Wednesday, March 16, 2011

When Lady Luck charms...

Manchester United is a great club. A footballing legacy steeped in history. A winning history. Manchester United was formed way back in 1878 as Newton Heath LY&R FC. This was the beginning of a club that would go on to become a football superpower. Probably one of the greatest traits of this club, that would give Jesus a run for his money in the red half of Manchester, is that it prides itself on its steely resolve.

Were it not for steely resolve, becoming the first English club to win Europe’s premier competition 10 years after the Munich Air Disaster, would not have been possible. The club lost 8 first team players, 3 staff and 2 players never played again in the aftermath of that air crash. It is a testament to the steely resolve of this club to rebuild and go on to win Europe’s ultimate prize 10 years on. Steely resolve would not ever have been possible without a man who embodied steely resolve, Sir Matt Busby. A lesser man would have wilted by the wayside. His endearing legacy is succeeded by an equally steely character, Sir Alex Ferguson, the current manager of Manchester United.

Sir Alex Ferguson has managed to reinvent his winning teams so many times it defies logic. How can a man build so many generations of winning teams? The answer lies in the fact that this living legend is a thoroughbred winner. He is a winner through and through, and a very sore loser. All winners are sore losers. Anyone who tells you otherwise is lying! However the team he has at his disposal today are far from convincing winners.

His Manchester United squad that won his first Premiership in the 1992/1993 season was the first winning team he produced. That team had the great Bryan Robson and the established back defence of Schmeichel, Bruce, Pallister, Parker and Irwin. However, he still needed a player who was more than a player to create a great team. Right on cue, arrived a man who would change Manchester United, the football club, forever. In Eric Cantona, whom they aquired from arch rivals Leed United in the winter of 1992, Sir Alex had finally found his talisman. The single player who redefined the winning ethos into all the future Manchester United squads.

Legend has it that Eric Cantona could only ever be caught practising when he was in The Cliff, United’s training facility then. Such was his obsession with perfection that when he first arrived in Manchester and the squad would break for lunch, he’d always use the time to practise alone. After a week of practising all by himself during the lunch break, he went up to Fergie and pleaded for two reserve team players to practise with. Apparently he had grown tired of running back and forth picking up the balls. Fergie agreed of course! The Glaswegian then set about changing the training regime and schedules of Manchester United to incorporate more practise time. The rest is history. The cultural landscape of Manchester United changed forever. The seeds of the future winners of this club was sowed then.

Since then the club went through periods of which a generation of squads were built around great players like Roy Keane, David Beckham, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Cristiano Ronaldo and today Wayne Rooney. Of all the teams that have represented the red half of Manchester, today’s edition starkly pales in comparison. Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes who started in this club as part of Fergie’s Fledglings back in 1992 are still central to the team today! This is how far the club has regressed!

There should be absolutely no question about the longevity of these great players as they are marvels of football. The fact that they can compete at the very highest level in today’s breakneck pace of football is a testament to these great men. But for these legends to be integral to the current United team when they are passing their mid-thirties is to the detriment of progress in this club. Although, this cannot be attributed to them because there is no one in the current United team who are even half as capable of ingenuity as these great men are. Their cocktail of experience and stellar character far outweighs their advancing years. Thus Fergie is stuck with having to pick the remaining originals for his biggest games.

This season, Manchester United have enjoyed a record start to their league campaign by going 24 games unbeaten before eventually succumbing to defeat in the hands of the league’s bottom club, Wolves. For a vast majority of those 24 games, the Devils benefited from a bumper dose of Lady Luck’s charms. United scored in the last quarter in 14 of those games, of which goals in 7 games were points clinchers. Including that run, they currently have scored 63 goals and conceded 30, which puts their goal difference on a staggering 33. Since Wolves ended their unbeaten run though, the Devils have lost 2 big games. The first was to a limping Chelsea but the more morale damaging defeat was to a Daglish-inspired Liverpool. It was the most comprehensive defeat to their bitter rivals in recent memory.

The truth that had long been hiding behind the veil of Lady Luck this season has been that this is probably the most average of United sides since the inception of the Premier League. While they had ridden their luck to win against a Hodgson managed Liverpool, Stoke and Wolves, they also surrendered victories to Fulham, Everton, West Brom and Birmingham. Barring Liverpool, these games in which they struggled were all against sides who are candidates for the bottom half of the table. However this squad has also displayed remarkable character when coming back to win against Aston Villa and Blackpool. This might have more to do with the manager than the team! Against the new hierarchy of big clubs that includes Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Tottenham, they have a formidable record of only having lost at the Kop and Stamford Bridge. However, their title run-in does include games away to Arsenal and at home to Chelsea.

