MONDAY'S BIG STORIES
Frenkie Says Relax
Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United update: there is no Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United update. Perhaps there will never be any Frenkie de Jong to Manchester United update, and everybody involved - Barcelona pointing towards the door, United waiting hopefully beyond it, De Jong ignoring them both - will remain locked in stasis through the summer and on for ever.
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It turns out United can wait and chew gum, however, and the club have announced the signing of Lisandro Martínez. He will arrive from Ajax with everything a modern footballer needs to succeed in the Premier League: sweet Youtube compilations; some built-in transfer bants with respect to a rival, in this case Arsenal; and a cool nickname. The Butcher of Argentina. Sausages to Lionel Messi, by appointment.
For the last couple of seasons, Martínez has been playing as a central defender, and United could clearly do with an improvement there. However, he's also played as a defensive midfielder, and United could certainly use some improvement there. And he's played at full-back, and, oh! You'll never guess what.
If we had to predict where he'll start his United career, we'd go with that little troublesome spot ahead of the back four. But in a sense, that's not really important. Indeed, beyond the simple business of having enough footballers to get through a campaign, we're going to suggest that it doesn't actually matter too much who United get in this summer and what they can do.
Because as we just saw, if you start listing the positions in which United can improve, you quickly run out of fingers and toes to count on. You end up back in Moyesland, where everything needs fixing. Nearly every single member of that squad underperformed last season, and the solution to that isn't in the transfer market. Not even United can splash out on a whole new squad.
The transfer market is there for upgrades and to fix weak spots, But United's team is currently all weak spot, all the way down: 11 Achilles' heels and then a load more on the bench. The solution to that has to start on the training ground, since it's only once the team and the squad are functioning again that the actual weak spots will becomes clear. Once they've spent some time with the team, then Erik ten Hag and his staff will be able to identify who really isn't good enough - and so needs replacing - and who has just been in a bad place, playing badly in a bad team.
Which takes us back to De Jong. No doubt he's a wonderful footballer. No doubt Manchester United's midfield would be lucky to have him. But getting him or otherwise will ultimately be less important, in the short and the long run, than a season spent really investigating whether or not United's bizarre clutch of underperformers are actually any good. Signings can be transformative. But if Ten Hag can spend this season finding out what all the players already at the club can do, United will be in a much better place when it's time to get the chequebook out again.
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A Tale of Two Strikers
Speaking of Barcelona, here comes Robert Lewandowski. We'd just blithely assumed that he'd finish his career at Bayern Munich, before taking the well-trodden path up into the boardroom, to become one of those certified legends in well-tailored suits that Bayern like to keep around the place.
But no. Instead, at 33 years of age, Barcelona have pulled off one of the oddest transfer coups of the summer. This doesn't mean it won't work, of course; if anybody is going to carry on scoring goals through their mid-30s, it might as well be Lewandowski. But it is the precise opposite of what we might call a sensible transfer, right down to the fact that they've already got one 33-year-old former Dortmund goal machine hanging around the place. And that's before we consider the suppurating black hole of debt that has opened up under the Camp Nou.
Still, we shouldn't allow the fact that Barcelona are having a very weird one indeed to distract from the other end of this signing. By their standards, Bayern had a slightly deflating campaign last season: they won the league, of course, but got mugged by Villarreal in the quarter-finals of the Champions League. Julian Nagelsmann ended his first season at the Allianz Arena with a league winners' medal and a report card reading "Must Do Better". It's a tough gig.
Time to sell your top scorer, then. Sadio Mane may not score goals in quite the same quantities as Lewandowski, but he will ask defences some very different questions. And for anybody with a passing interest in chaos, pretty much every attacking player at Bayern is now excitingly multifunctional. Mane, Thomas Muller, Leroy Sane, Kingsley Coman, Jamal Musiala, Serge Gnabry… it's like a Swiss Army knife made up of other, smaller Swiss Army knives.
Remove Lewandowski and you remove his goals, but you also untether your attack from such antiquated notions as "positions". Fluidity. Movement. Lots of running around in cool and confusing patterns. This is what we're predicting from Bayern this season. And with Matthijs de Ligt, Ryan Gravenberch and Noussair Mazraoui coming in to reinforce the spine of the team - truly, this is the summer of the ex-Ajax player - then who knows? It might even be enough to win them the Bundesliga.
IN OTHER NEWS
Sometimes there just isn't meant to be a winner. And that's fine.
IN THE CHANNELS
Kudos to Barcelona here. Announcement videos for new signings have been getting noticeably less bumptious in the last few seasons, as teams prefer to shoot for something with a bit of homespun charm and natural feeling, and here we see that taken to its logical conclusion. A man, filmed on a phone, saying "Hi". Perfect.
Of course, the other possible explanation is that Barcelona have sold off their entire content production machine to fund five minutes of Lewandowski's wages, but surely that would be ridiculous.
We're going very vague today, but that's okay, because we're also going extremely retro. On this day in 1892, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Arthur Friedenreich was born. Now you're probably thinking "Hang on, how do we have a Youtube video of some lad born before the death of Queen Victoria?" And the answer to that question is "Well, it's some footage of somebody or other, could be anybody; and some photographs; and some Wikipedia screenshots; and what looks to be some snippets of a fictionalised reconstruction; and some Microsoft Word graphics; and what more do you want?"
Fascinating life, though. His mother was the daughter of freed slaves, and he is often cited as Brazilian football's first mixed-race superstar. And, occasionally, first superstar full stop. He also scored 1,329 goals over the course of his career, so have some of that, Pele. (In the interests of full disclosure, we should note that this number is heavily and enthusiastically disputed. But how can you not admire a man whose Wiki page includes the sub-heading "Some supposed numbers".)
Over to the BBC today for a fascinating piece on the Chagos Islands football team, based in Crawley in the UK but representing an archipelago in the Indian ocean. As George Wright explained, "In the late 1960s and early 1970s, the UK evicted the entire population [of the Chagos Islands] to make way for a military airbase operated jointly with the United States … This is the story of a football team trying to keep the story of their ancestors alive, representing a lost homeland almost 6,000 miles away."
And finally, Group D. France take on second-placed Iceland: with the former already guaranteed top spot, the latter will be hoping for a rotation-related favour. If they don't get it, a winner from Belgium vs. Italy could pinch second place. Or it could all come down to goal difference. There's also Zambia vs. South Africa and Morocco vs. Nigeria in the WAFCON.
After much consideration, the Warm-Up has decided that we will not be signing for Barcelona at this time. Andi Thomas will therefore be here again tomorrow.
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