Reasons behind Leroy Sané’s omission: interview for Focus Online (translated)

Lewis Steele had a chat with German outlet Focus Online to discuss Leroy Sané and the reasons for his omission from the Manchester City squad. Here is the translated version of the feature that was published on Focus Online

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Only 30 minutes in four games: That’s the record of Leroy Sané in the new Premier League season. We asked two reporters in Manchester why Sané has such a tough time with coach Pep Guardiola. They accuse the German national player of lacking attitude, weak training achievements and questionable lifestyle.

Last season, Leroy Sané was named best young player in the Premier League. The German national player thrilled at Manchester City with his dribbles, goals and assists – and contributed significantly to the championship title in England.

This year, the 22-year-old winger comes in four games only 30 minutes of play. Last Saturday, the low point: At the home game against Newcastle United Sané sits only in the stands.

“Leroy knew he could have shown more, we trainers are also educators and teachers.” This criticism of Sané comes not from Pep Guardiola, the current coach of Sané in Manchester, but by Norbert Elgert, his youth coach on Schalke.

After Sané had lethargically trotted over the place three years ago in a U-19 game, Elgert took him after 32 minutes from the field. “That was an important experience, and at the time I thought I did not have to do that much because I already made it to the first team,” Sané later said in an interview with the Daily Mail.

In the three years after this memo Sané took a meteoric development. The striker is now one of the dazzling stars of the Premier League. But still whispered behind held hands, the winger has a recruitment and training problem. At the championship Sané was struck by alcohol consumption

Did the 22-year-old’s early success go to hell? Lewis Steele from the Internet portal “City Watch” says: “In the Manchester City area, you hear again and again that Sané is still very childlike.” Steele continues: “After the team became champions, there was a big party with alcohol and some people say that Sané has had too many drinks again and that he still lacks the maturity of a professional.”

Simon Bajkowski is a sports journalist at the “Manchester Evening News”. For the British, it was “no surprise” that Guardiola stroked the Germans at home against Newcastle completely out of the squad.

Bajkowski reports: “We talked to Guardiola during the preparatory trip to the US He said back then that Sané would have to improve his game without a ball, and between the lines you hear again and again: ‘Sané has to work harder’.”

In the Amazon series “All or Nothing”, for which Manchester City was accompanied during the past season, Guardiola assures that he always defends his players in public and supports them privately.

As the English reporters now repeatedly ask for the German after the game against Newcastle, Guardiola is becoming more sensitive. Finally, he answers the question of whether he is satisfied with Sané’s training performance and attitude with a thin-lipped: “Yes”.

“Guardiola punished Sané to send a signal to the team” Manchester City’s state-of-the-art training ground is foreclosed like a high-security complex. There are almost no public training sessions in England.

Nevertheless, Lewis Steele from the club-related portal “City Watch” reported: “Guardiola punished Sané to send the team a signal: Who is lazy, flies out.”

A flaw that may have cost him participation in the World Cup. Sané shines on the court often with his carefreeness and self-confidence, which is called in England only “swagger”. Offside the place he is still accused of arrogance and lack of attitude again and again.

“Manchester Evening News” reporter Bajkowski, who traveled with the club through the US, recalls: “It was sad to hear that Sané got up early every morning to watch the World Cup.” Löw has called Sané despite the form low now in the DFB squad. The ex-Schalke, who made his Germany debut in Paris three years ago against France, will be highly motivated. And that’s a good sign for him.

 

Phil Neville’s Lionesses can extend World Cup fever in England

England Women earned qualification to the 2019 World Cup with victory over Wales on Friday, inspired by the meticulous manager Phil Neville who wants to learn from Gareth Southgate’s summer successes and capture the imagination of the nation. 

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When ex-Manchester United and Everton star Phil Neville was appointed as England Women manager, many eyebrows were raised. Why choose someone with no experience in the women’s game? Does Phil Neville have what it takes to control and coach these players? Has he got the resilience to lead them to the World Cup?

However, nine months into his tenure, Phil Neville has put all the questions to bed and proved the doubters wrong as England Women came out victorious in a crucial grudge match against Wales at Rodney Parade.

The crowd at Newport County’s stadium was a record for a women’s football match in Wales, at 5053.