This has been one of those exceptionally extraordinary seasons where the Devils, especially, have benefitted. All the clubs in the new hierarchy of the English game arguably possess better players than Manchester United. However, the team sitting at the top of the table is still Manchester United. This freak of nature has been a combination of both the transition period all the top clubs are experiencing and the improved quality of the rest of the league.

Liverpool has probably suffered the most where they have had to deal with imbeciles for owners and the ill-fated reign of Roy Hodgson. But the wounded Liverpool are starting to find their stride again under the tutelage of an ambitious Kenny Daglish. They are also blessed with new owners who seem to have a long-term project in mind. This finally puts to rest the notion that all Americans are dim-witted moneymen. Of course, only time will tell if the sun sets here too.

Chelsea are suffering as a result of a talented but ageing squad. However, they have bolstered their squad with the whopping £70 million purchase of David Luiz and Fernando Torres. With the wallet of Abramovich at their disposal, they have illuminated their vast spending power. No wallet war is complete without mentioning the Arab-backed Manchester City. Here lies a team that will eventually become stronger than their city rivals if they keep up their spending. Their only drawback seems to be that they obviously have too many egos to manage and that Mancini is still a little raw. Although, given time, Mancini will exert a stronger influence on the dressing room and as a result make City title contenders. The frugal Arsenal, on the other hand, must have upset Lady Luck in some way. They have suffered from a host of injuries to their best players, poor refereeing and great goalkeeping from opposing teams. Most of all though, they suffer from the principles of Arsene Wenger who refuses to splash money in the transfer market. All they need is one Cantona-esq talisman and they’ll be sweeping titles soon enough. Otherwise Arsenal will slowly becoming a feeder club to the best clubs on the planet. Tottenham is another club who are on the rise and will continue to rise. Once they get past their inconsistency, which they have cut down on this season, they will be title challengers as well. This is why Manchester United need be wary.

Manchester United is world famous for their youth policy which was catapulted to the stratosphere during the reign of Fergie’s Fledglings. That batch that won all before them at youth level were an exceptional class, a one-in-a-million. Something along those lines is never likely to happen again. The youth coming through the ranks right now are average at best. The next generation includes Hernandez, Gibson, the Da Silva twins, Evans, Anderson, Lindegaard, Smalling and (god-forbid) Bebe. Bebe is probably the only time Alex Ferguson will ever get conned again! Hernandez is the singular exception who will go on to become a first team fixture. Of the remaining only Smalling, Da Silva twins and Anderson offer any iota of salvation. Though they will require heavy investment and patience for them to be playing consistently. Fergie reaped rewards when he showed incredible patience in the cases of Berbatov and Nani. He must show the same measure of patience at the few who can become great players. Of the few Anderson seems to be the one player running his patience thin though.

Manchester United does not play the brand of football associated with the Devils anymore. They play a cautious European influenced football these days. However their 7-1 demolition of Blackburn and 5-0 trashing of Birmingham indicate they are capable of switching into the right gears. But the future does worry the feeble minds of the United faithful. When the exceptional Van Der Sar retires, we will have a Schmeichel-like crater to fill up. The advancing years of the injury-prone Ferdinand may also mean that Vidic needs another defensive partner. The void of quality in the middle of the park is alarming and will eventually tell against the top teams, or lesser teams as we’ve come to realise. The manner in which Liverpool shredded United in the Kop still sits unpleasantly in the bellies of most United supporters. Up front is the only area the Devils can feel at ease. With Rooney, Berbatov and Hernandez to call upon, the team looks like scoring if provided the sevice. Both Macheda and the born-again Welbeck are on loan and should return better players. However United will have to invest heavily to reinvent this mediocre side to be world-beaters again.

Sir Alex Ferguson is stuck in an unenviable quandary whenever he backs the owners of this football club. They are the scum from which football must always rise above. They will never leave until their valuation is met and they have enough money to feed their maids caviar and the finest champagne. At the end of the day this virus has infected football forever and this club hasn’t stood a chance against them. If Sir Alex wins anything with the current United squad, he will have achieved his greatest ever success. For a man with a winning habit, he must retire after winning titles with this team, for otherwise his legacy will suffer. Going with this great man will be the legacy of winning everything while playing the brand of football only Manchester United play. This fear will one day become a reality. Brace yourselves for that day.

