By Anaamaya Mishra
Back in the noughties, Manchester United kicked off the millennium in grand fashion, on the back of an unprecedented English treble with a young and talented squad; a well-oiled machine built to demolish anything and everything that stood in their way. They carried this brilliant run all the way till the mid-2010s. During this glorious period, the odds were never against them; after all, who would bet against the perennial champions and serial winners? The group of players always delivered, winning everything they possibly could; all was well with the squad filled up to the brim with legends, leaders and a sprinkle of generational talents.
This surefire recipe for success was, of course, built on the back of the labour of a strict disciplinarian. In Sir Alex Ferguson, they trusted and did he deliver. The fans so accustomed to success never wavered, never complained about the many falling outs that he had with his players, with how he demanded the perfect blend of breathtaking football, even if it came at the expense of a few casualties. Many big egos came and went, some stayed, but United fans loved them nonetheless. Back then, it was the golden generation that thrived in England, English talents were revered all around the country, quite possibly the greatest footballing generation the country had ever seen.
The disaster of losing to Portugal in the 2006 World Cup foreshadowed the resentment and the hatred which would fester among the English masses for the foreseeable future. On the precipice of the disaster that is social media – a dagger in the hearts of those who once were thought would and could do no wrong. The gift of freedom and mobility of one’s thoughts and opinions to travel around the world seemed hardly like an avenue for enmity and toxicity, but unfortunately, it has resulted in exactly that.
United’s spectacular fall from grace reminded of how unforgiving the footballing world really is. When they delivered the trophies, everything was rosy and now, when they fail to perform, the players are easily termed as a disgrace to the club.
Much has been said about Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba’s Instagram antics and social media activities in recent seasons. Fans are the first to point out how these players ‘should focus on football’ rather than take the mickey out of the legendary club they represent. But is this incessant blame game justified?
There has never been a lack of personalities in the Old Trafford dugout, be it from the ‘hard, good old-fashioned’ Roy Keane to displays of Cantona’s eccentric behaviour. England’s greatest and Manchester United legend, George Best was adored back in the day for his playboy and superstar-like antics. Isn’t that the equivalent if not less than what this current crop of the new generation is doing?
Having an Instagram account is the norm, in the day and age of heavily PR influenced content, should the actions of fun-loving and bubbly personalities such as Jesse Lingard and Paul Pogba really grind our gears? Do their antics really warrant the heavy criticisms? And should we really allow ourselves to get unnerved from a minute-long story, so much so that it takes a toll on players’ mental health?
To say that the trio of United superstars, namely Lingard, Pogba and Rashford are the first of their kind, the harbingers of nuisance and instability to the squad is a massively hypocritical statement.
David Beckham easily takes the cake for being one of the most popular personalities of the game with half an eye fixed on unprecedented global fame for a footballer. Paul Ince’s antics eventually drove him out of Sir Alex’s favour, resulting in a transfer to Inter Milan and then to Liverpool. Ryan Giggs’ infamous dubious morals are a constant topic of discussion and the list goes on.
The notion that Sir Alex would set them straight is a moot point. Many managers have followed him, carrying a reputation for the hairdryer treatment. Louis van Gaal and José Mourinho have built their reputation on their stern approach, winning countless titles while doing so.
“Everything that happens is judged by the era of Ferguson. They are saying if Ferguson was here, this would not happen, Ferguson would not do it like that. Ferguson would do it like this. Everything was Ferguson.”
“If it was me, I would say I don’t have Ferguson anymore. And I come here and I want to make my own history, I want to make my own story. So I do not want to hear what happened before. I want to do it in the present. You come in with a new mentality. Ferguson has his place in history at this club but now the club continues. It has to find its own identity and it is difficult.” – Zlatan Ibrahimovic
It is a valid point to bring up how United fared in the times of Beckham and Giggs, as opposed to the calamitous half-decade that they have endured with Lingard and Pogba in the side. But are they responsible for the club’s downfall since the departure of Alex Ferguson? Is it their performances which have led United to be the club that they are now, and not the board’s inability to reason out and execute things with a non-revenue-centric mindset?
The fact remains that players like Pogba and Lingard add to the very little cohesion within the squad. Every side could use someone like these players, whether they remain role-models is arguable, but their contributions to the squad cannot be underestimated. In an era where anything and everything is documented, it does not take long for a player to be chastised in the media. These criticisms are then perpetuated by various outlets and spread like wildfire, easily damaging the players’ reputations, creating the perfect mould for a scapegoat in the process.
There have been innumerable instances where United’s number 6 has been singled out by the fans. It seems to be that no matter what Paul Pogba does, he will always flatter to deceive the doubters. To them, he will always be a dabbing show pony, incapable of ever living up to his lofty price tag
31 goals and 29 assists later, the midfielder is still well-known for his haircuts and all the pomp and circumstances that come with being the most popular footballer in the country, rather than his world-class abilities and talent which place him in the very elite section of the footballing spectrum. It is quite obvious that these tags did not appear out of thin air, but through the years of the belligerent layering of abuses and belittlement of the British record signing.
Three managers and £716.1 million later, the club has to progress in order to compete against their two biggest and bitter rivals, City and Liverpool. The problems are not limited to the confines of the Old Trafford pitch, but more so in the upper echelons at the club. This unsettlement among the fans has caused quite an uproar, they are fully aware of the causes of the club’s hindrance to compete at the top-level, but there is not much they can do about it.
What they can do though, is displace and vent their frustrations on select-few personalities. It is a theory, not a fact that many take away from United’s freefall from respected champions to Europa League fodder over the years.
A proud part of the club’s history is that they have always had an amalgam of rich and vibrant characters in the dressing room, and it is not one that they should be willing to part with. The only difference between the aforementioned treble-winning United and the United of today is not the personalities, but their metric for success.
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