Like some modern Allan Clarke, the much despised ‘sniffer’ of yore, I am instinctively and with some unattractive predatory gubbins well aroused, returning to the box. The Pandora’s Box; the penalty box – the Rooneybox – the mad as a box of frogs box, in order either to wring my hands of its luridly signalled rubber-roominess, or say something intelligible. About its abstracted bitterness, its high-octane mad-but-vulnerable surrogate violence, its derby-day realities. United City; or more correctly – and here endeth the pretence towards accurate reportage – City United.
Having for scientific reasons (ahem; that would be a necessary family walk then) swerved the live coverage so as to benefit from cooler appraisals of what would inevitably be an emotional carnage-fest, I submit the following truths/untruths for your inspection. They are based on a little knowledge and understanding of the game and absolutely no alcohol.
It strikes me firstly and often during this game that Manchester is helpfully keen to wrap us tightly into some symbolically drenched, mythologically scaled flood-scenario, where the protagonists slide tackles and gleeful victorious scoots towards ecstatic fans are beautifully facilitated by what can only be described as pissing rain. Fortunately there were 5 scoots total, as United contrive to beat City 2-3 in what was without question an extraordinary match.
But the larger questions – about Rooney, about the side’s respective qualities – remain airlocked in the stormy organ-music of the affair. Am I alone in thinking that although Rooney showed willingly and scored twice, his mixture of affectedly casual but often unproductive cuties and poor penalty are still indicative of a superlative player still rather unconvincingly egging on his own self-confidence. Trying – maybe just slightly forcing – those sparks? The purity of his attack for that thudding header notwithstanding, there were too many moments where I for one, felt he was seeking comfort on the ball rather than purring with it.
His exaggerated smacker on the badge in celebration of that first, illogical goal was similarly surely a kind of stage-managed theatre rather than some hearts-truth; Rooney having been led too far into the panto that is our lives to genuinely, genuinely move us with that one. Yet score he did (twice!) and far be it for me to begrudge him that. My cynicism or criticism is again more of a reflection of the lurv-deficit I feel exists between my own idealised Rooney and this current incarnation.
There was likewise something about the shortfall in real quality on show in this fantastic football match that disappointed. Aguerro showed quality, I thought, and commitment – indeed much of the most convincing movement and passing came from City early in the game. But Aguerro was guilty of a shockingly cheap clasp to a negligibly contacted face late in the game that again, for me, undermined his contribution. This poorly refereed game, played in admittedly testing conditions, did not need rank drama of that order from one’s of its generally more highly performing combatants.
And so, regrettably, we turn to the ref. And that sending-off. The defender – Kompany – jumped in somewhat and two feet were unjustifiably raised, raising the possibility of a red. However, it was a poor, ill-advised decision with significantly damaging consequences; namely that the game was obviously and unreasonably skewed against the home side from that moment forward. Why oh why the 57 cameras attending these matches cannot be put to productive use for contentious decisions such as these is a mystery those allegedly running the Premiership avoid like … like politicians – it’s that bad and that mindless. Twenty something seconds of reviewing gives us good quality decisions 90 something percent of the time; as opposed to the 41% currently imagined. End of.
The fixture – if not the quality of the football – deserved better. Instead Giggs was able to stroll absurdly through the match, relatively unchallenged, as City dropped deep, coiled into counter-attacking mode. United disappointingly contrived to allow their ten opponents to boss both territory and possession in the second half, so that the homesters developed a real and threatening momentum towards the climax. Thus Ferguson’s (disappointing?) shallow holding position almost embarrassed him. For me, Phil Jones, Nani, Evra and Lindegaard were all poor and the performance itself was mediocre, unlike the result.
City, I suspect, will likely be more buoyed by what happened today than their rivals. An irate Mancini can and will motivate his classy troops with that ole chestnut “Imagine what we’d have done if the ref hadn’t robbed us?”. Silva though, may be more personally distracted by grief over his withdrawal for the second half – a half notably again unlit by his colleague Nasri. And Hart will surely wonder quietly (or otherwise) at his manager’s decision to rest him for this, arguably the meatiest if not the most meaningful confrontation of the season so far.
Sad, in conclusion, that in a situation so gloriously stuffed with stories – the mighty Scholes revisiting, the cruelly crocked Hargreaves popping in – witless ‘authority’ pastes the headlines across its own, impervious brow again. There is something of the dumb animal about this, or the drunken party game, where, glazed-eyed, Bigwigs paste miscellaneous notes above the eyes of those to the left. Only here, we the fans can read what is written; it says “Don’t be such a donkey- REVIEW!!” Then we get a proper, proper game of football.