Posts Tagged With: Manchester United

David Moyes and Manchester United’s Era of Uncertainty

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by Mike Njoroge

The departing master left one final instruction. As Sir Alex Ferguson held the microphone and addressed the Manchester United community in his last game at Old Trafford, he gave them one final command. The words that echoed provided a truism to his retirement. He commanded that now, everyone had to stand by the next United manager.

Of course by then, he had already known that David Moyes would be that man. Ferguson had already rang up the former Everton manager, invited him to his house and told him what his immediate future was. Further confirmation would prove it. That, alongside Jose Mourinho to Chelsea, Carlo Ancelotti to Real Madrid and Gareth Bale’s world record transfer would compete for 2013’s version of football’s worst kept secret.

As such, the chosen apprentice now finds himself in the shadow of the irreplaceable master. For a long time, the thought of Ferguson departing Manchester United had seemed false. A whole generation has grown up knowing nothing other. His influence reached mythological proportions that seemed to create a false sense of eternity. He is most definitely gone now.

And nothing proves this more than the surreal uncertainty that his absence now provides. The Manchester United community finds itself in a state of never before experienced dubiety. Ferguson had enough triumphs behind him to mask any blips. He continued to provide triumphs that justified his supposed mistakes. Trophies were won because of him. Challenges were overcome in spite of him. Despite anything, Ferguson occasioned the wins.

Ferguson’s imperialistic manner means Moyes has a near impossible act to follow. As Mourinho once said, Ferguson’s whisper makes the whole Premier League shiver in fear. Such a statement now quantifies a past that has now ended. A new era has begun.

Robert Greene’s 41st Law of the 48 Laws of Power speaks of the avoidance of stepping into a great man’s shoes. If such is the case, then Moyes finds himself in the shoes of more than just a man, but an icon who was massively influential. But Moyes would hypothetically counter Greene’s advice with a question of his own – what was he meant to do when an opportunity of such grand stature as managing United presented itself?

Indeed, Moyes never ticked all the boxes, but he ticked enough that Ferguson himself was willing to recommend him as his successor. A recommendation that was very well a decisive stamp of approval. In turn, it provides Moyes with further quest for ambition. An ambition to grow his managerial career and make a name of it.

That means that he must now further follow Greene’s advice. If one finds himself following a great man, they must not get lost in that shadow or remain stuck in that glorious past. One must establish their own name and build up their own identity. The best way of doing this is slaying the overbearing father, disparaging his legacy and shining on your own.

If this is the case, then a horrible transfer period has done little to work towards that. Missing out on targets with the public nature not usually accustomed to has put a glaring dent into Moyes’s already difficult start. As such, it has also put a dent to the reputation and aura of a post-Ferguson Manchester United.

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All the misgivings are of course not of Moyes’s sole doing but in a football world where constantly the buck stops with the manager, they will be held as such. An indifferent start to the Premier League season also points to this further perceived ineptness.

Because a win against Swansea City, a draw with Chelsea and a loss to Liverpool point to only four points being registered. As such, the underlying question has been – ‘if it were Ferguson…’ Yet, it was Ferguson whom in those same games last season oversaw a loss to Chelsea at Old Trafford, a draw to Swansea at the Liberty Stadium and a win against Liverpool at Anfield. The same four points from the same four games mirrors itself. But even though the contexts of those seasons are entirely different, the difference will relate as much with the times as they will with who was the manager at those different times.

That shows that the overbearing absolute faith placed in Ferguson has been lost with his departure. In place, a shaking incertitude has replaced it. As such, questions are bound to always arise as the impossible attempt at comparing the two manager’s reigns inevitably continues. Ferguson’s incomparable shadow will — unless Moyes steadies the ship very quickly and delivers a trophy; and until he finally departs – forever linger above the new man’s head.

For whereas Ferguson’s presence provided guarantees and sureties – his absence opens doors of uncertainty. It is this, more than anything else that Moyes will have to battle against most.

Mike Njoroge writes FutbolTriangle

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So long, Godfather

Godfather

Yesterday, the greatest chapter yet in the best story of my life came to an end. The legendary Sir. Alex Ferguson walked into a football tunnel never to come out again as the manager of Manchester United United Football Club. His was a chapter in the United story that is unlikely to be matched in longevity and success and he’s been rightly lauded to the high heavens over the past fortnight for his achievements.

My tribute to the old man who gave us most of our lives’ best moments won’t focus on his incredible achievements but rather how he managed the club so successfully. In many ways, Sir Alex managed United with the ruthless efficiency a Don would run a mafia organization. (If we put aside our prejudices, we’ll realize that accomplished mobsters are just like leaders in any other industry in life, be it business or sports).

