Darren Fletcher

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Report: Darren Fletcher ‘leading candidate’ for Man United director

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No, your eyes are not deceiving you. You are not hallucinating. You read the headline correctly.

35-year-old Darren Fletcher, who retired from playing exactly one week ago at the end of the Championship season, is the “leading candidate” for the Manchester United technical director position, according to a report by Sky Sports.

[ MORE: Ed Woodward must be held accountable ]

Fletcher knows Manchester United well, having played for the club for 12 years before departing for West Brom and Stoke City, but he has zero managerial or executive experience. He last made an appearance for Stoke in mid-March, struggling for time in the Potters squad.

Current Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward has been reportedly searching for a technical director to take over more on-field executive responsibilities such as player recruitment and contract negotiations, to allow Woodward – a career accountant – to take on a more financial focus with the club. While Fletcher would pair well with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as both played for Manchester United in the recent past, his glaring lack of experience at any kind of executive level is frightening for Manchester United fans who feel the club’s squad slipping in quality since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Should Fletcher sign on, it may signal that Woodward sees the duties of a technical director less involved with important club decisions and more as a liaison between manager Solskjaer and the club hierarchy. That could leave Woodward still saddled with player recruitment decisions he has struggled with since taking over as top club executive in 2013. A number of massive transfer investments, such as Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, and Fred have failed to live up to expectations since joining the club, while the massive wages given to Alexis Sanchez have put the club in a position of difficulty when looking to re-sign stars like David De Gea.

Meanwhile, former Manchester United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar continues to be immensely successful in a Director of Football role at Ajax, something many Red Devil fans look to with envy.

When will Ed Woodward be held accountable for Man United failures?

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Six seasons, five managers, three Champions League qualifications, zero Premier League titles.

That is the Manchester United story since they last trimphed over the English top flight in Sir Alex Ferguson‘s final season as Red Devils boss.

The leadership has been chopped and changed many times over, but there is one constant: Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, who ascended to his current role in 2012 and was made top operational executive a year later after the departure of David Gill. Since Woodward took full control of the club, Manchester United has spiraled completely out of control, with the luster of 13 Premier League titles almost fully rusted away.

While Manchester United has collected three trophies under his watch, the two most coveted – the Premier League and Champions League titles – have eluded the storied club, instead settling for an FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League title (plus two Community Shields, as Jose Mourinho would tell you).

Still, Woodward has somehow escaped heavy criticism for his rocky tenure, with the first-team managers – far more publicly accountable figures than club executives – taking the brunt of the flak for losing streaks, negative tactics, mediocre youth development, and shambolic defending. Yet Woodward remains unscathed, free of full-scale scrutiny while everything he touches turns to ash.

Woodward’s history in the transfer market has been downright abysmal. Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Angel Di Maria, Fred, Eric Bailly, and Luke Shaw have all been purchased for enormous sums of money during Woodward’s time in charge, yet none of them have lived up to their financial burdens. It is impossible to truly know what Woodward’s exact role is in the transfer dealings, but as the top operational executive at the club, he is responsible for the consistent failures whether he has taken a hands-on approach or has delegated most of the duties to others. It’s time the buck stops at the top.

Since the start of the 2013 summer transfer window, Manchester United has shelled out a gargantuan $712 million in transfer net spend and the Red Devils are no closer to challenging for the Premier League title than when they began their quest to replace Sir Alex Ferguson. After losing to relegated Cardiff City to close out the 2018/19 Premier League season with little more than a whimper, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer said it would take “a long time” for Manchester United to be in a position to compete for the league title. The Notwegian boss even dared to warn supporters to temper their expectations; the Europa League would be a reasonable ambition for the time being. Those words from a Manchester United mouthpiece like Solskjaer are a brutal indictment of Woodward and his leadership of the club over the past few years.

