Thursday, July 14, 2011

United Are No Chasers

FACT - United were outplayed by Barcelona in Rome 2009 and again in Wembley 2011. 

FACT - Manchester United are the Top Ranked club in Europe in UEFA Rankings in spite of the above two instances.

The FACT analogy was used just to briefly remember the FSW and have a good laugh - what a knob!

FACT - Rafa's a Knob!

Just two days ago, there was a wonderful post by Bearded Genius on that brilliant United Blog, The Republik of Mancunia. The crux of the post was focused on highlighting the timeless love that United specifically and football generally has in the hearts of people. Generations of fans come and go; generations of players precede each other - yet the constant remains football, the constant remains Manchester United.

Reading about the history of your beloved club and experiencing history being made in an era are relatively different aspects. As a United fan, I can merely fantasize and marvel over the wizardry of Duncan Edwards. I can only wonder and lament over the extraordinary honors that the Busby Babes would have achieved for the club. I can just feel posthumous grief over the tragedy that occurred in Munich. Yet the honest truth remains that I can never relate to those legends the way a 70 year old United fan could - someone, who as a teenager saw Edwards and Taylor doing the business week in, week out. Someone for whom they were the greatest heroes in history. Someone who must have cried bucket loads when that calamity hit the club. My formative years were the ones when Bryan Robson was my hero - I thought there could never be a greater footballer. If I were to have a rare instance of showering ManLove on another bloke, it would be Eric Cantona. 

Sure, along the way, I've seen the new kids like Wazza and Ronnie taking our club to great heights, but would either of them ever be rated higher than Giggsy or Scholesy in my book? Never. More often than not, your heroes always remain the ones that leave a lasting impression on you when you're growing up.

The kids and teens that support United now have seen a footballing world that's diametrically different to the one in the late 80s and early 90s. Ruud Gullit's Chelsea playing sexy football and pioneering the influx of talented foreigners like Zola, Desailly, Vialli and Di Matteo in EPL have now been replaced by Roman Abramovich's Rent Boys. AC Milan legend, George Weah had a temporary stint at 33 years of age in Manchester with a team that was barely struggling to ensure its survival in the top division; a reality very different to the oil-rich Man City that you see today. Seaman, Winterburn, Bould, Adams, Keown, Dixon, Parlour, Merson & Ian Wright - yeah, there used to be a time, when Arsenal actually had English players.

"I still think it's 1984"

The only great tradition that has remained intact over the last 20 years is of Liverpool not winning the league - we must applaud them for not changing with times and maintaining their consistency.

The key difference has been that of the massive implosion of televised football all over the world. Hundreds of millions of young fans have joined the ranks of football crazy punters over the last 15 years or so, sharing the mass love reservoirs dedicated to clubs all over Europe - from the Catalans to the Mancunians, from the Rossoneri to Anfield.

Couch fans, Glory Hunters, Gold Diggers - some of the titles that are used to describe foreign fans, yet the name-calling hasn't deterred global fans to extend their undying support to the respective objects of their footballing desires. Add the thousands of Web Forums and Blogs to the frenzy and what you get in return could perhaps be labeled as The Distorted Perspective.

I gotta confess - My head's been done in literally, listening to rants of this recent Barca obsession that most of us Red Devils have developed in the last three years. Of course, each of the both times that the Catalans mauled our Red Army in the last three years, I was feeling sick in the gut too, but it's yet to do that irreparable damage to my Red esteem. I've grown up watching United making too much history for that to ever happen. 

From the moment that Steve Bruce and Bryan Robson lifted that 8th League Title to our very own Dream Team achieving the League Double the next year; from seeing Ince, Hughes and Kalchelskis being sold only to be replaced by Fegie's Fledgings - academy novices who compelled Alan Hansen to foolishly say 'You'll never win anything with kids' and who later on went to become legends of the modern game to the '99 Treble, from the first hat-trick of league titles, through the three year title drought, when the detractors had practically embossed the final obituary of Old Trafford to the second hat-trick of league titles; not to mention a second Champions League trophy and an additional two European finals thrown in between - I've been privileged to witness all of that.

So we lost two European finals in three years? Yeah, we did - but we also made it to two European finals in three years. More importantly, the one at Wembley, with a group of players which everyone worth his salt had predicted to finish in the Top Four at the beginning of the season - most called it the Worst United Team in Years. Contrast that with the Catalan counterparts: a team that has perhaps made its place among squads that we know as Johan Cruyff's Dream Team, Bob Paisley's Liverpool, Real Madrid's Galacticos of 1950s, Jock Stein's Celtic local lads, Fabio Cappello's 'Dutch Troika' AC Milan and maybe even the Hungarian Mighty Magyars. In short, probably the current Barca team is one of the greatest ever.

