Manchester United will not win the Premiership by playing beautiful football this season – first they need to find their tough attitude, their fighting spirit and most importantly, their desire to win at any cost.
We can always play pretty later.
The media’s image of Manchester United’s glory years is a fabricated social memory of the 99′ team.
A crack midfield manned by Giggs, Keane, Scholes and Beckham, with Cole and Yorke the consummate strikers topping up the 4-4-2 and a fluid, counter-attacking, never-say-die approach to the game that shook everyone out of their sleep in the Premiership.
Those four midfielders, at their peak, were four of the best players Manchester United has ever seen and truly, United were great then.
But time mellows memories and helps us remember only the overall plot – our success rubs off on our incomplete memories and fills in the gaps, making a talented but arguably limited midfield into giants and heroes.
I don’t remember an all-conquering, all-powerful Manchester United.
The Manchester United I remember were always playing better than they were supposed to – a team that was moderately skilled but played with a drive and hunger that helped it overhaul more talented sides. This drive was imbued in the team by Ferguson and displayed on the pitch by Keane, Beckham, Giggs, Neville, Scholes, Butt and co.
Yes, they were really good players. But their success on this pitch came from playing fantastically well as a unit, and in adapting that ‘pack of hunting dogs’ mentality in attack and defence that Ferguson preached and asked for. Manchester United defended in numbers, attacked in droves, fought for the ball on every inch of the pitch and from start to finish were pushing the opposition to the limit.
It was a side that played out of their skins, better than they were expected to, better than they had a right to, better than they were able to (if that makes sense).
And it is this memory that makes today’s Manchester United all the more painful to watch.
We still have the talent – In Saha and Rooney Manchester United have a top-notch front-line, our defence is strong and at full strength the midfield of Carrick, Scholes, Giggs and Ronaldo is pretty good.
In Rooney and Ronaldo we still have the ability to change the game in a matter of seconds, and with the new Giggs-Saha-Ronaldo axis we can control games at will.
But there’s something missing from today’s United. Our self-belief is shaken, and as a result, the team can be shaken and then beaten (as Arsenal were able to do). And the Benfica game was a perfect example of this lack of self-belief.
Paul Scholes and Wayne Rooney had bad, bad games on Tuesday. In between mishit passes and some decent defensive work, you saw an appalling lack of desire to chase the ball down. Coming from two of United’s most trusted personnel it was shameful, and at one time it seemed as if Ferguson would cross the touchline and knock Rooney in the head.
Against Benfica United needed a general to bark at the players and get them motivated. Neville is an able leader but if he wants to win another Premiership title he will need to lead on the pitch and that doesn’t mean just putting in the tackles, it also means dressing down the non-performing players and getting to play well again.
Karl had this to say about the game:
Last night as I was watching the ManU game (that shitty first half), I had a realisation…
“This is all we have. It might not be much, but its ALL we have. These guys might not be everyone’s ideal summer recruits, but you have to admit, they are TRYING VERY HARD.”
I could actually see determination on the faces (did you notice Ronaldo and Heinze were the only 2 players that were actually smilling, other than Saha – just after his magnificent goal).
Karl’s made one very good, and another not so good point:
This really is all that we have.
Absolutely right. There’s no point bitching about transfers not made – we have to make do with what we have right now and complaining that we didn’t buy strikers in the past absolves the current playing staff of their responsibility to score goals. It’s up to Rooney to perform, if he doesn’t, he should be kicked and beaten till he does. Or motivated, whatever.
The players, on the most part, are trying really hard.
I’m sorry, but mishitting passes throughout a 90-minute stretch and not even bothering to chase a 50-50 ball (Scholes) is not hard work. Saha was being muscled off the ball with ridiculous ease and Rooney was more content dropping back to cover Heinze than go on runs down the left himself. Ronaldo, for all his brilliance, wasn’t tracking back to defend (although we’ll forgive him that because of his role in the match). Carrick is still finding his way, but that’s no excuse for being anonymous in midfield.
United fans love Alan Smith because of his attitude and drive for the game – he goes into every tackle, every 50-50 ball, chases down all the lost causes. Rooney is usually the same, but he had lost it against Benfica. So had Scholes.
Wenger’s side won the 2003/2004 Premiership by believing that they were the best. Mourinho’s done the same with Chelsea.
It’s not just a battle that’s won on the pitch – it’s a dressing room thing, it’s something drilled into the heads of players throughout training.
United is not the most talented side. Quite honestly, we never were.
But we have always been the side that fought the hardest. He who fights hardest usually wins, and United need that spirit back.
Mr Ferguson, are you listening? In that case…
- Wayne Rooney wants to be a Manchester United hero
- Manchester United need to stop the bleeding
- Manchester United walking a fine line between brilliance and failure