When Sir Alex departed, the team admittedly needed an overhaul. The legendary boss somehow squeezed one last triumph out of an old and dilapidated squad, as if fans needed yet another reason to revere the greatest manager the game has ever seen. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, and Dimitar Berbatov were all over 30 and on their way out of the club while David De Gea, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Rafael, Fabio, Jesse Lingard, Danny Welbeck, and Adnan Januzaj were all 22 years old or younger and looking for guidance and direction as they continued to develop.

Instead, they were met with chaos and instability, as David Moyes, Giggs, Louis Van Gaal, and Jose Mourinho all tried and failed to restore order to the club. None of the managers were given enough time to establish any sense of consistency, and it’s unclear whether any of them were good enough hires that things would have improved if given that luxury. Instead of embracing the period of transition, the club fell into a form of purgatory, hoping to maintain a steady ship while also understanding that things would not be the same. Woodward, a career accountant, may know what it takes to secure a lucrative sponsorship, but eventually they need the on-field results to match the claim of the world’s most popular club, or the financial leverage will wane.

While many players and managers have come and gone over the past few years, Woodward has remained the only constant figure, and the longer the club continues to rot, the more obvious his role in allowing the club to fester. Now, he wishes to bring on a technical director (see: Director of Football) to help with on-field decisions and player acquisitions, a smart choice in delegating the football responsibilities but also another hire to get right. And yet…he’s reportedly looking to hire Darren Fletcher, who literally retired as a player one week ago and has zero executive or managerial experience, in what feels like more of a PR move than anything of actual significance.

With this year’s sixth place finish – the club’s fourth finish outside the Premier League’s top four over the last six years – it is time fans direct their frustration and unhappiness further up the food chain. Ed Woodward must be held accountable for the failures of the club, or the glory days of (actually not that) long ago will become an even more distant memory with every passing year.

Solskjaer calls Man United defender McTominay a ‘Darren Fletcher’

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was over the moon with how his players performed in difficult circumstances against league-leading Liverpool in their 0-0 draw at Old Trafford, which was marred by a slew of first-half injuries.

Solskjaer, a former Manchester United striker and current interim manager, has made a name for himself in recalling old names and moments in Red Devils history during his two-plus months in charge. He did so again while pointing out players he was particularly pleased with on Sunday.

“I learned a lot about the players today,” Solskjaer told the Manchester Evening News after the match. “I learnt a lot about Scott McTominay, who I’ve been waiting to give a chance in a more attacking role, he can run into the box, is dangerous, he was a Darren Fletcher today for us. Absolutely fantastic, he’s not played since Reading, that’s six weeks ago, January 5.”

[ MORE: 3 things we learned from Man United v Liverpool ]

That is incredibly high praise from the United boss. Darren Fletcher is a Manchester United folk hero, having made over 300 career appearances for the club over a 12-year span. He was a do-it-all midfielder who was loved by fans for his bold attitude and fearless nature in the middle of the pitch.

McTominay, a 22-year-old Manchester United youth product and natural center-back, was put under pressure when Ander Herrera and Juan Mata both went off injured. McTominay was deployed as a defensive midfielder just in front of the back line that featured Victor Lindelof and Chris Smalling, but had to adapt on the introductions of Andreas Pereira, Jesse Lingard, and Alexis Sanchez. The young Scottish international made seven ball recoveries to lead Manchester United in the match, and had two blocks, three clearances, and two interceptions.

Solskjaer was also pleased with Pereira, who had played just 220 minutes this Premier League season before Sunday. Like McTominay, Pereira is a Manchester United youth product who has been given only a bit-part role in his time since joining the first-team squad. “Andreas, with the criticism he’s had to come on and did fantastic,” Solskjaer said. “So I learnt a lot about the character of the team.”

Venting and lamenting the USMNT’s World Cup absence

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Maybe it’s the fact that the night’s already surreal, with the American and North Korean leaders holding a historic meeting and the common bond being a 57-year-old nicknamed “The Worm” who is known for being an excellent rebounder and starring in a movie with Jean-Claude Van Damme, but the dawn of this summer’s World Cup feels exceptionally dreamlike.

