The Week At United: A Message To The ‘Fan’ Police

There’s nothing like disappointing football at Manchester United to bring out the Top Reds on social media, those who believe that being a fan requires one to refuse to constructively criticise or entertain any thought process other than blind faith.

“Can you imagine what Twitter would have been like in the Eighties?”, said a young fan not old enough to know what the 1980’s were actually like/a fan who lived through that period of United’s history and has mentally blocked out the wretched football and occasional highs in a sea of mediocrity and disappointment, or was too p*ssed to remember it.

Personally, yes, I did moan in 1986/87 when, following a draw with City, Ron Atkinson’s United dropped to 20th position in Division One and ultimately finished 11th. I also moaned in 1988/89 when a run of 2 wins in 13 games under Alex Ferguson led to United finishing eleventh again. And yes, I also moaned the following season when, between November and January, United failed to win in eleven league games, scoring only five goals on the way to a 13th placed finish. Fergie was deservedly under severe pressure before and during that run, having spent a small fortune the previous summer. On the other hand I celebrated the ’83 and ’85 cup wins and cried with joy when, at the end of a now famous cup run, United lifted the same competition in May ’90. Whether you are too young to remember it or old enough but in denial, some of the football served up in that period was absolutely atrocious. There were some famous wins, particularly against Liverpool, but watching a club of United’s size repeatedly underachieve was very dispiriting. However, with low expectations pleasure comes more easily. The run to the European Cup Winner’s Cup final remains one of my fondest memories of watching my team. It was a return to footballing relevance for one of the world’s most famous clubs. But make no mistake, much of the football prior to that was very poor indeed. People would have moaned (and indeed did moan) because it was often an extremely depressing watch.

“We shouldn’t be looking to sack managers. Imagine if we’d given Fergie the boot. Be patient and LVG will get us back to the top”, said Fred Bloggs, less than a year after he/she had had quite enough of David Moyes.

This is a ridiculous argument. A man who turned out to be the greatest manager in the history of the game, who managed a very different club to the one we support now, is proof that success and pretty football will be achieved if a manager is given ‘time’ (the maximum length of time allowed is never specified)? This, of course, is also total boll*cks. We could have given Moyes until 2115 and we’d still have been sh*t, because he was doing it all wrong. Giving LVG an indeterminate period to get things right is no guarantee that he will.

“It was always going to be a rocky period after Fergie left.”

Why? It’s self fulfilling. There was absolutely no need to experience the appalling drop off that was engineered by David Moyes. United didn’t stop being one of the world’s biggest and richest clubs the moment the man who made the club what it is today walked out of the door. Give players an excuse to fail and more often than not they will. The squad needed new blood after years of under-investment. It didn’t happen. Dave and Ed f*cked up and the players copped out.

“The football is functional because LVG needed to add solidity first before creativity.”

This, again, is utter bobbins, as is the argument that it takes time to build expansive teams. Having spent circa £75m on attacking talent last summer, circa £80m on forwards the summer before and £300m in total, quite how anyone could argue that it simply isn’t possible to play with more creativity is beyond me. Google the Premier League table, look at United, look up, read ‘Leicester City’, 29 goals. Look at last season’s Premier League table. Note United’s pretty risible total of 62 goals. Look at the Premier League table for 2013/14. Note the 64 goals scored under Calamity Moyes. Look back at this season’s Premier League table. Use a calculator. (20 divided by 14) x 38 = 54.28. 54 goals, scoring at the current rate. After spending more than £150m on attacking talent. Weep.

“We’re a point off the top of the Premier League.”

Indeed we are. Yay. We’re also out of the Carling Cup after a farcical night against Middlesborough and require a win in Germany against Wolfsburg to avoid the ignominy of the Europa League. We have 5 goals and 8 points after 5 games in a moderately difficult Champions League group. That’s the Champions League for which we endured last season’s wretched grind (barring three thoroughly enjoyable performances out of thirty-eight). The justification for the incessant bilge was that a return to Europe’s top competition was all that mattered, financially and competitively. So here we are, in that competition, sucking the joy out of it, whilst glancing up at the clubs of a similar size and with similar budgets playing football at a level so far above ours that they might as well be playing a different game. Of course, United can still qualify, but doing so is the minimum requirement. Was all that we endured last season worth it for this? Woody would say so. I’m thoroughly disappointed.

“LVG took on an enormous job and has steadied the ship.”

This is true and he will leave a stronger squad than he found. The next man will have few excuses. But the ship was steadied the moment United qualified for this season’s Champions League. The aim of last summer was to augment the squad with better and more expansive players, to create a better balance and raise performances to another level. This is LVG’s squad now. His players, bought specifically to play in his system. What is most notable is that, with the exception of the dramatically improved Chris Smalling, the ever dependable David De Gea and, possibly, Daley Blind, not a single player is playing anywhere near their best. Not even close. How can it be that so many are producing so little? Unless, of course, they are restricted by a rigid system and have had the flair coached out of them. provide perhaps the most accurate performance assessment data on the web. It’s not perfect and tends to undervalue goalkeepers, but it gives a good guide as to how much individuals are contributing. United’s top player who has played more than 5 league games is Anthony Martial, ranked 17th in the league (and falling), followed by Chris Smalling in 29th and Morgan Schneiderlin in 44th. That is three players in the top fifty in the Premier League. When a few are underperforming it’s easy to blame the players. When it’s 90% of the squad then the fault runs deeper.

