Half and Half
So here we go again. Another crisis, another crossroads, another x on the graph marking the inexorable ascendancy of city and United’s equally inexorable decline. Sensing a few more cracks in the empire, the media vultures are pecking away again. Or, to shift metaphors midstream, Rooney, sensing the water lapping at his ankles, plans to be the first rat off the vessel.
There’s a glass half-full reading of all this of course. In that version of events, United are sitting a mere three points behind the league-leaders, going into that phase of the season when they habitually kick into gear and with machine-like precision do just what is required to close out the opposition and win the title. Then factor-in that those current league-leaders are city, providing not just additional local motivation for securing title number 20, but also being a club for whom failure is the defining characteristic, the strand in their DNA that no amount of petro-dollars can ever eradicate.
And factor-in Fergie of course, who relishes battles like these, ever obstinate, ever unwilling to countenance failure, the manager for all seasons. Lose this afternoon and it will precipitate another week of crisis talk, another mass venting of spleen on phone-ins and forums, more hyperbolic and hysterical tweets. And all it will do is help foster the siege mentality that Fergie thrives on and that he’ll use to drive his squad on through the coming weeks.
Win this afternoon and...well, we can’t win really can we? Not in any meaningful sense. Beat city and how far will it really go in exorcising the horror of the 1-6? Say, by some miracle that United repay them with a thrashing of similar proportions, what does it win us? Sure, temporary ownership of that hoary old trope ‘bragging rights’ that we hear so much of on Derby Day, but defeats in the FA Cup, particularly not in the third round, don’t carry the deadly sting of league meetings, and city fans will exit the ground secure in that three-point advantage whatever the outcome today.
All a win would achieve is to paper the cracks until the next crisis takes hold, staunch one gash before blood gushes from the next. For the glass half-empty take on matters, Rob Smyth has provided an eloquent distillation of about a decade’s worth of Red Issues this morning. It makes a pretty depressing read, but he nails the many misgivings most reds have about the Glazer’s ‘stewardship’ of the club.
Considering our opponents today, his eye-catching line about United’s net-spend over the last three years being lower than that of Hull City, Burnley and Blackpool, could be read as testimony to the tight fiscal policies under the Glazer regime, proof that financial fair-play and sustained success are not incompatible. That barely tells the story of course. That comes in the haemorrhaging of money by the family, the constant price-hikes, leading to the hollowing-out of the club’s hard-core support.
Smyth refers to a masochistic urge amongst some reds for some serious pain that will lead to an ‘industrial cleansing’, a purging of the Glazer’s from the OT body-politic, ushering in some kind of utopia. (As Travis Bickle might have said, ‘One day a real crisis will come to wash all the Glazer scum off the streets.’) Nice dream, to quote Thom Yorke, but not one likely to actually happen. For all the death-knells being sounded, there’s still far too much quality in the United squad for this to become a reality, a fact that the self-regarding anti-Fergie voices that shout most on twitter will just have to live with.
But though Smyth is right in most of the things he says, Rooney stabbing home a late winner would be that bit righter. And that’s the best and worst thing about the game. What we live for are those spasms of delirium and delight that obliterate everything we rationally know to be true. And when they come against them, there, they’re all the sweeter.
Will we win today? I’m half and half about that.