Manchester United’s Wild Kingdom

One of the few programs that my father used to allow us to watch were what he called “Nature Shows”. On Saturdays and Sundays when it was too crummy to go outside, Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom and David Attenborough’s Life on Earth were my television companions.

One feature of all nature programs is the big hunt. That’s the segment where they follow a lion pride as it stalks a herd of water buffalo. These segments were most memorable when the prey escaped after a long and dramatic chase sequence or, and these were the very best, the lions would corner a sick buffalo and there would be a fight to the death. Lions would jump on the adult beast and try to kill it, but he would fight back with kicks and horns, and I imagine if he could, he would have even pulled hair. Anything to stay alive for just a few more minutes.

My initial reaction to yesterday’s draw against Man United was disgust. We all knew that Mourinho was going to send his players out there to kick Arsenal off the pitch. I think even Arsenal were prepared for a tough match. But what Arsenal weren’t prepared for was a cowardly referee who refused to stand up to United’s obvious roughhousing.

Rob Holding was the first victim. Holding’s new role for Arsenal is to bring the ball forward down the wings. Rashford saw him advancing and ran over to tackle with no regard for the safety of his fellow professional and in the clash, took out Holding’s knee. Holding had to be stretchered off the pitch.

But I didn’t get the sense that Holding was especially targeted, not the way that Guendouzi obviously was. It was always going to be a tough match for the 19 year old. I expected United to pressure him – because he’s young and inexperienced – but I had forgotten that they have a long tradition of trying to break the legs of young, talented players. Something they did to Jose Antonio Reyes back in 2005 and again here last night.

Guendouzi was fouled six times in this match. That’s the official count. The unofficial count was much higher, closer to 10. And even more incredibly, players were allowed to foul Guendouzi without any punishment from the referee. Marcos Rojo went in on Guendouzi with a two-footed tackle in the 37th minute and how Matteo escaped without a broken leg is just down to the Frenchman’s dexterity. Rojo was given a yellow card but it should have been a red.

And toward the end of the match, Mourinho threw on his enforcer. The guy whose job is to literally run around elbowing people in the back of the head and then look at the referee like “who, me?” This is Mourinho’s go-to plan and if you need evidence that he’s a bankrupt manager, look no further than the fact that he’s been agitating the club to sign him a center back when what his team needs is a forward. They need a goal-scorer so desperately that Marouane Fellaini is their backup plan.

Fellaini is the symbol of this Manchester United team. They don’t have players with the skill to outplay their opponents. They don’t have a manager who can make his players better, who can teach them technical skills to make them better players; they have Marouane Fellaini, a water buffalo making one last anguished attempt to escape as the predators all close in on them.

Fellaini came on and started thrashing around: elbowing Lichtsteiner, shoving over Mustafi, and kicking Torreira. And when Matteo Guendouzi easily dribbled around him and went in looking for the kill, Fellaini grabbed a handful of hair, whipping Guendouzi’s head backward.

By almost every measure, Manchester United are one of the biggest teams in the world. They have the highest revenue in world football, they make 1/3 again more than Arsenal who are the 6th richest team on Deloitte’s rich list. They have more supporters than any other team. They have the biggest sponsorships. They have some of the biggest transfers in world football history: Martial (£75), Lukaku (£80m), Pogba (£90m). And they pay the highest salaries in world football: Alexis Sanchez £26m.

They have the money, they have the history, they have the stadium, they have the supporters, and they have the players of a big club. And yet they play like a mid-table team. They aren’t in a match trying to out-play the opposition anymore. They are simply trying to kick players off the pitch. They have become the Marouane Fellaini of football.

You listen to Mourinho and he will talk about “pashun” and playing with “fire”. But what he’s really talking about is football from the 18th century. And those managers who play that way are all getting left behind. Managers like Sam Allardyce, Tony Pulis, Mark Hughes, and Jose Mourinho are all being relegated to the trash bin of history. In their place are men who understand tactics and who take pride in making their teams better like Eddie Howe, Pep Guardiola, Unai Emery, Marco Silva, and Maurizio Sarri. All managers who are above Mourinho and United in the table and who do so on far less resources.

At first I was disgusted by United’s display. But I’ve come to realize that this is just what little clubs with bankrupt managers do. Do you think Man City would resort to hair pulling to stop 19 year old Matteo Guendouzi? They wouldn’t have to, because he would use his player’s technical ability and tactical awareness to choke him off the ball. Eddie Howe and Sarri have also played against Matteo Guendouzi and none of them resorted to two-footed tackles, targeted fouling, or hair pulling to stop Arsenal from playing.

