Martin Samuel: Now we get to see if talk from Manchester United suitors is hot air or cold reality

Over to you, Jim. Ratcliffe, O’Neill, there is always a Jim where Manchester United are concerned. Through the years there have been a whole lot of Jims who have claimed they can fix it for the club and now they have got their chance.

At last, the Glazers want to sell. Like their compatriots at Liverpool, the body blow that was the collapse of the Super League was too much and they are getting out. 

A figure in excess of £5billion is quoted, maybe as much as £9bn, but there is a price and it will be revealed – no doubt privately – to any serious bidder. So come on down, you billionaires. Now, it gets real.

That has always been the problem with Manchester United. The club was easy to buy when the club had no intention of selling.

Certainly, it was easier to talk about buying. Anyone who fancied creating a headline could buy Manchester United, even Michael Knighton and now David Beckham.

A whole lot of ‘Jims’ have claimed they can fix it for Manchester United – with British tycoon Sir Jim Ratcliffe (above) saying he wants to buy the club – now he, and others, will have the chance

Baron Jim O'Neill has also claimed he is interested in a purchase - but are his words just hot air?

Baron Jim O’Neill has also claimed he is interested in a purchase – but are his words just hot air?

It was like one of those charity auctions where the big prize is, say, the shirt Edwin van der Sar was wearing for John Terry’s missed penalty in the Champions League final. 

‘Who’s going to start the bidding at a grand?’ asks the master of ceremonies and someone puts his hand up because that is still a lot of money and makes him look big and generous, but he knows it’s going to go for 10 times that, minimum, and there is no real chance of the bill dropping on his table.

And that’s Manchester United. Anyone can make a populist speech about letting the club go to a real fan – even real fans like Ratcliffe, who are Chelsea season ticket holders – or implore the Glazers to do the decent thing and sell it cheaply, safe in the knowledge that bluff was never going to be called.

O’Neill – now Baron O’Neill of Gatley – once talked up a consortium known as the Red Knights who were very vocal during the first green and gold protests. He predicted a United and Liverpool sale in 2021, too.

That's Manchester United - anyone, like Michael Knighton (above), can make a populist speech about letting the club go to a real fan, safe in the knowledge their bluff will never be called

That’s Manchester United – anyone, like Michael Knighton (above), can make a populist speech about letting the club go to a real fan, safe in the knowledge their bluff will never be called

He is clearly an astute guy but will he try again, now the club is genuinely available? Maybe his consortium could return as the Baron Knights. Ratcliffe spoke about buying the club only last month. ‘Manchester United is owned by the Glazer family and they are the nicest people, proper gentlemen,’ he told a Financial Times event. 

‘But they don’t want to sell it. If it had been for sale in the summer then, yes, we would have probably had a go following on from the Chelsea thing, but we can’t sit around hoping one day United will become available.’

Ah, the Chelsea thing. That is when the club was for sale for a protracted period and then, just when the bidding period had closed, Ratcliffe came in. Unsurprisingly, he didn’t get it.

Now we wait to see if his United talk also turns out to be hot air. It must be hard for the club’s suitors, always wanting the one they can have. 

Messi needs to copy Bale’s sense of timing

Argentina’s match with Poland at Stadium 974 on Wednesday is shaping up like a cup final. Lose and it could be Lionel Messi’s farewell as an international player, his last chance of football’s biggest trophy gone.

It may sound preposterous but he needs to be more like Gareth Bale. This is not a comparison of the pair as footballers. Bale is a great player but we know where Messi sits in the pantheon. All but the very greatest are looking up at him.

Yet Bale has a special ingredient, a way of inserting himself into the narrative at vital moments, regardless of what went before.

He comes off the bench and scores arguably the greatest goal of a Champions League final, then his last-minute equaliser drags Los Angeles FC to a penalty shootout and the MLS title, after he barely featured for them all season.

And when Wales needed a way back against the United States, it was Bale again who won the penalty and scored it. His was a brilliant strike too, hard and curling away towards the corner, the work of a man with no fear of failure. He is going down as the greatest player in Wales’ history and he knows it.