“Results are all that matter. The football was poor in Fergie’s final seasons.”

This is partially true. The 2012/13 season if oft cited as an example of pragmatism over flair. That season United won the title with 84 goals. Look back at your calculator. 54. Remember George Graham’s ‘boring, boring Arsenal’? They won the title in 1988/89 with 73 goals in 38 games, and two years later with 74. Regardless, if LVG takes this side to the title this season it will not say, “Premier League winners 2015/16 (but they were boring as f*ck and it was a weak division anyway)”. Results, of course, come first. But this is the richest club on the planet and most of its fans have witnessed it playing at or close to its potential. Style is important. It is particularly important if trophies are not won and results are not achieved. Pragmatism can be forgiven if goals are reached. If they aren’t then it will be highlighted and rightfully criticised. Playing two holding midfielders at home against a weaker opponent in a must win game is lunacy. The football this season has mostly been wretched to watch, turgid, uninspiring, nails down a blackboard, soul destroying garbage. United are out of one cup competition and on the edge of elimination from another. There are valid criticisms and fans have every right to voice them.

“Wayne Rooney is one of the greatest players this club has ever had. Show him some respect.”

This is correct, and anyone abusing him personally on social media is an idiot. But anyone unable to identify that his contribution to the team this year has been absolutely abysmal needs to lay off the Class A’s. He has become a millstone around United’s and LVG’s necks. Saturday’s contribution at Leicester amounted to a 70% pass completion rate, no goals, no assists, no key passes, no take-ons, absolutely sweet f*ck all. After the game the manager bemoaned the fact that his forwards did not run in behind defenders. Rooney cannot do that, partially because his legs no longer carry him, but also because he spends half his time with his back to goal and the other half storming around in midfield trying to hunt down the ball his shambolic touch gifted back to the opposition moments earlier. And yet, despite the world being able to see his faults, LVG remains loyal, continually picking his captain whilst dropping others for a single under-par performance. At Watford, with Rooney missing, unwell, United looked far more dangerous with Depay up front, who regularly troubled defenders with his pace and movement and scored the first goal. At Leicester Rooney went off and was replaced by the Dutchman, who immediately started to give the home side’s back four more problems, running beyond his marker, pulling the defence out of shape and making more space for others. Rooney is finished and the quicker the penny drops in LVG’s bonce the better.

“A point at the side on the top of the table is a good result.”

To a degree this is true. It’s far from a disaster and I doubt anyone would complain about it in isolation. But the insipid, tentative, slow, unimaginative football is merely another taste of the tripe we have had to eat all season. Jamie Vardy’s goal was totally avoidable and at 1-1, with Leicester running out of steam, the drive for a winner that we have seen so many times before was again simply not there. Afterwards Van Gaal bemoaned the defending and the lack of speed of foot and mind in his team’s attacking, yet this is his side, his players, drilled by him all week, every week. If the process is not yet working (initially it was supposed to take three months) then he and his staff are doing something wrong, whether that be in terms of recruitment or coaching or both.

“Sacking a manager mid-season is never a good idea.”

Tell that to Liverpool or Sunderland fans, or Chelsea fans, who won a European Cup following the sacking of Andre Villas Boas.

“You’re all spoilt children spitting out your dummies.”

Yes, we’ve been spoilt. We’ve seen what United can be, what ‘good enough’ is and isn’t. We expect a lot because the conditions are there for the club to be competing with the likes of Barca, Bayern and Real. We also appreciate that after the Moyes shambles such a recovery will take time, but don’t try and pull the perpetual ‘transition’ card. For ‘transition’ read ‘not good enough’. Results have improved marginally. United have 27 points this season as opposed to 25 last year from the equivalent fixtures. Performances, at least in an attacking sense, have actually got worse. For £300m United should, by any measure, be playing better.

“We don’t want to be like Chelsea, constantly changing managers.”

Or like Barca, who canned Tata Martino after a season, appointed Luis Enrique and won the treble.

Personally I wouldn’t sack LVG now. Ideally he would identify his mistakes and rectify them. I doubt this will happen, but for the moment he should get the chance to improve both the football and results. But criticising a manager or the football his team plays does not make anyone less of a fan. It’s often suggested that those on social media are not representative of the match-going fans. The boos following the PSV shambles should knock that suggestion on the head. A significant proportion of the money Van Gaal has spent on players and wages comes from the pockets of the supporters and they have every right to comment on the product they are paying for. Blind faith and acceptance of sub-standard performances and a dearth of excitement do not make you a better ‘fan’, so quit the moral high ground and let people gripe as they wish, much as you probably did in the 1980s, or in February last year……..

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