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A deflating evening
Crushing reality had to set in at some point, didn’t it? For me, what the game exposed was the mismanagement of recruitment and the paucity of the squad options. Ole has done brilliantly since he came in, but he’s done it on a first XI that pretty much picks itself; the only question mark is who partners Lindelof at the back.
As such, when Martial and Lingard came off injured, the jig was up; less threat in behind allowed PSG to push up and dominate with the press. There were three options to replace them; Mata, Sanchez and Lukaku. For all Juan is the loveliest man in football, he’s so slow, small and physically slight that he almost never gets to use his excellent technique; he’s out muscled or out run. Sanchez is a busted flush; it’s like a South American re-run of Rooney’s last year or two; a once world class player whose legs have gone. Then there’s Lukaku, whom I’ve made my feelings quite clear about before, but the guy has the first touch of a no-nonsense, non-league centre-half. If you count the Sanchez swap as the £30m we paid for Mhikitaryan, those three players cost £140m and about £1m per week in wages combined. Then you look you across at PSG, missing some of their first XI and the players that come in are Di Maria, Draxler, Paredes, Dani Alves… The gulf in quality between what they’ve got in reserve and what is to be found on the Old Trafford bench is enormous, and it’s the same gulf that exists between United and City.
A deflating evening, but at least we had the optimism to begin with. Rebuilding will take a while, because there’s plenty of highly paid deadwood to trim. Ole or not, a Director of Football to sort out the transfer shambles is still most important appointment to make.
Lewis, Busby Way
It could be very easy to use this result as proof that Solksjaer isn’t the man to take on the full time post after all, but I think it simply highlights the problems of the past 5 years. Recruitment (both player and manager) has been chaotic. Managers with very different philosophies have been and gone, which has left a disjointed squad of players with different skillsets. Which was evident when we lost the pace of Lingard and Martial, and replaced them with Mata and Sanchez, two players who in their own right are good, although Sanchez is very much a shell of the player we saw at Arsenal with Father Time having caught up with him, but don’t fit what Solksjaer wants from his front three. United essentially have a very good first eleven that play the way he wants, but not much in reserve. It was probably why the same midfield three weren’t rested on Saturday and will be asked (with hope and prayers) that they can last for the rest of the season with zero injuries!
Last night also brought back memories of similar past defeats in the same competition under Sir Alex. The routine losses to Juventus in the mid 90s and Milan in the mid 00s, as an experienced and naïve United had to learn how to win and play well in the Champions League, were important in the development of two of the finest United teams in history. We have to remember that out of that starting eleven, only 4 of the players have any meaningful champions league experience (De Gea, Young, Matic, Pogba) and that the last time United had a big knock out game in the champions league it was when Moyes was in charge and we played Bayern Munich (Sevilla should have been a routine win last season). With all due respect to Ajax and Celta Viga, the jump from winning the Europa Cup to succeeding in Champions League knock out football is large – look at Sevilla in recent seasons after their various Europa League triumphs. Naturally people will point to the money spent by the club, and yes it should be enough to build a team that can compete in Europe’s premier competition, but again we go back to my first point, a succession of managers with different ideas has left a squad of players with different skillsets.
So moving on, what of Solksjaer? Well, nothing has changed in my view. We still have time to make the decision to keep him or go for someone else. But time is ticking. Personally I am in the camp that believes any manager will be a risk, and Solksjaer is no more of a risk than Pochettino – just with different risks and different reasons to hire them. But what we should be doing is getting the Football of Director in place, so we can start having coherent recruitment, both for the playing staff and the non-playing staff up to the head coach/manager so we can build an identity, and allow for changes in the coaching staff to not disrupt the way we play and the players we recruit.
Finally, we will now see how, after a large run of wins, this team under Solskjaer and in particular Ole himself, react to a loss that has brought them back to Earth with a bang. But one thing is clear. Last night I went into that game with no idea who we would do, it could have been a win or a loss, but under Mourinho I was expecting a loss. At least Solksjaer has brought back the positivity and the hope and the enjoyment. Which I think was his number one goal when brought in.