This was telling, as Wales had a fast start and settled the quickest. The Welsh were turned down a penalty, much to the dismay of the watching crowd, but replays showed Karen Bardsley made an excellent save and won the ball.

Something Phil Neville said at half time evidently worked, as his side came out of the traps in the second period at lightning speed. Toni Duggan opened the scoring with a brilliant finish on the volley, and Jill Scott doubled this advantage just three minutes later with a looping header.

The duo know each other well from Manchester City, with Scott now plying her trade at Barcelona – together they represent some of the experienced heads in the group and Neville says they will be vital at next summers World Cup in France.

Another Manchester City star, Nikita Parris, added salt to the Welsh wounds, with a tap in to put the game out of site and send The Lionesses to the biggest stage of them all.

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Although the victory is on the players, gaffer Phil Neville rightfully takes a lot of praise. In his first managerial role, his meticulous style is becoming evident.

Neville, who tries to imitate his mentor Sir Alec Ferguson, draws heavily on mentality, believing that the mentality of his players is key to success. It is an old school approach but so far it is paying dividends.

Just nine months into his tenure, Phil Neville has reset the narrative of the women’s game in England. Slowly, women’s football is advancing from the desire to increase participation rates, to dreams of World Cup glory.

His approach is holistic and emotionally intelligent.

“I know every part of their lives. I know about their animals; if they’ve got a dog, I know it’s name”, Neville told The Guardian, ahead of Friday’s crunch match.

“I know if they go to the cinema – it’s the detail you need to be successful. If they have an ice cream I know about it.”

The six time Premier League winner is clearly an admirer of the finer details, but when you get so little time to work with a squad, this is key. Neville will surely admit that he has taken inspiration from the management of Gareth Southgate and assistant Steve Holland in Russia this summer.

The men’s team duo also had an eye for the finer things, often spending hours practicing the same free kick routine. As we know, this worked.

Neville has 30 separate WhatsApp groups with each player and some coaching staff, to know every facet of their lives. He has gone the extra mile to get to know his players off the pitch and this has been crucial for raising the team spirit, with many players citing this as a reason for increased belief in the camp.

England Women have a realistic ambition in France to go a fair distance in the World Cup and this is testament to Phil Neville.

The ambition for England Women is still to increase participation rates in the women’s game, but in a different manner now. Before, it was simply a ‘give it a go’, but now it is for girls to be inspired by England Women doing the country proud on the biggest stage.

Phil Neville has spearheaded the qualification and he strides to continue this dual ambition – World Cup glory and to inspire the next generation of female footballers.

Next up for The Lionesses is an away game against Kazahkstan in the last qualification match. Neville’s side are already qualified so the pressure will be off, but they will still aim to win the game.

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Who Are Ya? Meet Huesca, Barca’s opponents taking La Liga by storm

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Barcelona host minnows Huesca on Sunday, which may not be the most exciting encounter of the weekend, but if you are a fan of little clubs taking on global giants, this one is for you.

Huesca have visited this stadium once in their history, that was in 2014, where Barcelona won 8-1, topping off a 12-1 aggregate win in the Copa del Rey. A lot can change in four years, especially in football – Huesca are no exception to that.

The game at the Nou Camp has a cup tie feel to it. That is credit to Huesca, the team from Aragon who only dreamt of games like this for the rest of their history, which started in 1960.

Sociedad Deportiva Huesca are two games deep into their inaugural season in in the Spanish top flight, and are currently taking the division by storm, registering 4 points from a possible 6.

When promoted, Huesca were ordered to renovate their stadium, Estadio El Alcoraz. It made history as the smallest ground in La Liga history, but have since added an extra 2500 to their ground. And why not? If history is anything to go by, Huesca fans should take their chance whilst they can and go and watch Oscence – the nickname given to people of the town.

Another nickname they use is azulgranas, due to the colours of their shirt, which is the same as the Barcelona Blaugrana. Why? Because Huesca were setup by a group of Barcelona fans, thus decided they would play in the same colours. They become the fourth team in La Liga to wear these colours, with Eibar and Levante being the other two.

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If the part where I described Huesca as minnows was understated or misunderstood, let me reel off some facts ahead of this encounter to drill home that point: you could fit the whole population of the town of Huesca into the Nou Camp, nearly twice; Lionel Messi’s weekly salary is greater than Huesca’s summer transfer budget; the club ran on just €100k per year when president Peton took over.