I have absolutely no right to doubt anyone's dedication, nor am I in any position to pass judgment on anyone's loyalty, but I find it a bit amusing when I see a lot of foreign fans expressing their undying devotion to Barca. Being a foreign United fan myself for over 20 years now, I've had my fair share of banter with other fans over the years. Barcelona, Real Madrid, AC Milan, Juventus, Bayern Munich and even Ajax are great clubs, seeped in glorious traditions and history - of course no one can take that from them. However, I distinctly remember Real Madrid clearly having a massive fan following globally, especially during Florentino Perez's first stint during which he brought Figo, Zidane, Ronaldo, Beckham and Owen to the club. Even if I try my best, I would find it difficult to recall a significant number of Catalan devotees from that time period.

Mind you, Barca were no punks at that time either - even during  years like 2000 or 2002 when they had temporarily flirted with relegation during previous seasons and barely managed to secure a European spot, their ranks included the likes of Rivaldo, Cocu, Kluivert, Saviola, Luis Enrique, Overmars, Bonano, Xavi, Guardiola, Petit, Arteta, De Boer, Puyol, Abelardo, Reizeger, Pepe Reina, Riquelme and Mendieta. In fact, in the last 40 years or so, Barca squads have never been short of world-class superstars. Of course, there was a six-year title drought for them between 1999-2005 and the tide turned with the overhauling of the squad which saw names like Ronaldinho, Eto'o, Giuly, Van Bommel, Larsson, Van Bronckhorst, Iniesta and Victor Valdes playing for the first team.

Therefore when I hear a number of younger fans raving over the inimitable youth system of Barca which has introduced the likes of Xavi, Iniesta, Puyol, Valdes and Messi - well, I admire it but I'm not swayed by it. For starters, Xavi and Puyol have been in the Barca team since the year that Gazza secured promotion for Bryan Robson's Middlesbrough and only became household names globally by the time Jose Mourinho won Chelsea's first title in 50 years. In fact, Xavi was the subject of severe Catalan abuse only 'cause he was perceived as the reason for Catalan idol, Pep Guardiola's unceremonious exit from Barca as a player, although that was far from the truth. That was the point in time, when United were seriously considering to bring Xavi to Old Trafford and the Spaniard was seriously considering to move. However, he decided to stay back and prove his worth to the Barca fans. How he proved his worth is for everyone to see now 'cause most of them probably don't miss Pep in the centre of midfield anymore.

United Youth Team - 1982

The influx of youth is not a new phenomenon for a United fan to witness. Even before Fergie, we saw Mark Hughes, Norman Whiteside and Clayton Blackmore break into the first team under Big Ron. With the arrival of Fergie, his Fledgings continued to be introduced at regular interval. Before Becks, Scholesy, Giggsy, Butty and the Nevilles, there was the group of Lee Martins, Mark Robins & Co. The thing with youth players coming up the ranks is that there is no guarantee that each batch will produce legendary footballers. Having Xavi, Puyol, Valdes, Iniesta and Messi is indeed a special phase for Barca as well. This does not essentially necessitate that the Catalans will rule the roost even three decades from now.  

That Barca have ability, humility and class is indisputable - but their ascent is also complemented by two external factors. One is the general decline of La Liga over the years because of the inequitable revenue distribution, as Barca/Madrid take the giant chunk of TV money. Take a look at the squads of the Big Two as opposed to the rest of La Liga and you can assess the huge discrepancy in the quality. Compare this with, let's say a decade ago when teams like Deportivo had Tristan, Makaay, Djorovic, Molina, Duscher and Valeron. Valencia had John Carew, Kily Gonzalez, Ayala, Baraja, Vicente, Canizares, Aimar, Pellegrino and Albelda. Celta had Benni Mc Carthy, Cavallero and Silvinho. Teams like Mallorca were in Europe with players like Eto'o, Nadal, Luque and Ibagaza in their ranks. A team like Villareal that didn't even have a B squad had Martin Palermo, Belletti, Reina and Marcos Senna. Atletico Madrid relegated from La Liga had Fernando Torres, Juninho Paulista, Dani and Burgos. Sporting Gijon, another Second Division team had David Villa and Rivarola. In short, it was a much more competitive league. The second factor assisting Barca's dominance is the relaxation of rules that gives protection to players in continental football. Liverpool won four European Cups in the 1970s in a competition that featured a handful of teams; however the protection offered to players was scarce if not non-existent. This was an important factor why the very physical English teams dominated Europe before the Heysel disaster. Liverpool, Nottingham Forest and Aston Villa were European champions on a trot - taking away the spot from English teams became an impossible task during those years. This could also be ascertained from the fact that while Cristiano Ronaldo did impeccably well for United; in La Liga, he's literally scoring goals for fun. But then La Liga has never been renowned for its defensive prowess.

