Monday, 7 June 2010

Season of Decline

This, apparently, was the year of the decline.

But then it has been decline all the way since... and it's not so bad declining, having got rid of two of the big international stars, to have lost the unprecedented fourth successive premier league title by one point, and the Champion's League quarter final through an injury and one goal. Ferguson - wisely in my view - has generally invested in young players, half of whom will probably not be a success at all and a quarter of whom may be minor successes. If he gets just one outstanding player from among them he will have done very well. He now has a very good youth team of which a fair number are English.

It's true the team has rarely played in the overwhelming fashion representative of the best Ferguson teams, at least not so often this season. I accept it is a transitional time with the older players - Neville, Scholes, Giggs - approaching the very end of their careers, but Rooney, Nani, the Da Silva brothers, Anderson and Valencia are all young and exciting - and the reserves and youth team also have promising players. Ferguson could buy really big - and he might yet do that (if the money is there) - but it's more satisfying building from the base up.

And if they don't win the league next year?

And if there is some decline?

When I first started following United the plane had just crashed, and apart from a few years at the end of the sixties, they were neither a brilliant nor particularly successful team. What has happened in the last eighteen years has been well beyond my wildest dreams. And even so, I wouldn't say the team, even in its most successful years, was imperious all the time. I rather think they played the best English football, meaning the best football the English game permits while at the same time yielding success. Because Arsenal have probably played more beautifully at times, but never quite imperiously - except perhaps in one season - in a sort of French style (think Platini, Tigana, etc) which is, granted, marvellous at best. Perhaps if Wenger had been a little less priggish his teams would have played with greater fortitude. Perhaps they still might.

If there is some decline - though I don't expect there to be - I will still go to my grave happy at having seen as much good as I have. This season has been the Rooney season. Maybe next season will be the Nani or Anderson (or even Hargreaves or Michael Owen) season.


Coirí Filíochta said...

The decline will happen when Fergie departs; like it did with Liverpool after Shankly. You might have a few years of staying top flight; get through a couple of managers like Fagan and Dalglish, but once the momentum of Ferguson's day to day memory has faded and the magical faith he controls has evaporated - you will start coming thrid, fourth and the fans who grew up in the teens and twenties with the winning ease of all armchair fair-weather supporters, will desert you in droves; just like I did Liverpool - when I switched to Man U in the mnid-nineties as a dissillusioned ex-Liverpool fanatic who came to understand the error of my ways in supporting a team of losers. I supported Man U, Chelsea and Inter Milan this year and that way, was very happy to have won four cups.

I dunno why everyone else doesn't do it. Just support whoever's winning, and that way, it's being sensible. Get rid of all this silly tribalism, like reading good poetry. We don't care who writes it, as long as it is good. Some poets have only one title in em, same as soccer teams, yet we don't blindly go along with the myth that we have to be faithful to them at the tills when they hit a low patch. Same with footie.

James said...

"Get rid of all this silly tribalism, like reading good poetry. We don't care who writes it, as long as it is good." Quite right, sir! and here's some real Manchester United poetry, in the form of a midfielder whom they should never have sold and - all being well - will buy back one day from the moneybags club who stole him from Old Trafford in the first place. We've done nothing but mess around since he left (Youtube MUFC glory):

Midfield Mastery For Manchester United

George S said...

Well, the chief point, gentlemen, is that, to put it tangentially, I have been married to the same woman for forty years this coming July, and frankly, it feels right. That does not mean I don't appreciate the beauty and many qualities of others but I think I made an existential choice.

I don't mean to compare the magnificent C to a football team (though she'd be United if she were, to adapt a phrase from Carling) but, just as the marriage isn't a tribal affair, the marriage to United is not to a bunch of supporters but to a person in some sense. Both relationships are mysterious, not to say mystical.

To me United have been a character that has undergone various changes. The Ferguson period will pass pretty soon now and then we shall see what happens, though I am not sure Coiri is right. After all Italy will always be Milan, Inter, and Juve; and Spain, Barca and Real, so I expect the big four (Liverpool to revive) will be up and around the top four positions for a good while. Nor do the crowds at Old Trafford drop away. They didn't when United was an average team in the seventies and eighties.

A character is a story too, and United make a fascinating story (they had better, since I'm married to them). The story in its turn is history. United has an extraordinary, dramatic history and that will always attract people and football romantics like me (romantic even to the extent that I don't mind United being beaten now and then by teams like Bournemouth and Norwich, because that too is romantic, a good lesson in life, and excellent for the human spirit).

You add all that up and that is - broadly speaking - a kind of poetry. The way United play in this or that game is the verse. Sometimes the verse will be poorer, but the poetry in toto remains poetry - even in relegation, as I well remember.

Football is in fact the poetry of many people's lives - the game, the team - not the tribe. It's part of mine.

George S said...

ps I note the change from have to has in the same sentence in the third paragraph, but I think I could mount a defence of that.

The point about Liverpool - much as United fans hate them - is that Liverpool also have history, as have Arsenal. Chelsea, I am not sure about. Chelsea have money. Maybe even Manchester City have more history, despite the current money.

Newcastle, sadly for them, only have ancient history.

George S said...

Oh dammit,James, a pps on Alan Smith. It was a great move turning him into a mid-fielder, but he is thirty now so I doubt he'll be back. I once argued that every great team needs one (but only one) psycho. We had Keane for a long time. Smith was one too, as evidenced in the film clip. Vidic is the nearest thing now, though in a more fixed position.

Stephen F said...

You're Celtic, United / but baby I've decided / You're the best team I've ever seen.

Rod Stewart, 'You're In My Heart'

Perhaps this is the 40th anniversary present sorted out, George?

Coirí Filíochta said...

...marriage to United is not to a bunch of supporters but to a person in some sense. Both relationships are mysterious, not to say mystical.

I don't mean to sound unkind or uncaring about your beleifs on this George, but you don't half talk some rubbish.

Mystical relationship, with a soccer club 700 million quid in debt, owned by two big fat brothers running it into the ground?

I used to be like you, when I was a young man supporting Liverpool, before I switched to Man U after Liverpool went off the boil and the reds down the East Lancs starting doing the business on the park.

Shankly, the Hesiod of the modern game, used to say some mystical things; that it was all about defence and working out from there - and when Liverpool lost it and got too big for their boots, the automatic entightlement caper - the secret forces of soccer were effected such as to deliver Shankly's second heir 33 miles away (nothing in mystical terms) - like him, a working class Scot; who bettered his record and made me see how what I supported as a kid was not the corporeal, surface of a physical Liverpool, but the existential, higher ideal that has been in place since the tales of Homer were first spoken round firesides in ancient Greece. Dying on your shield, the Heoric essence that states there is no dishonor as long as the individuals in a team play soccer as it should be in the purist, Classical sense; defending first, playing not to win, but not to lose - from which winning rightly follows.

This, I have come to learn, allows us to fulfill our potential as the most authentic of supporters, who transcend fandom to become connoisseurs of the beautiful game in a way your average anti-intellectual tribalist can never do because they lack the refinment of pallete and passion only the most honest and selfless soccer supporters, who want all teams to win and who have no problem supporting Man U and Liverpool, equally.

George S said...

Would you kindly fuck off, Coiri. Can't you see you're interrupting a moment of prayer? You understand nothing, do you?

I am not talking about appreciating, you half-wit. I'm talking about a long attachment, history... and, I don't know why I bother?

Besides you've already said all that stuff about Liverpool.

You carry on your way, I'll carry on mine.

Coirí Filíochta said...
This comment has been removed by the author.