After writing here last month in an indignant, post-Bournemouth strop, I was clinging to the hope that this season’s nadir had been reached. I mean, with the greatest of respect to Bournemouth, they are Bournemouth. It’s the land of blue rinses, retirement homes and tinfoil FA Cups… sort-of a posh, southern version of Southport or somewhere. Manchester United should not be going to places like Bournemouth and getting beaten more than once in a lifetime. But we are. That’s what we’ve become.
Things did get worse, however. Not content with wrecking weekends with alarming regularity, United then contrived to try and ruin Christmas too. Norwich at home, Stoke away… wretched performance following wretched performance. In the midst of this, the new Star Wars film was released and provided some brief, unexpected respite. I took my lad to Parrs Wood on the opening weekend and it was almost baffling how enjoyable it proved… 2 hours of pure, unadulterated entertainment and escapism. I’ve always been firmly against the idea of big screens at the match but if they could show that (or similar) during the game as an alternative to suffering the football, then it could make visits to OT tolerable again in the short-term.
As I’ve alluded to previously, the problem is only partly due to results. The team is being rebuilt, so we don’t expect to win every game and we certainly aren’t expecting to be winning titles any time soon. The lack of invention, the negative tactics, the safety first mentality… these are what feel like an affront and are the source of the all-consuming malaise that envelopes OT at present. Okay, so the happy clappers in J Stand might still be right behind “Louis Van Gaal’s Red and White Army” for their customary 10 minute sing-song, but the vast majority of his foot soldiers, at least those of my acquaintance, have simply given up believing and are now counting the days until he’s gone.
Looking at United’s record over the last couple of months, it’s absolutely remarkable how Van Gaal still finds himself in a job. He offered what was tantamount to a public resignation following the Norwich loss, after which the OT press bods turned their phones off causing widespread speculation that an announcement was imminent. Days later, the manner of the defeat at Stoke appeared to be the death knell. As well as admitting that he was contemplating resigning, Van Gaal also went as far as conceding he was no longer confident of his ability to turn things round. If he wasn’t a broken man at this point, then he was certainly doing a very good impression of one.
Surely then, it was just a matter of finalising the paperwork and agreeing the terms of his settlement? Nope, as he was still in place for Chelsea – not exactly buoyant, but still clinging on and trying to sound optimistic again. One slightly improved performance later (we didn’t get beat and even attacked a bit!) and his position was seemingly secure once more – as secure as it could be following yet another 0-0 draw and no win in 8 games, anyway. Mourinho meanwhile, together with the rest of us willing the board to take some decisive action, must have known at this point that the call was never going to arrive.
So Woodward and his paymeisters, presumably, are instead trying to buck the modern trend of crowd-pleasing decisions and premature sackings – Man United doing things differently and all that. At the opposite end of the scale you’ve got Real Madrid, where Rafa Benitez, despite being a clown, has just been given his cards off the back of three defeats all season and crucially, a 4-0 spanking by Barcelona. They won 10-2 a few weeks ago ffs! So it’s an admirable enough sentiment, this measured approach – but is really in the club’s best interests?
If this miserable run was merely a blip or had interrupted a good run of form, I could see the sense in remaining patient – but barring a decent run last March, United have been truly appalling to watch for the last 12 months. Even when we briefly went top of the table earlier in the season it didn’t ring true in the slightest. Given the overall lack of quality at the top of the table, if we were a half-way decent side we would be right up there challenging at this point. Instead, we find ourselves going through the motions whilst looking up at the likes of West Ham and Leicester. Okay, so there are injuries – but they are nothing new and are to be expected. There should be no excuses and we need to face some Bentitez-style ‘fachts’ – the level of performance being churned out is absolutely pathetic.
We’ve currently reached the stage where losing a 2 goal lead against a beleaguered Newcastle side is seen as an improvement – simply just because we scored a goal on the counter-attack and there was some excitement and a taste of the unexpected for once. 3 years ago, chucking away points in such a manner would’ve been seen as disastrous, but now it’s viewed as grounds for optimism. That’s what we’ve been reduced to, it’s right up there with our recent “brave” European exit in the straw-clutching stakes.
The trip to Anfield saw yet another abject display. Two poor sides with millions lavished on them, proving once more that Liverpool-United no longer deserves its billing as one of English football’s showpiece fixtures. These days, it’s just two formerly great sides, living on past glories and showcasing nothing except the bloated excesses of the Premier League. That said, beating them remains one of the greatest things in the world… and almost makes you forget the rest of the crap we’ve been forced to suffer over the last 3 months. Almost.
For all Van Gaal’s faults, and however grim the football, it’s becoming increasingly clear that unlike most of his managerial contemporaries, he’s still able to draw on vast reserves of good fortune when it’s needed most. Defeat, or even another draw at Anfield would have led to renewed pressure and intensified calls for change. Instead, despite another thoroughly miserable performance, Rooney scores and we sneak out with a scarcely merited 3 points. Louis then, emerges unscathed from yet another trying week. Roll on the next riveting instalment…
Copyright Red News – January 2016