Speaking of Peton, he is the man behind Huesca’s success story. As the CEO, Jose Antonio Martin Otin (known as Peton), the ex-player revamped how the club was run slowly but surely since he took over a decade ago.

The side were looking down the barrel of relegation to the fourth tier, but they dodged the bullet and won the relegation playoff. Shortly after, they were promoted to the second division. Huesca were relegated not long after but remarkably, achieved two promotions in four years to enter La Liga for the first time ever.

Peton repeatedly says: “If you don’t understand this club, leave.”

Striker Alex Gallar understands the club as well as most, spent the majority of his career in the third and fourth tiers, but has had a Vardy-esque rise to the forefront of Spanish football, and scored a brace on Huesca’s opening day win against Eibar.

With little budget, Huesca have to rely on loan deals. Axel Werner represents a nice loan signing from Atletico Madrid, but the star man is Cucho Hernandez, on loan from Watford. The 19-year-old Colombian forward netted 16 goals last season in the promotion campaign and will be vital to the bid for survival.

Huesca won the hearts of social media with their last minute equaliser against Bilbao last weekend at San Mames – they are a romantic football story. Everyone loves a minnow, so the whole of the world that are not Barca fans will be rooting for the small side from Aragon in the Nou Camp on Sunday.

Should Huesca stay up, they will need a miracle. Sides like Eibar and Girona have showed it is possible, but the side with a 7500 capacity and a population smaller than the capacity of the Nou Camp, will need to show the fearless character they have in their opening games at Eibar and Athletic.

 

 

 

Player of the Month: August

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The first month of the Premier League season is already over. New players managers are now getting used to their surroundings, the top clubs are already heading towards the top of the table and some big names are beginning to earn their worth.

August was a month of teams getting gritty victories, individual talent setting alight games and some of the stars of last season already making their name heard in the 2018/19 campaign.

But who was the best player on show in August, across the league? Here, I take a look at some of the players who have excelled in the opening month and who deserves a shot at the August ‘Player of the Month’ award:

Sadio Mané

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Key stats: 3 goals (in 3 apps)  

Egyptian Mo Salah won all the plaudits last season for his unprecedented goal-scoring haul, with Roberto Firmino also earning deserved praise for his role in Liverpool’s Champions League run and attacking displays in the league. This meant that the third of the attacking trio went under the radar.

His name is Sadio Mane. The Senegalese international is as talented as the other two and could be just important for Jurgen Klopp’s Liverpool side going forward if they are to challenge Guardiola’s City for the title.

The decision to swap shirt numbers from 19 to the vacant 10 following Coutinho’s departure was symbolic and reflective of the fact his reputation at Liverpool is growing into a player ready for responsibility and talismanic traits.

Whilst Keita and Milner have been excellent for Liverpool, Mane has been the standout performer in August, delivering encouraging showings against West Ham and Crystal Palace.

If Liverpool are to push all the way for the title, Mane will need to continue his early season form and carry on chipping in with goals to take the burden off Salah and Firmino.

Roberto Pereyra

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Key stats: 3 goals (in 3 apps)

Tipped as one of the favourites to face the drop, Javi Gracia’s side have been the surprise package of the early weeks of the season. Whilst it is indeed very early days, achieving maximum points in the month of August is not to be understated.

The star of The Hornets success has been Roberto Pereyra. The Argentine was signed by Watford in 2016 for a then record fee but has been blighted by injuries and subsequently failed to hit any consistent form.

Once dubbed the next star of Serie A, Pereyra was poached by Udinese at the age of 18 and his performances earned him a move to Juventus. He managed 52 appearances in his first season at the Old Lady but failed to impress in the following year so was sold to Watford, where his new boss Walter Mazzarri said he would rather Pereyra than Pogba.

Perhaps now settled in to his surroundings in England, Pereyra is starting to win plaudits. Gracia deploys him as a left attacking midfielder in a 4-2-2-2 formation and it is starting to pay dividends.

His performance against Brighton especially was noteworthy as the Argentine used his excellent positional sense and on the ball abilities to glide into the Brighton box and score two goals.

Lucas Moura

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Key stats: 3 goals (in 3 apps)

After a stagnant spell at PSG, it took Lucas Moura half a year to settle in at Tottenham.

