The Greenhoff Column : Leaders, Please

The Greenhoff Column : Leaders, Please

One thing I really wanted to talk about this week was Patrice Evra; I spoke about him before in my column, and Gary Neville covered it excellently last night on television. I’ve spoke about the fact that Evra does not get back to defend and it was costly again on Saturday.

The centre halves were being left on their own; Fergie might not have seen Gary’s fantastic analysis due to him preparing for Europe but he’ll hear about it, and I’m sure more importantly he knew that it had happened. Evra is not primarily a defensive player and for someone so experienced, it’s surprising. You might expect it from Rafael but he wasn’t as bad as Evra.

When I was playing, if one of the full backs would go up, then the other full back would stay and you would come across with the centre halves to keep a solid three; so if the ball did come down the other end, you’d at least be in a position to sweep the ball. Yet with two of the goals, Spurs came down the right and Evra was nowhere near. Rio Ferdinand was criticised for not getting to Bale but Evra should have been better positioned; they would have been able to push him wide, and the chance would not have been as easy. Yes, Bale scored with his weaker foot, but pushing him further wide would have made it much harder for him to get a cross in as he wouldn’t have that natural whip. Rio’s not as quick as he used to be but he’s no slouch; I felt the criticism was very harsh and possibly misdirected.

Perhaps the fact that we don’t have a commanding goalkeeper or, at the very least, a vocal goalkeeper also had a part to play – with Schmeichel or van der Sar you can’t imagine that Evra would be so badly positioned. When I was coaching at amateur side Whitworth, I would always say “would you run across the road to help a mate?”, and for me, Evra wasn’t prepared to do that. He wasn’t prepared to break his neck to get back into the position he was supposed to be in. But this moves me on to another concern I have; we don’t seem to have a natural leader in the team or squad.

Who’s the one you look at on the pitch to say “he’ll sort it out”? Where’s the Robson, Keane, Ince, Neville? They were all vocal, players you could rely on, but this has become very obvious since van der Sar retired. The goalkeeper is the eyes in the back of your head as a player; if he is telling you to do something, it’s for the good of the team so you don’t lose a goal – it’s not necessarily like, for instance, Rooney telling Nani not to shoot because he’s better placed. If the goalkeeper says “go left, left”, you have to do it and you cannot question it. You don’t see the bigger picture; he does. I’m not sure that our goalkeepers – either of them, perhaps because of their language, though Lindegaard speaks English – are vocal enough. Rio shouts, and does lead, but on Saturday he was more bothered about his own performance because of what was happening wide of him.

We can’t change the “natural leader” dilemma for a couple of months at least. It’s been a concern for me for a couple of years, and especially with the increased injury problems for Rio and Vidic. Rooney would be the one inside of the squad, yet he would probably have to move back into midfield to become the kind of leader we’d need. I’m not sure that anything will be enough to sort Evra’s positioning out though; on Saturday, Evans was playing the ball from a left back position more than the Frenchman, who seemed too pre-occupied with being within ten yards of Ryan Giggs at all times!

Giggs was another player to receive criticism; I’ve been vocal about the fact I am not keen on Scholes and Giggs starting at the same time, especially in away games or against opposition teams with an high energy midfield. We were overrun in midfield on Saturday which has been my worry since the start of the season – but while I can agree with some who are disappointed with the way they are playing, I don’t agree with the fact some are slagging them off and saying they should retire. Look at what they’ve done for the club. Sometimes you have to remember that, and I’m not sure people are. I’m loathe to criticise them because I don’t find it easy, but it’s natural that they find it more difficult in games at the highest level than they did 10 years ago. When I was at the club, Sir Bobby Charlton came to the end of his career and he played over 700 times for the club. Giggs now has to live with every pass, how far he runs, and percentages of everything being analysed, especially when they have poor games. When I played there was only one camera at a game, but Sky might have up to 21 cameras at a game, and you don’t get away with anything. All this calling for him to retire now is well, well over the top. He’s got a role to play this year, but used in a certain way. He’s got a contract for the rest of the year and he should be allowed to complete it.

Some of the players on Saturday were lucky it was only Ryan who came off at half time! I’ve played in games like that but the other way around; we were 2-0 up against Spurs once and lost 3-2. Some times you just need half time; and on Saturday it seemed like we needed half time after about 10 minutes! We were unlucky not to get anything out of it as I thought our second half was far better than their first, so I wouldn’t be too worried.

I didn’t agree with Giggs being used in central midfield but then the system we’re playing at the moment is unfamiliar. Tom Cleverley and Anderson could play in midfield to give energy, but even Phil Jones, when fit, would be a handful in midfield, particularly away in Europe as a holding player. Even with the new system, United are not playing with a holding player – Real Madrid play with two, and even Barcelona play with one. Fans – and I’m one of them – get carried away with us playing “the Manchester United way”, and I’m speaking as someone who played in one of the most attacking sides we’ve had, where none of our midfielders were defensively minded and even I was put in defence to start attacks! In the present game, we need to play with a holding player. It’s the way the game has evolved and the thing our system needs.

