Man Utd trophy trumping Arsenal title challenge? Ferdinand and Keane show true colours

Manchester United celebrate as Arsenal look glum

It may be a little like shooting fish in a barrel to accuse Rio Ferdinand of partisan, over-simplistic thinking but his thoughts on what makes a “better season” are surely designed purely to appease Manchester United fans so far out of the title race that it’s barely a blip on the horizon.

Perhaps he is just confusing ‘better’ with ‘successful’ and calculating that one trophy is definitely better than none (we cannot fault his maths), but in doing so he is failing to see past the end of his red nose.

“If Arsenal don’t win the league and Man Utd finish third and just the one trophy [the Carabao Cup] they have had a better season,” he said, making us immediately wonder whether he would have said the same thing if the two clubs’ fortunes had been reversed.

“If you’re a player, forget fans, and you finish third and win a trophy, Carabao Cup whatever it is and the team above you finish second and win no trophies, who is the happier player?

“There is nothing between second and fourth. First or nothing, that’s it. Finishing second over third with a trophy, you can’t be happier, you can’t.”

Maybe those are just the words of a footballer who has rarely been in the position of winning nothing (it happened only three times in his 14 seasons at Manchester United) and has absolutely never been in the position of unexpectedly challenging for a Premier League title.

It’s perhaps true that Manchester United players had one day in February better than any day that Arsenal players will enjoy this season if they eventually fall short of Manchester City, but if simply lifting a trophy and popping champagne is the measure of a ‘better season’ then congratulations Burnley, because their season trumps Aston Villa’s. Whoop-de-doo. It’s almost worth getting relegated.

Context is key here and when Ferdinand says that “there is nothing between second and fourth”, you want to point scientifically to points totals and rather less scientifically to vibes. The idea that, should Tottenham snatch fourth, their season has been equally as good as that of an Arsenal side likely to be 20-plus points ahead is utterly ludicrous.

But obviously Ferdinand does not mean that because Ferdinand is not talking about Tottenham but about Manchester United because this is what former Manchester United players are paid to do.

And it’s telling that Ferdinand’s views have shifted in less than 12 months. Last May he was saying that Jose Mourinho’s comments from 2019 had “aged so, so well” and he was keen to apologise to the former Manchester United manager, who had famously said: “If I tell you, for example, that I consider one of the best jobs of my career was to finish second with Man United in the Premier League, you will say, “this guy is crazy”.

“He won 25 titles and he is saying that a second position was one of his best achievements?”

And yet now, when it is Arsenal who are possibly finishing second, Rio Ferdinand believes it is absolutely nothing to crow about. Second is the first loser and all that. Even though 22/23 Arsenal produced a title challenge and Mourinho’s 17/18 United merely trailed far, far behind in the wake of a dominant Manchester City.

By any measure, Arsenal have had a season that has far surpassed their expectations. Yes, targets shift and the disappointment will obviously be huge if they fail to cross the line in first, but they could conceivably end this season with 92 points, having lost just one of their last 16 games, and still finish second.

Roy Keane’s absolutely objective verdict? “It would be a terrible season.”

Somebody tell him that the only time his Manchester United team managed to amass 92 points, they had four more games than this unexpectedly brilliant Arsenal side.

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