An impatient Sir Alex Ferguson said that Carlos Tevez was returning from Mars. For Manchester United fans, Montevideo might as well be out of the solar system.
In April 2009, Tevez was in the final months of his United career, returning to Manchester after a humiliating 6-1 loss to Argentina in Bolivia on Friday night. A depleted United were playing Aston Villa on Sunday without suspended Wayne Rooney, Paul Scholes and Nemanja Vidic, while Rio Ferdinand and Dimitar Berbatov were injured. Lee Martin and Federico Macheda took the bench.
Tevez was due to return on Thursday afternoon, but landed 24 hours later. It still started one afternoon Macheda imitated Steve Bruce at the Stretford End. A month later, Tevez covered his ears in front of Ferguson after scoring in the Manchester derby, irritated by United’s refusal to sign him permanently.
If the outgoing Tevez was so committed, what are we going to do with Edinson Cavani? Cavani is no longer in Montevideo after he was granted an additional license after playing for Uruguay on Tuesday night and missed the FA Cup defeat to Middlesbrough. That gave Chris Wilder an easy team talk.
There is certainly relief behind Cavani’s absence. Jason Sancho’s body was on the pitch at Villa Park last month, but his mind was elsewhere and four days later it emerged that he had suffered a family bereavement. United were understanding and Sancho missed two games. Victor Lindelof retired to Sweden with his family after his wife and his two young children hid from robbers while Lindelof played in Brentford.
The difference with Cavani is that this has happened before. Last year, United’s medical staff would declare Cavani fit only for him to give a second opinion: he wasn’t. It became public when Cavani was included in the traveling squad to face AC Milan only for him to withdraw two hours later. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer clarified that it was Cavani’s decision.
Cavani enjoyed eight weeks off after the Copa América in July. He returned in time for the second game of the season at Southampton, but was absent and it was originally suggested that he was unhappy not to travel. That seemed strange. It eventually emerged that Cavani had turned down the selection.
On Friday night, the United fans did not serenade Cavani. Whether he starts, on the bench or not in the stadium, they always do. His second season was worth it for attendees to link with a striker whose commitment once he crosses the white line is undeniable. Outside of that, he’s suspicious. Cavani, who was instrumental in Marcus Rashford’s winner against West Ham, could have improved United’s hard-hitting finish against Boro.
United fans chanted Anthony Elanga’s name as he warmed up and, more poignantly, after he endangered spectators at the Stratford End. Elanga suffered from stage fright and later racial abuse from online criminals. He more than deserved the support. He wanted to play. Cavani did not.
During his post-match press conference, Ralf Rangnick was more upset about Jesse Lingard’s absence and absolved himself of blame. United’s team of the day named two goalkeepers on the bench, almost as if to make a point.
Rangnick communicates convincingly and his English is impeccable. Lingard’s additional leave is believed to have been suggested by director of football John Murtough in a phone call and Rangnick indicated a third party was responsible.
“I told you what my information and knowledge was and of course I would have loved to have Jesse on the team,” Rangnick fumed. “Today we were one less outfield player in the roster, so why would he have allowed him four or five days off? I would have loved to have him in the roster, but he didn’t.”
Murtough’s title is arguably weakened by the consultant role Rangnick will assume in July, though Murtough pushed for Rangnick’s appointment.
Murtough jointly ran United’s academy, recruiting the women’s team from scratch and rising to an influential role. She is an affable presence and the enthusiasm she expressed in United’s thrilling FA Youth Cup victory over Chelsea in 2018 is not shared enough at the club.
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For cynics, he’s easy to hire internally and too accommodating to have a transformative effect. Rangnick is an objective problem solver, prepared to dig millennial members out of the locker room and cool when they respond (on social media, naturally).
A high-profile United player has spoken disparagingly of Rangnick’s resume and that is unlikely to deter the German. These United players are on course to become the least successful group in almost 40 years.
Rangnick was responsible for Cavani’s absence but the issue was historic. Cavani was encouraged to contact Rangnick and request two more days in his home country because United have become his European retirement home. If Lingard was so desperate for a transfer and playing time, he didn’t have to bask in the Dubai sun or take Murtough’s recommendation.
When Rangnick’s replacement unpacks his boxes at the manager’s office in Carrington, it’s unlikely he’ll have any players to manage. However, he will have to manage a club that works as if it were on another planet.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.