By Alex Netherton
Does Alex Ferguson know what he’s doing? It’s the question a lot of Manchester United fans ask themselves, and most seasons end with the answer, “I won the league, youse are all fucking idiots.”
For me, every year is the same. Until about October, interest is muted as I try to finally kick football out of my life. No more of Sam Matterface inanely joshing with Harry Redknapp. A bit less of the inevitable misery in my life. Bliss. When Sky Sports News goes 3D next year, what kind of life would that be for me? What kind of life, when Phil Thompson’s Red nose smashes up half my living room?
But then we play the team I hate more than myself, Liverpool, and the blood starts boiling and the hate comes back stronger than before. Winning, I get chucked out of the King’s Cross O’Neills for being incisively friendly to any opposing fans in the pub. Losing, I wake up in a morose booze haze in Cockfosters tube at four in the afternoon. As Silvio Dante never tired of saying, “Just when you think you’re out, they pull you back in.” And he’s a man who knows about passionate rage.
I’ve no idea what’s going to happen to Manchester United this season. Infuriatingly, Fergie’s put just enough hope in my heart to mean that my life is cursed for another year. Worse are the many reasons of bleak to be downcast from the first match onwards.
Fergie is jazz riffing on the links between fact and the bank balance. He brazenly claims that there’s ‘no value’ in the market. It’s a markedly ridiculous statement. Last season, he could just about get away with it. Everyone knew he received £80 million from selling Ronaldo, and that meant prices would have, more than usual, the added United Tax. Kaka had gone for £60 million, and Benzema half that. Ibrahimovic cost about £60 million – a situation more absurd than James Corden not being summarily executed this summer. But this year it really doesn’t ring true. He can’t argue about the definitions of value anymore. Ozil is available for a reasonable price, and plays in the one position United undeniably need to strengthen. Of course, he might not fancy United, he might (and I would empathise) despise England and have no desire to even consider moving to this rancid pig of an island. However, with the 25-man squads and the top heavy spread of quality players in England and Spain respectively, there are players to be bought, if one had the money United used to. The subtext of this? Manchester United are broke. The surtext of this? Manchester United are fucked.
Masochistically, I’ve still got the hope. Rooney, a nicotine hero, is not going to let us down for the majority of the season. Valencia had an excellent debut. Mad Paddy is possibly finer than Dennis Irwin – Cantona’s fondest receptacle. Moreover, there are three things to remember this season. One: Chelsea are more or less the same strength they were last season. Two: United lost the league by the smallest of margins. The squad was strong enough to beat most sides, however limited it was against the big teams, and sometimes that’s enough to win a league. Three: United were clearly not as potent as Chelsea – the best team won the league – and they scored far less often. However, Javier Hernandez looks assured in front of goal to a degree that excites fans – a rare quality. This might not be enough, but it does mean that I can’t kill the hope, as much as I might want to.
The other Ferguson signing could go either way. Chris Smalling seems a disaster in waiting, an ill judged gamble. Like Larry David saying The Bad Word in a game of poker, Ferguson is assuming far too much about a situation. Smalling has played just twenty games, and that’s not the type of player we’d buy four years ago. Even if we get lucky with him, this kind of punt is a clear sign of our decline.
Ferguson believes or has to hope, depending on how deep his pockets really are, that charisma champion Paul Scholes, Scouse folk hero Gary Neville and cyborg Ryan Giggs can keep going for another year. If they do, he might get away with it and win the league, and he might retire. More likely, he’ll try to build yet another great team and the anxiety restarts. If they don’t, he’ll keep going, driving himself into the ground until there’s just one more league trophy. Each year that he misses out from now, it gets harder. So does he actually know what he’s doing?