John Morgan, South Derbyshire
Stunned to read the mailbox this morning and find the range of excuses from the United brigade. I was sure we would see a pile of emails detailing how they were totally outclassed and thank god they were missing cavani and Neymar. Instead it was due to martial and lingard getting injured (both were having poor nights), it was due to the ref not sending off a PSG player (Ashley young should have gone), it was never a yellow for shaw (shame on you even shaw would have booked shaw for that tackle). Only for de gea made his weekly 2 brilliant stops it would have been 4. Rant over………… PS Di maria getting heat for his celebrations is rich considering the abuse he got (what exactly did he do to offend you guys? It didn’t work out, you got most of your cash back for him and he didn’t go to a rival). Ok now the rant is over.
I’m not throwing any shade here, but the manner of lasts nights performance is exactly why I’d be delighted if United appointed Ole permanently.
With things shaping up to be as close as it is these days at the upper echelon of the EPL, we could do with as few teams as possible who’s Modus Operandi it is to “knock us of our perch” and keep us off it, equipping themselves with the tools to do so. (I can think of only one to be TBF)
Ole is not one of those tools I’m afraid, even though Stan Collymore has put his hands up and made a u-turn on what he thought of Ole in his column yesterday, going as far as to say he may be possessed by SAF himself. (I know right…)
Its forgivable that a large percentage of the Old Trafford faithful think so too.
Rudi (At the very least Jose gets a draw last night) LFC
Wow; that mailbox this morning started off pretty level-headed but then descended into madness. I always love when people say a manager was tactically outclassed and then give no specific examples.
There’s a bunch of things with United. Their full-backs are rubbish for a start. In midfield, when it gets tight, there’s no one with the drive or cuteness to move the team up the pitch, especially nowadays with Pogba hanging around in the final third (which is exactly where he should be). Upfront, unless at least two of Rashford, Martial and Lingard are playing, they can’t attack any quicker than treacle. Tuchel recognised all these things and set his team up accordingly (notice how much more they pressed in the second half once United lost Lingard and Martial and there was no longer a threat in behind). Well done him.
I’m sure Ole knew what was going on. But there wasn’t much to do about it. He had two injuries in the middle of the match. He had to bring on Alexis Sánchez (though does anyone ever really have to bring on Alexis Sánchez?). He had a 34-year-old okay winger playing at fullback whose favourite thing in the world is playing people onside. In fact, look at how United started the second half; by repeatedly playing the ball quickly into the right channel for Rashford to run onto because presumably they’d recognised that the PSG fullback was a bit of a headbanger and would get himself sent-off/give away a penalty/both if they kept hitting him. This is what I would call A Good Idea. Would have worked too if the ref hadn’t bottled it.
The one thing I will say against Ole is that he clearly has a thing about Lukaku. Waiting til the 84thminute to bring him on in a second half where United were a) rubbish and b) constantly launching it into the box? Hmm. When United were 2-0 down to Burnley, he was the first one subbed off as well. Somebody doesn’t like somebody.
But besides that little blind spot, United are just short of players and collective understanding. PSG have been good for four or five years, United have been good for about six weeks. United don’t have those little partnerships all over the pitch and they don’t automatically know where each other are going to be. The other day Ole said that it would take, what, two years to challenge for the league? It’ll probably take two years to beat Paris St Germain as well.
Stephen O’S MUFC
Sterling performance from Di Maria
Would just like to disclose before the next couple paragraphs that I am in fact a dirty Liverpool supporter. So Spurs, United, City and essentially every other clubs zealotous fans will discredit what I am about to say but thats fine because I believe the sound majority will see my point.
When Raheem Sterling left Liverpool it had a different taste to some of our other big profile departures that occurred before and after, this is mainly due to the mismangement of his agent ( who else a boy of 19/20 is supposed to trust with his transfer dealings I do not know but I am glad he fired this buffoon) but also I believe because it felt like we were losing a player before his prime or at least a glimpse of his true abilities and he had yet to use them to help liverpool. In Coutinho, Suarez and hell even Torress we had our moments of ‘almost’ but Sterling cemented our sinking feeling of not being the club we were and it hurt. I don’t boo sterling, I will never approve of how he handled that situation ( although he seems to have moved past it so I appreciate it) and maybe its because we kinda have no one who really played with him ( except studge but I doubt he would throw shade at his england roommate from 2 years ago) but our players and manager genuinely don’t seem to phased, even our supporters kinda just let things slide these days tbh ( unless the sun are magically liverpool fans which lets be real….).
