Dear reader, it’s been a weird week in football. With no Premier League action for at least a few weeks (they do start rather early these days, don’t they?) and with the Champions League and Europa League finals still days away the mainstream media have been scrambling around trying to come up with anything that could make less-rubbish-than-usual copy.
And when Manchester United are in another alleged crisis, they always grease the wheels to at least something getting published.
If you are a footballer with some kind of potential and you are not currently drawing a wage from Old Trafford there is half-a-chance that Ole Gunnar Solskjær has you in his sights as he desperately tries to return United to their days of Ferguson.
You see, back then United would bring in the very best young talent and give them the greatest stage on which to perform. You think back to Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand et al. All young players with a hunger to be the very best and where better to become that than under the guidance of Sir Alex?
The thing is, when those eventual superstars rocked up at OT they were greeted by a changing room full of winners. Players who were there to win more than they had already won and not ones to suffer footballing fools gladly.
So a warning shot to Matthijs De Ligt, Ryan Sessegnon, Sean Longstaff, Daniel James, Ben Gibson and every other young talent being linked to multimillion moves to the Theatre of Former Dreams. You won’t exactly be spoiled for choice when it comes to role models. There’s no Steve Bruce. Or Gary Neville. Or Peter Schmeichel. Or Bryan Robson. Or Eric Cantona. Or any of the others, really. As try as Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Ashley Young might to keep the ghosts of trophies past alive they simply aren’t cutting it in terms of ruling the dressing room in an appropriate manner. Do you think Paul Pogba would really still be there if Nicky Butt and Keane were still around to set the tone in training?
On one hand, it is great to see Solskjær still sticking to the Ferguson manual of management; he must be up to about page 86 now. But just buying the best young talent this summer isn’t going to be enough – though pinching De Ligt from underneath Barcelona’s nose might just start something interesting.
Having seen a bit of that #Treble99 charity match on Sunday, I reckon Ole should just pull on his boots, get David Beckham back on the wing and find out whether Jaap Stam fancies a return. That might sort a few things out instantly.
There’s not been a great deal to report from Liverpool as they prepared for the Champions League final by heading out to Marbella for some warm-weather training. The good news for the Reds is that a bit of sun has done enough for Bobby Firmino to declare himself fit.
Tottenham have opted to remain in Enfield where a bit of good old fashioned May weather has done enough for Harry Kane to throw himself into contention for a start in Madrid. But, the build-up to Tottenham’s biggest ever match has been put to one side as the attention surrounded one man and one man only; Mauricio Pochettino.
The Poch’s quick quip that Real Madrid has said ‘no’ to his request to train and sleep at their complex as they wouldn’t let him in ‘until he was their manager’ went down like the proverbial lead balloon in the laugh-a-minute Bernabeu. Real were quick to release an official statement saying that they had never said no to any request like that, and I guess nobody bothered to tell them it was a joke. You’d have thought Florentino was used to comedy by now, having had to watch his team all season.
It wasn’t just lost-in-translation gags flying around Spurs HQ. Poch has also caught the eye of those that do the business in Turin. Spurs may have seen off both United and Real but they might have to strap themselves in for a summer of Juventus making eyes at their manager.
But, Juventus are keeping their options open. Having politely asked whether Pep Guardiola would consider getting away from all those awkward questions he’s been getting in press conferences and being told ‘not unless you are any good at breaking the FFP rules’, Juve have been drawing a shortlist which appears to be down to just two men now. Pochettino is joined on that list by none other than soon-to-be-departing-you’d-assume Chelsea manager Maurizio Sarri.
That’s right. Juventus don’t appear to be too put off by the fact that, at the time of writing, Sarri is still yet to win a trophy in his career. They were put off, however, by the wage demands of Jose Mourinho, surprisingly still available after Celtic gave the job to Neil Lennon. Mourinho was given the Cristiano Ronaldo seal of approval and then managed to alienate the Juve bigwigs by being just that little bit too greedy. That doesn’t sound like Jose, right? He’s in it for the love of the game, no?
Of course, this is all an unwelcome distraction for Sarri ahead of Wednesday night’s kick off in Baku. Sarri has made it clear that if his Chelsea future is all hinging on him winning against Arsenal then they may as well sack him now – exactly what Juve are waiting for as they’d rather not give Roman Abramovich £5m for a manager who is on his last legs.
More worrying than the prospect of losing Sarri for most Chelsea fans is the news that N’Golo Kanté broke down in training on Sunday and could well be out of the Europa League final. Sure, sure, he’s not played a single minute in his actual position this season but with Ruben Loftus-Cheek also unavailable Chelsea might be forced to give Kovacić a whole 90 minutes and that would never do.
Arsenal are preparing for the final in their own way, of course. They’ve carefully navigated Arsène Wenger tactfully appearing for interviews in the build-up and they’ve opted not to make a massive song-and-dance over the fact that Micky-T has chosen not to travel to Baku because nobody seems too bothered about his safety. Rumours that Arsenal’s decision not to kick up a stink are because it saves Unai Emery having to tell the Armenian he’s been too rubbish this season to be selected are completely unfounded.
Man City are just casually waiting by the phone to learn whether UEFA have balls big enough to kick them out of the Champions League next season. I think we all know the answer to that one.
So, by the time you next read something I’ve written we’ll finally have the answer to the question hanging over all of us. Who will be more unbearable if they win the Champions League? Liverpool or Tottenham fans. I know who I am backing, but I’m not telling you.