By Tony Attwood.
Poor Man U. For so many years the darling of the media. A media so bewitched by what they are and what they might be, that not a word could be said against them.
And now those naughty fellows in the newspapers can write such things as, “Referees are not the only ones who need to up their game. That call extends to Manchester United’s Monday night divers, the England captain and the army of moral relativists who seek to erase every sin in their own team by pointing out everybody else’s.”
The Independent has a “10 point recovery plan for Man U” on the basis that the writer of the piece actually knows more about managing a big football team than your actual manager. You don’t have to be a Man U supporter to think that is unlikely. We’ve had that kind of stuff about Arsenal for years.
Mind you we are not off the hook totally as in another article, the Indy is still on its anti-Arsenal run, telling us that an in-depth analysis of Arsenal’s FA Cup form last year reveals that it is the same old same old Arsenal, beating Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton, only to stumble on meeting Wigan. (Wow that is really “in depth”.)
So we can clearly see Arsenal are going to lose in the semi finals because a) we always slip up against little teams and b) the two matches we have lost recently were the most important matches – Monaco and Tottenham.
An interesting logic, and of course no proper analysis of why those two were the most important. Given the way the league is shaping up if we had to lose to anyone in the league I’d chose losing to Tottenham over Man City, because I think Tottenham is not going to overtake us for a Champs League spot and just happens to be close by (a bit like Orient) while Man C are catchable, so knocking them back matters.
And what of Man U?
Well, Di María has come in for an interesting analysis. Apparently he is “so frustrated” by the way Man U is being run “he ended up grabbing the referee.”
Now seeing inside a player’s head is an interesting skill, and anyone who can do it, could become a very good manager indeed. But as always we get the assertion and nothing much behind it.
The argument is that he is a quality attacking midfielder who through mismanagement has become anxious and trapped. ” This is a top-class, hugely experienced player who, for all his energy, has so often been composed when it mattered. And yet right now, employed as a narrow-focus inverted winger cutting in to produce cross after cross towards the back post – United’s goal came from a moment of Di María invention: a cross to the near post – he looks a little baffled at times.”
This is the same sort of attack that we have seen on Wenger week after week month after month from journalists who then ignore anything that doesn’t fit their view of the world, and pounce on the other bits.
On the surface that analysis above could be right, but I don’t know what the Man U manager is trying to sort out for next season – and I am not sure the press does either.
But I know that the sort of constraints Wenger had (primarily money) don’t exist for Man U, as there is cash in the bank and the owners like to draw their £100m or so each year to prop up their other ailing businesses. But they also know that success needs investment, and they might want to sell some more shares soon (these luxury yachts are so expensive, and appearing at Monte Carlo with last year’s model is just so un-American) so they need long term profit. So they’ll invest. Maybe this is an experimental year before the big buying in the summer.
But long term strategy doesn’t excite journalists and editors (I know because I had loads of long term strategy articles turned down when I was a scribbler in centuries past). So we get,
“Why has Januzaj featured so sparingly this season? Why was Fellaini employing his scattergun physicality in an advanced position in the first place? Fellaini is a fine, versatile player with a rare gift for controlling the ball on his Velcro-grade chest. It is legitimate tactic. But should it really be the chief attacking ploy of a Manchester United team at home to Arsenal?”
And then there’s an appeal to the past. OK in the attacks on Wenger we didn’t get this so much – not many journalists remembering George Graham’s Almost Invincible season, and none really being aware of that amazing Chapman-Shaw-Allison heritage – but Man U can be hit with it.
“United are a fine, charismatic English institution, a club that have been a shared national sporting jewel since the great years of Matt Busby’s rebuilding after the second world war. The club’s current hard-won commercial success is a function of this style, a red-shirted romance that cuts across even the inane corporate claptrap of the modern global game.”
I appreciate at this point that you might need to visit the latrines for a moment, so please do take a pause. But do come back as there is more…
The goal, even in moments of retrenchment, should be to build a team capable of challenging the best in Europe. This should be the guiding principle behind every decision. And yet nothing in United’s long-ball approach speaks to this. At Old Trafford on Monday Van Gaal’s outfield players launched 59 long passes and attempted just 11 dribbles all night (to Arsenal’s 23). It made for an abrasive spectacle that required some policing by the referee. But again the story here is United’s tactics, not the split-second responses of the man in yellow to the moments of raggedness they naturally generate.
So here we see it. The awful virus that has infected the footballing soul of Arsenal for years has finally found another body in which to reside. The children have found another entity to kick. If we can introduce some good antiviral drugs now to the body and soul of Arsenal we might be able to get rid of the infection for good and we can then enjoy the suffering of others as in…
“United on a night when, judging by the ambient noise, they finished a distinct third behind Arsenal and Michael Oliver,,,”
What is missing though is cause and effect. The writing is very funny – the sort of stuff that Blacksheep comes out with on the journey to and from the game I am forced to it call “droll”.
“Inviting the headmaster of Dutch post-Total Football to admire a bustling English striker is a bit like asking a Frenchman to feast his eyes on a hunk of pre-sliced English cheddar. Yes, he’ll sniff and say all very well but it’s hardly Brie de Meaux. But in the end if it’s the only thing in the fridge he might just end up making a grudging soufflé.”
But why but why but why?:
That’s the bit I suspect the press will never go near, because their love affair with Sir Alec F Word still resonates.
Sir F clearly wanted that last championship win before he retired and he gambled everything on the last throw of the dice – including a fortune on a long term contract RVP. The RVP gamble paid off – he got his year out of him, but at the cost of having to pay him for each extra year when he’s injured.
Sir F left no real emerging team for the future, and the handover to Moyes was a silly mess. Changing managers is always tough, changing twice in two seasons is tougher.
The press won’t go back over this history because they won’t touch Sir F Word… so they need other things to hit. For some reason they are not even attacking the board and the owners. Man U’s manager is the current target of choice.
So just for a moment, we can relax. Someone else is being hammered day by day, in a process in which all the right questions are never being asked.
Maybe this treatment could be shared around? For the next year it is Man U. Then it could be Tottenham, Chelsea, Man C, Liverpool…. If they had a year of the virus each that’s five years of peace for us.
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