What it’s like to be a Red – 30 January 2020

A week is a long time in Politics, as Harold Wilson is always quoted as saying, with a frequency that if you weren’t my age would make you think he never said anything else. Have we already forgotten the white-hot heat of technology?

But a week can be a long time in practically anything if conditions changed rapidly in a short space of time. This week, it’s a long time in football.

Wednesday last week, I got home from work in time to see most of the Premier League game at Old Trafford between Manchester United and Burnley. Three points would have put United right on the tail of Chelsea in fourth place. Instead, we played with abysmal cluelessness and lost 2-0. To Burnley. At home. For the first time in 58 years.

Let me put off reliving that experience for a few moments longer. Since then, United have played away at Tranmere Rovers in the FA Cup Fourth Round and won 6-0, the biggest FA Cup win since the same round in 1972 when George Best scored six on returning from suspension to lead United to an 8-2 win at Northampton Town (who, incidentally, we may play in the Fifth Round). And this Wednesday, despite being knocked out of the League Cup Semi-Final on aggregate, we beat the Bitters on their own ground for the second time this season.

Two good, encouraging wins in the space of four days. None of which serves to change in any respect the feelings I underwent last Wednesday, watching United bow down to Burnley.

It’s not just that we lost. They scored two good goals, the second one an absolute cracker. Things like that can happen. I’ve seen united beaten by teams they’ve outplayed before now, and I’ve seen us beat teams who have played us off the par before now. The relative strength and form of the two teams playing is only usually a guide to the result.

What hurt last week was the way United played. Since Fergie retired, I’ve seen some horrendous performances, whether it be under Moyes, van Gaal or Mourinho. I’ve watched a team that used o be supercharged in its speed of thought and movement lose all of that ability, I’ve seen regimented passing, sideways and back, I have seen games dominated by pointless passing, which comes when a pass is made to a teamm-mate who immediately delivers the ball back to exactly where the first player was standing.

I have seen United stumble against organised defences, where van Gaal’s strict instructions have relieved them from the ability to improvise, or Mourinho’s crabbed style placing them in a state of fear where they simply cannot risk shifting their shackles.

And I have seen them, more than once, play as if they are completely clueless, as if they have no idea what to do in a match, and that is how they were against Burnley. But this was one match too many. As individuals, as a collective, they simply did not have one idea of how to get themselves back in the match. Against Burnley. Burnley, at Old Trafford.

I wanted to switch off. I didn’t want to watch this any more. And I began to think what is the biggest heresy any fan can ever think about his team. I started to wonder if there is a point, really a point, at which you are allowed to stop caring about your team. A point at which you are permitted to turn your back and say, ‘I don’t care’. Can you stop supporting your team?

It’s supposed to be for life. It’s supposed to be an even bigger betrayal than cheating on your wife, walking out on your team. But last Wednesday, against Burnley, I started questioning whether you can do that.

That was a week ago There have been two wins since then, two good wins. The question no longer applies. But will that moment come again?

