We’ve known it for a month, but now it’s official. Fergie’s chosen one has gone. Many Manchester United fans celebrated like it was 1999. Some of us knew it was necessary, but still looked upon the decision with sadness. A sure sign that United were no longer the team they once were. When Louis Van Gaal was announced as David Moyes replacement, United fans celebrated like it was 2008. Again, some us know it’s necessary and are glad for it, but deep down we wish it didn’t have to come to this. Perhaps we are the minority or maybe the majority just haven’t come to terms with the truth yet.
If you listen to our podcast you’ve probably heard how we all became fans of the teams we support. I was hypnotized when I saw a documentary in 1998 of Eric Cantona. However, just like meeting a pretty girl at a bar and getting her phone number, one has to follow up. This wasn’t an arranged marriage. I needed to see if United were the team that matched my principles (not too many for a nine year old). I talked about the club with my then best friend who was a United fan. I read old Match and Four Four Two magazines collected by my other best friend, a Chelsea fan. I watched so much football that my parents became sick of it. Everything I came across told me this was the club for me. Their play was easy on the eye, they carried themselves with dignity, and in a time where other clubs were losing their identities, United never strayed from their roots. In essence, Manchester United was the true export of English football to the rest of the world. The fact that they were the most successful helped their cause, of course. In 1998 and moving into the 2000s ,Chelsea, Arsenal and Liverpool were becoming more and more reliant on foreigners and foreign ideas. Under Ferguson, Manchester United were THE British team to watch. Obviously the team became close to my heart.
What happens when the love of your life changes who they are? Certain things that you admired aren’t as prominent as they used to be, replaced by something entirely foreign to you. Louis Van Gaal has just been appointed as the first non-British manager of Manchester United. When David Moyes was appointed I didn’t mind, in fact I championed it. I thought that Manchester United needed to be British to succeed. How wrong was I? The Dutch know how to play football but the thought of not hearing a British accent in the dugout leaves me somewhat sad. This speaks more to the lack of good British managerial talent in the Premier League than anything else. Brendan Rodgers at Liverpool may give Brits hope to cling to for the future, but for now it’s not looking good. I expect United’s traditional wing play to make way for something more “modern”. This may be necessary but it’s sad to think that a winger bombing down the sideline whipping in a cross a la David Beckham or beating four or five men and scoring wonder goals like Giggs and Ronaldo will be replaced with a more tactical, possession based game. Again, nothing wrong with that, and it will likely be enjoyable, but it’s not what I grew up with and the nostalgia kills me.
The worst part of all the change is that the club is apparently ready to pull a Real Madrid, City, Chelsea or PSG and spend their way out of trouble. Some will say that United used to break the British transfer record all the time. The difference is that when United did that, it was as a PLC, never falling in to debt or reporting a loss. United’s signings were always incremental and they never had to overhaul the squad to compete. Now reports are that United will spend upwards of £150m to create a whole new squad with the Glazers loading debt on to the club is this feasible? If the spending happens, you can guarantee that United’s playing staff will have a less British look to it, which in the current climate is unfortunately a good thing.
One thing that many are saying will stay the same is the promotion of youth, and this gives me great joy. Manchester United have had a graduate of their academy in every match squad since October 30th, 1937. To put this in perspective, that’s 75 years and 3623 consecutive games. No other team in the Premier League can say that. Louis Van Gaal is renowned for working with youth, so my hope is that this particular quality I fell in love with – mostly due to the Class of ’92 – will remain. When Fergie blooded in that group, he was told he couldn’t win with kids. He managed it, though the experience to guide them was there. Come on Louis, bring in the kids!
Change is the only constant in the world but even as the overall picture changes, some things will always remain. United will always attack and try to develop players. Other things will change and we all need to be ready for that. It might be overwhelming at times and it might make us uncomfortable but now is no time to abandon ship or chastise those who came before and brought us success. Louis Van Gaal is a winner and after the failed attempt to continue the “United Way” with David Moyes, maybe this is what United needs. Maybe the club’s history and traditions are holding them back from a prosperous future. Sir Alex was the last great old school British manager and maybe it’s time we all moved on and accepted that we’ll never see his like again. Perhaps it’s not the United we want that is coming, but it’s the United we all need. At least the United board do seem to realize the importance of our history and our identity. This must be the reason they’ve convinced Louis to make Ryan Giggs his assistant, possibly grooming him to take over once the Dutchman’s reign is over. Perhaps my beloved United will be back sooner than I thought.
Consider this piece a renewal of my vows with Manchester United. Rishay will be my best man for this ritual. Alex supports me because of his Kanchelskis love, Mohaned……….absolutely no comment.
Glory Glory Man United.