So thats why this week I was quite surprised by this sense of venom in regards to Di Maria. Di Maria was a one season flop, yes he didn’t play particularly well and like quite a few South American or latin players he was not too impressed with the weather ( its England lets be honest your weather sucks) but he also had a coach who we all agree in hindsight was a bit wonky at the time, he hadn’t necessarily wanted to be at united but he was cast out of Real madrid and he had his home in his new city burglarised with his wife and kid inside. Also he may have left and said he didn’t feel at home at United but I have been reading his comments and most times he mentions lacking confidence and the coach not trusting him whenever he references a reason, he never really directly states ‘ United had shit fans and I hate them all’. Now it turns out his teammates all think he was a fanny ( brave term to use when they effectively downed tools as paid employees because they didnt really like their manager ) and the United crowd decided to spend the entire match jeering a player that played only 29 games for them. This seemed a bit excessive to me ( the bottle throwing was uncalled for but its part of a small minority of the crowd as much as its heinous if every united fan had thrown a bottle then the champions league would have had to relook at its advertising model ) and to be honest incedibly left field.
I am glad he specifically had a good performance but only because of the venom displayed to him by the united fans ( oh and I am a liverpool fan ) but it was nice to see a player bring that kind of fire to his game and it made it an enthralling watch, he may always be the fanny of the United old boy club but I bet united wish it was him not Sanchez on that pitch last night.
Cole ( btw Kimpembe challenge on Rashford was legit, Rashford also holds his jersey and its just the swing of his arm to shift sides, he doesn’t actually pull back on the jersey, Pogba shouldnt have been sent off )
Our man in France
As a PSG fan pretty addicted to the mailbox, i wanted to give another view on the MU defeat last night.
The overly negative side of the MU fans saying that their team was beaten by a severly depleted PSG squad are missing a point. I, personnaly, think that the absence of Neymar and Cavani was actually a blessing in desguise.
Let me explain, everybody know that this Ole MU is playing pacey players and excels on the counter. Without Neymar and Cavani, we were forced to play MBappé in the middle (the only other option being Choupo F***g Moting) and Alves and Di Maria on the flank when we usually have Cavani in the middle and MBappé and Neymar out wide.
The thing is MBappé and Neymar don’t track back. Never. With them on the pitch, combined with Neymar’s propension to lose the ball, we are very exposed to fast counter attacks on the wings. The idea of Martial and Lindgard playing one on one against Kerher and Bernat (espacially Bernat) is quite frightening to be honest. But with Alves, former right back, Di Maria who actually, somehow, learned to defend last year, closing the gaps and Dräxler playing simple passes and not losing the ball in midfield, United threat was nullified.
But the real game changer, in my opinion, was Verrati’s presence. He was really uncertain for this game as he just came back from injury last week-end and without him on the pitch i wouldn’t have put a penny on a PSG Victory. He was the only difference in the lineup for both liverpool’s game. The first one, without him, they walked on us, we somehow managed to lose by 1 goal but 3-0 would have been more deserved than the 3-2. On the second, Liverpool had one shot on target, the penalty.
He’s basically our Jorginho. Both Italian, almost same age, both playing as Regista (deep lying playmaker), neither can score nor assist but Verrati’s ability to get rid of the press, get past his man and play forward is unmatched in the football world, and i’m including Messi here.
My final question… i really wonder if Sarri would trade Jorginho for Verrati as Verrati is obviously a far superior player but is the absolute anthitesis of Sarri-ball. He usually goes for 4 or 5 touches before releasing the ball.
Alex (starting to like our chances now Neymar is out), Paris
I begin every season with some hope that it is not going to be dominated by refereeing controversies and for years and years I have been disappointed. So what can be done? Do the people in charge need to step back and rethink the whole thing, or are they hidebound by traditions? What is needed is a strategy for producing the best outcome, with the team that scores more goals fairly being declared the winners.
Here are a few things that need looked at:
The rules. Is there consistency? Do the players know them? Do the refs? How can there be more consistency when the decisions are subjective?
The speed of the game. There is one ref. Just as there was fifty years ago when the players stopped for a fag when a player was down injured. Keeping up with the play is tough, the players are running really fast. Fatigue is not just physical, it is mental as well, so towards the end of the match the ref is going to be different than at the beginning. So, two refs, with a half each, staying at the same end for the whole match?