In particular, the story of Sir Alex shared many similarities with the greatest mafia story ever told and its central character, Don Vito Corleone, better known by his reverential moniker ‘The Godfather’. For starters, both men demanded unquestionable loyalty. Considering the many competitors seeking to usurp their ‘organizations’ at the top of their respective games, both leaders considered loyalty a must if they were to maintain their status at the summit.

Sir Alex and The Godfather also shared the same cruelty to adversaries, real or perceived. The media, the F.A, opposing managers, referees and even our own players and fans have faced the wrath of the boss throughout his tenure if he felt they were out to undermine his team. This compares with how the Don would go after enemies and foes who posed a threat including his own lieutenants and capos.

At the same time, both men are also famed for their kindness and generosity, going out of their way to ensure they are there for those who need them. The Godfather by Mario Puzo starts off with incidences where people come to Don Corleone to seek favors of all kinds. The Don didn’t discriminate, helping anyone who came to him regardless of social standing. This kind streak was also exhibited by the Don of the football world Sir Alex Ferguson, helping managers across the different leagues in football and offering his support during difficult moments. He’s written hundreds of letters of support and gratitude to United fans over the years while also attending weddings, funerals and other social events of importance in the lives of United fans. Don Corleone in much the same way attended as many funerals, weddings and baptisms as he could. Such gestures of friendship and loyalty gave a human touch to these larger than life characters and endeared them more to those who loved them.

The outreach that so characterized these two men contrasted sharply with their code of silence that was vigorously enforced during their respective tenures. The mafia is famed for its code of silence, Omerta, that forbids leaking of information to outsiders. Omerta is so central a pillar in the mob that those who break it pay the ultimate price for their betrayal. At United, there is an unwritten rule that club business should strictly remain as such with no info leaked out at any cost. In my fifteen years of supporting United, never have I seen newspaper articles or exclusives generated on the back of dressing room snitches or moles as happens with other clubs. In the one instance where Jaap Stam alluded to Fergie tapping him up when he was at PSV, the boss got rid in no time despite Stam being one of our best players at the time. With many people seeking to chip away at their position at the top of the game, the two leaders ensured they didn’t give them any extra ammo to help bring them down.

Family meant everything to both men and they did everything they could to protect them. Sir Alex infamously boycotted the BBC for eight years due to a 2004 documentary that portrayed his son in bad light. He also treated his players like family and was viciously protective of them. The media got a mouthful when they constantly questioned Veron’s worth to the team. “On you go. I’m no fucking talking to you. He’s a fucking great player. You are all fucking idiots,” said Sir Alex to the media gathered that day.

The characters in ‘The Godfather’ also share a resemblance with characters in Fergie’s United story. Sir Alex being the Don has got his own consiglieri, Ryan Giggs. Like the adopted son Tom Hagen, Giggs has been by Fergie’s side for the better part of his reign. Giggs has grown into a wise and respected figure within the team and was increasingly consulted by the boss on team affairs. It is telling that the new manager met Sir Alex and Giggs together last week presumably to plan for the future. Giggs will be central in the new regime, maintaining the culture and traditions of the club and ensuring the winning mentality is sustained.

David Moyes plays the role of Michael Corleone, the unfancied heir who most resembles the master in character and ends up taking over from him eventually. Moyes, like Michael takes over from the boss ahead of more fancied and flamboyant if abrasive characters. Many expected Mourinho to take over at United much like Sonny was expected to take over from the Don but their abrasive, combative nature proved their undoing and both men suffered as a result. The deceptively ruthless, obsessive Moyes assumes the leadership post and is likely to maintain the traditions and culture of prioritizing youth and attacking football that is ingrained in the club’s DNA.

Both Ferguson and the Don were visionary men who planned for life long after they are gone. The need to maintain their legacy and success saw both men planning for the next phase. Fergie built a youthful team that has its best days ahead and scouted for the best successor in his mould to sustain his empire. The Don, sensing turmoil in New York, built up his enterprise in Las Vegas as he planned for withdrawal. He also had a successor in his mould installed and when the time was right, the New York empire was abandoned with vanquished opponents in its wake and the empire shifted to Vegas with its new head.

In the end, both the stories of Sir Alex and Don Corleone are legendary narratives in their own rights. Where Fergie trumps his counterpart is that his is a real story of epic achievements while ‘The Godfather’ is a fictional account of a successful mob boss. Considering how surreal Sir Alex’s achievements at United are, his story could as well be fictional given how incredible it has been. The story will be barely believable to those who weren’t lucky enough to witness it unfold.

