The volume and the swelling, not to say rheumy quality of the furore around Manchester United is extraordinary. It’s fandom at its beery best; impassioned, breathlessly drunk on hope or revenge or rebellion; borne more or less ably by scribes and scallies like me.
You have to love all this transparently tribal nonsense. Despite being carried more now through the twittersphere than the turnstile, there’s something reassuringly organic about it. Human to shout cobblers and jeer; human to make godawful judgements around and maybe capital out of (sporting) misfortune. And just brilliant – brill-e-yunt – if you know where to draw the line; many don’t. I’m all in favour of the harmless dollop of spite and the fatuous four-hour argument, the deluge of opinion and the smidge, the flash of insight. We are blessed, in moments such as these, with a curious, maybe precious kind of purity as well as a coursing (or cursing) pomp. It’s the wit of the people; let’s cradle that blessing with our pints.
So – necessary caveats acknowledged – banter really is the lifeblood of sport; within reason, it’s great that folks can get stirred so monumentally by something so daft. And perhaps the level of truth in the event, the fact or otherwise of the Red Devil’s demise, becomes irrelevant. I might argue that the Glazer Thing is a far bigger deal than dropping five places down the league for a season but people don’t feel that, eh, generally? That’s dull by comparison – like facts.
What gives then, at United? Something pretty extraordinary maybe. Or maybe not? Is the level of alleged difficulty the club finds itself in truly remarkable, or no? Is it actually anything but a temporary slide – a media storm? – a blip? And what part exactly does the change of gaffer play in this? Amongst the Liverpudlian glee, the Mancunian angst, fury, loyalty and resignation, there’s certainly something going on. But significant story… or nowt? How much of this can we know to be real and how much is flimsy punditry… and feeding frenzy?
Such is the nature and profile of the United Project that levels of fascination, cruel rejoicing and bipolar vitriol are being recorded which could barely translate to other, theoretically similar scenarios. United have superceded Liverpool as the Footie Monolith, the god-club that overshadows the top division. They are that which must be rebelled against and now rebellion seems possible. Suddenly there is scope for bare-bellied fans and a brutally inclined texto-sphere to surge into something. Something which used to be the endless bulk of MUFC.
It hasn’t always been this way, remember. Once Liverpool were that black-hole of a beast, equally but differently awe-inspiring, perhaps more filled with magisterial cruisers than the flickers and sprinters from Old Trafford. Arsenal, Chelsea and now Manchester City aspire to but have never yet really grasped swallowing dominion in the way that United did – in the Ferguson era. But in any case, should Wenger or even Mourinho have inhaled or overshadowed all-comers to comparable extent, I suspect that the quality of response to their subsequent fall may have been different. Because a) this has been United b) this has been Ferguson’s team.
Sir Alex is remarkable in that (whilst at the helm) he really was a proper football man – fatherly but driven, instinctive, bellicose, inspirational – and yet much of football disliked or detested him. Outsiders refused, largely, to respect his genius, preferring instead to rub up against his bristling, one-eyed worldview. No wonder; Ferguson often seethed with contempt for opponents as well as journalists, making him a difficult man to warm to. Even the suspicion that both alcohol and the fieriest of passions fuelled his success failed to endear him to the non-MU universe (of hard-drinking, hot-headed footieblokes.) That blotchy fizzog, ablaze with paranoid focus, relentlessly chewing… yaaargh!
Even some United fans, aware of only occasional moments when the adversarial lapsed into something approaching gentlemanliness, found him difficult to love. Yet they worshiped – or fell in – because he presided, eventually, over a staggering period of consistent success, a phenomenon which arguably takes the man safely beyond judgement. (Or not?) Whichever, Sir Alex remains central still to the perception of most – he IS United. I say this more to describe the emotion around the current lack of form (and success) than to subsume any Moyes narrative. Moyes is clearly blameless in the fact of not being Ferguson and he may not wish to propel his side with the same bitter brilliance. But he will have to gee them up somehow – and sharpish.
The new man in knows he has problems. Perhaps they are larger than we on the outside are hearing or suspecting. Perhaps Rooney – currently so far ahead of the rest it’s almost unbelievable at such a gargantuan club – is close to walking? Perhaps Chelsea is looking a safer bet as well as a career-developing and reinvigorating lifestyle choice? I imagine words have been exchanged on the subject of prompt mega-signings and the scale of club ambition; if little changes in terms of key personnel (i.e. players) this month it really might mean mid-table drift for mighty Manchester United and Rooney may not be the only one who will not tolerate that.
Mid-table? Or at any rate out of the Champions League slots. Because Moyes has been simply unable to drive the thing. Whether he’s been bawling or building quietly, it hasn’t worked – not yet. Not only have the team looked tentative – and how the enemy has enjoyed seeing that! – they have looked unable or unwilling to compete with passion. And that’s a worry. It’s a non-negotiable that players play with heart – particularly when the prettier patterns desert them. Consequently, Moyes must very swiftly identify those who aren’t either good enough footballers or big enough humans to wear the shirt – the Manchester United shirt. And he must get shot of some of them, whilst bringing in two or three top, top players.
Let’s play the You Are The Manager game. Then ideally Nani – who’s recently signed a 5 year deal – and Kagawa would be first in the exit queue, for me, this transfer window. I appreciate most of the talk has surrounded the lack of midfield creativity but Kagawa has singularly failed to make an impact and Nani is such a flatterer/deceiver so often that for me, he would go. As could lots of them, in fact.
I don’t expect or recommend wholesale changes but you could make an argument for selling or phasing out each of Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Young, Giggs. Four of those mentioned are clearly beyond their peak and t’other has brought shame on the club more than once too often. Teams are all about balance and blend an in United’s case it may that they need only an elite level twinkler and possibly a pugnacious water-carrier in midfield… and Leighton Baines to compete again. (If Rooney stays… and if Evans and Jones man up in central defence – which I expect them to do.) About sixty million should cover it.
Moyes is not yet a failure and plainly it’s dumb to effectively call him out for not being Ferguson. He may straighten this out in time – and I do expect him to get time, surprisingly, perhaps. The concern is that in his dourness he may not have what it takes to lift individuals and a club of this magnitude. This is indeed a big month for Manchester United. Feel the noise.