Manchester United and Ralf Rangnick are in the centre of a media storm in the aftermath of their lacklustre performance against Wolves on Monday evening. Murmurs of discontent within the squad started emerging in the days following the defeat, sending an already emotionally charged fanbase into delirium. One report from a leading British tabloid suggested that the players “are a disparate, divided bunch split into cliques.” Another reputed correspondent chimed in, claiming that the players were “‘sick to death’ of the dwindling standards at the club”. Others suggested certain players at United were finding it difficult to adjust to Ralf Rangnick’s intense new training methods. Journalists considered to be the mouthpieces of the club didn’t mince their words either.
The reports came one after the other, each more incriminating than the one before (If you believed them completely from the get-go). Make no mistake, the performance ought to be scrutinised, but the sensationalist coverage around the club this week bordered on melodrama. Yes, it’s not been one of the most aesthetically pleasing starts to life under Rangnick, yes certain individual performances have been well below par, but why did it feel like all hell broke loose for United this past week? For context, the last time United lost, Ole lost his job in the final week of November. You’d think the vultures would give it at least a couple of months before scavenging for tidbits that they could use to malign the squad and question the authority of the leadership group. A few news aggregator sites did their bit in taking certain quotes out of context and fueling the fire on social media, but hey that’s a discussion for another day. Fundamentally speaking, there is a far wider issue at play here; a few of the big wigs covering the club in the media have learnt to tap into some of the most toxic sections of the fanbase. You’ll see them mock United’s social media team for displaying the club’s massive digital footprint while at the same time doing their best to take advantage of United’s massive fanbase in order to draw eyeballs to their respective channels without a shadow of journalistic integrity.
So it didn’t particularly come as a surprise to many when Ralf Rangnick decided to bring some sanity to the discourse erroneously peddled in the media. In Saturday’s press conference he was very candid and claimed that the team had been working towards recreating his instructions and philosophies into in-game scenarios, while also highlighting the slow but steady improvement in the club’s defensive record under his management. Rangnick went on to acknowledge the need to find the right balance between offense and defense.
When pushed further about how unsettled the squad was regardless of the coach at the helm, he offered a logical explanation, elucidating how it is only normal for discontent to brew in clubs with big squads. His body language suggested there wasn’t much to be alarmed about.
“Well this is not an issue only with Manchester United, when you have a big squad and we have a big squad and in the last two games we had most of the players available, yes we had an issue with three centre-backs missing out against Wolves, but in general we had most of the players available, apart from Paul Pogba, and if you have that many players and only ten field players can play and three being substituted, then, of course, you have quite a number of players..in our case 13-14 players who don’t even play or not even being in the squad and that those players aren’t happy about that situation is obvious. It is an issue in our team and as well as other clubs.”
Here was a man tackling each question from a logical point of view, giving a masterclass in rubbishing unverified information. The manager kept his composure and in a polite tone, proceeded to explain the importance of players dealing with their contract situations in a professional manner and so far he had observed nothing to suggest otherwise.
“We have players with contracts expiring in the summer. We also have one or two more people who want to leave and are under contract. We maybe have one or two players who want to leave. It’s about the players to deal with that situation in a professional way. I mean everybody has the chance to show up in training, showing up, getting a chance and if this is not the case, the player, club, and agents need to discuss the situation. I cannot say to anyone else. I will address that to the players directly. As far as I can tell so far, the players have been dealing with this professionally”
Not all doom and gloom if you ask me. In hindsight, it would be safe to assume that certain members of the United squad were emboldened by the manager’s comments in the press conference for it didn’t take very long after Rangnick’s interview for Fred to come out and specifically address the press for posting “several fake news” involving him and his teammates.
Marcus Rashford was the next player to weigh in. The Englishman wasn’t best pleased about the recent reports questioning the United’s commitment to Ralf Rangnick and his coaching staff. The post-match coverage crossed a line this time and the fact that players were compelled to come out and deny some of those reports makes it all the more concerning. United fans are used to negative reportage of their club, but currently, this issue has been accentuated by the tribalistic nature of discourse on social media (Just have a look at some of the abuse Rashford received on his post yesterday).
It wouldn’t be an overstatement to suggest certain reporters and correspondents probably lick their lips before beginning an article bashing United knowing full well the average United Joe’s propensity to eat controversy up. Let’s hope the journalists who have the power to shape narratives and influence millions of fans have more perspective going ahead. The club has managed to get 10 points out of the 15 available under the new manager and the process to take United out of the current slump is not going to materialise overnight. It shouldn’t come as a shock if and when United drop points again. Ralf Rangnick’s task at United at the moment involves steadying the ship and setting the foundations for the next manager to come in. Would it be too much to ask for some decency and nuance in the discourse perpetuated by the English media? We’ll have to wait and see.
Written by Anubhav Sarker | Feature Image by OLI SCARFF/AFP via Getty Images |
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