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Why Manchester United fans demand the best - and rightly so

Posted on 01/12 by Joe Gann

Why Manchester United fans demand the best - and rightly so

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The style of Manchester United’s football under Louis Van Gaal has been one of this season’s major talking points. With former players, pundits and journalists taking their turn to offer a critique of the performances so far. Mundane, stagnated and pedestrian are some of the more common views, along with boring. Above all else, simply boring.

Watching a game featuring United above all else is completely predictable. With the exception of the game at the Emirates, United fans have travelled to each match knowing that their team will enjoy large amounts of possession in the match, be defensively sound but barely generate any activity in the opposition penalty area. The contrast between the two sides on Saturday was evident not only when it came to Leicester’s lightning quick counter attacks – an aspect of the game United specialised in for so long- but in general attacking play around the area.

There was no incisive passing between Rooney and Martial, no running off the ball. Whenever Michael Carrick, United’s most creative passer of the ball, tried to feed it into the feet of the front men, the recipient was always facing his own goal. The same points have been raised week in week out and it is extremely well worn territory now.

No pace out wide, no driving runs or inspiration from the centre of midfield, no cohesion in the final third. And ultimately, a very uninspiring team lacking imagination or creativity. Whilst the defence generally look well drilled, assisted by the weekly selection of two holding midfielders, when the opportunity to attack presents itself, a sense of self- doubt kicks in.

You can almost imagine the players looking across to the bench for further coaching instructions on the art of spontaneity. No move appears to be allowed to develop with the express prior permission from the manager. The off the cuff individual skill necessary to unlock defences seems to be completely frowned upon and the mechanical methodology of pass, pass and pass again mindset is paramount.

The fact that Van Gaal felt that it was necessary to make changes to his defence to negate the effectiveness of the opposition was telling. Manchester United are now making contingency plans for Leicester City, with the greatest of respect to Leicester, it highlights the shift in the ‘philosophy’ at the club.

It was fitting that this week saw Barcelona dismantle Roma 6-1 in match day five of the Champions League. Misty eyed United fans will reminisce that it was against this particular opposition in 2007 that the reds displayed one of their finest performances in European competition, when they hammered the Romans 7-1 at Old Trafford.

It is galling to look back now at the days when the reds would impose their style of play on European opponents, dictating proceedings usually with attacking enterprise whether it be the San Siro, Camp Nou or Stadio delle Alpi. If any more evidence was needed to highlight the current gulf between the men from Old Trafford and Europe’s elite, it was the sight of a brilliant Barcelona team in irresistible form, twenty four hours before the disappointment of the PSV Eindhoven game.

At present United are a million miles away from the days where they went toe to toe with European heavyweights.

When the cry of ‘Attack, attack, attack’ is heard ringing out form the United hard core, it is not a cry of rebellion. The fans are simply imploring the team to entertain. At Manchester United, the tradition of teams playing with style, verve and attacking adventure is not up for debate. Even during the years of Docherty and Atkinson, where trophies were a rarity compared to later times, the entertainment value was never in question.

Therefore, it is not unreasonable of United fans to want to win, and to win in style. Van Gaal finds himself under pressure to deliver victories and to do so in particular manner. And that is exactly how it should be. Season ticket holders at the Bernabeu, Camp Nou or the Allianz would not tolerate the sub- standard offerings being witnessed at Old Trafford at the minute.

That is what drives them on and what makes them constantly the best. They will not compromise on the winning mentality and it is the constant desire to evolve; win and then win again that Ferguson ensured was instilled in every one of his players. The difference in England is the mentality of the fans, particularly at United where the conditioning to support the manager is widespread, the image of being fair weather is one of the worst crimes in fan culture.

A perceived abandonment of total blind faith is to be mocked and derided. Supporters want the best for their team, regardless of who they follow. But ambition is relative to each team’s particular circumstance. At the level that United aspire to, only the very best is good enough. There is a difference between obsessive, destructive pessimism and the demands of a passionate, well intentioned fan base though.