Yet, on Monday night, Lucas Moura showed more than glimpses of the teenage sensation he was when he burst on to the scene at Sao Paulo as a 19 year old, when he nearly moved to Manchester United in 2012.

Lucas’ career looked to be spiraling away quickly in Paris, so he made the gutsy decision to leave the club he dreamed of making it at to join Spurs, coached by one of Europe’s most coveted coaches: Mauricio Pochettino.

In the second game against Fulham, Pochettino decided to play Moura as a second striker, playing off Harry Kane.

So far, that educated gamble is paying off, with the Brazilian netting three goals in two, including a brace at Old Trafford.

His new role gives a new dimension to Spurs’ play and takes some of the goalscoring burden off Harry Kane, allowing Spurs to have the chance to launch a real bid for the title as they now have more power on the counter attack.

Benjamin Mendy

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Key stats: 3 assists, 1 clean sheet, 25 crosses, 7 tackles (in 3 apps) 

It may well be the most overused phrase of the season thus far, but Benjamin Mendy really does feel like a new signing for Manchester City. The Frenchman spent most of his debut season in England watching from the stands or recovery rooms following his knee injury in September.

Whilst Fabian Delph provided ample cover at left back, City lacked a direct threat going forward, often meaning Leroy Sané was City’s only attacker on the left flank. Mendy has come in and changed that massively.

The man who was signed from Monaco for causing City problems in their Champions League exit in 2017 has been a weapon for City going forward thus far this season, used in slightly different roles each week.

In the league opener against Arsenal, Mendy played an inverted full back role, discussed in our Talking Tactics feature on that fixture. He helped out in the midfield in a tricky away game, whilst often marauding forward to create chances himself. He setup the goal for Bernardo Silva’s eventual winner, as well as assist Raheem Sterling’s opener.

Against Huddersfield, Mendy played in a wing back role. He excelled in this position and was City’s main source of attacking prowess down the left as he peppered Ben Hamer’s goal with crosses, a couple of which leading to goals.

Mendy has added a new dimension to City’s game and has been a bright star in Guardiola’s side.

Jorginho

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Key stats: 92.01% pass completion, 1 goal (in 3 apps)

 Jorginho was signed from Napoli along with manager Maurizio Sarri so unsurprisingly he looks at home in this Chelsea team, probably grasping Sarri’s concepts the easiest thus far.

After a shaky afternoon in the Community Shield, the Brazil-born Italian international has looked comfortable alongside Ngolo Kante in midfield. He adds a new dynamism to Chelsea’s midfield that has been lacking for a few seasons and is an astute passer.

In the game against Newcastle last weekend he registered a stat that would prove why Guardiola was so interested in his services: Jorginho completed 158 passes – 25 more than the whole Newcastle team. This stat summarizes Jorginho’s style: he is a dictator that will pull the strings in the midfield, just what Chelsea have missed.

Maurizio Sarri was willing to risk a friendship with Pep Guardiola to sign Jorginho from Napoli and his decision is showing to be well educated, with the midfield maestro starting his career at the Bridge with flying colours.

Notable mentions go to:

Naby Keita, Richarlison, Marcos Alonso, Aleksandar Mitrovic, Aymeric Laporte

Don’t agree? Let me know who you would pick instead.

Opinion: Pep Guardiola’s all time XI

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Pep Guardiola is the man at the forefront of the Manchester City side that is quite literally tearing up the record books and re-writing them.

The Catalan is seen by a large majority of football fans as the best coach in world football, having brought success to Barcelona, Bayern Munich and now Manchester City.

You could be the best manager in the world, but you need good players to carry out your ideas on the pitch, like a craftsman needs good tools to succeed in a job.

Guardiola has never been short of that – he has always had the best players in the world to help his successes. But, who are the best?

At Barcelona, Guardiola built a team that is recognized as one of the best club sides of all time, and possibly the greatest of recent history. Building on a rich footballing philosophy passed down from Johan Cruyff and reconstructed by Guardiola and co, Barcelona had some of the best players in the world with a talented pool of homegrown players such as Messi, Xavi, Iniesta, Busquets and Valdes.