Manchester United don’t play like a big club. They play like a Stoke City. They are Stoke-on-Stretford.

But this is the cycle of life. When cornered by a larger, more powerful beast, the prey will eventually resort to any means necessary to survive. And if nature shows have taught me anything it’s that sometimes the little animal gets away, by luck, and if they have a sympathetic referee.



  1. One thing that made me really proud from watching yesterdays match, was that Unai’s Arsenal won’t be bullied by anyone.

    You could from Mourinho’s facial expressions that he was surprised his bullying tactics weren’t working, and would have wised Wenger was in charge yesterday, so he could gloat to the media even for a day.

  2. United are garbage. Long live Jose Mourinho as their manager. I think he and the Wood fella are doing a helluva job. Let’s hope the Glazers keep them for several more years.

  3. United paid us the ultimate compliment. They played like a smaller team than us; low on skill, high on energy and argy bargy. This is what Mourinho has done… made them less than the sum of their parts, and the sum of their finances. They are 8th for a reason. They ARE that ordinary. Did you recognise Pogba yesterday?

    Rojo easily deserved rojo. As you said, he could have broken Guendouzi’s leg. I’ve players sent off for far less worse fouls. Im surprised but not surprised that it isnt more of a talking point in the media. Sokratis does that, and I promise you that there would have been anguished colour pieces in the Daily Mail.

    I have mixed feelings about the outcome. Winning at Old Trafford has been accomplished by smaller team against Mourinho, so it is not the near impossible task it used to be. We were better yesterday. And if we are to become the team we want to become, we have to take opportunities like those.

    At the same time, we looked dead on our feet after an hour, and I don’t know that we could have resisted a high energy surge from them. In fact, I had concerns about losing the match after they equalised. So in that respect I was happy with a point. But Im leaning towards “two points lost”, rather than “point gained”.

    Hair-pulling is on the same level as spitting. Cowardly acts that have no place in professional sports. Gonna take a page out of Bun’s book, and start referring to him only as Fellatio.

    1. “Gonna take a page out of Bun’s book, and start referring to him only as Fellatio.”

      and ruin a beautiful thing by associating it with that thug

      Why Claude? 🙂

  4. If Mourinho only could’ve gotten that ball playing CB he so wanted last transfer window, United could’ve challenged for the title and not sit in eight with -1 goal difference. Lol

    If he had any decency he would’ve resigned based on this fact alone.

  5. We looked good, deserved to win but defensive concentration needs stepping up. I definitely see more fearless performances under Unai Emery. Maybe the handbrake has finally been released

  6. Martial, Rashford, Sanchez, Lukaku, Lingard – over €300m strike force on a team with 24 goals.
    What PL or Championships manager couldn’t do better with this group?

    How Jose still has his job is simply fu$king amazing.

    1. And football365 tweeted this just before the game started:

      “Ranked by order of most expensive:

      Man United’s bench (£244.9m)
      Man United’s starting XI (£209m)
      Arsenal’s starting XI (£167.9m)
      Arsenal’s bench (£61.5m)
      Actual reserve Fred (£47m)

      If only Jose Mourinho received financial backing.”

      Long may Mourinho reign at Old Trafford. If a proper modern coach gets hold of that squad… hoo boy.

  7. “Do you think Man City would resort to hair pulling to stop 19 year old Matteo Guendouzi? ”
    Actually, yes. They are masters of the cynical foul and will do whatever it takes to stop a breakaway if their high press is broken. As good as they are, they still resort to this kind of cheating to deny other teams a chance to attack them. And yes, we do it too. It really annoys me for two reasons: first, it undermines the main weakness of the high press, which is that by committing men forward you risk getting caught short-handed at the back; if you choose a high-risk strategy, you shouldn’t be able to avoid most of that risk by cheating. Second, it immediately removes the opportunity to see an exciting counter-attack and Citi, as good as they are, can be one of the most boring teams to watch. And third (I just thought of something else), it denies lesser teams a chance to be competitive against more powerful opponents. As well-coached as Citi are, I have to believe that this tactic is an instruction from the bench, and it taints my respect for Guardiola.

    A yellow card obviously isn’t enough to deter teams from cheating like this, although a red card may be too severe; perhaps it’s time to implement a yellow and a 15-minute “sin-bin” suspension (as they do now in rugby)?

