I belong to a much maligned group. One who it’s deemed perfectly socially acceptable to label as muppets, scumbags and fair-weather friends. I’m a Manchester United supporter. It doesn’t matter that I’ve been that way for many years now. Even before they won their first title in 26 years in the ’92-’93 season, assisted by a young Ryan Giggs and a captivating Eric Cantona, there was something about the mystique of the club that attracted me. It may have been Whiteside’s FA Cup goal a few years before but it was Mark Robbins who sealed the deal with his dramatic goal against in the Nott’s Forest in the 1990 FA Cup. The drama of the occasion and the redemption of the manager from failure to huge and perhaps unrepeatable success is the stuff small boy’s dreams are made of. A bit like Liverpool, Utd is more of a religion than a club. It’s impossible for anyone who has ever kicked a ball around with friends to be neutral on the love/hate subject of MUFC.
Over the years, I’ve watched many games, been lucky enough to attend 2 and generally felt sadness whenever they lost a big game and elation when they won. The weaknesses of different teams were apparent, the brilliance of individuals but the need to get the balance right. Like a complicated equation that can only find solution when the right player is in the right place at the right time against the right team. Ferguson is anathema to some. Tough, calculating, sometimes brutal but ever present. I can see why he’s both loved and hated, sometimes by the same people. His treatment of Keane annoyed me but Keane’s another brutally uncompromising character so it’s easy to believe they were “well met”.
The Rooney episode is something different however. Rooney is portrayed in the media as an idiot and mocked for his appearance but much of that could be written off as typical journalistic bitching. How many journos with their carefully prepared and styled photos beside their warblings would be able to stand the scrutiny and schoolyard bile directed at Rooney? Sure he’s a very easy target. It’s certain that he’s reckless in his personal life but has, mostly, shown a great determination and desire to win for Manchester United. When he threatened to leave the club and had a public spat with Ferguson it wasn’t much a surprise that the press sided with the manager rather than a player who has graced the wrong pages of the tabloids too many times since he signed for the club.
Now it’s revealed that he’s signed a new deal but insisted that the owners make a firm commitment to buy new players. As a fan of the club, I believe this to be largely positive. Utd has struggled for the past few seasons as the impact of the debt foisted on the club by American owners who acquired the club in a leveraged take over secured against future earnings. It was a risky strategy before the financial crisis and looks perilous given their other major holdings are in American real estate. There are many Utd supporters who wish they’d leave, selling the club to an owner who can afford it, or at least who can wipe the debt slate clean. This year, the fans saw the balance of the transfer money (much still unreceived) from the Cristiano Ronaldo transfer wiped out by charges relating to the refinancing of the club’s debt and expected interest payments. Only a very naive supporter wouldn’t see a correlation between that sale and the need to refinance.
It’s not that we need to win all the time. It’s the ephemeral nature of footballing success. A few bad financial decisions and mis-timed transfers, injuries etc and a club can go from premiership contenders to relegation. I’m genuinely happy for Liverpool FC that they’ve managed to get rid of the previous owners who appeared unable and unwilling to continue to financially support the club.
What’s been disappointing is the media commentary condemning Rooney as arrogant, not because of his salary demands but for having the temerity to question the club’s transfer policy and the need for assurances that they’ll invest heavily this summer. Lou Macari may think he has a “cheek”. Mark the Mouth Lawrenson may ask “who does he think he is?” but they’re missing the point. Actually “Lawro’s” article is particularly stupid as he misses the major point that some of the Utd players Rooney says needs to be replaced have publicly said they’ll be retiring soon. I often wonder if they’re kept going by the knowledge the club still hasn’t bought replacements. Perhaps Lawrenson would be better off comparing Utd to another great English club that he’s intimiately familiar with who suffered for years when they failed to replace key players in the twilight of their careers. When Liverpudlian football fans beheld their deservedly legendary team of the early 80s, they could scarcely have understood that it would be many years before they graced a European final again.
By “holding the club to ransom”, as many commentators have described it, Rooney has done what many fans have wanted to do since the Glazer’s bought the club. Told them to commit resources to rebuilding the team or sell to someone who will. In this, the means justify the end.