The great Scot has also done it for a longer time and has maintained his empire’s position at the top for the better part of three decades. And that is not the end of it. The stability, mentality and aura that Fergie has instilled at the club will long outlast him ensuring that the great story goes on.

Manchester United is an endless book that forever keeps giving. It has given us many tales of the master doing his thing, inducing the full spectrum of human emotions from frequent joy, madness, hysteria, nostalgia and the odd incidences of sadness and bile. And there is more yet to come. No sooner had Fergie time come to an end than we started anticipating the David Moyes chapter. We are already speculating on its main characters, the plot twists that lie ahead and the inevitable success. Will Rooney stay? Will we re-sign Ronaldo? Bale? How many trophies will we win over the next few years?

Sir Alex, the strong, brave and principled character stood tall against adversaries and challenges, defying critics and succeeding in a way that no one has or likely will in football history. In short, he is the kind of man we all wish to be in whatever industry we are in.

So for all the memories, joy, inspiration and the wonderful story that we’ll all tell our kids and grandkids, we thank you Sir Alex. Here’s us collectively kissing your pinky ring and wishing you the best in your retirement. So long, Godfather.

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Thank You RVP!

By Mike Njoroge

RVP SAF

Tensions relieved, emotions outpouring and overflowing. Those could be the words used to describe the image of Robin Van Persie racing down the touchline to jump into the arms of Sir Alex Ferguson.

Rarely do grown men jump into the arms of old men. But such is the nature of sport, such is the emotional connection that Van Persie could not contain himself. Like a little boy jumping into the arms of his father. Then again, didn’t Van Persie’s Manchester United career begin with that little boy inside him?

Against Stoke City, Van Persie had been brought down in the penalty area and as the penalty was signalled, here was the chance. The goal drought was now ready to be shattered. 10 games in the Premier League.  13 overall. For last season’s top scorer, it was not making for a pretty narrative.

Not only for the Dutchman alone. His teammates had come to rely on his goals. Now, the goal drought had taken something away from their title push. Their juggernaut like momentum had been reduced to that of a crawling marathoner. Inching ever closer to the finish line but without the same conviction that had led to the bursting out of the traps at the start.

But, Van Persie stepped up, and tucked it away. Then came the most compelling image. A statement in itself. ‘Where was he running to?’ turned into ‘who was he running to?’ What he did next summarised everything.

Sir Alex may not be the ultimate father figure that Van Persie has ever had. There have been the academy coaches at Feyernoord and Arsenal. Then, Arsene Wenger turned him into this goal scoring machine that he is. For two seasons at Arsenal, he was unplayable. Unstoppable. Any shot in the general direction of the goal and it was a goal. Everything he touched turned to gold.

Yet, he has not touched gold yet in the form of a Premier League medal. Indeed, his majority goals, had not won anything major.

Last season, outside of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Van Persie was probably the best forward in the world, if not, the best footballer. Yet, when the FIFPro World XI was mentioned at the FIFA Ballon D’Or Gala, Radamel ‘Falcao’ Garcia took his place alongside the superhumans in a quite vicious and fictional front line. Why? Because Falcao won the Europa League.  Falcao’s goals won Atletico Madrid the Europa League.

Van Persie won nothing. Van Persie’s goals won him nothing but the Premier League’s Golden Boot.

For all the individual greediness that footballers tend to be associated with, it is the joy of winning a trophy with a team that brings the most satisfaction.

That was what Van Persie was alluding to when he stated that he was leaving Arsenal because the club did not match his ambitions. Some will disagree; some will call it a betrayal of a club that had taken care of him in his injury prone days. A betrayal of a manager that was patient enough with him.

But, nobody considers whether that same club and manager betrayed him by not giving him the assurance that a trophy would be won.

That was the assurance that Ferguson sought to give the flying Dutchman in the summer as he made him his major season signing.

On the flip side, nobody considers it in this way. How a manager took a huge chance on a 29 year old with a reputation of incurring injuries. That this manager made a final big move possible for an ageing striker.  That he bought him without the warranty of time, but hoped that he would guarantee goals.

And how in his quest to reclaim the Premier League trophy, that same manager made him his team’s star man. Definitely, first choice. Evidently, irreplaceable. Even the once untouchable Wayne Rooney had to play second fiddle. Even the promising Danny Welbeck and Javier Hernandez had to understand. Dimitar Berbatov had to leave. All because all the eggs were placed in the Van Persie basket.

And even now, in his drought, Sir Alex had still kept faith in him. “Robin Van Persie was fantastic” he had said after the Manchester Derby loss. You really found it hard to understand how.

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But as Van Persie scored the penalty at the Brittania, all the relief of the few weeks were swept away with the perspiration. The run was fuelled by inspiration. The need to thank the man who was making it all possible for him.

