That’s what it’s like to be a Red at this particular point in time, or at least this Red. As you know, I am one of those Reds who is a conscientious objector to Jose Mourinho as Manchester United manager: having loathed him virulently for several years, the thought of turning round and backing him as my team’s manager was one hypocrisy too far.
So, for the first time in nearly forty years, there has been something of a barrier between me and my club.
Though I’ve not avoided the news about United through the summer, I haven’t gone hunting for it with the same avidity and I made no effort to watch any of the pre-season tour matches this year either. In fact, for the first time since I discovered a reliable live stream, I have not watched any of United’s games on TV, restricting myself to YouTube highlights of the goals afterwards.
There is an exception to that: I did watch the Derby, the weekend before last. If I can’t muster enthusiasm for supporting the Reds against that lot, then I have no business calling myself a Red at all. And I did yell with excitement in the old manner at one point, when Marcus Rashford got the ball in the net in the second half and, for a moment, it looked as if we had equalised, until Ibrahimovic turned out to be offside.
That game apart, I have consciously distanced myself and watched what has been going on.
Everybody assumed Mourinho woud be the magic man, that he would immediately restore the United of the Fergie era, win following win following win, and with the best brand of exciting football, the very DNA of Old Trafford. And United started with four consecutive wins, although, with the exception of the Community Shield, which was a friendly anyway, they weren’t exactly against the best of teams, and we needed young Marcus in the last minute to overturn Hull.
And now there’s been three defeats in three games, in eight days, the first time that’s happened to Mourinho since the early days at Porto, back in 2002. And everyone’s remembering what happened at Chelsea, this time last year, when he took the reigning League Champions nose-diving towards the relegation zone, and secured from them their first Europe-free season in donkey’s years.
This puts me in a very awkward position. On the one hand, as a long-term despiser of Mourinho, I can’t help but finding it amusing that he’s already in difficulties, but on the other hand, hey, this is my team, and I do not like or want to see them losing (this may have been the way of things over the last three seasons but that doesn’t mean I’ve gotten used to it).
United success means a satisfactory situation, but means Mourinho stays on and takes credit for it. United failure hastens the day I can commit fully to my club of clubs, but also means that when this comes we’ll be even deeper into Crisis than we already are, and taken even longer to get back where we want to be. Which makes the current state of affairs both funny and decidedly not funny.
What’s also of interest is that sudden, almost universal wave of criticism for Wayne Rooney, with everybody under the sun except Jose Mourinho and Sam Allardyce coming to an accord that he’s over the hill. It’s amusing for me given that for years I have been watching the sheer volume of mistakes he makes each match without the least word of criticism, and overnight everyone now seems to see what I see and have seen over and over.
Rooney’s only 31, and should be a long way yet from eclipse, but on the other hand I watched him make his debut for United (and score a hat trick) in 2004, and he’d been playing for Everton’s first team for two years by then. Rooney started young, and as often happens, it looks like he’s ending young.
Oh yes, he still turns on things other people can’t do. Let us not forget that he was responsible for our equaliser in the Cup Final, when he forced his way diagonally left to right, holding off all challenges, until putting over the cross from which Mata scored.
And he’s kept on scoring, until he is now only three behind Sir Bobby as United’s highest ever scorer, but does he actually look now as if he’ll ever score again for United (especially as he won’t get the cheap ones from the penalty spot since Ibra’s claimed those).
But he can’t dribble past people, he can’t direct an accurate pass over ten yards (but if you want him to bang a forty yard pass into Tony Valencia’s path on the right wing, that’s a different kettle of fish). And people are starting to notice that, or maybe it’s just that they’re finally commenting on that. Last season, away to Everton, in one five minute spell in the first half, I say Rooney, in space, under no pressure, misplaced four consecutive passes to team-mates in space, putting each ball directly to an opponent. And the commentators remained completely silent.
So, that’s what it’s like to be a Red at this moment, or at least this Red.