A(nother) Crisis of Faith

This time last year, as David Moyes’ term as Manchester United manager was tumbling towards its inevitable end, I was still keeping the faith. In a working environment where nearly every other United fan had long since started demanding he go, and the Liverpool fans were enjoying themselves and urging him to stay, I was still giving him the benefit of the doubt, still committed to the idea that he had to be given time. But that ended with the game away to Everton.
It was too late to announce my conversion: by the time my shift started on Monday, Moyes had been sacked.
This year, it’s been Louis van Gaal, a massively successful manager with a proven track record, exactly the kind of manager United need to rebuild a team that, in Sir Alex Ferguson’s later years, had declined in quality, no matter that we were a whisper of time away from three successive League titles for the third time! And a pre-season American tour of uninterrupted success and some great, truly United attacking football, gave cause for optimism.
But it’s not been like that. Yes, United are in a better position than last season, still fourth, still with the points in the bag to make the Champions League. Yes, we have brought in big, exciting names, like Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and Daley Blind, strengthening the team. And we’ve even managed to get rid of Anderson which, with all due respect, can only serve to improve the average level of quality throughout the squad.
And we’re in the quarter-finals of the FA Cup, backed with a commitment to take the competition seriously for a change. It looks so much better than it did this time twelve months ago.
So why have I already lost faith in Louis van Gaal as the man to restore Manchester United to a decent semblance of the club that has enthralled me for the last twenty plus years?
On paper, he’s everything that David Moyes wasn’t. But football isn’t played on paper, and points and statistics are not the only thing that counts, especially not when it comes to following Manchester United.
We may be more successful than we were this time a year ago under David Moyes, though the difference isn’t so great. We may have been in and around 3rd and 4th places for several months by now. But it has been an unsatisfying rise to such heights, and a very unconvincing one.
Some weeks ago, Paul Scholes – as accurate with a comment as he was with a pass – described United’s football as ‘miserable’. Indeed it is. The game at Newcastle is a perfect example. United enjoyed overwhelming possession without ever once seriously looking likely to score. Ashley Young’s winner was in the great United tradition of late goals, but it was the product of an egregious mistake, and when he put the ball away, the only thing I could think was ‘You lucky bastards’, and it’s never good when you think that about your own team scoring an 89th minute winner.
Some of the problem is the same as it’s been for over half a decade: United lack speed. That alone is a heresy. United has always been about speed, about pace, about fast, counter-attacking football. That is far from so under van Gaal, where the emphasis is now upon a slow, patient, passing game, forever building up from the back.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing in itself: the old United played with patience, continually probing for gaps. But the eye for possibility has gone. Speed was a thing of advantage in itself, not merely speed of movement, but speed of thought. United sprang forward against a suddenly-thin defence, intent on exploiting gaps. That’s gone: players who dash forward with the ball – Luis Antonio Valencia is the primest of prime examples – now go only so far and no further, before pulling up, pulling back. There are spaces ahead, space to exploit: let it fill: let defenders get back, resume formations, set up to frustrate as the ball is played sideways and back.
We’re having a lot of possession these days, but it’s harmless possession, neutral possession. Hold and pass, and always play back. The days of pin-point passing, threading the ball through spaces too narrow for a needle to lead, are gone. Now, the pass between two players fifteen yards apart is too risky: to reach the space behind them the ball must go back, then round.
And all the time time passes. A second here, a half dozen there. The opposition settle into their lines denying space that United are no longer able to create, to carve out. There is no longer any invention, no pace, to willingness to shoot when a half-chance presents itself: only when it is a full chance, a chance and a half, is there licence to shoot, and such chances no longer present themselves when defences have built their ramparts.
And those big names, the Falcaos, the di Marias, are not performing, not giving of their plentiful abilities. It’s not just Falcao’s injuries that look to have robbed him of his strength for good: he’s not playing the game he knows how to play, not getting in there, not going for chances. He’s turning back, always back, denying himself space and chance. And di Maria, what have we done to someone of his outrageous skill? Will he ever kick a ball straight again?
A couple of weeks ago, Louis van Gaal announced, proudly, that the team now understood him, understood his philosophy, shared his beliefs. My first, indeed only thought in response to that was, you mean we’re playing this shite deliberately? Because it’s shite. It may be winning shite, and there are those for whom that is enough: after all, there’s more of it than under Moyesy last year.
But not for me. I want to be proud of my team. I want to stand up after a win and say we played well, we deserved it, we looked awesome. I don’t want to admit, over and again, that yes, we were crap, we got lucky. We beat Newcastle 1-0, but if we play like that against Arsenal tomorrow night, we’ll get kaylied.
Because I don’t have any faith in Louis van Gaal. Mine drained away, like it did with poor David Moyes, in a game, whether I wanted it to or not. The FA Cup Fourth Round replay, at home to Cambridge United. Who, let’s face it, are a Fourth Division team, and one who were Conference last year. And Manchester United, in that first twenty-five minutes, had no idea how to beat them. No idea what to do to get behind, or between a Fourth Division defence. Hadn’t a clue.
My fear this year is that we’ll win the FA Cup. My oldest, favourite trophy. The big live day out at Wembley. Re-establish ourselves as the out-in-front most wins ever team. Our dozenth Cup, more than anyone else, no share with Arsenal. And we’ll have played miserable and I can’t take any joy out of it. Unless it’s Liverpool we’ve beaten, because that rivalry overrides everything.
I don’t know what the answer is. Clone Alex Ferguson, produce another forty-year old version and stick him back in charge? Clone Scholesy whilst you’re at it, maybe Eric too. Or just get someone who’s prepared to establish an attacking philosophy based on a composed defence and not dropping someone the moment they’ve had a good game?
Because all the big words I came out with, about accepting a period in the doldrums, about having had the Ferguson era and being content with it, well, they are proving to be so much bullshit on my part. Give me a choice between a team that succeeds and one of which I can be proud, and it’s clear which one I’ll go for, and it’s the one I haven’t got right now, and the one Louis van Gaal shows precious little sign of giving me.