Barca, for all its greatness would struggle in the much more physical EPL if playing here week in, week out. Therefore, the fact that Barca is able to field a similar team most weeks is not exactly astonishing. The more physical nature of EPL dictates the prevalent squad rotation system. 

These factors are not, in any way meant to take away from the brilliance of Barcelona, but it's merely a rationalization of the hysteria that some United fans are allowing themselves to be swayed by. When the last time we played Barca in a two-legged tie, who came out on top? In fact, had it not been for Ronnie's penalty miss, we would've won both legs, instead of drawing one. 

Yes - Barca has completely outclassed us on two occasions, but both times it was a game of 90 minutes. We have divided opinion on this perhaps, but there's a fair case of arguing over tactics and team selection on our part. Most importantly, both times, our players bottled it. I am graceful in defeat and I am more than willing to handle the mantle to Barcelona, but if you're gonna tell me that United played its best football on both occasions, then I'm not buying that. We didn't - and that isn't an issue of the surmounting debt on us. That isn't an issue of Wesley Sneijder playing for Inter instead of United. That isn't an issue of losing Cristiano Ronaldo to Madrid. Unfortunately, it's become an issue of mentality. 

There could be a fair case built here that Barca dominated in possession and stifled us enough not to play our game, but what about the times when we had the ball? Even a mentally strong player like Wazza was releasing the ball hurriedly whenever it came to him, instead of holding it up and attempting to provide some creativity. That wasn't Barca stifling his ability; that was the Barca hysteria stifling his nerves. Unfortunately, a lot of fans are no different in that respect.

There's no shame in losing to an incredibly talented team like today's Barcelona but there's no pride in not going full-throttle to try to beat them either. Did we go full-throttle or played 110% on both occasions? In case anyone thinks YES, I beg to differ. I strongly disagree. We just didn't.

The gaffer, the lads, the fans - all of us need to get ourselves out of this Barca mania, 'cause there's a strong possibility that we meet them in Europe again this year. It could be the Q/F stage, the semis or maybe another final. 

Manchester United don't need to achieve the benchmark that Barcelona have set. In fact, if anything, Barcelona have achieved the benchmark that Manchester United have created over the last 20 years. We just need to sort out our heads. They're an incredible team, but they're beatable.

For once, we just need to go all out to do it.

For once, the gaffer needs to instill the trademark United mentality in the lads when they play Barca next.

For once, the fans need to clearly understand that we don't need to chase anyone else's standards. We just need to elevate our existing ones. 

After all, it's just one team in the whole of Europe that's bugging us. 

I'm sure we can sort it out.

Let's just get our collective heads around it! 

At the end of it all, even if they continue to outclass us - then it's just their period of glory. So many of us would have no regrets. We've seen United making history time and again with our own eyes. Nothing can take away that pride from us. Ever!       


  1. Great read. Loved it..
    keep up the good work :)

  2. This blog is bloody brilliant :)

  3. Cheers people! Appreciate your kind feedback.

  4. This is a brilliant piece! Very very well written, and I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment: we don't need to chase Barca! It's pitiful to read time and again how we'll never beat Barca with the current squad. Well, if we have that mentality - and let it come through to the players - we will surely never beaten. The mental side of elite sports is not to be underestimated. "We'll never beat Barca" becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fergie is one of the greatest sports-psychologists around. Why he couldn't get the players to believe more before both finals - 2009 and 2011 - is very puzzling indeed.

  5. That is one of the best block posts I have ever read. Nicely done.
    I too am sick of our own fans say that we are not good enough, our midfield is this or that...that midfield has won us trophies. That team plays with guts, determination and class most of the time.

    we will have the beating of Barcelona soon. There is not a team that Fergi has not been able to de-throne.

    I can see title #20. I feel it.

    Football Uncovered