Following winning two Champions League titles, Pep decided he had taken Barcelona as far as he could, as well as got bored of the politics of the club, so left. A year later, he joined Bayern Munich, where he monopolized the Bundesliga, winning seven trophies in three years.

In early 2016, Manchester City appointed Guardiola as their boss. Since then, he has won two trophies in two years, including a 100 point haul in the Premier League, breaking all sorts of records in the process.

If there were to be a hypothetical ‘Best XI’ of all the players Guardiola has managed, who would make it? Would any of Guardiola’s current crop at City make it?

Let’s find out…

Pep’s tried and trusted 4-1-4-1 formation is his most used setup, so that is what we have chose for our fantasy XI.

Goalkeeper – Manuel Neuer  

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This wasn’t the straightforward decision it may seem from the outset – Victor Valdes is very underrated in popular media for one reason or another. However, Neuer would surely get the nod in a Guardiola XI. When the Catalan coach arrived in England in 2016 one of the biggest headlines was that he wanted away with Joe Hart, instead to buy a ‘Guardiola goalkeeper’: a ‘keeper as adequate with his feet as he is with his hands.

The 2014 World Cup winner is just that. Whilst one of the best shot stoppers we have seen this century, arguably the best goalkeeper of the past decade or so, he is perfectly capable with the ball at his feet and has popularized the ‘sweeper keeper’ role that is so prominent on the continent now.

City’s current number one, Ederson, surely looks up to Neuer as an inspirational figure he can learn from.

Manuel Neuer represents a no brainer decision for the goalkeeper spot, being potentially the most complete ‘keeper of the past decade or so.

Right Back – Dani Alves  

Dani Alves, now of PSG, represents potentially the best right back of this generation, embodying all the needed characteristics of the ‘modern full back’.

The money Guardiola spent on full backs in 2017 was no coincidence, as full backs are central to his system. He likes fast, attacking full backs that are comfortable to tuck inside and play as auxiliary midfielders to pack the middle when ordered to do so.

Alves is everything Guardiola wants in a full back. Signed from Sevilla in 2008, the Brazilian revolutionized wing back play at club level in a similar way his Brazilian counterparts Cafu and Roberto Carlos did at international football at the 2002 World Cup.

Just as we see with Walker and Mendy now at City, Alves was given responsibility as a buccaneering right-back in name but a winger in style, often playing higher than the midfielders as he helped to break down stubborn outfits.

Centre Back – Gerard Pique

Oft cited as a teachers pet of Guardiola’s school of thought, Gerard Pique is probably the biggest individual success story for Pep.

Brought back to his boyhood club just as Guardiola took charge, Gerard Pique developed a formidable pairing with Carles Puyol at the heart of the Barcelona defence and blossomed into one of the best defenders in the world.

Leaving Manchester United after making just 12 appearances in four years, Guardiola nurtured Pique from a benchwarmer at Old Trafford to a pivotal part of the team who won the ‘sixtuple’ at Barcelona, as well as international triumphs with Spain.

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Centre Back – Carles Puyol (C)

 The captain of all of Barcelona’s success is a guaranteed feature in this side. The centre-back, known for his iconic long curls, spent all of his career at Barcelona, after graduating from La Masia.

Puyol gets the nod over Jerome Boateng, who was unlucky to miss out, because he was a mainstay in Pep Guardiola’s side that won everything there was to win at club level, not to mention his triumphs with Spain.

Now retired, Puyol managed nearly 600 appearances for Barcelona and will be remembered for his innate leadership traits, as well as his clever style of defending, which overcome the fact he wasn’t the typical defender in the physical sense. 

Left Back – Philipp Lahm

Mr. Versatility himself was another easy decision in this team. In truth, he could have slotted in at right back, defensive midfield or even centre back, if needed. That’s how he was as a player too, the dream player for all coaches.

Guardiola saw Lahm as his most important player, probably as he does Fernandinho at City. He trained the reliable full back to one of the best defensive midfield players in the world, in the role Guardiola calls ‘El Pivote’.

Pep added a new dimension to the already accomplished game of Lahm, helping him captain his country to World Cup glory in 2014, whilst also leading Bayern to domestic success.

His leadership, versatility and tactical nous will make Lahm go down as one of footballs finest.

Defensive midfielder – Sergio Busquets

Dubbed the Octopus of Badia, Sergio Busquets is potentially the most cool defensive midfielder football will ever see. After a year together at Barcelona B, Guardiola promoted Busquets to the first team and no one has questioned that decision since.