    And speaking of cheating, what is it with referees allowing teams (esp. Utd) to kick us off the pitch? It’s become a feckin’ tradition. Don’t get me started…

    1. There’s miles of difference between pulling an arm to stop a counter attack and pulling on a player’s hair. Most teams commit fouls to stop counters, that’s true, but only real cunts pull someone’s hair.

    2. I thought it was well documented that Man City players are expected to either get the ball back or commit a foul within a couple of seconds of losing it. It definitely seems like an instruction as they all do it, and I find it incredible that it has been allowed to continue by the referees.

  8. ManU did this to themselves. Fergie ran an aging team into the ground, and won the league on RVP’s goals and Mike Riley’s support squad. Then they hired Moyes to a 6 year deal, fired him too soon rather than accept a transition phase that Ferguson had left the team in. Hired Van Gaal and the supporters just never took to him because the media wanted Jose in.

    They should definitely have stuck with LVG rather than betray their club’s identity by hiring Jose, and then doubling (or sextupling? sexting?) down by giving him a 6 year deal. Now the players don’t care and neither does he. You sack him, and he walks away with a load of cash, before Mendes gets him another club. Though likely, no top club will want him anymore. And others would be wary because of his attitude.

    I hope they keep Jose around for many years. He’s annoying, occasionally just about effective, but mostly he’s just yesterday’s news.

    Apart from ManU, the refs and PL are a disgrace too. No retrospective action on Fellaini. They can ban snoods but apparently hair pulling is ok because the ref saw it and didn’t give the appropriate punishment. What?

    Also, they decided to steal a goal off Lacazette. The Arsenal players on Twitter are having fun including the PL in tweets addressed to Laca praising him for the goal.

  9. I was quite scared this summer when the transfer rumors started to associate Marouane Fellaini with a move to Arsenal. And, oddly enough, some gooners really liked that idea.!?

    1. “Really liked” is a stretch. I don’t like Fellaini and that’s partly because I don’t like playing against him. I was arguing that he would bring two things we don’t have in this team: power/physicality in midfield and aerial presence. Is that worth a free transfer? In my mind, yes. I would prefer if it was someone else and not him because of the baggage, etc but in my mind it’s not crazy to suggest he would add something to this team.

        1. He can. I would expect his passing stats to be around mid 80%, like most decent midfielders (and less than the brilliant ones who hover in the low 90ies). He does not do the brilliant, defense splitting pass but he does not misplace the ball. He wins it in the air, he fights continuously, he scores relatively often. He looks a bit clumsy and that makes him easy to underestimate. Which you do.
          But he is a brute, he elbows a lot. Hair pulling is a new skill he developed, maybe training on his own hair after cutting them. Inexcusable indeed.
          And I would agree that, if he is THE plan of Mourinho, it is a fascinating sign of weakness. But, associated with skillful players, like those of the National tem of Belgium for instance, Fellaini has a place and a use.

          1. Yeah, I was totally against Arsenal getting Fellaini because he’s just not the right fit for us. Even his ‘physicality’ would end up getting punished if he’s playing for Arsenal.

            But I think if he were to go elsewhere he would end up looking a better footballer than currently. He was decent at Everton, and he looks decent in the national team. ManU, especially at the moment, is destroying the likes of Lukaku and Pogba. What chance does Fellaini have when his job is just to be this blunderbus? He’s doing what’s asked of him.

          2. I think it is dangerous to link the ‘ability to pass’ to the passing %. Fellaini’s one is indeed 84.6%, but Paul Pogba has for example lower: 82.6%. But Pogba makes 1.4 Key Passes, and Fellaini 0.5…

          3. I don’t underestimate him. I fully estimate him. He’s a worse passer than Coquelin. That’s just a fact. There’s a reason no one plays him in midfield: because he’s not a midfielder. Modern midfielders need to be able to control the tempo of a game with the rhythm of their passing and movement. He doesn’t even play for Belgium. Their midfield is Witsel and Tielemans.

            Fellaini is like one of those old caveman movies where a neanderthal is found frozen and is subsequently defrosted and then tries to make his way in the modern world. I guess what I’m saying is he would be great in the midfield of a Championship level team. Or as a “forward” at Man U.

      1. From that perspective we could sign anyone, as anyone can add at least a little something to the team. But there is a limited space in the first team, so we should try to fill it in there only with “essential” people.
        But my real problem with Fellaini is that he is a douche, and it would have been so much against the “values” that Gazidis was claiming that the club will continue to follow after Arsene’s departure.