What’s it like to be a Red?: Was it something I said?

Blimey. No sooner do I publicly drop my season-long support for Beleagured David Moyes than the news breaks that the poor sod is going to get the push. If I’d known I had power like that…

Actually, it’s not happened yet, though the world and his little dog Toto is convinced that it’s only a matter of formalities. Everybody’s got the same story, suggesting either an ‘official’ Club leak, or one very busy source, but nobody, least of all Mr Moyes, is going around denying it.

But, unless it’s all some elaborate – and extremely satisfying – scam, set up to expose the footbll press for the scumbag vultures they’ve been all season (which would only work if Moyes were suddenly to do a phoenix-from-the-flames impersonation of Alex Ferguson circa 1999) it’s a done deal.

The word is Giggs as caretaker manager, so we know who’ll be first name on the teamsheet for the last threegames, or however many it takes to get him his record-preserving goal that cements him as the only player in the whole of human history to score in 22 consecutive Premiership seasons (actually, 21 is way more than anyone else is ever going to do, but it is a kind of bummer if you drop the ball at the last hurdle, as a comprehensively mixed metaphor would have it).

Sorry, Davey lad. It was a mistake, on everybody’s part. At least you’ve got a colossal pay-off coming your way. And if it was because of anything I said…

What’s it like to be a Red?: Crossing Over

Ok, I give in. I’ve been loyal all season, I’ve been patient. I’ve tolerated what has been happening at Manchester United, because I’ve long expected it, because I’ve been convinced that our success of the last three seasons has been based on the ability of Sir Alex Ferguson to conjure results out of a squad that, in so many areas, has just not been good enough.

I’ve backed David Moyes for many reasons. Because I trusted Ferguson’s judgement in choosing a manager to build upon what we had. Because I believed that, given proper time and the chance to build his own side, he could succeed. Because I wasn’t the kind of shallow fan who started screaming the moment we struggled for the first time. Because I didn’t believe we were entitled to be top of the pile forever. Because the mighty and blatant anti-Moyes, anti-United agenda of the press, decided upon before the season started and continued by blatant lies and fact-twisting, got right up my nose. Because United don’t turn on their managers like that, don’t tip them overboard at the first sign of trouble.

Like I said, I’ve been loyal. And now I’ve crossed over. Now I’m giving up and adding my voice to the chorus of Moyes out.

The catalyst was, naturally, this afternoon’s game away to Everton, which ended in a 2-0 victory for the Merseysiders, and which could have ended double that score without United having any grounds for complaint.

The biggest single factor was that this was Everton, the club David Moyes managed for 11 years, successfully so given their current status and their limited financial resources in comparison to the Premiership’s leading teams. It was Past vs Present, a team still solidly comprised of the players Moyes bought or brought through, versus a team still solidly the creation of Alex Ferguson, with only one Moyes-introduced player in the fourteen that featured.

Moyes’ team are now under the control of a manager whose track record in the League involved taking a Premiership club into relegation, albeit just after winning the FA Cup. Ferguson’s team are now under the control of David Moyes. Everton were, by far, the more committed, enthusiastic, disciplined, tactically aware, faster (mentally and physically) and determined team on the pitch. United dominated possession, but in safe areas, with no penetration into scoring positions, let alone actual shots. They played an intricate, sometimes elegant, short passing game that, no matter how quickly the ball was laid-off, made forward progress a slow motion affair, giving Everton ample time to build a defensive formation that offered no gaps through which passes might be made.

Not that it would have been any different had there been any gaps, since for the first hour United played without a striker. They were supposed to have Wayne Rooney in that role, but Rooney is having no truck with that kind of fucking nonsense. No matter how well Mata and Kagawa performed, building intricate little triangles, finding spaces close to the penalty area, they had no-one to pass the ball to, because Rooney lacked any sense of discipline, continually wandering all over the field, getting in their way but primarily leaving them with no-one to pass the ball to!

Only when Hernandez came on as a substitute did United finally have a striker looking for the ball in front of goal. Then, with twenty minutes left, two goals behind and in need of scoring soon if there were to be any prospect of saving something from the game, Moyes introduced a second striker, Danny Wellbeck, but insisted on him playing on the right wing, and not getting anywhere near goal.

Add to that such things as allowing Nani to remain on the field for an hour when he had long since proved that the only aspect of his once considerable skills that he still possesses is that which sees him tumble artistically to the ground and take himself out of play for minutes on end whilst he sulks that the referee hasn’t bought it.