Technology. Yawn, but it is going to have to be used. Find a way for the ref to be advised in real time, so that he can blow for a foul and be told there and then if it warrents a card by the tv ref.
Sin bin – a good letter a couple of days ago highlighting that sinbins change attitudes, and give refs flexibility. In the United match there were probably four occasions when players could have been binned. Would they have been more careful of they were going to be off the pitch, letting their team down and getting an earful from the manager and fans?
American Football is played by big rough guys, and they never, ever argue with the ref. There seem to be dozens of officials but they chuck those flags around and discuss the decisions, with multiple eyes on the game. Rugby players are binned and they are playing a game that is rather dangerous and they are always bigger than the ref, even the small ones.
So we need change, to deliver matches that are better and results that are right. Not that United didn’t deserve to lose, but it would have been a different game reffed properly.
Arsenal is the trendsetter not Ramsey
A good article there on Aaron Ramsey, although I’d say the trendsetter is Arsenal Football Club rather than the player given we have previous with this type of thing (down with this type of thing.) In all honesty, I find the whole reasoning a little convenient and speaks of a much wider issue which is actually the implementation of austerity under the guise of a self-sustaining business model.
Stan Kroenke, in one of his rare interviews with the press, stated that he found the loyalty of British fans “quite remarkable.” You don’t have to be linguist to read between the lines of that statement and know why he so rarely speaks to the press. During the stadium build you got the sense that our board and owners came to the realisation that fleecing the fans with high ticket prices isn’t mutually exclusive to providing a high-quality football team (Spurs fans should be worried.)
I’m not adverse to a self-sustaining model, lots of clubs have had great success with it; Dortmund and Monaco to name a few recent examples, Liverpool and Tottenham could join that list too provided they actually win something. But we don’t have a self-sustaining model at Arsenal, we have an austerity model.
On the face of it Kroenke hasn’t been particularly tight with the purse strings. Our wage budget is high, as is investments in Sanchez, Mustafi, Xhaka, Ozil, Aubameyang and Lacazette (all 30m+ signings.) The issue actually goes way back to our last major trophy win in 2004, the last time we had a team of truly world class players.
Since 2004 we moved from a team of world class players, to a team of players with world class potential, then a team of solid internationals to what we have now. Essentially, a team of nomads with a few top players who couldn’t quite break into the top tier of players due to work-rate (Ozil), attitude (Aubameyang) or just not quite enough talent (Lacazette.)
So when you go in to details of our squad building you start to see a few cracks in the shiny veneer. We are always reducing the overall cost of our squad in both wages and fees relative to footballs unique inflation (absurd TV deals.) It seems in the last three years those chickens have come home to roost and we have a squad that so sorely lacks investment, and yet, we are still trying to offload high earners and save money.
Emery has done an excellent job in my view, but the teams overall performance are giving weight to the view that Wenger and his tactics/ lack thereof was not the prime reason for the decline of this club. In fact, steadily managing that decline is to his credit, despite it eventually becoming unbearable.
Liam Gabriel Hoskins (At least we’re setting the trend for something) AFC
Fergie wanted to keep Pogba
Conor in Sydney,
I presume you’ve never forgiven Roy Keane for his red cards or Eric Cantona for his suspensions. Or Vidic’s 4 red cards against Liverpool. Selfish fools who’ll never be true leaders. Cowardly middle fingers to everyone associated with the club etc etc
Re work ethic – I’d imagine Pogba works relatively hard too. Given he’s been an important part of a phenomenal Juve midfield since he was a teenager, is now the main driving force in Utd’s midfield and was a mainstay in the most recent World Cup winning side ( a France side he’s been a regular in since he was 19 or 20 ).
He’s 25 and has 10 club trophies and a world cup winners medal – scoring in the final. He’s averaged a goal roughly every 4 games from CM since he moved back to Utd ( except this season when he’s closer to 1 in 2 ). But no, maybe he’s lazy and got all his games, goals & medals by turning up with a bad attitude and half assing training and matches. It takes a phenomenal amount of hard work and discipline to get to any level of professionalism. People don’t reach the level and status Paul Pogba has without putting in a bit of overtime.
But what do I know, I’m not a professional manager.
Maybe you should as you say “ trust in SAF “ – here’s what he had to say about the Pogba transfer.
