Three Days That Said: This Is How It Feels To Be A Red
The gulf between United and our main rivals has never been better illustrated than over the last few days.
First, we had the enjoyable experience of watching city’s mercenaries – twelve of whom cost more individually than Wigan’s entire team – capitulate pitifully in the FA Cup Final, before the next day watching a United squad that included, amazingly, ten players who’ve been at the club since their teens, collecting their Premiership medals in one of the most vibrant Old Trafford atmospheres of recent times.
In a perfectly apposite sub-plot, we were of course also saying goodbye to a manager who’s fulfilled footballing dreams we didn’t even dare admit to ourselves prior to his arrival nearly 27 years ago. Even as Sir Alex was willing us to give the same support to our new manager that he had enjoyed, city were formulating their plans for replacing a manager who’d taken them to their first trophies in over three decades and who now was being sacked for ‘failing to meet targets’.
The business terms they spoke in were perfectly apt. While we bemoan the corporate aspects of Manchester United that have intruded on the identity of our great club, both Sunday and that incredible parade on Monday showed that United are far more than that and always will be. The nouveau riche of city, however, are a club without soul, understanding concepts only like returns on investment, in-year projections and globalizing their brand, even though they don’t really havve one. Their fans chant the names of their financial godfathers in a way that any other club’s fans would consider embarrassing, crass and entirely removed from the true spirit of the game.
Then there was that parade itself. Painting the town a glowing shade of Manchester Red were around seven times the number of supporters than had turned out to watch city parade their first championship trophy for 44 years last May. Some outsiders were taken aback by the spectacle, having happily bought into the myth that United don’t enjoy a large home-town support. This view has never accorded with the facts and that so many were determined to find a way of taking part to say goodbye to Fergie provided a massive contrast to the furtive, back door exit of city’s only successful manager in modern times.
Last night I was back at Old Trafford to watch our Under-21s take apart Liverpool in the semi-final of the Elite League competition. It wasn’t just that we won 3-0 on the night: the way United’s youngsters played the ball around was as much of a testimony to the wonderful club Fergie has built as were those title celebrations. Liverpool, in contrast, not only seemed to have given up on nurturing good footballing principles among their young players, but carried with them an all too familiar sense of irate indignation that has become the unmistakeable stamp of the Anfield club in recent years.
It’s something I’ve written about in detail in my book A Deeper Shade of Red, which has, as expected, received some hostile reactions from Liverpool fans in its depiction of the club’s growing persecution complex and victim fetish. Yet it was all too evident last night: while their players abandoned any attempt at playing football and constantly relied on the kind of tackles that would give Tony Pulis wet dreams, throwing up their arms in aggrieved horror and marching with wagging finger towards the ref whenever he rightly penalised them for it.
Two of these challenges resulted in penalties for United, masterfully converted by Larnell Cole, who grabbed a deserved hat trick later on, and were the result of exquisite build up play featuring the excellent Adnan Januzaj and Tom Lawrence: clearly Liverpool didn’t have the footballing means to counter such threats and so resorted to hapless bullying tactics and evidently well practised whingeing when they didn’t get away with them.
I don’t know how many of those young lads in United shirts last night will make it at the top level (although I’d bet my house on Januzaj doing so, and I note that Michael Keane is now featuring in the first team squad page of the official website) but their schooling in playing the game the right way, in refusing to be intimidated in such circumstances and in their obvious pride in wearing that red shirt were overwhelmingly in evidence, and again stood in contrast to the modern version of the club who Fergie so magnificently knocked off their perch all those years ago.
Evidently, having been knocked off that perch, they’re still rolling around the floor of the birdcage eking out an existence among the excrement. And city, despite that fleeting dalliance with success last year, will always be down there with them.