Yet Rooney was allowed to remain on the pitch for all its overlong 90 minutes, despite the fact that he was never where he ought to be and in fact was everywhere else, that he lost the ball to an Everton player every single time he tried to take it past him, that he squandered United’s only two serious chances of scoring, the first by simply not trying to shoot but gyrating mindlesly in the hope he would create space when he had miserably failed to do so before that point in the match, and the other, far too late in the game to matter, by simply not being smart enough to kick the ball past the keeper instead of against him.

I did not believe at any time that United had any chance of scoring, not if the game were continuing yet, the floodlights switched off, the Everton team blinded and United playing in infra-red night vision goggles. Moyes does not know what to do. He has never known what to do. And he has yoked our future to the over-inflated ego and the self-indulgent mindset of the World’s worst World Class Player I have ever known.

So make room for me, I’ve come across. Moyes out, preferably on the back of Rooney. We would have been far better off going for Roberto Martinez ourselves: hell, it’s looking like a bad idea not to have at least considered Tony Pulis.

And it’s now only a matter of time before Liverpool win the League. We went 26 years without, 1967 to 1993, and it has long been my insistence that Liverpool HAD to go at least 27. For it to have got to 24, to have got so close and slipped in under the wire, and for it to be in this season will be the ultimate dagger-through-the-heart pain, no matter how dulled I am to things now.

What’s it like to be a Red?

