Despite United suffering something of a decline in recent seasons, it’s reassuring to note that rather than merely being derided by our rivals, we’re now back on the receiving end of subtle and not quite so subtle digs once more. Performance-wise, we’re obviously not dining at the top table quite yet, but at least they’re now chucking regular snide bombs in our direction as opposed to simply sniggering at our misfortunes. Delightfully, we still possess the ability to upset the rest of the English football by merely existing and being bigger than everyone else.
There have been some absolute crackers this last few weeks. First we had Ronald “my dream is to one day coach Barca” Koeman warning Romelu Lukaku against moving to Old Trafford, mainly because we’re rubbish and he’ll never get to play in the Champions League here. Clearly it’s fine for Koeman to regularly move clubs in an attempt to further his career, but woe betide any of his players attempting to realise their ambitions on a greater stage.
Then you had Antonio Conte sagely noting, “it’s not always about who spends more money who wins”. And yes, that’s Antonio Conte manager of Chelsea, a club renowned throughout world football for their moderate outlay in the transfer market. I mean they only laid out a paltry £123M last summer, the frugal refusenik mentalists! It’s a minor miracle these plucky underdogs can even compete when you consider they’ve only spent £2 billion since Abramovich took over. First Leicester, now Chelsea… quietly showing the rest of the Premier League fortune spunkers that there is another way.
Next was Jurgen Klopp, who’s been throwing subs all season about United’s defensive-minded approach and willingness to play the long ball. According to the heavy metal maestro, it’s harder for defenders at Liverpool because they play counter attacking football and leave themselves more exposed. I’m not 100% certain, but presumably this is why (combined with the fact half their team is utter dross) they concede more goals and lose more games too.
Listen Jurgen, try winding it in and embrace the fact that both United and Liverpool are pretty crap at present. There’s no shame in admitting it, we just are. If you’re going to persist with instructing your team to hare round like lunatics for 90 minutes just because that was effective at Dortmund for 18 months, then accept they are going to mess up regularly and ultimately leave you disappointed. English players are generally thick and don’t respond well to complex tactical instructions. Ease off on the gegenpressing, get 10 men behind the ball and lump it up to the big feller up front. There’s really no need to come over all passive-aggressive and take your frustrations out on us.
Now I’ve long-since abandoned the pretence of thinking I was knowledgable enough to make a profit betting on football, but I do know enough still to make the occasional solid prediction. On the afternoon of the Celta semi-final 2nd leg, a work colleague was keen to hear my opinion on how United would fare that evening. My response was something along the lines of, “we’ll get through, but prepare to watch the last 10 minutes through your fingers. It won’t be pretty”.
Okay, so maybe you didn’t need to be Nostradamus to see that coming but it still proved unerringly accurate. I can’t recall a last 10 months minutes like that since the similarly nervy Barca semi in 2008. That night however, United at least retained a semblance of composure as the minutes ticked by. By comparison, this current lot displayed all the poise of a 3 year old tasked with carrying of tray of drinks.
Despite the haphazard nature of our progress, victory in Stockholm will apply a coat of gloss to all that’s gone before and make it a very successful season. Fergie always claimed that the aim every year was to win a trophy, so a 2nd major prize in a couple of months with a squad that’s now down to its bare bones after 60+ games will be quite an achievement. Even though some of the recent performances have been no better than the insipid fayre served up under Van Gaal, at least United are starting to look like a team again. It’s certainly not pretty, but we can battle when required and complete capitulations are certainly less frequent.
So, mission accomplished… sort-of. The regular “Jose’s playing the way that United should” refrains might have quietened over the last few weeks but it’s all been quite entertaining in its own way. European finals certainly don’t happen every year and despite the Europa League being the Europa League, the long slog to the final now looks well worth it now we’re closing the season with a couple of days in Sweden to look forward to. Just make sure you brace yourself for watching the last 10 minutes through your fingers again.
Enjoy the summer and I’ll see you in August.
Copyright Red News – May 2017