Tonight United take on Cluj; Fergie says he’ll not mess about with his team in Europe so I hope he picks the best back four he can and then finally makes his mind up who is best goalkeeper is. I think it’s De Gea, so I’d like to see him get a run – particularly behind a settled defence. I think Anderson and Cleverley might play to get a high tempo; and as long as the pitch is all right, I think United should be okay. With two games coming up against Braga – I think we’ll get a result, and if you offered Sir Alex a 1-1 right now I think he might take it.


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  1. Pete

    Good srticle.

    I’m not a fanatic. I’ve been a college basketball coach in the states for over 15 years now. When I’m not engulfed in my team, I’m watching United and as much football as possible. I think the managers in Europe are the best coaches/managers of any sport. I also think that football is a true “team” sport.

    I have watched Evra over the past few years and have become increasingly annoyed with his performance. I’m also no happy with his actions prior and during the 2010 World Cup.

    I didn’t see the Neville analysis last night, but I’ll be searching for it today.

    Evra seems to have lost his focus during matches. You said something in the article that I have repeated to other people. The mistakes that Evra makes would be expected of younger defenders, but not from a captain of the French national team and first team player for United. I think he has gotten cared away with his status as a starter for United.

    It’s just my opinion. I’m not in and around the club every day. But I see similarities with some of the players I have coached.

    When a player first comes to a team (club) they are usually very hungry to prove themselves. They will do anything that is asked of them and they usually play with an edge. But when a player has made it to a certain level and his position on the team is “secure”, they tend to relax and get sloppy. Only truly great players find new challenges for themselves.

    I think Evra is comfortable. He has a level of fame and he has won trophies. He seems to have forgotten how to compete and there is really no way back from that.

    I’m at the point where I would rather try a younger player at his position and deal with their learning process.

    And for the record, I’m not blaming Evra for both goals. Nani fell asleep and let his man run by him into the defense on the first goal.

    People who fault Evans and Rio for both goals are just foolish.

    Anyway, good stuff man. Keep up the great blogs.

  2. trevor from northwich

    I agree mostly with you except that I think Scoles and Giggs and Ferguson should retire at the end of the season. For at least the last three seasond the manager has failed to strengthen the team where its at its weakest but keeps buying defenders and forwards The fans have been crying out for a top midfielder but has been ignored.
    When fans, even those who have never played football in their lives are shouting for the manager to strengthen the midfield but the manager and his assisstants ignore their pleas.
    Another trophyless season unless he does something in January.

  3. trevor

    After last nights display against CLUJ once again the full backs were playing their own game. Evra again day dreaming for their goal.
    I wonder about who is coaching these players. Do they know what they are doing. It was never like this when Querious? was coaching the team.
    On Scholes and Giggs. On MUTV last night Arthur Albison stated that United will need Scholes and Giggs with their experience against Newcastle on Saturday.
    It just shows you the mindset of these MUTV pundits.

  4. trevor from northwich

    Once again the finger is pointed at the full backs against CLUJ and again Evra.
    But I do not blame the full backs entirely. I blame the coaches at United as Evra and Rafael seem
    to not bother with team play but just go out and do their thing and to hell with the consequeces What experience had Phelan before he became Fergies assistant
    The whole of the coaching and scouting system needs overhauling for when did you see United lately get a bargain like Newcastle or Everton that is a permanent fixture in the first team

  5. TheHumbleGent

    Brian Greenhoff, bloody hell. Always good to read the words of a comrade from my own home town of Barnsley.

    A great article, thank you. I agree for the most part. Especially the points about Giggs. The man is a club legend in the true sense of the word and deserves the dignity of being allowed to see out the season but I think SAF is at fault for expecting two near 40 year olds to deal with a strong and pacey midfield. I can understand SAF’s loyalty to the former Fledglings but it’s time to give youth a chance, because as the old adage goes, ‘if they’re good enough they’re old enough…’.

    Thanks for a great blog.

  6. trevor from northwich

    I am disappointed. I thought the Greenhoff column was a regular weekly column but I find that on the 16th October the column has not been updated since the 2nd October.
    I thought when you have a column on the internet you should update it at least once a week with your thoughts or its not a column.

    1. yolkie

      Hi Trevor, thanks for your feedback.

      Due to the international break and commitments regarding his autobiography, we decided to take a week off the column. It will be returning this week, with Brian’s thoughts on the Newcastle game and the upcoming Stoke encounter.

  7. Ricky

    Mike Phelan need to be replace asap. The worst assistant coach in MU history under SAF. Alway in the shadow of the millionaire footballers.


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