A few years ago some ‘scientists’ discovered that the 3rd Monday in January, ‘Blue Monday’ in tabloid-speak, is apparently the most depressing day of the year. It’s all to do with dark nights, credit card bills and the bleak sense of can’t be arsedness that descends once you’re back in work after the Christmas holidays. In truth, it’s a load of made-up nonsense that gets repeated on an annual basis with no actual science behind it whatsoever. It was recently proven that the most depressing day of the year was actually the 2nd Monday in January, the root cause being United losing at home to Southampton the day before.
That game proved we’re still a mile away from becoming the finished article and LVG is fighting a losing battle if he still thinks certain individuals reared on playing in an orthodox back four possess the wit and gumption to adapt to a 3-5-2 philozophee. As the man himself explained, “I have twitched my ass on the bench because we were out of balance.” Me too, pal. The theory that his players should be comfortable in possession and build from the back is fine in principle, but the brutal truth is most of our defenders lack the requisite technical skills to play that system. Evans, Jones and Smalling can’t be viewed as budding liberos whilst they continue to struggle with the basics of passing, heading and tackling with any degree of consistency or authority.
Since Christmas, the last few weeks of football have seen United turn in some utterly turgid performances. The first half at Loftus Road saw us struggling to string 3 passes together, Valencia forgetting how to take a throw in and the depressing spectacle of Phil Jones on corner duty. As someone noted sagely on one of the forums, “I wouldn’t trust him to collect a trolley.” Calls of “4-4-2” and “attack attack attack” from the away end were the first sign of discontent from fans, understandable perhaps given the month-long entertainment drought being witnessed. This led to a 2nd half switch to 4-4-2 and a slightly improved performance, but it was still grim viewing up against relegation fodder like QPR.
Van Gaal is currently facing something of a dilemma. He’s attempting to introduce a new style of play and despite the £150M transfer outlay, he’s still looks short of the personnel to successfully accomplish this. So he’s presented with a choice: persevere with his favoured 3-5-2 with players struggling to adapt or abandon that and revert to the tried and tested 4-4-2 at the expense of his long term vision. It doesn’t take a genius to work out how this one will ultimately pan out. Van Gaal hasn’t been successful in his career due to compromising or abandoning his beliefs when players (or fans) aren’t happy with his methods. Whether people like 3-5-2 or not, the system isn’t going anywhere. If any changes are going to be made, it’ll likely be a further influx of new faces in the summer who he’s identified as an improvement to what we have in place now.
In the meantime then, we need to brace ourselves for more of the same. Although the last month has seen football as dire as anything witnessed over the last 3-4 years, I’d still argue that overall we’re moving in the right direction and progress has been made. It was never going to happen overnight, so people just need to get their heads around that fact and have a little bit of patience. If we finish top four this season then that should be seen as mission accomplished considering the mess we were in when Moyes left… plus an FA Cup win has now become a very realistic possibility following the high-profile casualties witnessed last weekend.
The Southampton result was also compounded by the news that after 26 years of fighting the good fight, Red Issue had published their final edition and were vacating the United fanzine sphere. The sense of loss this leaves their loyal readership is difficult to sum up in a few words, indeed it’s impossible to understate the importance of the mag and the effect they’ve had on United fan culture over the last two and a half decades.
I first picked up a Red Issue back in 1989 having been completely unaware of their existence up until issue 3. From the moment I read my first copy, however, I was instantly smitten. The mag back then was nothing like the professionally produced, articulate beast it developed into a few years later – for the most part I was initially drawn to the mix of cartoons and toilet humour that perfectly suited my then Viz-fuelled teenage brain.
Those early editions were pretty outrageous in tone and they quickly made as many enemies as friends. The late-80’s fanzine boom led to an early incarnation of what is referred to these days by the twitterati as the ‘football family’. To be considered a member you had to have your mag listed in When Saturday Comes, the nationally available, self-styled Grand Master of the ‘zine scene – which always promised a good read but was invariably full of 4000 word pieces droning on about non-league ground hopping and women’s football in Botswana. WSC unsurprisingly took umbrage with Red Issue’s less cerebral content and took the petty step of barring them from their listings, a move which pleased RI immeasurably and was proudly adopted as a badge of honour.
Although the mag never fully shook off the unjust reputation it gained during those early years, it slowly became something much more than cartoons ripping the piss out of players and references to Leeds fans’ penchant for shagging sheep. As the football landscape changed beyond recognition, so did Red Issue. The mag had better writers and started to publish some of best pieces I’ve ever seen written about football, never mind Manchester United. By the mid-90’s it was instrumental in the formation of IMUSA and a couple of years further on SUAM, who months later were successful in fending off the despised Murdoch takeover bid.
Having grown up reading the mag and it having helped shape pretty much all my opinions on football, it feels very much like the end of an era. Personally speaking, Red Issue will always be the ultimate United fanzine and remains the main reason I’m writing here now. It was sad to read their final editorial where reasons for the decision were explained, but it made perfect sense considering everything they’ve warned against over the years has now come to pass. Railing against the world for 25 years takes a lot of effort and energy, so if their heart isn’t in it anymore and they no longer feel their words are having the desired effect, then maximum respect to all concerned for bowing out whilst still at the top of their game. They’ll be missed.
Copyright Red News – January 2015