“There are one or two football agents I simply do not like, and Mino Raiola, Paul Pogba’s agent is one of them. I distrusted him from the moment I met him.”
“We had Paul under a three-year contract, and it had a one-year renewal option which we were eager to sign.”
“Raiola suddenly appeared on the scene and our first meeting was a fiasco. He and I were like oil and water.”
“From then our goose was cooked because Raiola had been able to integrate himself with Paul and his family and the player signed with Juventus.“
I mean, it SOUNDS as though Ferguson wanted to keep Paul Pogba at the club. I also remember at the time most people, Ferguson included, were quite vocal about how he was wanted at the club and forced his way out. Just had to bide his time and had a bad attitude etc.
So now it’s “ we never fancied her anyway “ is it?
In summary – I disagree with many of your opinions and some of your claims are demonstrably factually incorrect.
Doug, AFC, Belfast
I refuse to get caught up on the Ole in/out nonsense off the back of one result against one of Europe’s elite, but something else in this morning’s mailbox annoyed me. Conor (Sydney) wrote, “If there is one thing we should realise, it is trust in SAF. He saw that Pogba didn’t have the mentality as a teenager to achieve his potential and he let him go.” Why do people still believe that Fergie wanted rid of Pogba? He has stated himself that he wanted to keep him but Pogba chose to leave, criticising Raiola’s influence in the contract fiasco. “We had Paul under a three-year contract, and it had a one-year renewal option which we were eager to sign. But Raiola suddenly appeared on the scene and our first meeting was a fiasco. He and I were like oil and water. From then on, our goose was cooked because Raiola had been able to ingratiate himself with Paul and his family and the player signed with Juventus.” It seems to pop up every now and then and bothers me more than it probably should. He was still rubbish last night, mind.
The Real Quiz
While most people’s eyes were inexplicably trained on Manchester United versus PSG, the biggest fixture of the evening was taking place several tiers down the footballing pyramid, in the Evo-Stik Premier Division. I joke, but there were lots of ramifications at either end of the table no matter what the result was between Grantham Town and South Shields. I wasn’t there unfortunately, but did listen to the game on Live Sports FM.
*I’ve previously mentioned that this division has a notorious habit of allowing promoted teams to rise to the top, while relegated sides sink to the bottom. Sure enough, Shields, promoted last season as champions of Division One North, are in the mix for promotion and headed into the game knowing a win over a side they beat 5-0 in October would take them top of the table.
*Grantham, on the other hand, have had a largely disappointing season, and face a fight on their hands to stay in the division they were almost promoted out of last year. They recently made their third managerial change since Adam Stevens resigned at the end of last season; following the departure of Richard Thomas, who took over from Ian Culverhouse, the Gingerbreads turned to Paul Rawden and Russ Cousins, previously of Step Six side North Harrowby United. A reasonably bright start to the season came to an abrupt halt in October and November, when they lost eight in a row in all competitions. A brighter spell saw them win three games from four between 15 December and 1 January, before another run of defeats. This game was a bit of a free hit for the new managers and the players keen to impress.
*To say that Grantham were a much-changed side was something of an understatement. Then again, they’ve used 56 players at least once so far this season, which is hard not to interpret as symptomatic of their struggles. I had to keep referring to the team sheet as there were so many names I wasn’t familiar with when I heard them on the radio. As best as I could tell, the Gingerbreads lined up in a 4-5-1, defending deep and looking to counterattack through Jordan Adebayo-Smith. From the description of his size and speed, I imagined he would be asked to play a similar role to the one that brought Lee Shaw 30 goals for Grantham last season. Another change was that one of the names I recognised, Ross Barrows, was playing somewhere in midfield instead of at right-back.
*It would have been understandable for the home side to make a tentative start, after having just one training session with this setup, but instead they had the best of the early exchanges, as Danny Brooks glanced a header onto the post. For most of the first half, South Shields had most of the possession and it felt like a goal was inevitable, though the only time they got the ball in the net was after the offside flag had gone up. However, despite being under the cosh, the hosts created the better chances and even took the lead towards the end of the first half, as Adebayo-Smith skilfully eluded two defenders and fired a rocket into the roof of the net.