Argentina star Lionel Messi needs to copy Gareth Bale's sense of timing to win the World Cup

Argentina star Lionel Messi needs to copy Gareth Bale’s sense of timing to win the World Cup

So although everyone here wishes they could emulate the talent of Messi, it is Bale who Messi should look to for inspiration.

He didn’t play well in Wales’ first game. Rob Page, the manager, was asking if he wanted to come off after 70 minutes. But Bale stayed on and put his country in a position to qualify. Beat Iran and they are almost there.

There have been comparisons between this Argentina team and the one Diego Maradona propelled to World Cup victory in 1986. The difference is that Maradona was 25 when he did that and Messi now is 10 years older.

He cannot do what he did a decade ago. He has to find ways of dragging Argentina through without being the dynamic force of old. As incongruous as it may seem, Messi has to be more Bale. 

Bale (left) single-handedly dragged his Wales side back into the game against USA in Qatar

Bale (left) single-handedly dragged his Wales side back into the game against USA in Qatar

Newton’s law of stoppage time 

Newton’s third law – for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. So, naturally, FIFA’s well-intentioned plan to cut time-wasting turns out to potentially have a debilitating effect on player health.

Extra periods approaching 10 minutes, or even more, have not been unusual at this World Cup and there are worries that this, particularly in the heat, could lead to muscle injuries and fatigue. Tired players tackle badly and injuries result.

So a noble idea comes with unexpected complications. Clever chap, Newton. Was he the one who played for Burnley? 

Running riot has to be a good omen

The only team to score double figures at a World Cup finals did not make it out of the group stage. At the 1982 tournament, Hungary beat El Salvador 10-1 in Elche. 

Laszlo Kiss scored the World Cup’s quickest hat-trick – just seven minutes – and the only one to ever be achieved by a substitute.

Hungary lost their next game 4-1 to Diego Maradona’s Argentina, then drew 1-1 with Belgium and went home. So, in that respect, beating Iran 6-2 might not foreshadow anything at all. 

Yet the World Cup’s other highest scoring games – Hungary 9-0 South Korea (1954), Yugoslavia 9-0 Zaire (1974), Sweden 8-0 Cuba (1938), Uruguay 8-0 Bolivia (1950) and Germany 8-0 Saudi Arabia (2002) – suggest otherwise. 

Those matches produced one winner, two finalists, a semi-finalist and a team who reached the last eight. So a trouncing to start is often an indicator of a strong tournament ahead. It doesn’t mean England win it, but nor is it insignificant. 

England's 6-2 trouncing of Iran in their World Cup opener is surely a good sign going forwards

England’s 6-2 trouncing of Iran in their World Cup opener is surely a good sign going forwards

Chelsea making a mistake to covet creaking Ronaldo

Graham Potter can only hope Todd Boehly backs him, the way the Glazers ultimately did Erik ten Hag. By sacking Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United’s owners showed the manager mattered.

It can be argued they should have done this earlier, maybe when he was recruited, but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer seemed as hot to trot as Sir Alex Ferguson and everyone else at the club. 

Yet they did the right thing, eventually. After his criticism of the club, either Ronaldo’s position was untenable or Ten Hag’s was and they went with the man better for United in the long term.

Now it is up to Boehly to do likewise. When even Vincent Kompany, manager of tier two Burnley, is cracking jokes about taking on Ronaldo – ‘I need somebody who can run,’ he said – why do the rumours linking the player and Chelsea persist?

Chelsea would be making a mistake to sign Cristiano Ronaldo after leaving Manchester United

Chelsea would be making a mistake to sign Cristiano Ronaldo after leaving Manchester United

Maybe it is just coming from Ronaldo’s camp. The only way the United episode does not appear ruinous to his client’s career is if agent Jorge Mendes can somehow conjure a final chapter among the elite in the Champions League.

Maybe that is why the meeting with Bayern Munich leaked, too. Mendes needs a market if Ronaldo is not to appear yesterday’s man.

Yet having gambled, so far unsuccessfully, on Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, why would Potter want another high-maintenance superstar past his prime? And what does it say if he makes that plain and Boehly over-rules? 

