God, I miss Manchester United.
You can argue all you want about the success or otherwise of Louis van Gaal’s methods but the old glamorous United behemoth has gone. And I miss it. I miss the swaggering and cocksure team that came at teams with a fierce passion. It used to feel like watching rock stars; now it feels like watching accountants.
All the old chutzpah and romance has been replaced by bland, dumpy pragmatism. It’s hard to embrace it on any level. Like a once-great band that got rid of all its original members and yet somehow contrives to carry on, this United feel very like a poor-quality tribute band. Judith Priest rather than Judas Priest, perhaps.
We need them to be a big, glamorous football machine. It was always something to celebrate and also to kick against. Now, they’re easily ignored. This current situation of doing quite well in a boring fashion suits no-one.
For some reason, as a Teesside kid, I never took against them, the way many do. I think it was seeing George Best at an early age. He was so wonderful, so uplifting and beautiful to watch. Even when they were relegated, it didn’t feel like it does now. They didn’t seem diminished in the way they do in 2015. It always felt like they’d come back with a big hit. They couldn’t win the league but they were always a force in the cups. They still had eye-catching, mercurial players. They had something about them. Now they seem characterless and bland. A flavourless dish that is in dire need of proper seasoning.
The results and performances under Ferguson were not always great, I know that. There were early exits from the Champions League and trophyless seasons but they still had an aura as a club. There’s no aura now.
Even if by some chance United won the league playing as they are now, I’m not sure it’d change anything. In many ways, it’s not to do with winning, it’s to do with style, intent, character and that invisible, existential thing, romance. The romance has gone. Old Trafford feels like a long-term relationship that’s stopped having sex. There’s no stink of lust about it, no tingle in its loins, no Friday night sparkle in its eye, when you know it’s on.
Like someone beautiful and interesting who somehow became plain and boring, Manchester United no longer stir the soul. Ironically, it is those metaphysical things that made United into such a globally followed side. People bought into the romance. People don’t buy into dull pragmatism. United were special. Now they’re not and I really hope it changes soon.