What’s it like to be a Red?
It’s not particularly enjoyable this season, when Ferguson has stepped down, the team has imploded and the whole world is relishing Manchester United’s seemingly precipitous fall from grace. It’s not just the ABUs either: collectively, the Press has decided upon the narrative and anything which deviates from their simplistic analysis of how David Moyes has brought the once-mighty United down to permanent extinction is to be ignored or denigrated.
I mean, let’s say that on this Wednesday coming, 2-0 down from the Champions League first leg against Olympiakos, United rally to win 3-0 and go through to the Quarter Finals. United will not be given any credit for engineering a reversal that they haven’t achieved in 30 years: that the opposition is Olympiakos will be used to relegate the feat and the focus will still be on United’s first leg defeat.
The story is set in stone: United/Ferguson = world beating, United/Moyes = League Two material. And in a single summer too.
Of course, you know that there’s a lot more to it than that.
Though I’ve only been a fully-fledged United fan since 1979 (exiled in Nottingham, at the time Forest were League Champions and en route to their first European Cup, I needed something to bolster a Mancunian identity), I’m old enough to remember the 1968 European Cup Final, and the beginning of the wilderness years that followed the stepping down of Sir Matt Busby. That immediately gives me a head start over the generation of football fans – and journalists – who have not only known only Alex Ferguson at Old Trafford but have known only the glory years that began with the 1990 FA Cup win – achieved against a background of a near-season long relegation struggle.
These people lack the perspective to imagine United as anything other than perpetual challengers for honours. They can summon it up as an intellectual exercise, but they can’t understand it, not when United have only ever finished as low as third twice in the entire Premiership era.
I, on the other hand, have not only been prepared for a post-Ferguson slump, I know what it feels like. It doesn’t make it any more pleasant, but familiarity not only softens the blow, it allows for the ability to recognise that things can improve at a slower speed than overnight.
To be honest, the Ferguson era has been a statistical improbability: thirteen Premierships in twenty years? Three in a row twice? That’s nearly twice as many Championships that everybody else put together, and two sets of three in eleven years when only three clubs have ever won one set before us, in seventy years? It’s been absolutely brilliant to watch, and when, long ago, we won the Resurrection Title (1993), I could never have fantasised that it could be like this and go on for so long.
But every year that this has gone on has exaggerated the scale of United’s success, and guaranteed that the comedown would be proportionately worse when it inevitably came.
Back in 1993, when we broke 26 years of drought to win the first Premier League, I was working with an avid Blue, who was decent enough to offer me the congratulations I could never have offered him. He also warned me, with utter solemnity, not to go overboard celebrating. His point wa sthat, if I revelled in our title the way I wanted to, the way I believed I was entitled to do, it would do me some kind of harm: people would think higher of me if i was gentle, restrained, modest: ie, if I didn’t talk about it at all.
I thought about his words for a while, and then rejected them completely. At that moment, we were on top. It would never be 26 years again. I wasn’t saying we’d win it again the next season (a prophesy that cemented my record and sunk it to the bottom of a pond forever) but we would be Champions again within four years at most (ha ha ha ha ha!). So my philosophy was: if you’ve got it, baby, flaunt it, because it won’t last forever. In victory, gloating, in defeat resentment. Because when United fell away from being at the top, my having been a perfect gentleman about celebrating our success won’t spare me one tiny second of the spite that will follow.
That’s how it’s been ever since, for longer, as I’ve said, than I dreamed it might be. But if you’re going to gloat about victory, if you’re going to rub people’s noses in it, there is one cast-iron rule: you have to take it from others when it’s their turn to be in the ascendency.
And I’ve stuck to that maxim, no matter how painful its been this season: besides, there is nothing more disconcerting for the gloating ABU than to find you agreeing with him in a matter-of-fact manner.
Because that’s the other side of the coin. The press keep making much of the gulf between United 2013, Champions by eleven points, and the United of 2014 who, with practically the same squad, are shedding points all over the place.
There is an explanation for this, but it’s not one that fits the prevailing press narrative, because it doesn’t rest solely on the notion that David Moyes has destroyed United. Nobody’s prepared to even contemplate the possibility that United 2013’s success was heavily flattering to a team playing far above its genuine skill level.
Now that’s heresy, but that’s my belief.
Let’s take a slightly more detailed look at the Ferguson era. It breaks into two parts: first, the breakthrough back into titles, which saw seven titles in nine years, including a set of three. Much of this era, though not the beginning of it, was defined by the You-Can’t-Win-Anything-With-Kids sextet. That first great era concluded in 2003, when United came back at Arsenal, dogging them until the end of the season to make it eight in eleven.
That era was then followed by three fallow years, during which United finished third for the first time. Ferguson couldn’t find a formula to make things work, though United did win the FA Cup (against Millwall) and the League Cup (against Wigan), as well as losing a one-sided final on penalties to an Arsenal team they’d dominated for 120 minutes.
Then phase 2 started. Let’s call it the Rooney/Ronaldo era, or better the Ronaldo era, for though he’d been establishing himself during the fallow years, this is when Cristiano Ronaldo was becoming the best player in the world.
And although he was only part of United for the first three years of this phase, his absence defined this era as much as his presence.
In this second phase, United collected another five titles in seven seasons, including a second set of three. Of the two they missed out on, one was infamously by goal difference only, by virtually the last kick of the season. They also reached three Champions League Finals in four seasons, though they only won the one that wasn’t against Barcelona.
It’s another phase of seemingly unparalleled dominance, supported by the statistics, but it’s by no means as simple as the statistics and the press make it seem.
I’ve seen more of United’s games in this period than I have ever before, even when I was a season ticket holder at Old Trafford. Thanks to live-streaming, the only time I miss a United game is when I’m at work. I’ve watched the team intensely for several years, week in, week out. I’ve seen the difference between what the press states as part of its established narratives, such as the fact that Wayne Rooney cannot take a decent corner to save his life, and that for every free kick he puts beyond the goalkeeper, thirty or more are either fired miles over the bar or hit straight into a non-encroaching wall.
