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Dublin: 11°C Monday 19 April 2021
Advertisement chats to Football Weekly about Twitter trolls and why United would have been better off with Mourinho

Other discussion topics included Kenny Dalglish’s sacking, ex-pros versus journalists as analysts and what makes the podcast successful.

AHEAD OF THEIR sold-out show in Griffith College, chatted to some of the stars of The Guardian’s Football Weekly podcast.

The interview took place the afternoon before the United-Olympiakos tie. In the first of a two-part interview, we look at a number of topics including whether Moyes has complete control at United, why they might have been better off going for Jose Mourinho as coach, the lazy criticisms of internet trolls and the pros and cons of journalists versus ex-pros doing analysis.

So read on and enjoy, and don’t forget to keep an eye on the site tomorrow morning for the second part of our interview…

TheScore: How do you see the game [United v Olympiakos] going tonight then?

James Horncastle: I can see United winning but not going through. I don’t know how that will go down. I don’t know whether that will be enough. There’s a pattern with United this season. They have an encouraging win that lifts spirits, then they have a crushing defeat. Going into this weekend, West Ham — they might be okay — but then City…

TS: Moyes hasn’t been great, but could anyone have done a good job with this United team?

Raphael Honigstein: I think everyone expected them to have a transitional year, but there’s a difference between them finishing third and fourth, or seventh — a big difference. It’s become quite clear that Moyes has made a lot of mistakes, he didn’t quite get the players on his side, at least not the important ones, and then they shot themselves in the foot over the summer in the transfer market. Plus, the post-Ferguson effect, where everybody’s just a little bit more relaxed, not quite as focused on winning, not quite as afraid of not winning, which has all combined to make them weaker. Also, everybody else, including Everton, have strengthened. Maybe Spurs are treading water, the results have been decent, they’re more or less where they should be and they’re better than United. So United have stagnated and gone back, and everybody else has made a few steps forward. I think it is a disaster, and it’s being seen as one.

The long-term effect is minimal. They’re so strong that they can easily afford a year out, perhaps even two or three seasons out. It’s damaging to the brand though.

TS: Can they still compete with City and Chelsea financially?

RH: Of course, their turnover will be just shy of £500million for this season.

JH: I think had they appointed a Mourinho or a Guardiola — and that’s a window of opportunity that they perhaps missed — either of those coaches could have at least pointed to their track record and said, you know I’ve done this in the past, I can do it again. And people would perhaps give them more time because of that. With Moyes, he doesn’t have that track record to point to, so it becomes focused on — people think: ‘We’ve got no proof that he can do it, we don’t think he’s going to do it.’

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester United v Liverpool - Old Trafford Source: EMPICS Sport

(David Moyes has endured a tough start to life at United)

RH: I think they would like to give him time. They would like to find a way to let him be until the end of the season and then start again in the summer. It would be good for them because they could still project this image of stability. It wouldn’t be such a slap in the face of Ferguson. There are a lot of reasons why they would like to persist with him. But if they get the feeling that the majority of the important players just do not believe in him and subconsciously don’t perform as well because they almost want to send a message that this guy’s not up for the job, then there’s nothing they can do. That’s why managers, who might be actually very good managers, get fired. If the team don’t believe in them, there’s no chance. And I disagree a little bit with this view that managers should be given time. I understand Ferguson is the big example. But you’re getting paid a lot of money to bring success now, not three or four years’ time. If you gave me the job and let me try out a few things in three or four years’ time, then we can improve results as well, but I’m here as a person to improve results instantly. But if you look at his peers — who are the best managers right now — they more or less had success instantly. And that’s why they’ve become big managers. They didn’t need time treading water before they started winning things.

TS: Like Moyes, Kenny Dalglish was well-liked and Liverpool would have been very reluctant to sack him, but they did and it paid dividends. Is United’s stance, by contrast, a backwards one?

RH: I think the situation’s not very comparable because Dalglish basically sacked himself, as he refused to go to America and conduct this inquest on what went wrong. He wanted total control, the board didn’t want to give it to him and ultimately, there was no way he was going to keep that job.

With Moyes, it’s different. He’s been bending backwards not in terms of relinquishing control but being very open. He still talks to Ferguson all the time, but the bigger point for me is that a manager, in his first season, should be at his strongest with the club and with the players, and you see he hasn’t got that kind of authority. In my view, it’s not going to get better, it’s going to get worse. If they stick with him, and everyone knows they’re only giving him another trial year, then the situation will replicate itself if the players feel that kind of weakness.

At the moment, if they can find someone, which is a big ‘if,’ they’ll get rid of him in the summer.

