Cantona to Berbatov: Is The MUFC Way More Than Just Mythology?

Tom Pattison is one of our new writers here on TF. Here is one of his first efforts for us. Please leave him comments in the usual place

As usual today I received my weekly missive from Big Brother informing how rosy everything is on the good ship Manchester United.  If I am honest, it usually receive merely a cursory glance before being consigned to the trash folder along with several offensively optimistic free-cycle pleas for house swaps and play-stations,  and exciting news of a seemingly never-ending sale at Debenhams. As it happens the alternative being actually teaching my students for once I decided to open the email and feast on the Glazer propaganda within. In amongst the dross was a characteristically mundane sound bite from one of our own, Darren Fletcher – “We’ll certainly play for three points,” he told United Review. “We do that every time we step onto a football pitch. It’s the only way we know how to play and it would be dangerous if we tried to play any other way.”

Really Darren?

I was one of many Reds who felt that the way our team retreated to their own eighteen yard line with barely a minute on the clock at the Emirates indicated a very different approach. In fact one of the strengths of the current side, we are told, is their ‘street smart’ ability to tailor their approach to opponent and circumstance. Against Arsenal it failed miserably yet earlier in the season it has proved reasonably effective – notably the way that a bore draw was served up at the preposterously excitingly named Stade Velodrome given the mundane fare on display. A common debate, and one beloved of this team’s detractors, is how this current side compare to the ’94, ’99 and ’08 vintages. It is unfair in my view to compare eras but what is often cited at the core of this negative evaluation is how we lack the commitment to ‘attack, attack, attack’ of the Cantona years or the fearless, cavalier style of the treble winners.

Like it or not, our philosophy has changed, yet this is far from an overnight abandonment of our former ways. The headline result of our last successful European campaign might have been the demolition of Roma at Old Trafford but the conservative performances in the Stadio Olimpico and Camp Nou were as much a part of the success of that team. Ronaldo’s gallantry often overshadowed the essentially industrious focus of the supporting cast – Rooney and Tevez included. The purchase of Berbatov seemed an atypical acquisition and suggestive of a return to a more flamboyant philosophy (the Cantona comparisons bear testimony to this) yet the reality has been that as majestic as the Bulgarian has been on occasion the boss has been unwilling to indulge his enigma and the consequence has been a much improved collective. Whisper it quietly but one might even dare to question where the great Frenchman would fit into this current style of play. I like to think that a talent as special as le Roi would be accommodated but I am far from convinced.

So should we proclaim the end of a club philosophy? I suspect fans might be divided. The yearning for Berbatov to succeed in the face of evidence to the contrary seems to underpin a sector of Red support who long for the return of the absent ‘fantasy’ to our style of play. I certainly am of the view that to approach Barcelona at Wembley with intent to spoil would be not only ineffective but contrary to the spirit of our club. However as Mourinho would no doubt agree; football is a results’ business. Not only that, but the capacity of this team to entertain has been unfairly undervalued – take a player like Antonio Valencia, whose desire to run directly at fullbacks and provide the telling ball exhilarate The Faithful in a manner reminiscent of Coppell and Kanchelskis. Valencia doesn’t possess the glamour of Beckham, Best and Ronaldo but his football is undoubtedly thrilling. As a collective we have at time thrilled – albeit too often in response to a dreadful opening half. Many have been quick to admonish Schalke’s display at Gelsenkirchen yet credit should be given to a mesmeric performance of technique and movement which carved them open time and again. We may not boast a fixed style that encourages the quasi-religious devotion of our ‘more than just a club’ Catalan opponents or even the Barcelona-lite style of Wenger’s Arsenal.

Yet the ‘philosophy’ of which Fletcher hints actually is not a commitment to attacking football, it is a commitment to winning; and so long as Alex Ferguson is in charge THAT is the United way.

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About Steve Ferguson 886 Articles
Steve Ferguson had taken over & re-branded The Faithful MUFC website back in the summer of 2014 and is now the owner and editor of the site. Steve, from Ashton-Under-Lyne in Greater Manchester, is a 35-year-old life long Manchester United fan, travelling over the globe to see the Reds play. Steve has been lucky enough to be at both the 1999 and 2008 Champions League finals, seeing Manchester United lift the biggest trophy in the World, none more exciting than that faithful night in Barcelona in 99. The website is a blog, but also hopes to deliver the latest Manchester United news from around the internet too, linked up with our growing twitter account which is @TheFaithfulMUFC, give it a follow as we will follow you back as soon as we can.