Thank you!

That must have, and surely was the reason for all that. Thank you for believing in me.

Undeniably, those must have been the words that Van Persie uttered to his manager as he hugged him. Thank you for making a Premier League trophy possible. Yet, those could also be the same words Sir Alex will utter to his Dutch striker once the Premier League trophy is won.

As they inch ever closer, Van Persie reminded everyone that it is goals like these that will hand the Red Devils a 20th League title. And in thanking Sir Alex, he reminded everyone just who has ensured that they are competing for a 20th Premier League title in the first place.

And why they will achieve it.

Mike Njoroge is the Writer of Football Triangle

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Schadenfreude

Cry baby JT is gonna retire without the Champions league. Aaaah....bliss.

One of the most intriguing aspects of being a football fan is the joy you get from seeing a rival going through a rough patch. The kind of sadistic joy that Germans coined a word for; schadenfreude. Such emotions are usually triggered by the fear, real or imagined, that said rival will deny success to your team in a winner takes all sport. That, plus the repulsive persona of the poster boys of these teams serves as fuel for the burning hatred.

Over the last fifteen years of supporting Manchester United, it has become second nature to hate whatever team challenges us for top honors. And Liverpool. Apart from a few occasions, it has largely been a period filled with much joy out of seeing the enemy fail.

With two of my most hated rivals in the doldrums, now would be as good a time as any to indulge in some schadenfreuede.

Steven Gerrard is a player I hate with as much passion as Liverpool fans adore him. He is a physical embodiment of Liverpool FC, a dinosaur trying to stay relevant by virtue of success in a long gone era. You see Gerrard is no spring chicken, cruising towards his 32nd birthday with a big monkey on his back pointing and laughing at a big failing of his.

In a recent interview, Gerrard confirmed what he and Liverpool fans fears most as he approaches the end of his football career; the lack of a Premier League winners medal for a club legend. Said Gerrard in a November interview: “It’s something I think about almost every day. I always think about the dream of winning it – or the disappointment if I was never to win it.”

“To have played at Liverpool for 14 or 15 years by the time I finish and not win it would be hugely disappointing. It would be an awful shame.”

And therein lies the source of so much joy for Reds around the world. As I write this, Liverpool are struggling in the league as they are 14 points off the top of the table past the halfway stage of the season. The return of Dalglish was supposed to mark the return to the days of glory but has been typified by their consistent mediocrity. With United a force to reckon with at all times and City looking stronger with every passing season, the likelihood of Steven George Gerrard lifting  the league trophy is looking slimmer with him being in the winter stages of his career. Somehow that thought creates a warm fuzzy feeling for me and countless reds worldwide as the bastard slips into oblivion.

Speaking of slipping, the father of all cry babies offers another avenue to indulge in some sadistic bliss. Step forward John Terry aka The British bulldog. I don’t need to go into details as to why I hate this repulsive thug of a player. The hatred I feel for the guy can only be matched by the joy I get whenever I remember his Russian escapades in May 2008.

Fed by the obsession of the club owner to win the Champions league, Chelsea have tried all tricks in the book to achieve this end. They came so close to finally achieving this dream only for their dear leader, captain, legend to bottle it. The delight United fans got from that day was immortalized when a terrace chant at Old Trafford was quickly put up, mocking the Chelsea captain for his fuck up at the most crucial of times.

Viva JohnTerry, Viva John Terry…could have won the cup, but he fucked it up..Viva John Terry’ sing the United fans, forever reminding him of his failure.

Gerrard’s inability to lead his team to the title was never in doubt given how poor the team has been in the last two decades. For Terry however, it seemed a matter of ‘when’ not ‘if’ he is going to lead his team to European glory given the strength of the team under his leadership and the several near-misses. But as Jonathan Wilson puts it in Inverting the Pyramid, success is a nebulous quarry. Luck retains its place in football, and success can never be guaranteed, particularly over a thirteen game continental tournament. With an ageing squad and a manager trying to find his feet in a new league, Chelsea are as far from winning the European cup now as they have ever been at any time during Roman’s ownership of the club. Again, JT as they call him is no young turk in football terms. Like his team, he has become slow and ineffective and hopefully soon enough, irrelevant.

Steven Gerrard and John Terry; one club men, club captains and legends. Bar a miraculous upturn in fortunes, its looking almost certain that both will  bow out of the game with much regret having missed out on what they wanted most. In another part of Northern England, one Ryan Giggs is challenging for what would be his 13th league medal with two European gongs and numerous other medals.

The philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer mentioned Schadenfreude as the most evil sin of human feeling, saying famously “To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish.” At the end of the day, I guess we are all devils. Red devils.

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