Man Utd: Director’s Cut – Ep 12: Sink or Swim

Roy Keane smiled a big smile that more resembled an evil grin. Even though he claimed that he was happy he still looked like a hired gun ready to kill someone. Not a single reporter at the press conference dared to ask the first question, probably because of this eerie smile. Roy Keane broke the silence himself, still smiling.

Fish or fowl?

“I want to talk about our youngsters. The U18 quadruple from last season is three things. First of all it’s unique, no U18 team has ever managed to win the quadruple before. And outstanding, that’s the second thing. The U18 players really fought like a team throughout the season. The third thing is the most important one. Winning everything there is to win is the ultimate evidence that the new direction we set for our Academy has been absolutely correct. Identifying young players of the right Man Utd mentality at an early age and then nurturing them in the best development environment there is, here at Carrington. We were certain that this would bear fruit, but none of us thought that success would come this fast.”

Several of the reporters looked at each other in amazement and disbelief. Roy Keane had never produced this many positive sentences in a row before. Either he had suffered a stroke or something completely different was coming. There was no chance that he could be this satisfied. Before the reporters got a chance to interrupt him he continued.

“This is only the beginning though. Of course we want to be the best U18 team in the world, but that is nowhere enough. We want to the best at everything. Winning the quadruple was a great feat, but it was only one small step towards greatness. Not the ultimate goal. We must never forget to remind our young players of this. They have had the best football education out there, but now it’s time for them to make the transition from Man Utd boys to Man Utd men.”

“So, you’re basically saying it’s time for these players to leave the nest?” one reporter interrupted. The smile left Roy Keane‘s face and his eyes grew dark.

“You fool. What a silly analogy. Are you suggesting that a group of chicks could win everything there is to win? Ridiculous. My players, young and old, are all seamen. I thought you knew that by now. Seamen guiding the finest vessel in the world towards uncharted territory” Roy Keane moved his gaze from the gathered press. It appeared like he was no longer talking to them, but to an invisible entity in the distance.

“To become a part of my crew you need to know how to wield a sword and learn how to steer clear of shallows! You must be prepared to face krakens, pirates and cannibals! ” His voice had become louder and louder and he had almost finished the last sentence shouting. He sat down again and grew silent, again looking at the reporters in the room. As the silence prolonged the reporters started murmuring nervously, but no-one dared ask the next question. No newspaper in the world would be interested in the nautical ramblings of an Irish lunatic. Finally Roy Keane continued, looking more composed than ever.

Oh Captain, my Captain

“Perhaps that didn’t make much sense to you, but at least I have your full attention. None of you are thinking about chicks and nests and such nahnsense anymore, are you? It’s time for our young players to take their next step towards becoming world class players, and like always we are doing this in a unique way. It’s time for us to adopt a “Sink or Swim” approach”. The reporters waited in vain for an explanation. Roy Keane just sat there, once again completely quiet. Finally one of the reporters broke the silence, dying to know what he meant.

“Sink or Swim? What are you talking about? This is football, not swimming” he said with a smile.

“Do you think that you are funny? Wow, what a funny guy! Have you listened to a word I’ve said?” Now Roy Keane was really screaming. “How are you going to sail the world if you don’t know how to swim? You are an idiot. Get out of my cabin. Get out. GET OUT!” Absolutely stunned, the reported didn’t know what to do. He just sat there, looking confused. Was this a joke? It must be. He couldn’t be serious, could he? This was apparently not the right thing to do, as Roy Keane lept up onto the desk in front of him and shouted.

“Men! Take him away! Get him out of here! Make him walk the plank!”

Roy Keane didn’t start talking until the two oversized security guards had carried the reporter out of the room and the other reporters’ nervous chatter had grown silent.

“It’s quite simple. You don’t become a world class player by playing in your own backyard. You don’t become a Manchester United icon by spending season after season on loan at Hereford and Morecambe and Solihull. No, you become good enough for the Premier League by playing Premier League games. Then you become good enough for the Champions League by playing Champions League games. You adapt to your new environment and then you excel. Or you fail miserably. You either sink or swim”

Well, this actually made sense. But what did it really mean? One reporter hesitantly raised his hand to ask, but Roy Keane started speaking again, as if he had read his mind.