Let’s get some things out of the way: Even with the United States men’s national team failing to make the tournament, I’m still very excited about the World Cup. I’m leaning toward hitching my wagon to Serbia’s dark horse status, but also want to be four years’ worth of correct when it comes to Germany.

I’ve also learned you can navigate the sports version of the grieving process — acceptance is tough, but the hope part is easier — and still ride pretty high on the anger and frustration part of it all.

[ MORE: Sporting Lisbon drama increases ]

Anything can happen in a World Cup. We saw that with the USMNT escaping its Group of Death in 2014 and Costa Rica doing the same, but I can’t help look at this tournament as a chance lost for both CONCACAF and the U.S.

This is subjective, and please feel free to disagree, but the domestic buzz feels minimal compared to a tournament with the United States in the field. In terms of the average sports fan, you can scream Messi or Ronaldo all you want, but the tournament is being sold here like an El Clasico with flags.

We’ve reached the point in the World Cup cycle where I worry how many kids, both fans and players, in that pivotal age bracket of 8-12 are going to potentially miss out on their formative Dos A Cero in Jeonju, or Landon Donovan versus Algeria moment.

The beauty of being a sports fan is the images and characters created by your team or nation on the biggest stages.

For Americans of my generation, we’ve seen our country in every World Cup since we were in grade school. Even tournaments where the USMNT didn’t really ring a bell, like 1994, the World Cup drew us into side stories. I remember sitting in my Uncle Jim’s living room, hoping against hope that Italy would top Brazil, and being fairly bummed when Roberto Baggio sent his effort over the bar

I also often feel compelled to point out that Baggio was the third Italian to miss, and that Italy goes out in the Round of 16 if he doesn’t equalize in the 88th minute and complete his brace against Nigeria in extra time, then scoring the winner against Spain in the quarters, and both goals against Bulgaria in the semis.

And here’s the thing: I barely cared about soccer in 1994. I didn’t start playing until high school, and didn’t fall in love with the USMNT program until qualifying for the 2002 tournament.

There’s a vivid American memory from every World Cup after ’94 for me, often in the form of a question.

1998: “Did we really just lose to Iran?”

2002: “How did the ref miss that %^&%^& handball on Frings?”

2006: “Brian McBride is really bloody”

2010: “AND DONOVAN’S SCORED, OH CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS?”

2014:

2018 is gonna be anger and disbelief, a generation deprived of its World Cup from perhaps the easiest qualification format by a defiant coach, his haughty replacement, and a group of players who showed enough effort to get the job done on average once every other game.

Frankly, this probably sounds absurd to some European and South American nations considering some of the World Cup droughts, some still active. Ryan Giggs never played in one. Alfredo Di Stefano, George Weah, and Ian Rush were shut out. Even in the expanded format, current big names like Darren Fletcher, Arda Turan, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.

Christian Pulisic missed his first World Cup? Boo-hoo, say Austria and Wales. David Alaba will be 28 the next time he gets to attempt qualification for his first. Gareth Bale will be 31 and Aaron Ramsey 30.

Robbie Keane got one World Cup. Marcus Hahnemann went to two.

So, yeah, American soccer fans have had it pretty good. I don’t want this to read like, “my tap water in Western New York could be better” when in reality I’d welcome a full-time job of delivering fresh water to the half-globe or more where it is needed by real, true human beings (including Michigan). Rooting for Serbia because the U.S. or Wakanda didn’t qualify is an acceptable enough outcome.

The 2026 World Cup could be coming back to the United States for the second time in 32 years despite this country still just figuring out the sport’s allure. We’re fortunate in so many ways. And, frankly, there’s a very good argument to be made that the country’s federation could use the second swift kick that would come from failing to make a World Cup then blowing a World Cup hosting bid despite overwhelming stores of influence and money.

