SScientists don’t quite agree on how long it will take before the end of the universe. The most happy astrophysicists of the trigger have it at around 22 billion years old, but if we’re lucky it could keep exploding for another 200 billion. Earth has a little less time – becoming a lifeless scorched rock in about 5 billion, after the sun runs out of fuel and enters what’s called its “red giant phase”.
Which brings us to Manchester United – who seemed to be running out of fuel in 2013. As a scrawny, expressionless Erik ten Hag stood in his technical area at Old Trafford on Sunday, it was hard not to feel that on this day of the groundhog painted by- the crisis of numbers could only be put out of his misery by the disappearance of the entire planet.
Seconds after the full-time whistle, the memes started. Complete this sentence: The biggest problem at Manchester United is…
Where to start ? Should we create a Microsoft Word template just below “create your own resume” with a simple list of choices that you save as a PDF or print and keep? A simple and efficient service to which you can refer whenever there is a problem at the Théâtre des Rêves.
The first thing to mention is DNA. Divide everyone into those who ‘truly understand’ the club’s DNA and those who don’t – including some light-hearted mentions of attacking football, taking the game from the opposition and turning Old Trafford into a ‘fortress “.
At this point the camera should pan to Sir Alex Ferguson in the stands.
You can imagine United conceding an early goal at home to Sturm Graz in the European Super League’s Division 2 opener in 2047. Scott McTominay, 50, parachuted in as head coach after a final of mid-table championship in charge of Reading, shakes his head. The TV director asks for a close-up of Sir Alex, 105. He looks on sullenly.
It took 17 minutes for the camera to land on Fergie’s face during the game against Brighton. I feel like it’s the longest it’s ever taken. Progress maybe.
It’s becoming almost acceptable to question the benefits of the big man’s continued presence – is a “think tank” with David Gill and Bryan Robson the answer? Football could be 90% nostalgic. But nostalgia is meant to be nostalgic, not current. But what to do? It is simply too important to “work the salons”.
What needs to be highlighted in our practical United crisis guide is how Sir Alex would regularly change his back office staff – a key to his success; no one has since – not to mention that none of his successors have been around long enough to run their men wide, let alone their first-team coach.
We need a player chapter. It’s well documented that you don’t become a bad player overnight. But there must be a minimum number of nights required for this to be possible – and this is something the club has perfected.
The almost pantomime attacks on Harry Maguire seriously galloping like a Fraggle Rock Gorg might be unfair. But seeing him slip back from Brighton’s strike force makes you wonder how Kylian Mbappé could fare in Qatar.
Jadon Sancho quickly becomes Indiana Jones and Raiders of the Lost Ark’s swordsman – twirling him around until Harrison Ford shoots him. At Borussia Dortmund, Sancho stepped over and over people at will. Now he does it in front of them before sending it back to Diogo Dalot.
Lisandro Martínez is too small (please ignore Cannavaro and Mascherano) to be a centre-back. What happened to Marcus Rashford? McFred. You could choose as many.
Callers line up to complain (correctly) to Glaziers (sic) – sucking money, joy, entertainment out of the club. Important here to mention noodle partners, rubber affiliates, official biofuel suppliers, all topped off with an NFT of Ed Woodward’s face. Football fans can be forgiven for turning off when people start talking about leveraged debt. None of us entered this game to hear about it.
We don’t want to hear about net spending either. But United is huge and yet for what? Where is the project? Months of hoping that stay-at-home midfielder Frenkie de Jong is seemingly usurped by Chelsea, while each refreshed gossip page in turn disappoints. Arnautovic. Rabiot. Morata. Odion Ighalo was no exception. He was the model.
And of course there’s Cristiano Ronaldo – who really should be higher in this tick box exercise. Most pressing would be for one of the more tactical columnists to determine if pressing is still part of his game, if it ever was. It’s amazing that no one really mentioned it. He scored all the goals. But is he the problem? Eventually someone will manage to cover that up.
In all of this, you have to at least acknowledge how it all affects the fans – who, at least, claim the club matters in this whole thing. Being a football fan is all about expectations. Years of being the best must do this agony. Just because it’s hard to sympathize with the fanbase of a team that dominated for most of your youth doesn’t mean you shouldn’t. Manchester United fans are people too. However, for the rest of us, it’s the gift that keeps on giving.
Just before saving it to the desktop for easy access, point out that things can change quickly. It would be wonderful to see players lacking in confidence find her. It would be good for the league if there was another team competing. What Ten Hag needs is time. Otherwise, we rinse and repeat for 5 billion years.