A team is the sum of individuals working collectively towards one goal. No man, superstar or demi-god, is bigger than a team. This is the ethos from which many a great team over the lifetime of sport have been built. Manchester United lost 8 first team players in the 1958 Munich air disaster. Amongst the dead was Duncan Edwards, at 22, considered such an exceptionally gifted player that it has been said that it was him and not Bobby Moore who would have lifted the 1966 Jules Rimet trophy as England’s captain had he survived to fulfil his potential. Manchester United lost a player on the threshold of greatness to the cruel fate of slush on a runway. It took United ten years to bury the ghost of Munich culminating in winning the 1968 European Cup.
Come end of June 2009, Manchester United will bid adieu to yet another young player who graced the Stretford End with awe-inspiring guile. Cristiano Ronaldo dos Santos Aveiro will depart Old Trafford as the most decorated footballer on the planet for the 2008/2009 season. Having joined United in August 2003, he has scored 118 goals in 291 games. Some of these goals still leaves us thanking the stars that we were alive to witness such sheer audacious genius. All the more remarkable is that this comes from a man who plies his trade on the right wing!
Ronaldo has never had the full faith of the Old Trafford faithful, however. His role in getting Wayne Rooney sent off in Euro 2004, his play acting antics and his public courting of Real Madrid have always left many wary of him despite his unquestionable talent. Rarely have the United faithful been as wary of one of their own geniuses as they have been in the Portuguese’s case. Eric Cantona, Ruud Van Nistlerooy, David Beckham, George Best, Roy Keane, Paul McGrath are amongst some great players who bring fond memories for many Red Devils the world over, yet they all were hardly uncontroversial. Somehow we tend to forgive them like a mother her child. My guess is that Cristiano Ronaldo will never have the same affectionate adoration in the aftermath of this transfer. Genius he may be, but many had already likened him to Judas long before this summer.
Ronaldo is certainly one of the world’s top three players by most people’s accounts, but his faithlessness discounts his merit of true greatness. When Kaka refused the mega-bucks move to Manchester City in January, he struck a chord with many in the footballing world. Robinho will never understand the economics of principles, yet Kaka is still revered in all of Milan and beyond despite his £59 million move to Real Madrid. We fans, sitting in our couches the world over, are a fickle lot but can never be accused to have a short-term memory. Whilst players like Kaka bring a smile to many football hearts, Ronaldo and Robinho give the stench of cat litter for their material greed.
Ronaldo will move on to a team that traditionally buys its success. He has the right to be ambitious and after serving Manchester United gloriously for six years, he’s allowed the luxury of a new challenge. No one will ever deny that many a times, he has single-handedly won us games. He is almost the complete footballer. His skill, guile, audacity and pace have left us breathless in these six years. For his service we thank him. As for his future, we bid him well, but not success.
Success belongs to the throes of Old Trafford. Manchester United were considered by many to be the second best club team on the planet after the amazing Barcelona last season. I beg to differ. Manchester United were by far the luckiest team in the European stage as they were on home soil. It has always been said champions make their own luck. I ask only that you look at Barcelona to believe that champions don’t make their luck, rather play impeccable attacking football. Last season, in my view, Manchester United were the most effective team in England, not the best! The best team last season domestically was Liverpool!
Many amongst you Devils are sharpening your axes and making your way to my abode I’m certain. Let us look at the statistics of last season. Liverpool finished last season as the Premiership’s top scorers at 77 goals in 38 games. That is an average of 2 goals per game. Arsenal, Chelsea and Manchester United finished on 68 goals. Where Manchester United won the title was not their fabled attacking ethos, rather a new found defensive solidity, as they conceded the least goals in the league. In the 2008/2009 season United scored 80 goals and conceded 22 as opposed to Liverpool who scored 67 and conceded 28. While Liverpool are making great strides forward, we are beginning to embrace a culture of caution, long believed to be Benitez’s football characteristic. Not anymore if our last meeting between the great rivals is anything to go by.
United’s record against the teams in the top half of the table for 2008/2009 is won 9, drew 5 and lost 4 whilst their record against the bottom half is 19-1-0. Liverpool’s record against teams in the top half of the table is 10-7-1. Which means their performance against the better teams in the league outstrips ours. Where we won the league was against teams in the bottom half of the table! These are hardly awe-inspiring statistics.
For all that is said of Manchester United’s awesome defence last season, we failed when it mattered most. When we lost 4-1 at Old Trafford to Liverpool and 2-0 to Barcelona in the Champions League final, our defence was left looking like novices! Nemanja Vidic is an amazing center back, but his worst games this season have come against the teams that came to attack United. Manchester United are used to attacking teams from kick-off, but it was a case of role reversal in these two defeats.
United had Rooney, Ronaldo, Tevez and Berbatov in their stable of attackers for last season. While Berbatov can be excused for having a transitional season at Old Trafford, Ronaldo again finished United’s top scorer this season. Rooney has scored 12 goals in the league for the second consecutive season. This is not because Rooney does not know where the goal is, rather it’s not having a fixed position in the team. Half of the games he has played last season he was chucked on the left wing. Rooney being Rooney will never complain and does an effective job even if you play him as a goalie. On paper we are one hell of a fearsome team. On evidence on what transpired last season, we leave much to be desired.
Manchester United is a team built on the tradition of attacking football. If we’re going to go down, we will go down fighting and with all guns blazing. The swash-buckling raids on the wings have been replaced by playing a more patient brand of football. There are teams in the Premiership who are starting to out-pass Manchester United! Both Barcelona and Manchester United fought the Champions League final, but no one in the right frame of mind will begrudge Barcelona, as they deserved their title. In the group stages, Barcelona scored 18 goals as opposed to United’s 9! Messi, Eto’o and Henry scored a combined total of 21 goals throughout the tournament. United’s awesome foursome scored 13.
Barcelona were there for the taking having had both their first-choice full-backs suspended, however we chose to hit Barcelona on the counter with Park Ji Sung, Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Anderson. We honestly believed we could out-pass Barcelona! When we needed fighters out there, we left the most prominent of all our terriers on the bench, Tevez, instead opting for a Korean who’s just not European Final material.
Manchester United are losing a man who can score goals with both feet, from any distance and with his head whilst also being the supplier of a bucketload of goals. Whilst we are happy to see the back of the ‘winker’, we must also be aware that we’re losing our top scorer for two consecutive seasons. While the £80 million will come in handy to building a new phenomenon, we must also brace ourselves for maybe playing second fiddle next season. We need to revive the Manchester United of lore and play uninhibited attacking football. Manchester United must return to its roots of keeping us at the end of our seats. We are fast becoming the Chelsea that Mourinho left behind. That is a cursed fate that will have even Sir Matt Busby turning in his grave. Today’s Manchester United must honour the tradition of the Manchester United legacy, we must build to attack.