and Alex Ferguson, were not close to being world class footballers (which I agree that Cantona, Scholes and Rio all were by the way). Were they unable to pass judgement on the abilities of some of the best footballers to have played the game in this country? And there are plenty of other successful managers over the years and right now who were not all that in their playing careers.

There are numerous examples of quality teams at the moment where the groups of players are very good but not necessarily world class. Many of those players were recruited by people who are not world class former players and in some cases who have never played the game to a truly elite level.

That said, I’m enjoying the hilarity that is Manchester United at the moment so Ed’s suggestion of Cantona, Scholes and Rio would be just fine with me now that I’ve calmed down…….. As you were. Adam Reep LFC (Don’t even get me started on the next mail’s ridiculous suggestion for a champions league places play off but only depending on how far 2nd – 4th finish away from the winners!) PS – saying that Cantona didn’t have the on field petulance of CR7 was one of the funniest things I have ever read in my life!


…The absolute nonsense of Ed the Grouch’s letter implored me to write in.

Ed claims that Darren Fletcher wasn’t a good enough player to recognise other good players. He then goes on to list a series of players (Scholes, Cantona, Ferdinand) he deems better than Darren Fletcher. Considering Ed’s theory that only good players can recognise a good player, you must have been one hell of player Ed. Let me guess, you had trials at United and were about to be signed by Sir Alex but a tragic farting accident ruptured the tendon in your anus and you had to retire at the tender age of 16?

Will all these armchair chairmen just chill the hell out? I personally have absolutely no idea what would make a good Sporting Director. I’ve also never worked Darren Fletcher, so I’m not going to pass judgment on him. Who’d have thought Overmars would beast it at Ajax? Or Begiristain at Barca?

I’ve got a great idea. How about United fans stop thinking they know everything because we were lucky enough to have arguably the greatest spell of dominance by an English team? Many thanks. Grouchy Tom, a United fan.


…I’d been mulling over some of these thoughts before this morning’s mailbox but Ed the Grouch’s mail gave me the last push to write in with them, not that I’m trying to call him out and get this his message is meant to be a bit of fun (Hyypia, Alonso, Daglish – for the record).

Director of Football (or something similar with a different title) seems to have become a much more visible position over the last decade or so to the point where even fans of other clubs have a decent idea who people like Michael Edwards, Txiki Begiristain and Monchi are. Steve Walsh was given a large amount of credit for when things went so right for Leicester and was a public fall guy when it went wrong at Everton.

More recently however, possibly as a result of how well Overmars has done in the role for Ajax, it feels like more and more ex-pros of clubs are being talked about for these roles. Cech is going to Chelsea supposedly, there’s talk of a ‘transfer committee’ at United of ex-players, as well as discussion about whether DoF would have been a better roll than manager for Solsjkaer. These players could all excel in the rolls but some of the discussion and positivity I’ve seen around these sort of potential appointments has gone back over the same old tropes we got when people talked up Giggs for United job. Great player, knows the club.

I don’t doubt that there are other factors behind Cech’s appointment, but to some these seem to be the first couple of things they’re judging him on. There seems to be a notion that by being a good player knowing the culture of the club he’s inherantly going to be more able to identify players and know how to shape a team and overall vision. Cantona might have been an incredible player who understands United, but in suggesting him is Ed the Grouch and fans like him reducing a complex and massively important position to the same old arguements we’re now largely disdainful of with managerial appointments.

Am I wrong in thinking this is a thing and likely to be a trend going forward? It certainly doesn’t seem hard to imagine that we’re reaching a point where every time a position like this starts to be discussed at a Premier League club the fans and media will start suggesting predictable names on their ‘know the club’ credentials. And if this is the case which club do we think will be the first to get stung by screwing up an appointment in this way? Not having things right at the level above the manager has the potential to go tits up even more so than a poor managerial appointment and recent history is full of big clubs that have really struggled when the right structure/person hasn’t been in place. Jason (LFC, Merseyside)


…Interesting topic brought up by Ed the Grouch but I also don’t know if being a great player qualifies you to pick a future star. Mitrovic is a decent footballer and recommended that Fulham buy Lazar Markovic.

I think it’s fair to say that Liverpool’s transfer strategy over the last few years has been quite good and it’s been mostly steered by Michael Edwards. He’s got zero years of professional playing experience but he’s smart and knows lots about analysis. Surely this is the future; intelligent people finding new ways to gain an edge? Arguably the first club in England to do this was Arsenal when they hired Wenger. He revolutionised the way players lived which had a knock on in terms of how his teams were able to perform. He also brought some clever analytics to training (there’s a good thing somewhere about when Bergkamp got angry at Arsene for constantly substituting him and Arsene proceeded to sit him down with the stats behind why).