It took United far too long to understand the danger of flawed marquee signings. Having seen what has gone wrong at Old Trafford, Boehly should not be repeating those mistakes. 

Crusaders issue is not the same as rainbows

Red and yellow and pink and green, purple and orange and – you’re nicked, sunshine.

What is it about rainbows that angers the local goon squads so? Welsh fans wearing rainbow bucket hats are the latest to attract their censure, but, in another PR coup for the World Cup, only women were confronted.

And although the rainbow flag has become the standard of gay pride, what harm does it do? It would be like cracking down on the inflatable unicorns in the pool at the England team hotel.

England fans dressed up as crusaders in Qatar are halfwits and it is absolutely appalling

England fans dressed up as crusaders in Qatar are halfwits and it is absolutely appalling

Halfwits dressed as Crusaders in a Muslim country, however? That is different. German fans wouldn’t be welcomed at Wembley in military uniform and in this part of the world to cosplay as an echo of a 196-year campaign to free the region from Islamic rule is equally appalling.

As the Crusades lasted from 1095 to 1291, the toll of dead or displaced ranges from one million to nine million, depending on your book. Either way, those who report a negative reaction to their garb should not be entertained.

There is a difference between legitimate protest, or simple acknowledgement, and a crass and wilful attempt to offend the hosts. 

City’s next world beater?

Having already made the signing of the season in Erling Haaland, Manchester City have perhaps bettered it by recruiting Pep Guardiola for two more years.

Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the chairman, always maintained he would know when to negotiate. It transpires the World Cup hiatus found Guardiola receptive and the deal was done. Money helps, obviously, but it’s never just about that with City. 

Men like Haaland and Guardiola can earn well at a lot of places. What matters is that City have a clearly defined and well-run project and are very adept at selling it. Jude Bellingham will be their next challenge. 

You’ve got to hand it to the Germans

Germany lost. But the photograph of the players lined up with their hands over their mouths in protest at FIFA censorship will be one of the images of this blasted tournament, encapsulating its truth as much as any goal or celebration. 

Whatever Germany’s fate here, it will be remembered. 

You have to hand it to the Germans: this image will be one of the most iconic of the tournament

You have to hand it to the Germans: this image will be one of the most iconic of the tournament

We can’t write off Gerrard as a boss

Steven Gerrard’s talent as a manager and coach is under scrutiny after a disappointing spell at Aston Villa.

Yes, he did well at Rangers, runs the argument, but Scottish football is weak and anyone could succeed with one of the Glasgow giants.

The fate of Giovanni van Bronckhorst, however, suggests this is not entirely true. Gerrard’s title with Rangers was the first the club had won since the league was rebranded as the Premiership and their only title since 2010-11.

Yet having come second by four points last season, Rangers are already nine points off Celtic after just 15 games of this campaign and set a record low for a team in the Champions League group stage. So whatever Gerrard’s shortcomings at Villa, it would be wrong to read too much into one failure. Every coach has them.

Herve Renard, conqueror of Argentina with Saudi Arabia, was sacked from his first managerial job with a professional side at Cambridge United.

There is not a coach in Qatar who has not had difficult times, from Gareth Southgate at Middlesbrough to Didier Deschamps at Monaco and later Marseille. Van Bronckhorst’s fate at Rangers shows there are no easy jobs. Gerrard deserves to be cut a little slack. 

Giovanni van Bronckhorst's sacking at Rangers showed Steven Gerrard can't be written off

Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s sacking at Rangers showed Steven Gerrard can’t be written off

With the Premier League now in hiatus, it is thought possible some clubs will use the break to make a managerial change. Yet one of the strangest narratives has concerned a manager not getting a job rather than being fired from one.

Gary O’Neil now looks set to be appointed Bournemouth manager imminently. And if not, what is keeping them? 

When he took over, Bournemouth had three points from four matches, albeit having played Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool, and were 17th. O’Neil has since taken 13 points from 11 games. They were briefly in the top half.

Last season, accruing points at O’Neil’s aggregate would have put Bournemouth clear of relegation by close on 10 points. 

The club have new owners and appointing the caretaker is safe, not sexy. At Bournemouth’s end of the table, however, little beats common sense. 

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