        1. Yes that’s my main problem with him as well, it would be a bit like if we were linked with Dele Ali or Sergio Ramos (even at 32). I’d have to use hand sanitizer to type this but they would improve our team substantially, even though they are monumental wankers. Fellaini has never hit the heights those two have but I don’t know of too many players with his size and his goal scoring record from midfield. In many ways he’s the ultimate anti-Wengerian midfielder, the yang to our yin. I would disagree that we don’t need those traits myself; adding goals to a team is never an altogether bad idea and upping the bastard quota has been a stated goal of the hierarchy for a while now. All that said, I’m quite happy to have passed on him given how well Torreira and Guendouzi have panned out thus far.

          1. Save the sanitizer: Alli is not an improvement on any player in our team and Ramos is famous for spending 5/6 of the season being shit and only showing up when you get to the CL final (or a big semi-final). Fellaini doesn’t play in midfield for any team. None. He’s not a midfielder. He’s never really been a midfielder. This is crazy, watching normally rational people try to find reasons why this player who is utter shit would fit into our club.

  10. I only managed to see the highlights on arsenal player. Was really disappointed with silly defensive errors. Leno needs to up his game. 2 big errors in 2 games. De Gea making a error seems monumental because he has been so good. I hope Leno gets rid of these errors from his system.

    Also, it was disappointing that we didn’t manage to take the chances we got. We definitely had very good opportunities to score. Man U was a test of playing against “park the bus” type of team. We will face few more of those in the league Both Auba & Mikhi should have scored. These are the things which ultimately make the difference between coming 2nd and winning titles.

    The attitude overall was fantastic though and that fearlessness will make us better next season.

    1. I too watched only the highlights, and was very frustrated by the way we allowed them those two goals. Away from the game, how do we compare with last season after 15 games?

      This is what I have:

      17/18 18/19
      Games played 15 15
      “Big 6” teams faced: 5 5
      Wins: 9 9
      Draws: 1 4
      Losses: 5 2
      Points: 28 31
      Goals for: 29 34
      Goals against: 19 20
      Goal difference: 10 14

      Against “Big 6” opposition
      17/18 18/19
      Games played 5 5
      Wins: 1 1
      Draws: 1 2
      Losses: 3 2
      Points: 4 5
      Goals for: 4 9
      Goals against: 10 10
      Goal difference: -6 -1

      My take on this is…. so far, so marginal, with the possible exception of goals scored against the presumptive top 6 clubs. We must hope that better results will come from the growing understanding between the new coach and the team, and that the opposing teams do not “work us out”. I feel that the key to a good season come June 2019 remains a dramatic improvement in our defensive performance. 20 goals conceded in 15 matches is simply too high.

      1. You also have to factor in that the players are being asked to play in a fundamentally different way this season and despite that, the results are actually better. That to me is tremendous. The points against top 6 includes the first two fixtures of the season, hardly a fair comparison for a brand new manager. Still, we should’ve won that Chelsea match! Yes we are conceding too many goals still but that was never going to be fixed in three months.

  11. Guendouzi showed me something yesterday. Given all the fouling, he could have easily lost his cool, gotten flustered and started making mistakes. Instead, he stayed very coool and calm, and played very well moving the ball between the lines. Incredible composure for a 19 year old. I still don’t like how he goes down too easily at times – we will get burned by that – but there’s so much to like about this kid.

    1. Yeah, Guendouzi’s the definition of a rough diamond. He was sensational in key moments, like the passage of play two minutes after they made it 2-2, when he accelerated away from two chasing Utd midfielders and had the composure to wait for the right pass and slid in Kolasinac who almost laid on the 3rd goal for Auba.

      This season has already been massive for his development. By next season he’s gonna be a real problem for opponents.

  12. Fellatio did what he does best — running around the pitch fellating anyone he can — but regarding the hair-pulling: While we as fans are right to express our frustration with a biased and cowardly FA that won’t punish childish thuggery like that, I thought Emery’s response was perfect (i.e., “cut your hair and the problem goes away”).

    Sometimes (and yes, I know I’m not supposed to do this sort of comparison) when Wenger spoke about similar incidents, a whiff of victimization in his comments trickled through to the players. At least that’s how I felt. Under Emery, I just feel the team has more fight or resilience, and some of that comes from having a manager that doesn’t let incidents like that get to him (publicly, anyway).

    Just focus, work hard, fight, embrace the suffering. That’s what I’ve taken from his press conferences right from the day he was revealed, and I love it. (And for the record, I loved Wenger’s eloquence and expansiveness, but there were times when I felt the focus on slight injustices probably wasn’t helpful.)

