In his exclusive column for CaughtOffside, former Liverpool attacker Stan Collymore discusses some of football’s biggest talking points, including why Erik ten Hag isn’t right for Man United, how good Unai Emery has been for Aston Villa, why Newcastle were robbed in the Champions League plus much more.
Onana hire shows that Erik ten Hag is the wrong manager for Man United
In terms of Man United’s record under Erik ten Hag, it’s poor. It’s all about winning, that’s the most important thing, performances don’t need to be cavalier.
Do I think he’s the long term man for the club? I don’t. You’ve got to have the character or the personality of a Pep or a Klopp to be able to really assert influence over the club, something ten Hag has struggled to do.
When you are a Manchester United manager and you run a football club that brings in Andre Onana, who is arguably worse than the outgoing goalkeeper, then that has to be on the manager.
If you look at Klopp’s signings from when he had a real say over transfers, ditto Man City, virtually every player in the early days, were seven, eight or nine out of ten players. You can’t say that about Onana. That tells me everything I need to know about the recruitment at Old Trafford and the panic buying.
Rasmus Hojlund at £70m is another. United were basically under pressure because Liverpool had got Gakpo, Man City had Haaland, Aston Villa had tied down Ollie Watkins… so all of a sudden Man United are like ‘we need a striker.’
Their recruitment has been absolutely dreadful and ultimately the manager has given the thumbs up to some of the players coming in when some of them are blatantly not ready to play for Manchester United week in and week out.
The only way ten Hag turns the corner is if he hangs his reputation on the next four or five signings doing the business for the club. If he does that and they become a success, then he gets the kind of power and gravitas at the football club that fans would expect him to have, and everybody goes ‘he’s got this.’
Newcastle handball decision was one of the worst I’ve ever seen
Let’s go back to the very basics of what handball is meant to be. In the spirit of Association Football, it’s if a player deliberately uses his arm unnaturally to gain an advantage, or stops the ball crossing the line. So in other words something that’s obvious. It’s a no brainer.
We all watched the game and we’ve all watched enough football from pretty much the age of 10 to 11 onwards to know intuitively what handball is.
What I’m struggling with is the fact that a professional referee in the world’s premier club competition looked at the Newcastle decision after three or people in the VAR room told him to attend the monitor, and still went with their decision to award a penalty. I’ve even watched the passage of play and decision in real time again, and I just think it’s ludicrous.
The ball was fired too close to the Newcastle player for him to be doing anything deliberately because his body just doesn’t have time to react. One hundred percent of the time that should be given as not handball and the fact that four people have effectively given it as handball tells me that they don’t understand what the very basic rule is.
It’s one of the worst decisions I’ve ever seen.
We need to stop reverting to laws and rules and just go back to common sense, because common sense would say no handball.
The Unai Emery revolution is in full swing at Aston Villa
If you’re looking at giving a ‘half term scorecard,’ Aston Villa for me would be the highest on nine because there’s one manager above all others that will be happiest with their start to the season and that’s Unai Emery.
I think Villa need a point in their last Europa Conference League game to be guaranteed top spot so that would be amazing, and the turnaround in making average players into good players, good players into very good players and very good players into borderline great has been stunning.
Ollie Watkins, Douglas Luiz and also John McGinn have been sensational as has Emi Martinez, and all of them received some criticism in the Gerrard era. Emery’s made them all better through great management and great coaching.
Success has come without significantly adding to the squad and don’t forget that they’ve had injuries, with some players – Alex Moreno and Diego Carlos to name two – only just coming back. Tyrone Mings has been out and a lot of Villa fans thought that would be a problem too. It hasn’t been.
No big moves in January despite the rumours
I don’t think there’s any chance of Douglas Luiz going to Arsenal in January because Villa will be after the kind of money that I don’t think Arsenal would be prepared to pay.
They’ve just spent £100m on Declan Rice, and I think that Villa would be turning around and saying that’s the kind of money we want, thereby making it a non-starter.
Brentford won’t be in a relegation scrap so I think that they can afford to turn around to Ivan Toney and say, ‘look, we’ve been really loyal to you over the gambling stuff, we’re not going to let you go in January, but we will let you go at the end of the season.’
I know that Chelsea did their main business in January last year, but they just had money burning a hole through their pocket. They were prepared to go out and spend ridiculous amounts of money in that window to get their first choice players in six months early.
Liverpool are still looking at strengthening the midfield, Man United might want to get in another goalkeeper to put Onana under pressure, but it’s going to cost a shed load of money to be able to get certain players out of their respective clubs at this point.
For those reasons, in my opinion it’s going to be a bit of a muted transfer window for most clubs and I genuinely can’t see any situation whereby whereby any club is going to spend significantly.
Sin bins are a no from me
I’m kind of torn really, because when I heard Paul Merson’s argument the other day, I thought ‘you’re right’ – to an extent.
Merse had said that rugby league and rugby union, who both use sin bins as a way of disciplining players, would have teams expecting to rack up seven to 10 points in the time players are off the pitch, and that wouldn’t translate to football.
If you look at the way that the Premier League is set up at the minute, however, teams such as Tottenham and Aston Villa are always going at it, so I don’t think you would get teams just sitting back behind the ball for 10 minutes, as Merson suggested.
So, I think sin bins actually could work but do I want them? No, because the current yellow and red card system works fine as far as I am concerned. I don’t think any any more gimmicks that deal with a fundamental change in the structure are necessary.
From Merson’s perspective, I completely agree with him that we don’t need it, but I disagree with him on the point that if it was implemented, that would mean every player will just sit back.
I think that we need a situation whereby we have a proper root and branch review from FIFA, UEFA and the Premier League about the current laws and rules of the game, and making them much more robust.