  1. If the Bulgarian had missed as many chances as Rooney had yesterday everyone would have been on his back instantly about it – Rooney does so and all people do is wax rhapsodic about how much pressure he put Cech under. Rooney’s form for most of the season warranted being dropped to the bench in favour of a Berbatov/Hernandez axis up front, but game after game, month after month, he was kept in the side despite contributing nothing – so much for Fergie’s later comments (when cruelly dumping Berbatov) about choosing players on form. One fluky goal, another one gifted to Rooney by the selfless Bulgarian, and everything changed, all was forgiven, and the form forward of the EPL found himself inexplicably and hypocritically dumped to the bench. Berbatov would have been perfect in the slot behind Chicharito, as he showed in the early part of the season, and has the vision, presence, and unsurpassed skill set that leaves Rooney in the shade. His work rate and defence are under-rated (as Rooney’s is over-rated), and his ability to hold on to the ball in the face of two or even three defenders is remarkable – Rooney more often than not gets dispossessed when hounded by a solitary defender. In all the games they played together this season, Berbatov outplayed Rooney in all but a few of the fixtures, yet his reward for such a contribution was to be treated like offal by his manager. One wonders why Fergie ever brought him to Old Trafford, because he’s never stuck by the Bulgarian or tried structuring the team to bring the best out of him, especially when compared to the loyalty handed to Rooney regarding form, personal deficiencies, greed, and on-field indiscretions.

    Much as I will enjoy taking the win in the championship, especially as it finally puts us ahead of Liverpool, this season will always remain for me a mixed bag of negative memories regarding the poor quality of football overall that saw all the major teams put in stinking seasons, with United stumbling across the line in almost apologetic fashion, the disruptive, tacky, classless and self-involved manner in which Rooney conducted himself for much of the year both on the field, in contract negotiations, and in his personal life, and lastly for the appalling way in which a selfless gentleman and genius of the game like Berbatov was treated both by his manager and the fan base. In over forty years of watching United play, I have never seen an individual of such imperious and largely unappreciated talent treated so shockingly and thanklessly in favour of a characterless jerk who is constantly given every break imaginable and for whom a clear double standard exists in just about every facet of his contributions to the club, particularly when his form goes out the window and the goals dry up. Only at United could a player score five goals in a game and then be dumped for a player in such miserable form as Rooney was at the time. Only at United could a manager take a player having the season of his life at Old Trafford, ruin his form and confidence by dropping him to the bench game after game, then set him up for a fall by playing him in the by then totally unfamiliar role of solo striker, in one of the biggest games of the season against City in the FA Cup semifinal, in a match in which the entire midfield collectively decided to put in their worst shifts of the season, Scholes got himself sent off in his inimitable fashion, Carrick gifted the winning goal to City – but somehow Berbatov was to blame for the debacle. That more than anything sums up Berbatov’s season, and his career at United.

    I wish the man well wherever he ends up, and for his sake I hope next season he finds himself somewhere where his wonderful talents can be truly appreciated and given freedom to find full expression. It’s so rare to see someone of his talent, and so cruel to see them so thoroughly stifled. Even more galling is to consider the manner in which people hold Rooney’s workmanlike contributions as class. It’s a sad indictment on the game in England these days, and a fairly good indication of why European national teams are so superior.

  2. This is the sort of delusion from some fans that i cant stand. You will have “mixed feelings” because of the standard of play, and because your dear Bulgarian wasnt picked every week?? Pathetic rhetoric.

    The facts are clear: Berba has had a great scoring season. The man has had his best year in a United shirt. But the truth is that Chico and Rooney have excelled as a pair. They fit United’s dynamic better than Berba does with either of them as a pair, or berba on his own as a lone striker. Im sick of this Pro-Berbatov agenda some fans have. I hope you all scurry off with him where ever he ambles to next. He wont be happy sat on the bench, so a move is inevitable. I respect Dimitar as a player, but his fanclub are just neurotic and overtly partisan

    Remember…..we support MUFC…not individual footballers. Dont pretend to support our club if youre only interested in individuals

    “Only at United could a manager take a player having the season of his life at Old Trafford, ruin his form and confidence by dropping him to the bench”…..yes players only ever get dropped at United. Goodbye.

  3. I understand your point about Berbatov not being given the special treatment as Rooney, and echo your sentiments about wishing Dimitar well. However I can’t agree about it staining our achievement. Rooney, like him or loathe him, has proven himself far more effective in the role of reinforcing our midfield and providing the movement and passing range to bring pace and mobility in attack. He has a better relationship with Hernandez than any other player he has played with for United and we simply look a far more threatening team with that combination than an alternative including Berbatov. As I write in my blog, Ferguson will do what he thinks is the right thing for the future of the team and the dramatic improvement over the last three months is testament to that.

  4. I agree with this guy.he is ryt.berbatov is world class.and yet he sits oin the u had to be @ least 10 -0 up.if that was berbatov he woud have bn boob & shouted @.this is football.they r human.every1 misses time 2 tme.this is normal.berbatov is treated unfairly.I support man u.I will support man u for plenty yrs 2 come.but he is wasting his time @ manchester.

  5. Wow, the Berbatov fanboys are out in force. If only he stepped up when he had the chance in the semi- final eh? Luckily for us fergie always knows best and always gets it spot on and has done once again in this case. Berbatov and nani were our in form players at the start of the season but their form dipped as they were unable to maintain the high standards they set themselves. Thankfully, rooney, hernandez, giggs and valencia have stepped up and been brilliant for the last two months that have taken us over the line. Anyway, most importantly, we should support manchester united as a club, not your favourite player, as they come and go.

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