      1. I remained as surprised by that today as I was yesterday, when I fully expected my comment to spend some time in purgatory.

    1. Great point. His complaints certainly gave weight to the suggestion that we couldn’t handle physical play. In his defense, after seeing persistent physical abuse go unpunished game after game and season after season, is it any wonder he felt like he had to say something? Especially given that cynical fouling is so antithetical to his philosophy of how the game should be played.

    2. I agree about the attitude. I hope we can keep it up. The thing is Emery’s not had to put up with it for 10 years, and it’s nowhere near as bad now as it was some years ago.

    3. I said it a while back with respect to Bellerin and the same principle applies in Guendouzi case.
      If you have to readjust your hair after every tackle, heather or any number of other football related actions on the pitch, then your hair style is getting in the way of your game.
      Especially when you are a young player with important defensive duties to perform.
      If your name isn’t Kempes or Batistuta and scoring goals isn’t your main job , then make it a simple one that doesn’t need constant fixing.

  13. if you’re going to pull his hair, you’ve got to slap him on the ass too; make him feel sexy.

    1. Poch is now fully initiated and engaged in the Spuds collapse cycle: unjustified overconfidence, implosion at a crucial moment, despair/blame/deflection. Tottenham: we don’t need trophies, we’ve got an inferiority complex.

  14. Rob Holding’s season is over. The kid has been tremendous for us, and has sometimes looked our most composed central defender. He was also on a glide path to England selection, an improvement on dross like Smalling and Jones. Great work, Marcus Rashford 😕

    1. I didn’t think Rashford did too much wrong there to be honest. If that was one of our players I’d have been applauding the effort and the intensity.

      My ire is directed at Rojo. What a thug. Lingard got away with a lot of fouling as well and just imagine if they had Valencia and Evra at fullback instead of Darmian and Dallo. It would be the Circle of Fouls.

      The Circle of Fouls

      It’s the heel on my knee
      It’s the grab of hair
      Til’ we get carded
      Then we’ll start the whining
      In the circle, the circle of fouls

  15. Agree with the article and well thought out as ever.

    The only minor point I would say differently is the comparison to the animal kingdom. I would say it’s more akin to a Leopard hunting a monkey.

  16. an update on the dot com says rob holding has torn his acl and is out for the season. this hurts. i was just singing his praises a few weeks ago about how he’s on course to be a stalwart for england over the next decade. he was getting stronger with every match and seemed to have a very high ceiling. if rio ferdinand and jonathan woodgate had a baby, it would be rob holding.

    he’s so good. wenger signed holding a few weeks after he and chambers were the england center back pairing that won the toulon tournament a couple of years ago. a few weeks later, holding signed for arsenal for £2 million; bloody brilliant!

    i don’t blame rashford for hustling back and making that challenge on holding. it wasn’t a dirty foul, holding just fell funny, making contact with rashford multiple times on the way to ground; really awkward fall. wish him a speedy recovery.

    1. I was watching my Celtics last night against the Knicks and they showed a replay of how Kristaps Porzingis (7’2″ unicorn, ICYMI) tore his ACL. The mechanism of injury was identical; they landed and planted on a straight leg while their momentum was carrying them laterally and both players immediately crumpled in a heap and pointed to their knee. Prozingis is still not back though it happened a year ago. The good news is that Rob Holding is not 7’2″ and that ACL rehab gets players back faster and at a higher level than ever before. But it won’t be until August 2019 at the earliest.

      Two season ending injuries already for this Arsenal team. 😔

    2. in the europa league game, holding was partnered by, non other than, sir jenkinson. i know it was against mickey mouse united but i thought jenks did okay; he looked more natural at center back than he ever has at right back and, in my opinion, looks a better prospect at central defender. he’s almost too tall to be a right back. while arsenal do have koscielny and monreal due back relatively soon, jenkinson could work out in a back three. if arsenal stay with a back 3, i’d like to see him given a chance tomorrow. i think he’ll surprise some folks. we’ll see.

      1. There’s also Julio Pleguezuelo– who looked a comer in the Blackpool (EFL) match earlier in the Fall. Though I’d heard he’s still recovering from an injury– I can’t seem to locate any current info.

        If you don’t recall/didn’t see that match? Imagine, he managed to make Mustafi seemingly play in a calmer, OK– um, less-caffeinated fashion.

        We’ve also got other candidates to cover at CB in Monreal (upon return), and Elneny.


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