by Stephen Tudor (Daisy Cutter)
Mere seconds after Manchester United had stumbled blindly to their third consecutive defeat and into their sixth or seventh consecutive crisis the knives were out. On social media and in pubs and living rooms across the country, as Sunday roasts were being prepared in kitchens and the sun shone bright outside, there was mockery, castigation and damning stats galore revealing the full extent of the awful mess the club now resided in. Three years deep into their post-Ferguson era it had become abundantly clear this was not a transitional period or a temporary malaise. This was a demotion of status and standing. This was Liverpool in the early nineties happening all over again.
The fall from dominance had been bruising – humiliating even – yet no quarter was spared as the media waded in soon after. Here was a club – the BBC, tabloids, broadsheets, BT Sport and Sky duly pointed out – whose fanbase crowed loudly and proudly didn’t buy success: success came to them. Yet despite splurging an astonishing £477.5m in little over three years – an unprecedented amount in British football – it had garnered only a single FA Cup and 4th, 5th and 7th placed finishes in the Premier League.
This extended far beyond hypocrisy – they couldn’t even fulfil the simplistic insult they hurled at others. Evidently United don’t buy success because they can’t.
Here too was a club who prided themselves on sticking with their managers and building dynasties. Yet five games into the new season and already there were calls for the coach’s head. Not just any coach either. This was the one.
More damning than any of the above however is the classless, desperate, and quite frankly embarrassing, manner in which they have handled their plummet from the perch. Thrashing and flailing, abandoning self-proclaimed values and trumpeted traditions. It has been not so much a dismantling of all that Ferguson built but wanton destruction courtesy of a blinged-up wrecking ball.
We’ve all seen a film centring on a storyline of this variation: a man spends a lifetime amassing a fortune through business acumen only to retire and reluctantly hand the reins of his successful company to his obnoxious son. The son’s first act – as shares nervously nosedive – is to hire Rihanna at extortionate expense for an impromptu shindig. That’s now the famous Man United.
So the media duly highlighted this eminently newsworthy development, a development that was all the more notable because it contrasted so sharply with the pre-season narrative that United were back as a force to be reckoned with. The fierceness in which they sunk their teeth should come as no surprise. Remember how they went gunning for Liverpool in descent, white suits and all, and this arguably was huger still. If a groin strain for a left-back warrants a headline then multiply that by a gazillion for the biggest football club in the world using every considerable means at their disposal yet still be stuck in reverse.
Only, well, none of this happened. The protracted United implosion did of course and every word is undeniably true if coloured by my own prejudice. Yet the media – and even social media – perplexingly chose to ignore the big story, the big picture.
Instead mere seconds after Manchester United had stumbled blindly to their third consecutive defeat and into their sixth or seventh consecutive crisis – while still sludging through the same predictable and unadventurous football that defames their recent past – social media and the subsequent newspapers concentrated their attention on only two names: Jose Mourinho and Wayne Rooney. Just like last season when apparently only Louis Van Gaal and Rooney were to blame for United’s freefall. And before them only David Moyes.
Individuals are not to blame for United’s decline, though some have naturally played a significantly bigger part than others. It has been a collective failure from the board to the players and originates not from Moyes demanding that Vidic and Ferdinand watch videos of Phil Jagielka’s defending or from Van Gaal’s clipboard, nor for that matter Rooney’s egotism; it began when Ferguson opted not to prepare for the future and instead squeezed one last push from a fading squad to ensure he retired as a champion.
That left a vacuum that has been filled with incompetence, reactive decision-making, and lavish marquee signings that have the same distinct whiff of City’s forlorn chase of Kaka in 2009. While their neighbours swiftly saw the error of their ways and took the Field Of Dreams approach – if they build it, they will come – United were too arrogant and surrounded by silverware to think they needed to return to the groundwork. They believed superstars alone would be sufficient.
In the great scheme of things then Mourinho is as much to blame for United’s present woes as a detective inadvertently contaminating evidence at a murder scene by traipsing blood over the carpet. He has been in office for 117 days; United have been bog-standard mediocre now since being walloped down to size by City in a derby played three years ago tomorrow. You do the math.
Perhaps arithmetic isn’t the media’s strongest suit because you certainly wouldn’t know this from the hysterical Watford aftermath. Once again they chose to shoot the messenger. “Mourinho faces crisis”. “Mourinho loses three in a row”. Unless a dramatic turn-around is imminent the Portuguese scowler is set to become the next big name sacrificed at the altar, portrayed as a loser; portrayed as the sole perpetrator of the failure, all to protect the standing of a club that is no longer worthy of it.
Liverpool have endured over two decades of carping and japery in the press for simply not being imperiously brilliant anymore while a single stumble by City is all it takes for the hoary old clichés to be trotted out. Arsenal meanwhile have become the punchline to a running joke in the British media for consistently qualifying for the Champions League.
When will the worms turn on United? When will the club and its entitled supporters similarly be held to account? I would suggest that time is now. I would suggest it is long overdue.
Mourinho in crisis? Mourinho a ‘dinosaur’ living off the successes of his past? Mourinho is losing the plot again? To varying degrees truth lies at the heart of these claims but a much larger truth mirrors all three. And until that is reported as fact it makes a mockery of us all.