For the decade to follow, Busquets has been Barca’s midfield lynch-pin and one of the first names on the team sheet every week.

In a position where the energetic midfield destroyer Fernandinho was a possibility, Busquets gets the nod for the way he manipulates the pitch in a unique manner: he is not quick, but he has one of the best brains in world football, and can pick a pass to the forwards, in an effortless style. His passes are weighted to perfection, almost giving the receiver telepathic instructions of which way to turn with their first touch, due to the crisp nature of the pass from Barca’s brains.

 Central midfielder – Kevin De Bruyne

The Belgian midfield maestro has been unplayable since he settled into his deeper lying role under Guardiola and was the star man that drove City to the title, registering man of the match performances against each of the other top six sides.

De Bruyne roams around the pitch picking passes and has the most assists in the league since joining City. His shooting range is phenomenal, as are his venomous crosses, making him City’s most devastating asset.

Central midfielder – Xavi

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Potentially the best midfielder of the generation, Xavi Hernandez is Pep-Ball to a T. The reliable and consistent mover of the ball won a staggering 31 trophies in his career, most notably eight La Liga titles, four Champions Leagues, a World Cup and two European Championships.

He was the man that made the greatest club side of the century tick, as well as a mainstay in the great Spain team that won three tournaments on the bounce.

Assisting Messi for a total of 31 goals, Xavi was the heartbeat of Pep’s fast football that caught the hearts of many football purists around the world, making him a no brainer in this fantasy eleven.

Winger – Lionel Messi

If you ever needed an example for a dictionary definition of ‘no brainer’, here we have one. Lionel Messi slotted into this team without so much as a seconds thought.

Guardiola is often cited as the man who developed Messi to what he is today, teaching him new aspects of his game whilst admitting Messi helped him shape his managerial career.

Whether it be as a false nine, or in the case of this team a winger, Messi is the best player in the world and the best player I have ever seen.

Pre-Guardiola, Messi had devastating running traits and the ability to manipulate the ball and the opponent, but Pep added the end product to his game, turning Messi into the most prolific forward of all time, hitting unprecedented heights.

Striker – Sergio Aguero

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When Guardiola arrived in England, question marks were asked of Sergio Aguero. Can Aguero function in Pep’s system? Will Pep sign a new striker to replace him? Will Jesus keep him out of the team?

Manchester City’s record goal scorer has answered those questions, and then some. The Argentine striker now has a higher strike rate than Robert Lewandowski when Pep was at Bayern, and David Villa at Barca.

Having undergone a knee operation at the tail end of last season, Aguero looks as sharp as ever and will have his sights set on more records as he climbs up the list of Premier League all time top scorers.

Winger – Franck Ribery

Regarded by many as the greatest non-German to represent the red of Bayern Munich, Franck Ribery was unstoppable when fully fit and in form at Bayern.

In 2013, the French star finished third in the Ballon d’or rankings, claiming later that he felt he deserved to win ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo. That season, Ribery took all the Bundesliga awards, as a team and individually, with Ribery citing politics as the reason Ronaldo tipped him to the illustrious award despite winning no trophies that season.

Under Pep, Ribery often played the ‘false nine’ role made famous by Lionel Messi. Due to this multifunctional characteristic, Ribery gets the nod over his Bayern teammate Arjen Robben, who also excelled under Pep.

Opinion: Manchester United’s worries lie deeper than what we see on the pitch

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Jose Mourinho’s Manchester United were on the receiving end of a damning defeat in their first away trip of the season as Brighton gained a deserved win in front of a joyous crowd at the AMEX Stadium last Sunday.

As could be expected, the inquest into the manner of the defeat started in no time after the final whistle, with a lot of fingers pointed at the players and in particular the manager: Jose Mourinho.

Another man to take the brunt of the blame was executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who is the man at the forefront of Manchester United’s transfer exploits. Woodward, who took the role in 2013, has been vastly criticized this summer for failing to sign a central defender, an evident weak link which Brighton exploited brilliantly at the weekend.

However, the worries lie deeper than Woodward not agreeing to put his hand in his pocket and pay over the odds for Toby Alderweireld of Spurs or England and Leicester’s surprise sensation Harry Maguire.