There is no escalating anarchy at Old Trafford with protests planned to oust the manager. In many ways, Van Gaal remains popular with large sections of the crowd. The decisive action he took in shifting the deadwood from the playing staff over the course of the last three transfer windows drew almost widespread praise. Allied to the promotion and faith in the academy graduates at the club, there are huge plusses for Van Gaal’s reign so far. Upon his appointment, his presence gave a lot of people comfort. After the disastrous reign of David Moyes, the differences in both credentials and demeanour between the two were reassuring for many.

It is a fine line between strong support and a desire to see the team win and being spoilt, with a sense of self- entitlement. The many blinkered fans out there with a blind hatred of everything Manchester United are missing a very pertinent point though when they point the finger at the reds’ fans. Even the most myopic of fans can accept the fact that Manchester United is an immensely big club; one of the three biggest in the world. Or as the relentless commercial department like to announce on a frequent basis; ‘The World’s Biggest Club.’

The propaganda machine keeps ramming the rhetoric down our throats; a global fan base of 659million fans, the highest average attendance in the Premier League of 75,000 week in, week out, year upon year, the deals with Adidas and Chevrolet worth £75m and £47m per year respectively, the 120m sponsorship of Carrington, the hundreds of global commercial partners, the list goes on.

It is partly due to this marketing juggernaut that the club remains at the pinnacle of English football despite the lack of trophies since Ferguson’s retirement. However, therein lies the problem with this constant self- hype; United are raising the expectations of their fans at every turn. How can a team with such vast resources not be the footballing benchmark? Domestically, United’s record of 20 titles is unsurpassed, a fantastic achievement. But when the European Cup wins are totted up, they are not even close to matching the European superpowers. Real Madrid 10, Barcelona who had no victories prior to 1992, now have 5, AC Milan 7. Bayern Munich 5, Ajax 4, United 3.

That is nowhere near enough for a club of their size. If Manchester United, as a club want to be viewed as the equals of the likes of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich then they need to emulate the constant pursuit of excellence which is prevalent at those clubs. That means shopping at the upper echelon of the transfer market- although social and geographical matters are sometimes prohibitive obstacles in that department.

It also means continual investment in the youth set up in Manchester, a vital component of the club philosophy, particularly now they have fierce competition locally from neighbours Manchester City. Importantly, it also means playing a brand of football conducive to winning football matches in an exhilarating manner. The main titles are rarely won consistently by teams displaying no adventurous spirit.

The systematic domestic trophy gathering in the Ferguson years meant that the European issue was possibly overlooked, although United’s most successful period ever came in the four year period between 2008 and 2011, where they contested three finals. Now that Ferguson’s time is over and the ideology of longevity in the manager’s seat probably goes with him. United now find themselves sitting alongside the likes of Manchester City and Chelsea in terms of recruitment.

After the appointment of Van Gaal, the watershed has been broken in terms of foreign managers in the Old Trafford dug out. After Van Gaal has finished his term in the hot seat, the powers that be have an enormous decision to make.

Will they decide to promote Ryan Giggs, possibly with Paul Scholes and Gary Neville alongside him, creating a fantasy coaching team in the eyes of the fans. Or, as the rumours coming out of Germany this week speculate, will Pep Guardiola - or whichever top drawer coach is available at the time -be recruited. The second option would point to a changing vision at United; one which puts European success at the forefront of the strategy and coaches revolve through the door every two to three years.

Whatever they decide, they can ill afford to repeat the mistakes made after Ferguson’s retirement. It is entirely possible that the correct candidate – maybe Mourinho- could have guided the reigning champions at the time to another title the following season, United would not now be forced to recover their place at the summit of English football.

The fact is that the essence of a big club is to challenge for, and win the biggest prizes and fans expectation is part of the package.

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