“What this really means is that all of the Academy graduates from last season will be given a chance in the first team squad. We are getting rid of all of our back-up players to make sure that these young guns actually get their chance to shine. If they don’t, I’ll simply throw them to the sharks”

Roy Keane grinned, making a fairly decent impression of a white shark that had just identified its pray. No-one dared ask anymore questions.

“Well, thanks for your time and fuck off then, you dimwits.” Roy Keane rose from his chair and started walking towards the exit. “Make sure you cover that part about the boat and monster and shit in your articles!” he shouted as he left the room, laughing and humming on the tune “Baby Shark”.

The “sink or swim” strategy

Looking beyond the naval analogies and the craziness, the new “Sink or Swim” strategy was quite simple. The young players promoted into the first team squad were all going to be kept there, no loans, and they were all going to play. Most likely they were not of Premier League quality yet, but Roy Keane firmly believed that the best way to turn them into great players was to test them at the highest level. Either they’d adapt and improve or they’d sink and go under. That kind of player wasn’t interesting for Man Utd anyway. This meant that each and every member of the first team squad would start at least 10 games in the 2022/23 season. Of course the best players would play the most important games, but everyone was going to play. A lot. At the end of the season the youngsters would be evaluated. Who had swam good enough to keep in the first team squad and who had sunk and needed to be offloaded?

Time to say Goodbye. And hello

This marked a somewhat new beginning for the Man Utd squad, one that wasn’t entirely loved by the fans. They had just finished celebrating last season’s Premier League title when they were hit with the news that Roy Keane was planning to offload a number of the regular first team members and replacing them with 18-year olds.

Tahith Chong was the first one to leave.

He had looked really solid in the first half of the 2019/20 season, but had struggled to reach those heights since then. He looked like he was hitting his potential and not getting any better than this. With the arrival of Jadon Sancho he was the no2 option without a doubt. When Bayern Munich came in with a £60M bid there was no doubt in Roy Keane’s mind. Chong had to go.

The second one to leave was Gagliardini.

Roberto Gagliardini is a great player and a versatile midfielder. Roy Keane wasn’t at all happy to let him go, but he felt that he owed it to Roberto. After putting in two seasons of acting as a backup option, filling in here and there, without complaining, it was time for him to be someone’s first choice. With the arrival of Florentino Luis last season, Gagliardini was never going to become a regular in the Man Utd lineup. AC Milan saw their chance to acquire a top class player and Roy Keane could only wish him good luck. Besides, Roy Keane had found someone better!

From Atalanta for £50M. DNA Rating 11.

Well, maybe not better. At least not yet. But Roy Keane was confident that he had found a player that could become one of the world’s best midfielders in a couple of seasons! At least he hoped and prayed that that would happen, considering the fact that he spent £50M on an 18-year-old that had only played 16 Serie A games so far…

Livio Amigoni certainly fits the Man Utd profile though, with a DNA Rating of 11 at this early age. If he can improve the technical aspects he may very well become a very useful midfielder over time. And with the new “sink or swim” strategy he will get his chances straight away.

Then it was time for Harry Maguire. Finally.

Roy Keane disliked Harry Maguire. He had reverted from his Perfectionist personality back to a Fairly Determined, making him look like the bland average centre-back Roy Keane had identified earlier on. It was time for him to leave. He wasn’t good enough and Roy Keane couldn’t stand the sight of him anymore. Besides, Roy Keane had found someone better!

From Lazio for £80M. DNA Rating 8.

At 20 years old Nicoló Armini displayed all the attributes necessary to become a world class centre-back. The only concern for Roy Keane was that he lacked a bit of Aggression (9), but Roy hoped that he could beat a bit of it into him. Besides that he looked good both defensively and physically. Maybe this was the player that could build a partnership made in heaven with Ruben Dias?

And now things started to get a bit controversial. Bye bye Marcus Rashford.

This was probably the sale that most fans struggled to accept. Marcus Rashford, one of their own, a potential world class player with such a bright future! In the minds of many fans he had been the player that was going to lead the team into a bright new future! And now he was sold. Mercilessly. And the reason was simple. Roy Keane didn’t think that he was good enough and he wasn’t developing anymore. There was no doubt that Mason Greenwood‘s development had seen him reach Rashford‘s level and then just pass him. Roy Keane couldn’t keep Marcus Rashford as a back-up option. That wasn’t fair to him or in line with the new “sink or swim” strategy. Besides, Roy Keane had found someone better!