Soccer - FA Cup - Final - Liverpool v Chelsea - Wembley Stadium Source: EMPICS Sport

(Former Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish “basically sacked himself”)

JH: Mourinho was playing to the crowd and putting himself in the frame for that job, particularly if you look at the United-Madrid European Cup tie last year. He was practically going cap in hand to Ferguson and giving the impression that he wanted that job. When he got the Chelsea job again, his opening press conferences were: ‘Look, I am the guy Man United wanted me to be. I’m here for stability, I’m here for the long term, I want to build a team through young players.’

RH: I don’t believe a word of it. And I don’t think United believed that he was a United-type manager. Unfortunately, I think you can also sway too much in the opposite direction. With Moyes, he’s not going to become political the way Mourinho would have, he’s not going to start falling out with people upstairs. Is he up for it? Does he have the right charisma, does he have the persona, the right authority. And I think what they perhaps underestimated is that supporters want to buy into somebody’s leadership qualities. They want to believe this guy knows what he’s doing. Often, managers have to be really good actors. They have to portray this sense of being in control and Ferguson was a master of that, and Moyes isn’t. His press conference yesterday was painful to watch.

JH: Before the Liverpool game as well, to say they were the favourites and then afterwards, say that ‘any average man would have done the same’ in that role — you’re not an average man, you’re manager of Manchester United.

He’ll say: ‘Everything we did in training this week pointed to a good performance and it went wrong. I don’t know what we could have done differently.’

One of the roles Mourinho really appreciates is the role of communication in the modern management game, and having charisma. It’s one of the reasons why Klopp, aside from his football, aside from everything else, having that sort of package as a personality, who transcends his work on the football pitch. I don’t think Moyes has any of that, or he wasn’t exposed to any of that at Everton.

Mourinho is as close there is to a guarantee in football in terms of delivering championships. Guardiola is that too. They’ve missed that chance to bring in either of them. And I think below them, you think would Klopp work at United?

Spain Soccer La Liga Source: AP/Press Association Images

RH: It’s difficult to answer. It’d be his first job abroad. The first time his communication would be through the prism of a different language. You couldn’t say this guy’s going to be an instant success.

TS: Could he be another AVB — someone else who enjoyed great success in his country, but has struggled to adapt elsewhere?

RH: The difference is Klopp is much better at man management. AVB is very technical, very tactical, but never really managed to strike up a rapport with either team that he’s worked with. That ultimately was his downfall.

There’s a good analogy, because Abramovich wanted to stick with AVB right through to the end — he was desperate to keep him in the job because [sacking AVB would] reflect badly on Abramovich. There was a belief that given time, he’d be able to sort it out. But it got to the point where the majority of players said: ‘That’s it, we can’t work with him anymore.’ United haven’t reached that point yet, but you could see if they were to get knocked out [of the Champions League] and if they lost heavily against City, you could see the players saying: ‘You know what, we’re getting slaughtered here, but the guy upstairs is useless.’

TS: Isn’t that happening already? There are certainly murmurs of discontent.

JH: There was an understanding at the beginning of the season, as it played out, that a number of those veteran players were reaching the end of their time and perhaps needed moving on, but that seems to have accelerated. Whether it’s accelerated because of Moyes or because they themselves want out [is difficult to say]. Particularly someone like Vidic, being the captain of the club, organising to go to Inter Milan, for that to be made public when it was — it makes him not a lame duck captain, but it’s an awkward situation and I think that, in some respects, is indicative of certain members in the dressing room looking at him and thinking, this isn’t the club that I wanted to be a part of. The piece Van Persie put out the other week felt as if a press officer stood over him as he wrote it.

RH: The way it’s been described to me by someone at the club is that Moyes is just incapable of lifting people. The thing that makes everybody believe that they know what they’re doing. When you make changes at a big club like United, you always have to talk to the guys who are not playing. Apparently, Ferguson, which is perhaps one of his less well-known qualities, was always talking to those players that weren’t playing and making sure that they felt really valued and felt very tall. Because when the time came, they still had the confidence to perform. Apparently, you just don’t get it from Moyes.

JH: It really comes across in that Class of 92 documentary when Ferguson comes up to a player and says: ‘I really need you ready for this game.’ That immediately focused the mind, but the player then looked at the fixture list and realised that game wasn’t until three weeks’ time. But he was putting everything into being ready for it, because he knew in three weeks’ time, he’d have that opportunity. So I do believe that’s quite an underregarded quality.

Britain Soccer Premier League Source: AP/Press Association Images

TS: Moving on, what is it that people respond to in the podcast? What is it that makes it so successful and popular?

JH: Jimbo [laughs].

RH: It’s difficult to answer, because you’re in the middle of the storm, and you sometimes wonder after recording and you’re not quite sure was it a good one or was it terrible. The producer Ben makes it happen, because there’s a lot of stuff that ends up on the cutting floor.

