Let’s be clear here: let’s just stop making excuses for our team. We can go on about our dominant possession; throw stats out in the air on how much of pitch area our players covered. And perhaps go on a rant about sides parking their bus against us. Or, how unfair Cameron Jerome’s goal was.
But what’s the point?
Oh, we can say United will never die. That is probably true, beyond the rhetoric nature of the chant. Even a side as wretched as Portsmouth — despite all the rumblings of discontent — will eventually find a benefactor to bail it out of trouble. As Simon Kuper in his book Soccernomics — or as it’s sold in the UK: ‘Why England Never Win‘ — said, football clubs are institutions, a reflection of strong community roots, and most of them will be bailed out eventually. Especially the big clubs are — as the phrase, we’ve become all too familiar with in this economy, goes — too big to fail.
A vast number of United fans’ support will also not die either. At least, I’ll speak for myself here. But is that really the point?
Saying we will never die, while rousing in its appeal in the terraces and perfect in a match scenario to raise player spirits, is terribly escapist when used outside like it was some sort of elixir. It’s a diversionary tactic; an LSD shot, if you will, when faced with a gloomy scenario, hoping said shot will make the disappointment go away. But we fans are not a monolith of homogeneous emotion. Different fans react to it in their own ways, and if this makes them feel better, then power to them.
But yours truly has grown a bit weary over the course of the season.
It’s not that we may not win anything that gets me. I have, at the start of the season said I don’t mind if we don’t win anything if we are making a definite transition towards a solid, better future. A season where we might frustrate dropping points, yet stay close to our philosophy of attack-minded free flowing football.
The constant refuge a lot of fans take in is to point to our league position. Considering how badly Liverpool are, how inconsistent both Chelsea and Arsenal have been we’re still second in the table, they would say. But if we’re second when the rest of the ‘big four’ have been average that’s not saying much about us now is it?
They will say we’ve lost Ronaldo and Tevez, so this will be a season of struggle. True, but it’s not like we gave Ronaldo for free is it now? We may struggle but have we been proactive enough in the transfer window to make a positive difference to our squad? Ferguson said we have cash to burn, but then goes on with his spiel that there is no value in this market.
I am not prepared to buy that. There’s enough evidence that, when you look properly, the right personnel could be got for value. Either we aren’t looking at the right kind of players, or we are skint.
But back to the Brum game. We attacked in numbers, but did we really have shots on goals that counted in the first half? Our goal was an own goal deflection for fuck’s sake! Some assorted half-chances — arguably Birmingham had better ones than us — and that was the game. The desire seemed to be there, but — and here’s the kicker — the quality was missing.
You can’t always blame the players or the tactics. Sometimes you just need someone who gives you that edge. Someone who makes Rooney look good. Someone who raises the game for you when the chips are down. Resilience, hard work, determination, Park-mindedness (or Park-arsedness) can only bring you so far. Flair gets you the extra inch. Last season we ground out victories, and we’ve done so every season.
Which brings us back to the deficiencies in the squad.
You’d have thought these reverses might have forced Ferguson’s hand in bringing someone in the January window. But all you hear are about having the money to burn but not finding value in the market. Well, then good luck finding value in the summer after the World Cup. There is the other almost Wengeresque quote from SAF about getting young players and nurturing them like we’ve always done. As far as I can see, we’ve invested in young stars and prospects and mixed them up with old heads. Scholes, Giggs and Neville have quite evidently tailed off this season. Giggs less so than Scholes, but still.
There is talk from the manager about Berbatov needing exploratory surgery, now. Interestingly, there was an article in the News of the World a few weeks ago about the Bulgarian requiring surgery which Ferguson brushed aside. Now the admission comes a few weeks later from the manager himself.
Another aspect of the manager that has begun to perplex me is his blaming the referees. Up to a limit, it serves as a diversionary tactic. You’d have thought he’d collect himself, and perhaps refrain from blaming the refs for our general shitness. Last week it was about added time against Leeds, this time it was about Fletcher’s sending off. Sometimes even we as fans have to hold our hands up and say, bollocks! We’re just shit.
I won’t end this with a ‘we’ll never die’ comment. That is assumed, and will go against the grain of what I’ve been trying to convey. Which is, regardless of how well we’ve been throughout Ferguson’s tenure, we should be able to call a spade a spade; in our case a rusty one at that — without being told we’re negative, knee jerk, and love to be so for the heck of it. If this is considered knee jerk, then it has to be the slowest knee to jerk in the history of mankind.
I would love to be proven wrong. Note: being proven wrong does not mean scrapping to win the title. Being proved wrong is to suddenly turn a corner and play like we were Barcelona in their pomp, or something. Which I think is unlikely and unreasonable to expect. But being proved wrong should at least mean showing enough during the rest of the season that this side is capable of growing and challenging for the future seasons.
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