I suspect you’d be better off hiring some really smart people and giving them a load of data rather than paying large wages to a bunch of ex-pros. Ex professionals should be hired as club ambassadors; helping youth players to stay grounded (and stay put in some cases) and helping to attract top players to sign. Minty, LFC


…While I like Ed the Grouch’s game, I’m not sure I agree with the logic that someone’s ability to judge a player is dependent on whether or not they were a great player themselves. By that logic Sir Alex could only dream of being able to spot as good a player as Thierry Henry… Amro (I agree that Fletcher would be useless though) London


…Loved the email questioning the new Man Utd transfer committee (didn’t Liverpool and FSG get slaughtered for that) suggesting Scholes, Cantona and Rio as members.

It immediately raised an image of the three of them going over a candidate.

Rio: Okay bruv. Props for bringing this guy to our attention Eric, what up? Eric: Imagine someone brings you cake, but you want garlic, so you go out on a boat and feed the seagulss. He is the one who ‘as the sardines. Scholes: Scowls. Kicks the table. Barks. We’re not bringing in someone from Brighton are we? Eric: I just ‘ave to smash an oeuf on my zizi.

They could make a mint with pay-per-view of them in action.

Just love the whole idea. Paul McDevitt


Chelsea’s equivalent Always had the same three names in my mind when it comes to a trio of former blue players who could form a truly good transfer committee, those are;

Petr Cech – Likely returning in a director role this summer, hugely inspiring keeper who came back from a near fatal head injury to lift countless trophies, respected by many, he also played drums on a track with Queen’s Roger Taylor.

Michael Ballack – A Captain, a leader and a legend for both his country and also Bayern, Bayer and Chelsea.

Claude Makelele – Defined his own role in the game, played for huge clubs under extreme pressure, incredible professional and intelligent player. Mikey, CFC (Didier Drogba as a future title winning manager)


Baku boycott As the calls for Arsenal to boycott the the final in Baku grow louder, with Barry Glendenning the latest to add his view, is there another way to highlight the shortsighted, discriminatory, and no doubt money-grabbing decision UEFA have taken? A full on boycott, at this late stage, would be too costly for the club, and especially for the few fans who have managed to find a way there. It seems unrealistic that Arsenal would give up their last shot at CL football next season, and potentially a few more seasons after that if UEFA took it badly.

What if both teams decided to delay the final? Maybe by exactly 7 minutes, to represent Mkhitaryan’s shirt number? Just stay in the tunnel, flashing 7 fingers, chanting his name, standing in total silence, whatever… This would tick a lot of boxes for fans, and shine a light on both UEFA’s and Azerbaijan’s less-than-stellar politics, while neither ruining the spectacle, nor losing the chance (for the Arse at least) to make it to the CL next season.

Are you reading, Laurent? Make it so! Nick, Irish Gooner in Berlin.


PL play-offs A full five years before football was invented Leeds United played Charlton in a play off Charlton at the time in Div 1 Leeds as per in the second tier, two 1-0 home win legs led to a decider at St Andrews which ended 0-0 and went to extra time. Leeds lost to a goal scored in the 117th minute after taking the lead Losing to Derby this year hurt but for those of us who’ve been around a few years the pain has been something we’ve had to learn to take – see Colchester,Histon,Sutton,Donny Rovers,Watford…it’s a long list I don’t like the play offs, never have, never will, not just because we have made a pigs ear of them every time but because I think you’ve got 46 games to sort this out, why add another three? Steve Leeds Still happy with our season


Cutting corners Following on from the chap in yesterday’s mailbox recommending the BL playoff (the Germans are a negative beast, they market it as Relegation 2019, really should just call it the BL playoff or something more positive), a tops turvy game of dubious quality but lots of moments, which really sum off the playoff every year. Not having the riot police on the pitch after the second game would be nice, as it is at Union i reckon the chances of the crap that has happened in the playoffs over the last few years is small as they are a really good bunch of supporters and the club have a quality ethos, and the away allocation is so small there the VFB fans will be outnumbered by the riot cops. But the real reason I mail in is a pet hate of mine that was put to bed tonight, the whole thing with corners and placing the ball within a millimeter of the line. Tonight unions second goal was a thumping header from a corner taken from within that little quarter circle thing (TAA corner against Barca was also in the little corner). To all corner takers, just put it inside the line, that 3 inches doesn’t make any difference when you can’t beat the first defender. Mel- Brussels, Berlin , Athlone Town #hahohe


Europa master Néill, Ireland. The answer is Reyes…

Bizarrely, your question cropped up on a pub quiz about 2 weeks back – the answer *might* have been googled under the table at the time! Dan, Brighton.

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