Johnny Nic saw reality dawn on Erik ten Hag on Sunday. He can’t rescue Manchester United. No one can while the leeches remain in charge at Old Trafford…
You had to feel for Erik ten Hag in his post-game interview on Sunday. He’d strode out onto the Old Trafford pitch chest out, shoulders back, cutting an impressive and determined figure as he accepted the applause from fans. This was a man ready to get to work. A new man. A new era.
But when the final whistle blew, he looked physically altered by the experience of watching the full horror that is Manchester United. He looked smaller, more hunched and deflated. His eyes wore an expression that was part fear and part shock. How has mediocrity become endemic? And what the hell was he supposed to do about it? ”It takes time, but we don’t have time,” he said, perfectly expressing the Old Trafford Catch 22: a problematic situation for which the only solution is denied by a circumstance inherent in the problem.
All great managers clearly back themselves to do any job. All of United’s managers in the last 10 years have, all of them have been wrong. It looked as though ten Hag realised in that moment he had been wrong too.
This club is a beast that is too big to be changed, but nor can it be slaughtered. It is a zombie, dead by some definitions, certainly all soul hollowed out like a massive baked potato, leaving only a shell. A giant football cash machine brilliant at dispensing money to the owners and seemingly limitless executives, but utterly dysfunctional in all other respects.
As the club hierarchy looked on, all in their suits and club ties, they looked considerably less concerned at the skip fire that was on the pitch than ten Hag. Why would they care as long as the cash machine keeps paying out? And even if they did care, there is precious little evidence that any of them have a clue what to do about the walking dead that United have become.
However, while we should lay much of the blame for this dysfunctional monster at the club’s owners and directors, they were not the ones who had inexplicably asked Christian Eriksen to play as a false nine. It made no sense, not just because it isn’t a position he’s familiar with, but more because we all know where Eriksen does his best work and it isn’t as a false nine. And as soon as he was pushed further back in the second half, things improved marginally.
And just like last year, the manager turned to that ageing recividest CR7 to bail the team out, surely aware that it was another example of desperation. As it turned out, CR7 was peripheral, an irrelevant old lag.
What must it be like to be a great player, like Jadon Sancho, who has proved his worth in Germany only to walk through the Old Trafford love
removal machine and come out as half the player. New signing Lisandro Martínez came with the intimidating nickname the ‘Butcher’ but was laughably incapable of butchering anything as Danny Welbeck literally ran over him. United had instantly turned the butcher into a vegan.
And then there’s poor Marcus Rashford doing his best Dele Alli impersonation as a once great star whose talent has evaporated, never to be seen again. Somehow, they have ruined him. United ruins players. This is what they do. They take gifted players and turn them into lesser men.
This is a peculiar phenomenon, unique to Manchester United who remain a top six club by virtue of breathtaking spending, but with a squad that are all fur coats and no knickers. A veneer of glamour with nothing underneath.
United are corporate football in excelsis. The football doesn’t matter really, its primary function is to generate money, what happens on the pitch is a distant second to that, especially if fans all over the world keep supporting the club. The owners abuse the loyalty of fans, indeed, it is easy to imagine them privately laughing at them for being such mugs as to stick with them even as they drain money out of them and the club. They will think them all idiots to keep paying through the nose for a bag of chips dressed up as Michelin Star cuisine.
The whole thing is a deception, an elaborate ruse to trade off United’s history while ruining their future. This is how it works. They spend big on players to look like a big club and to keep eyes on them. They pull in huge amounts of money from all kinds of ‘partners’ and spend it on huge wages and pay those huge fees and that makes them look important. Players come for the big wages and stay for them. But there’s no rhyme or reason to these purchases and no strategy to make sense of them, so the team malfunctions. But that doesn’t matter. Only the image of United being a big spending club, a big force, matters. That pulls in so much revenue that the Glazers can skim off plenty for themselves.
It is all one big con. They have set up a machine to enrich themselves and nothing else matters. Everything that appears to be part of funding and running of a modern football club, that’s all part of the illusion, all part of the trick. All of this only exists for the Glazers financial benefit. They have no interest in the club apart from funding it sufficiently to maintain its money-making status. When that stops, they’ll sell up, leaving a husk of a club behind, but there’s no sign of that yet because of football’s insane economics. And they know that a hapless United is good for TV business as viewers flock to see the giant brought low. Being rubbish is great for content. Indeed, they’ve worked out that fans will still keep paying for tickets and watching on television in order to be able to keep on moaning and complaining. It’s brilliant, they’ve monetised failure. Indeed, it is quite possible that they have a spreadsheet which proves failure is better for business than success.
It is like United are an experiment. How long can you keep creaming off money from a club before the very people you rely on for the money you are going to cream off, rise up and drag you and your minions out of the place by your feet.
Obviously, they have learned that this will never ever happen because of the nature of fandom. Fans will never stay away, never stop supporting them. So how terrible the team is remains irrelevant to the Glazers.
The toxicity from the ownership and the board has stained everything, leaked over the whole place, into the dressing room and onto the pitch. It pours diesel into the petrol engine, making the whole machine cough and splutter and malfunction. But do they care? No. Why should they? They keep hitting that cash machine for another pay out and if times get tough, they can leverage money against the club’s valuation. The goose is still stuffed full of golden eggs.
They have turned United into the living dead and I think Ten Hag suddenly realised he was just another schmuck turning coin for the bosses as the giant con continues.