From Borussia Dortmund for £100M. DNA Rating 10.

Since leaving Inter Milan 20-year-old Sebastiano Esposito had impressed in the Bundesliga with 21 goals in 31 games for Dortmund. He looked more or less like the complete package, but still with a bit of development left in him, which made Roy Keane circle around him like a hungry shark. A lot of people questioned the £100M fee, but Roy Keane certainly thought that Esposito was more than £20M better than Rashford.

And then we had David De Gea. He wasn’t sold, but Roy Keane acted as if he was going to be. At age 32 with a contract expiring they stood at a crossroads. Sell or offer a new contract!? Roy Keane still considered De Gea one of the world’s best keepers, but he was under no circumstances willing to accept the Spaniards demand of £550K per week for the coming 4 years. De Gea on the other hand showed absolutely no interest in the 2 year contract worth £300K per week he was offered. They were at a stalemate and Roy Keane decided that De Gea‘s time was over.

From Napoli for £75M.

After extensive scouting, searching for the next long term Man Utd keeper, Roy Keane brought in 25 year old Alex Meret from Napoli. The no1 Italian keeper both looked solid on the pitch and displayed a Resolute personality. He also had a bit of development in him, hopefully making him the perfect choice.

However, no clubs were interested in signing De Gea. Roy Keane offered him out for £30M. No interest. £20M. Nothing. Not a single club showed interest, not even when he offered him out for free. The massive wage demands pretty much made him unsignable for other clubs. The transfer deadline came and went and De Gea remained. Well, too bad for Dean Henderson, Roy Keane thought to himself.

The squad was larger than previous season. This was primarily due to the fact that a quite significant number of young players had been promoted into the first team squad. Pasquale Merenda, Max Normann Williamsen, Tyler Murphy, Livio Amigoni, Jude Bellingham, Hannibal Mejbri, Jez Foley, Julen Gabilondo and Chris Parry were all here to either sink or swim. They were all going to get their chances over the season, but their playing time needed to be balanced with the use of the best players, because the aim of this season was a straight-forward one. To win. To win everything.

The Premier League

The actual first half of the season was cut short by the Qatar World Cup, which meant that only 14 Premier League rounds were played before the World Championship.

Thirteen Man United players participated in the World Cup, with three players returning home with medals. Mateo Kovacic and his Croatian team won the 3rd place playoff against USA(!) giving him a bronze medal. Florentino Luis and Ruben Dias returned with silver medals after losing the final to the Ivory Coast(!) despite a Cristiano Ronaldo goal in the final. Ruben Dias also impressed enough to earn a spot in the World Cup Dream Team. He is certainly becoming one of the best centre-backs out there.

Back to the Premier League. 14 rounds were played and not a single Man Utd fan was disappointed.

After a shaky start with two draws, the Man Utd train picked up speed and simply ran over all opposition. With 11 wins and 3 draws so far the dream of an invincible season was still very much alive!

If the team can manage to keep this form going the odds of retaining the title look really good!

The Champions League

The form in Europe has been equally good. Man Utd didn’t face the toughest Champions League group ever, far from it, but the job still needed to be done.

With six straight wins one could certainly argue that the job had been done, and with a result pretty close to perfect as well!

So, both domestically and abroad the team is starting to look like a force to be reckoned with! What about the players then? Has Roy Keane been able to give the younger players the swimming (playing) time they need while at the same time focusing on winning every game?

Player performances

Well, actually he has. Tyler Murphy, the young left back is the player that has played the least (if you ignore Dean Henderson, which is exactly what Roy Keane does) with three starts. Lorenzo Pellegrini and Ruben Dias, probably the two most important players in the squad, have started the most games, 14. Goals and assists are evenly spread out, with wing backs Reinier and Mason Mount standing out a bit. New signing Esposito has certainly adapted to the Premier League quickly, with 8 goals in 11 starts.

All in all an excellent start to the 2022/23 season, both domestically and in Europe! Can Man Utd keep this going? Will this be an invincible season? Will they even replicate the quadruple feat of the U18s? Will the young players sink or swim? Will Roy Keane finally lose it? Read next episode to find out. Until then,

take that you cunt!

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