3 comments:

Shehan said...

Dear Le_God,

I will not be able put it as eloquently as you have done but as always your articles deserve a reply. I do agree with you on some points that you have raised but at the same time disagree on others. To begin with, we all know the culture of Manchester United that demands entertaining football and above all to be winners.

Correct me if I am wrong but just like you, my love affair with football was ignited by non-other than Manchester United and for me it was not only the attacking, sublime and attractive football that made me a red devil fan but also because their attitude of never say die until the whistle is blown was the biggest of all reasons to love this club.

Since the time I have followed MU, there were many mediocre (too harsh of a word to use) teams that went on to win the league and I have ever so often heard the losing team saying that we were lucky or the referee was on our side. But my defense is that luck comes to those who go search or fight for it but of course, a fair degree of luck is indeed necessary to keep a full strength squad throughout the season. Even during the time of King Cantona there we fringe players but the team was built around a genius. I am sure you recall after the defeat to Aston Villa, the so called great Allen Hansen claimed “You won’t win anything with Kid” but Sir Alex proved otherwise and they went to dominate the league for years.

All these teams did not play beautiful football all the time and I know this for a fact because the numerous times we ended up with nervy wins and the amount of time I have said, come on God. Many people did not put the Navilles, Butts, Coles, Ronny Johnson as brilliant or great players but they became great in my eyes because they did not surrender and fought until the end and most of the times won and sometime ended on the losing side. We have seen many great players over the years but the underline fact for MU’s success is due to Sir.Alex as you have rightly mentioned. What better example than the 1999 Champion’s league final where we underperformed but the never say die attitude and the fear of Sir Alex’s fury saw us till the end. We were grateful to the likes of Schemicle, Ole and Teddy then. We could have easy brush that aside as luck too but we did not because they were fighters. The same way we are grateful to Vandersar, Vidict and others for keeping us alive this season. I do definitely agree with you that we need to strengthen our team with young blood to replace the aging legs but say that this team is riding on lady luck to be on top of the table is not possible for me.

To go back the memory lane, when Ronaldo came to the picture, you were not a big fan of him just as Roy Keane, who used to have a go at him for his diving and for touch too many. But Sir Alex, kept faith in him because he saw the potential and war heroes like Keane and Nistelrooy had to pack their bags. I was shell shocked as much as you were when Keano left and you are the first person I called or for that matter when Cantona retired or when we sold Beckham. But for Sir Alex, it is not the individual or the starts that matter but what matters to him is only Manchester United as it is treated as an institution. And look what Ronaldo achieved with United, same goes for Cantona, Keane, and many others as he has the eye to see the potential and make them world class. Of course along come the Djeambajamba, Denilson and Quntine Fortune but he is human after all.

Who would not like to see their team play like Barcelona to play breath taking football and win at the same time UNLIKE Arsenal whom you profess to have a better team than MU or for that matter you even think Liverpool has better players. I fail to see this because the better players are the players that can play as a team and manage to even carry some players in the team and end up winning but having said that a superstar or a genius do help the cause and make wining very much easier.
(Continuation on the next posting because there is word limit here)

Shehan said...

(Continuation)

I am sorry my dearest brother but I am not going to agree with you and say we are lucky and our players are below par but still end up top of the league. I have only played school/college football and do not know jack about couching a team. But what I know is that United is blessed to have a manager like Sir Alex and to undermine his wisdom on football will never be possible from my mouth because he managed to “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch” after 27 year drought and brought back the winning culture to Manchester United and got rid of the booze culture (that you and me took over ).

But I whole heartedly agree with you that the dick weeds Glazers should make their money and pray for that hail marry pass in American football and leave United for heaven sake.

I know that you want MU to be the best and play with class and style and demand the standards that put Cantona and Roy Keane on a different league of their own but its not always easy to find the like of Cantonas, Keanos , Giggsy . Or maybe you are an honest chap and I am bias….wait! you cannot be honest, I know you just too well :)

We will argue about this over beer and bak kut teh very soon but dear le-god learn to have bit of faith in the team that you love so much and especially during trying times. And lastly, YES, I do fear for MU when Sir Alex calls it a day.

Your Best Mate
Keano

P.S Hate you for making me write this much, why can’t you go write about your wedding preparation stories :) !!!

Anonymous said...

Bro Le,

Just wanted to come back and let you know, that we won the league and we are in the champions league final with this team. :D

Ciao