Unprofessional Foul


December 23, 2015

Divorce, Anger, Sadness: The Manchester United Story


Manchester United fans

Sadchester United fans.

None of us would be here if not for the journey, and none of us knows where the journey will lead us from here.

As I look back at the time since Unprofessional Foul shut its doors, I see a roller coaster of emotions, changes left and right, new love and massive sadness. The journey has been long, winding, and in some ways, very painful. And that’s just watching Manchester United.

Before I get into the angst I feel toward my beloved club, I need to tell you a story.

I’ve written before about why I wanted to be a UF writer, but I’ve never explained why I needed UF.

In early 2010, I broke up with the woman I loved because I wasn’t ready to be the man I needed to be for her. I was depressed, having moved to California for a job that became a nightmare. My ex-wife was making it her mission to make my life a living hell and to sully my relationship with my kids. I was dead broke. I didn’t know who I was.

One of the only things that kept me sane (barely) was Unprofessional Foul. From Spectator to Bigus Dickus, James T to The Fan’s Attic, UF gave me a sense of place and consistency. I knew what I would get every time I visited the site: Smart, fun content from some really talented people. As these people became my colleagues and then my friends (my best friends), other things fell into place. I moved to Princeton. I moved again back to Kansas to be with my children. I got back together with the love of my life, we married and had a wonderful daughter (and no, I didn’t name her Giggsy or Rooney).

I sit here, in the office of my new house, with my four children (ages 15, 15, 13 and 1) doing their various things. I sit here, aware of who I am, what I want and what I need to do to get there. I sit here, looking back on the crazy last few years, knowing that I am a good person, a great father and an adequate writer. I sit here, comfortable with the result of my efforts.

Which brings me back to Manchester United.

When we last left the UF world, United fans were still suckling from the title-winning teat of Sir Alex Ferguson. While we didn’t win the 2011-12 title, we sent our hero off into the sunset with a most improbable title in 2013 with perhaps the worst Premier League champion of all time. Then, much like the Star Wars prequels, came the dark times, and unfortunately for us supporters, we haven’t yet emerged to the joy of “The Force Awakens.”

The problem in the red half of Manchester is that the supporters — and the board — seem to expect the team to be the exact same as it was under Ferguson. ATTACK ATTACK ATTACK is the mantra. The ghosts of Roy Keane, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Ronaldo and David Beckham haunt the grounds at Old Trafford, providing more nightmares than memories for anyone who coaches the team.

Frankly, who would want this job right now unless they were given three years to truly change the side into something consistent?

“But that’s what Louis Van Gaal was given, and how’s that turned out?” you ask.

Fair point, but the problem is that he hasn’t really changed anything. Instead, he’s thrown 250 million pounds at trying to lay his template onto the side left to him. How is Daley Blind the answer at center-back? Did he really think Falcao would be an answer? Did he really buy Anthony Martial just for the “next guy?” And if he thought Angel Di Maria was going to suck, why the hell did he spend so much on a player he never really liked?

Upon further inspection, each of these moves shows the attitude of a tyrant faced with a situation that was not suited to him.

What of David Moyes, then? Was the Scot really so bad? The data shows he wasn’t. His winning percentage was marginally worse than Van Gaal’s has been. His spending per point is significantly less. And despite his league failure in 2013-14, he did at least bring United to an improbable spot in the Champions League quarterfinals — a result they had no business getting based on the talent of the side.

Ginger is cute.

Little Ginger is already being indoctrinated to the ways of KU basketball, Manchester United … and UF.

Was Moyes good? No — he was clearly out of his depth. Was he horrible? No. It would be interesting to see what two more years might have brought. Would Ferguson’s hand-picked choice have made the boss look like a genius in the end? I’m honestly not sure, but I do know that the state of the club now is arguably worse than it was when Moyes was unable to buy any players.

On the other hand, Van Gaal looks old, inept and unable to actually manage his way out of the problems this side have. His gaze on the sideline is increasingly bleak, and Ryan Giggs is clearly taking things out of his hands on a regular basis, trying to remind the players that they play for a side that used to actually pass the ball forward once in a while.

So where does the journey take us from here? Do United know who they are? I’d argue the answer is no. Some might say, “Give the team to Giggs now. He knows the club and the way we want to play.” At this point, I’m not sure Giggs would want the club, and I’m really not sure he could right the ship in the very short window he would be given. Also, this isn’t something United can just spend its way out of. First, there needs to be a clear idea of what the side are and what the style of play is. Then, and only then, can United put players in the side who will best fit the style.

That brings us to the proverbial fork in the road. We had a discussion this week about which of the six or seven big name managers would end up where. Pep Guardiola to Man City? Carlo Ancelotti to Bayern? (Ed. Note: that one actually happened! Jose Mourinho to United? Which would we want for our teams and which did we think would actually come.

Three years ago, I would have been perfectly fine with Mourinho. I would have done a happy dance. I would have been able to overlook the tactics change because he would have made the team his, and it would have won. Now, I have to wonder if one league title and one other trophy would be worth the pain we all would feel in Year 3 of his tenure. His is a scorched-earth tenure, no matter what. Autoglass loves Mourinho and with good reason, but his history is clear. Good… Better… OK… TOTAL CHAOS.

United don’t need that. They already have the chaos. They have no goals, a possibly drunk striker, young talent out on loan, no answers on the field. (Ed. Note: and Zero Chicharito.) Is winning in 2016-17 worth being a Dumpster fire in 2018-19? It’s not.

In football as in life, I don’t have the answers. This weekend will be the first time in seven years that all of my children will be in my house on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. I will probably cry tears of joy as I take pictures of them opening presents and smiling.

One of these days, I’m sure I’ll smile at watching Manchester United again. It might not be for a few years, but I’m hopeful. This journey is painful at times, but it’s necessary, and it’ll work out in the end.

About the Author

The Stretford End