What has been most obvious was that when Ronaldo left United for Real Madrid he left a hole that has not even begun to be replaced.
I don’t mean in his person: you cannot ‘replace’ a Cristiano Ronaldo: by his very nature, he is irreplaceable.
But when Ronnie left Old Trafford, he took with him more than his considerable ability, he took United’s speed. And not only speed of motion, the fast, attacking style that’s a key characteristic of United’s DNA but, more importantly, Unityed’s speed of thought.
Watch a United performance between 2007 and 2009. Even in defeat, United are aggressive, decisive, moving forward inexorably, trying to beat defenders, to get behind and between them at pace. Compare this then with even the best of the post-Ronaldo performances, and United’s approach is completely different. There is no decisiveness, replaced by a willingness to indulge in long spells of what I call pointless passing, interpassing – usually in their own half – without making any attempt to get forward. Especially when in the lead.
The ball is no longer played forward, between opposition players. Should a defender be anywhere remotely between the player on the ball and his team-mate, the forward pass no longer appears: it is back, or sideways, until the player in an advanced position is either covered by an assembled defence, or else has to come back, further from goal, to receive the ball in a position of no opportunity.
Breakaways break down not through over-ambition or courageous defending, but due to the player on the ball immediately halting when a defender gets within fifteen yards of him. Play is held up until he has support but, more importantly, until the whole defence has marshalled itself into position.
I don’t want to start castigating individual players, but in this context it’s impossible not to refer to Luis Antonio Valencia. Valencia was a superb acquisition, a fast, courageous winger who exactly fitted United’s style. Sadly, he suffered a severe leg break, costing him most of a season and, since his return, his whole style of play has changed. It is characteristic of the modern United – and I speak of the Ferguson period, not of Moyes – to see Tony Valencia race up the right wing, with the ball, only to stop as soon as a defender tracks him, and stand over the ball, not moving, because he no longer has the confidence to take the defender on, and he has no idea what to do with the ball any more.
The point is that this isn’t just something that’s started since David Moyes took charge. United may have won the title last season by an astonishing 11 points, but has everyone forgotten how badlty the team struggled before Christmas, falling behind in so many games, depending so often on a late goal from Chicarito, off the bench. What of Ferguson’s final match in chargem, at West Brom? 3-0 up, and then 5-2 up with less than ten minutes to play, United allowed West Brom to score three goals, to secure an improbable 5-5 draw.
It’s not just Moyes. There was a rot there before he ever came to Old Trafford, a collective lack of quality in the squad, in respect of which the sheer force of Ferguson, and the intimidating aura he brought to United was not so much a papering over the cracks as a comprehensive polyfilla-ing of the very foundations.
So, what’s to be done? Is it David Moyes? I’ve kept the faith for him throughout the season, but after the defeat to Liverpool – and especially after his open concession to Liverpool being the better team, a thing that United fans are able to do in the spirit of honesty but no United manager should ever say – I’m starting to lose belief in his ability to build the kind of team we need to see. As far as I can judge, radical surgery upon maybe two-thirds of the current squad is necessary, but is he the right man to set a new direction?
If not Moyesy, who else? Not, for certain, and under any circumstances, Jose Mourinho. He’d win things, but he’d destroy United: if not whilst he was there, then for years after he’s gone. he’s probably the only manager in the game who could cause me to distance myself from my team.
I’m actually coming around to the belief that United would be very well served by selling Wayne Rooney.
I don’t say that lightly. He’s been fantastic for United, done some incredible and vital things, and he’s always being painted as England’s only world class player.
But I watch him, week in, week out. I see him waste free-kicks and corners by the dozen. I see him regularly bang forty yard balls out to the player on the right wing with an accuracy worthy of Paul Scholes, but he can’t pass the ball ten yards without giving it to the opposition. He keeps lumbering forwward with the ball, even though he loses it nineteen times out of twenty. He will not pass the ball to Robin van Persie except under extreme duress, which I put down to having his arrogant nose put out of joint by the idea that someone else may possibly be more valuable to United than he is.
And he is the most completely indisciplined player I have seen at United in a very long time. Everybody goes crazy about it, Rooney turning up everywhere on the field, dropping deep to pick it up all the time, eager to be involved at every possible moment of the game.
Or, as a recent and very perceptive analysis pointed out, a player constantly trying to fill in by doing the job of specialised midfielders/defenders/wingers etc., usurping their roles on the pitch and, even more damagingly, depriving them of the outlet for their talents by being too bloody close to them when they are in a position to unleash a damaging ball to where Rooney ought properly to be.
To use one of Terry Pratchett’s favourite analogies, Rooney is like a metal ball on a rubber sheet, distorting the shape of everything around it. The team, the club, is forced to accommodate what he wants to do at any given moment, restricting their ability to give their talents to the game. And, frankly, having watched him perform so often, I am now unable to believe that he will ever match the enthusiasm and ability he showed a decade before, that he cannot achieve a fitness level necessary to perform, and he has retrogressed in his abilities to the point that he frequently no longer merits his place in the team.
And let’s not get started on the loyalty issue.
All of these things feed into being a Red in this season of disgrace, 2013/14. United haven’t suddenly stopped being a good team: they were a disaster waiting to happen, held together only by the force of will of Alex Ferguson, and now that has been removed, United are exposed, and the hounds are circling, determined not to allow anyone to escape.
But it’s like I said before: in victory, gloating, in defeat, resentment. When you’ve got it, baby, flaunt it, because it won’t last forever. I made every minute of it count, for far longer than I imagined it possible.
No-one can take that away from me. Three Cup Finals and Three Doubles. Thirteen titles. Knocking Liverpool of their fucking perch. The Nou Camp on 25 May 1999. The entire career of the Ginger Genius. Eric.
And the good times will come back. These bad days will make them all the sweeter.