It probably takes about an hour and a half to record, [jokingly] then Jimbo always takes half an hour extra to write his intro, he’s never ready on time, parking meter’s running, then there’s about five attempts at phoning Sid [Lowe] and then Sid just goes on and on and on and on with every single question.

[Barry Glendenning walks into the room]

JH: He’s one of the reasons [pointing to Barry].

RH: I think it’s less the podcast but just the way of looking at football. There’s a niche for it that this podcast and other podcasts and websites and people who work in different roles are feeling. Taking football very seriously, but at the same time, not taking it too seriously.

BG: [Sarcastically] It’s because of me… As you’ll have noticed, the star turn doesn’t travel with us [laughs]. He pointedly comes on his own in a separate airplane. Separate bus, different hotel. So what you hear on the podcast is just an illusion. We actually all loathe each other [more laughs].

RH: We travelled Ryanair. [James Richardson's] going on a gulf jet. It’s one of those planes with a pole fitted into the side, like in Iron Man.

JH: That’s how he keeps himself in shape.

TS: Could there ever be a point where people such as yourselves with no background playing the sport professionally start covering live football matches on national stations, as has happened with journalists in other sports?

RH: It happens in other countries as well. In Italy for example, they tend to have a mix between journalists and ex-footballers, particularly on their review shows on a Sunday night for the league. For the Champions League it’s different, they’ll use someone like Gianluca Vialli or Alessandro Costacurta, but in terms of their league coverage, yes, that’s something they have been doing for years.

ITV have started doing it. On the Review Show, they use German journalists and French ones. On BT, we do a show, and it very rarely has an ex-pro in the studio. But I still think there’s something to be said for the analysis to have someone who’s done it at the top level. It just kind of resonates more. Beckenbauer or somebody of that ilk will say something about Bayern playing boring, and it’s a headline. If I say it, nobody cares.

Source: The Guardian/YouTube

BG: [jokingly] You have to make rude hand gestures [to make headlines]… We’ve had Kevin Kilbane in a couple of times, and it’s always nice to pry and get a player’s perspective, particularly as he can kind of say things on the pod that he might not get away with on television. So the mix is good. Some ex-pros are excellent and some aren’t very good, and some journalists are good, and some bring nothing to the party… I’d be one of those [laughs].

TS: Are you often frustrated by the attitude, sometimes promoted by ex-pros, that people who haven’t played the game at a high level, i.e. journalists, know little or nothing about it? And is this attitude particularly prevalent in British footballing circles?

RH: I dunno, German Sky only last season started having journalists involved in the Champions League coverage. They have these kind of talk shows like Sunday Supplement, where predominantly journalists would be involved, but there are usually three or four token managers or players as well, because people don’t believe that giving journalists a spotlight is strong enough. So I’d say Britain is open and quite good in that respect.

You’re always going to get [the prejudice] and you’re always going to get it from punters. You see on Twitter that people will sometimes disrespect your opinion, because they’ll ask what have you done. But in general, it’s fairly open-minded.

TS: What’s the worst thing someone can say to you on Twitter?

BG: You often get accused of lazy journalism, which is in itself a very lazy criticism, because it’s very unimaginative. Jonathan Wilson wrote this article and it involved visiting two, if not three different continents, and talking to about nine different people, and he produced this 3,000 word opus. And someone went: ‘That’s sh*t, lazy journalism.’ And he’s going: ‘Well, it might be shit, but it is NOT lazy journalism.’ He had travelled 54,000 miles and had spoken to nine different people using interpreters to bring you this piece of ‘shit’. So, apart from just gratuitous abuse, ‘lazy journalism’.

TS: Bias is another favourite.

BG: If you’re being accused of bias by somebody who’s wearing a Chelsea shirt, wearing a Chelsea scarf, has a Chelsea season ticket, has Chelsea posters on their wall, then who exactly is bias here in their view on Chelsea?

RH: Twitter brings out the best and the worst in people. You do bring out the nutcases who feel that they have to defend their clubs against every opinion that might not be on their same wavelength. But then again, I’ve met amazing people on Twitter and been exposed to great ideas, so it’s fantastic too.

What’s worth remembering is that people will usually praise your article if they agree with your opinion. It could be an article where you think, you know what — I’ve done a lot better. But because people might agree with the argument, they’ll say: ‘That’s brilliant.’ But at the same time, you might write something really interesting and well written, but they don’t like the argument and they’ll say: ‘This is absolutely sh*t.’ And you just have to understand that and grow a pretty thick skin.

Look out for part two of the interview tomorrow morning on

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Paul Fennessy

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