But for now, all I can think about is what we won’t have this weekend. Very few, if any, city blocks shut down for outdoor viewing party. A similar amount of beer-soaked phone videos of bar celebrations. No John Brooks canceling out Andre Ayew’s late equalizer. No Jermaine Jones rocket against Portugal. Not even a hope-giving moment from substitute Julian Green versus Belgium (Silly dual nationals).

Don’t forget: Some said dual nationals like John Brooks didn’t “care” enough (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images).

No first World Cup for Pulisic. Maybe no World Cup ever for Eric Lichaj, Bobby Wood, Tim Ream, Danny Williams, and Darlington Nagbe.

I mean, shoot, at least when the USWNT took its step back it was just a missed medal at the Olympics, not an entire month of sadness.

The whys are myriad: A national program that got high on its own FIFA rankings supply. A divide between proponents of players playing at the highest level and those who refused to push players there because of the money it made them or their domestic clubs. No one knows if Matt Besler would’ve become the best defender in USMNT history with a move to West Ham — and we do love him for his one-club heart — but there sure is some “What if?” there.

But it’s not about the whys here. It’s about the “What ifs?”

What if the U.S. was drawn in Panama’s place, needing to get past Belgium or England, let alone Tunisia, to make another knockout round? I’m genuinely happy for Panama, even with their ghost goal being the difference, but CONCACAF would likely rather see the Yanks’ buttressing their World Cup host bid with Pulisic as poster boy.

What if the U.S. was drawn in Mexico’s place, a veritable Group of Death for Arena and his proponents to measure himself against Klinsmann and his?

Or what about Costa Rica’s spot, with Neymar’s Brazil joining underachieving Switzerland and dark horse Serbia on the docket?

What if that kid who’s choosing whether to dedicate himself to high school football, basketball, lacrosse, or soccer, doesn’t bother to get misty-eyed for the red, white, and blue because he’s going to opt to go to the Orioles because Croatia-Argentina doesn’t have any significance to him?

$%^$.

Swansea City 1-2 Stoke City: Swans relegated

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  • Swansea relegated after seven-year stay
  • Swans finish in 18th place 
  • Stoke finish in 19th with relegation already confirmed

Swansea lost 2-1 against Stoke City at the Liberty Stadium on Sunday with the South Wales side relegated from the Premier League after a seven-year stay.

The Swans took the lead via Andy King but Stoke scored twice in the first half through Badou Ndiaye and Peter Crouch to seal a comeback win and just their second victory under Paul Lambert. Xherdan Shaqiri misses a penalty in the second half as Stoke eased to victory.

With the win Stoke finish in 19th, level on points with Swansea in 18th but five goals worse off in goal differential.

[ MORE: Watch full PL match replays ]

Stoke were forced into an early change as former Swansea midfielder Joe Allen was forced off and Darren Fletcher replaced him.

Xherdan Shaqiri whipped in a cross which Lukas Fabianski punched clear and the other end there was an almighty goalmouth scramble with Jack Butland saving and several blocks from the Stoke defense keeping Swansea out.

[ MORE: Latest Premier League standings ]

Moments later King put Swansea ahead as Andre Ayew nodded the ball into his path and he calmly slotted home. The chances kept coming for Swansea as Wayne Routledge then went close with Stoke sinking back towards their own goal.

Before the break Stoke were level as a counter saw Ndiaye get free in-behind and he lobbed home a wonderful effort to make it 1-1. And it got better for the Potters as Crouch headed home a free kick from the left to make it 2-1.

Jordan Ayew curled a free kick inches wide just before the break but the Swans were heading for the drop.

[ MORE: Full lineups, stats, box score ]

In the second half Ayew went close again as Stoke sat back and soaked up pressure but Swansea had simply ran out of steam.

Stoke missed a penalty as Fabianski denied Shaqiri after a handball call in the box and Swansea just couldn’t find an equalizer.

[ VIDEO: Premier League highlights ]

At the final whistle the likes of Leon Britton and Fabianski were in tears as Swansea were relegated on the final day.