Since Sir Alex Ferguson left the helm, £700million has been spent by three managers and United, the team that once was feared by every other, have never realistically looked close to a league title.

In the Moyes and Van Gaal era, excuses were made. When Jose Mourinho put pen to paper on a deal, it was supposed to be different. In January of this year, Mourinho signed a new deal, just days after announcing the signing of Alexis Sanchez.

The timing of that new deal seemed bizarre at the time, but even more so now. Noisy neighbours Manchester City finished a whopping, maybe even embarrassing, nineteen points ahead of the once powerhouse of English football.

Something somewhere had to change. Investments had to be made to close the gap on City, but they just didn’t come. Fred is a wise signing but aside from that, it was a disastrous window for United and Mourinho.

So where does the fault lie? Is it with Mourinho for failing to get his ideas across? Should the players take the blame for not carrying out the managers orders? Is Ed Woodward out of his depth?

One possibility is that the whole model of managerial supremacy is flawed in modern football.

If you are a fan of football in the wider sense, you may have seen the Amazon Prime documentary extraordinaire titled ‘All or Nothing: Manchester City’. You don’t have to know much about the game to acknowledge quite quickly that United’s neighbours are a better run club, top to bottom.

In the scenes that showed the transfer of Aymeric Laporte being completed, Pep Guardiola does not feature, apart from to greet the player at his unveiling.

This is one area that the two Manchester clubs differ, or more so how Manchester United differ from many of the European elite clubs. The model of The Red Devilshas been that the manager is the forefront of ins and outs at Old Trafford.

In 1945, Matt Busby was granted complete control over the footballing activities of the club. In the biography of one of United’s most iconic men, the biographer wrote:

Most managers were foreman draughtsmen, seeing their players once or twice a week. Busby was the first to establish indisputably that he and not the directors were in control of all team affairs, at a time when directors were all-powerful and to stand up to them was unprecedented

Sir Matt Busby was the first United manager to assert said dominance and control, but not the last. Sir Alex Ferguson also had the role of bringing the whole thing together, and evidently it worked. Under Ferguson, United broke all sorts of records, winning league after league in the process.

But, since Ferguson, the strategy has been completely wrong. At first the idea was simple: find the next Ferguson. Quite literally, United did their best to imitate Ferguson, by signing up fellow Scotsman David Moyes. He failed, as did Louis Van Gaal, and now Jose Mourinho looks no better.

So, is it time for a re-think? To go back on a strategy or model that has served well for over half a century? Would a director of football like we see with Txiki Begiristain at Manchester City be beneficial?

Jose Mourinho would think so, saying after United’s opening day victory over Leicester: “I think football is changing and managers should be called head coaches”.

Whilst Jose Mourinho, Ed Woodward and the players should rightly shoulder the blame for the embarrassing performance on the south coast last weekend, the questions should be asked of the structure of the football club.

The Brighton defeat brought out and showed the problems to the football world, but in truth the cracks were starting to show all summer off the pitch.

A sporting director would bring stability and off the pitch leadership that United have lacked in abundance in the post-Ferguson era.

The search will be rigorous, but if Woodward gets it right, the burden on himself and Mourinho will be decreased, and the club can start to move in the right direction again.

Roma’s Monchi is a name that has been rumored many times – the gritty negotiator and talent spotter, once of Sevilla, could be exactly what United need to put behind them the players and managers that have flopped since being brought in post-Ferguson.

It is early days in the league and it is far from disastrous from United, but with a sporting director at the helm, things could have been a lot different as Mourinho’s men look to close the gap on their bitter rivals, Manchester City.

The role of the sporting director may involve setting a new identity, a new ‘United way’: the general approach the club will take with signings.

Manchester City’s approach is to sign young talents with the right mindset, often not buying from the ‘top of the market’ as in the best in their position, but younger prospects who they see a plan to make them the best in their position.

The direction of Manchester United as a club has been flawed in the years following Ferguson’s departure. On the pitch it has been drab, boring at times to watch, but the problems lie much deeper than that, with inadequacies off the pitch leading to failures in the transfer market.

Appointing a sporting director will be the first step to putting this right, as United look to close the gap on their rivals and reinstall a ‘United identity’ which will bring them back to the helm of English football.