*To their credit, South Shields responded well to the change and made a double substitution at half-time, bringing on Ben Harmison (younger brother of former England cricketer Steve) and Luke Daly; the radio commentators suggested this meant the personnel on the field better suited the tactics Shields wanted to play. Again, they dominated possession to the extent that Grantham struggled to get the ball out of their own half at times, and the longer the game wore on the more likely it seemed they would find an equaliser to take the wind out of their hosts’ sails and ultimately a winner. In the 73rd minute, the leveller came when an underhit shot from David Foley was touched in by Luke Daly on the line, with the commentators suggesting that cleaner contact from Foley would have made a goal less likely. That’s the sort of luck you get when you’re flying high, and the luck that goes against you when you’re struggling.
*However, Shields’ attempts to push for a winner were undone almost immediately, when Grantham sprang a superb counterattack and Adebayo-Smith scored his second of the night, and his fifth of the season against South Shields in all competitions (following a hat-trick for parent club Lincoln City in the FA Youth Cup) . The visitors threw everything at the Gingerbreads but couldn’t find an equaliser, succumbing to one of the biggest upsets of the season so far.
*All this sets things up very nicely indeed for the weekend. Grantham, now six points clear of the relegation zone (albeit from one game more than Mickleover), travel to Whitby Town and their Sampdoria homage shirts, four places and two points above them. This has to be the start of a run of results for the Gingerbreads if they are to salvage any pride from this season.
South Shields, meanwhile, sit third on 60 points, two behind Farsley Celtic and Warrington Town, though have a huge chance to boost (or ruin) their title chances when they host Wire on Saturday. As a reminder, only one team is automatically promoted to the National League North, with second to fifth contesting the playoffs (one leg, higher team at home). Things are starting to hot up.
A thought in Cardiff, Nantes, and the cold commercial heart of football
Firstly, Diamond Geezers is sensational. I live vicariously through that article within an hour of each publication and my only qualm is that it’s not a daily feature (yet?).
Secondly, a thought on the heartlessly prompt tussle over Sala’s transfer fee. My understanding of most commercial contracts of this nature is that there is a contractual obligation on the seller to give notice to the buyer within a reasonable period after a payment falling overdue. This can usually be anywhere between 7 and 28 days after the due date.
A large proportion of commercial contracts stipulate such notice as a prerequisite to pursuing any claim for unpaid amounts (and interest) at a later date.
My suspicion (And it is only a suspicion) is that Cardiff had not yet arranged adequate insurance at the time of Sala’s tragic death, and that they will look to apportion their losses to the greatest extent possible. Meanwhile Nantes’ medium-term plans are now probably almost entirely dependant on that transfer fee, given their relative turnover.
All that being said, I think the leaks coming out of Cardiff are somewhat disingenuous at best, and at worst this may well be a cynical attempt to strike an early blow in the PR battle that is to come.
On a final point, I’d like to emphasize that football clubs are essentially dichotomous entities these days, and I don’t mean to take away from the admirable response by the sporting side of the club. In a similar vein, it has to be the norm to hold unscrupulous oligarchs (Abramovich), oil states (Mansour) or vulture capitalists (Glazers) to account for their moral shortcomings without this being considered a slight against the football teams they own and profit from (whether fiscally or reputationally).
Thanks, and keep up the great work please!
Who is going to sign Sanchez?
Who is realistically going to sign Sanchez on current form and on anything close to current wages? I can only think of him going to China but is he really going to accept that as his next move and effectively end his top-level career? He’s still only 30 (yes he has played a lot of football and his ‘footballing milage’ is very high), he surely won’t accept that he is finished competing at the highest level???
Your early loser piece compared him with Rooney towards the end of his United career… I think that comparison hits the nail on the head very nicely.
I had (and I’m sure many other united fans felt the same) a blind faith in Rooney that he would turn it around and begin playing well or at least come up with an important goal/assist here and there…
…at the moment, Sanchez isn’t even close to offering that?! At least Rooney had the good will of the fans having given so much to the club.
Sanchez has given nothing, looks very separate from the rest of the squad and clearly doesn’t give two farts about the club.
Time for Mr Woodward to use his new found midas touch and get working on an exit strategy for Sanchez.
P.s. best moment of last nights game was Young barging di maria off the pitch. I have a feeling he was the ‘unnamed player’ who called him a fanny. Brilliant. V pleased he’s signed for another year