It’s been a long time coming and the ABU (Anybody But United) brigade is loving every minute of it.
There has always been a level of wishful thinking among rival supporters that Manchester United was going to go into decline over the years – when Eric Cantona unexpectedly quit football, when Peter Schmeichel retired, when Alex Ferguson announced his intention to retire in 2001, when Cristiano Ronaldo went to Real Madrid, when Ferguson decided to not replace his central midfield with world class talent and on and on. Each time, however, the ABUs were thwarted as Ferguson imposed his will on the club and spurred the team on to greater heights.
Alex Ferguson retired on a winning note at the end of the 2012/13 season and Manchester United announced his successor as fellow Scotsman David Moyes. Since assuming the hot seat, Moyes and his Manchester United have enjoyed what can only be described as an underwhelming start to the 2013/14 season. And this is where the ABU brigade is really enjoying themselves – the David Moyes memes are an ongoing source of mirth and amusement on social media after every Manchester United game.
A lot of the blame for the poor season has been laid at the door of Moyes, with some of his players allegedly questioning his credentials for the job and others saying Moyes has stage fright due to the lingering shadow cast by Alex Ferguson at United’s games. Football supporters and media alike need to have a narrative to explain winning and losing – there must be a simple explanation why the two events happen. The blame game is central to this theme – if the team wins then it was a “managerial masterstroke” or “a moment of magic by Player X”. If the team loses then the “manager got it wrong” or “the referee made an appalling decision”.
Manchester United, under Alex Ferguson, have made a habit of winning trophies season after season – the club has been a juggernaut of success for so many years, and naturally this infuriated and irritated supporters of many other clubs. There is a generation of Manchester United fans that have only known the “disappointment” of finishing in 3rd place three times (2001-02, 2003-04 and 2004-05) since the 1991-92 season. In every other season the club has finished in either first or second place in the league.
However, Ferguson himself must shoulder some of the blame for United’s poor showing this season. Although renowned for his man management and tactical ability, the squad of players he left behind for David Moyes is at best mediocre and is definitely part of the reason for the struggles thus far. Deprived of an injured Robin van Persie for most of the season has illustrated the importance of the Dutchman to the starting lineup. One of the reasons for United’s title last season was the impressive goal scoring of van Persie who popped up with crucial goals time and again. Wayne Rooney has shouldered a great deal of responsibility in his absence, but he is only one man and the supporting cast of Danny Wellbeck and Javier Hernandez has not delivered on a consistent basis. Manchester United have also historically relied on goals from the rest of their squad to maintain momentum, but the team goals have dried up of late and the strikers are carrying the majority of the burden.
Another key issue for Manchester United has been the absence of leaders on the pitch. One of Ferguson’s greatest strengths is that he managed to combine the experience and leadership of the older players with the youth and exuberance of the emerging talent. The likes of Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, Ryan Giggs and Wayne Rooney have all worn the captain’s armband at one stage or another and the team has an abundance of natural leaders. What has been apparent this season is that United’s leaders seem to have gone missing – they are the ones who should be leading by example, shouting, pointing and lifting the team up when the team is in a crisis. Instead, these players seem to be doing their best impression of a balloon with all its air let out.
Commentators love a crisis in football. Leo Messi doesn’t score for a couple of games – CRISIS! Barcelona lose two matches – CRISIS! Aaron Ramsey is injured – CRISIS! Are Manchester United a club in crisis? One thing is for certain – these rival supporters don’t give two hoots either way and the ABU brigade will enjoy this period and milk it for all it is worth.