One thing stood out plain and clear from today’s insipid victory for Man U over newly-promoted Crystal Palace – it’s going to be the tried and trusted route to success for Devon’s finest, especially at the Theatre of Hollow Myths.
It was the classic Man U home game against stubborn opposition bent on making things tough for the media’s darlings. Batter away, secure a dodgy penalty and if at all possible, have a complaisant ref who’s well-briefed enough to be aware of his responsibilities and who will obligingly reduce the away side to ten men, consigning the rest of the game to the status of a non-contest. It’s a reliable enough game plan, though depending heavily upon Ashley Young’s talent for ending up prone in the penalty area, regardless of where the alleged foul took place. It’s happened time and time again, prompting embarrassed “hem hems” in the commentary box, and a general air in the press of hoping that people won’t notice, no matter how often the same scenario plays itself out. It’s depressing, but modern football is modern business, and markets speak louder than words. Those shirts and the other Man U tat won’t just sell itself, don’t you know – and there’s warehouses full of the stuff all over the hotbeds of support across the South of England.
As they travel back to London after the match, fans of both teams might agree on one thing: Old Trafford isn’t quite the place it used to be. Time was it would be described as a fortress, albeit a pretty quiet one. But there’s always been that suspicion that “fortress” was not a very apt description, indeed that “bent crap table with loaded dice” would be far more accurate, the local management usually ending up happy, by hook or by crook. That reputation preceded Fergie, but certainly flourished under his tyrannical reign, his use of bluster, threats and intimidation to ensure that press and officials were all singing from the Man U song sheet.
As I’ve already mentioned elsewhere, new boss Moyes appears to have shed his former “quite nice guy” image, and reinvented himself as a Fergie Lite. Given the relative paucity of quality in his current squad, as compared to the likes of Liverpool, Chelsea, Arsenal and City, this would appear to be his best bet – take those boys on at Football, and the modern-day, post-Taggart Man U would be in danger of some humiliating batterings. Already, Moyes’ paranoid pre-season whinge about having to play three Big Clubs in their first five fixtures appears prophetic. Two home points dropped against Chelsea, defeat away to the historical masters Liverpool. Better then, surely, to rely on the admittedly shady measures that brought so much undeserved success over the past twenty years of Murdoch-sponsored domination. After all – what’s a global franchise supposed to do? It’s win or, quite possibly, bust.
Whether a continuation of the same old, same old routine down Salford way can really take a sub-standard Man U squad to their accustomed honours must be open to doubt. The transfer window was a sobering experience for die-hard Nitid devotees from Torquay to Jakarta. City have secured diamonds, Arsenal have a pearl in Ozil, Liverpool are improved beyond all recognition and Chelsea have The Special One – ’nuff said. Man U meanwhile experienced a long and ongoing tragedy of a window, a car-crash experience of humiliating failure and rejection – ending up with someone in Fellaini whose best chance of a major role at the Theatre of Hollow Myths would appear to be sticking his head down the toilet and giving that U-bend a good going-over. Even Champions League pariahs Tottenham fared much better than that, and could well be dark horses for a top-four place this time around, particularly if favourable officiating and Moyes’ pallid impersonation of Nasty Alex isn’t enough to raise Man U out of sub-top six mediocrity.
And what if Man U really do fail – as their lack of quality and surfeit of internal strife might suggest they will? What then for former nice-guy Moyes? Is he destined to be the 21st Century Wilf McGuiness? Will “Sir” Fergie be tempted back to reprise Busby’s early 70’s attempted rescue act? It all remains to be seen, but the harrassed and worried glory-hunters on their long trip back to the south can be reassured after today’s standard-issue double-whammy of penalty and red card against opposition who threatened to frustrate them, that some things at least haven’t changed.