It’s been a glorious month. Ed Woodward has produced greatest ever comeback. With one more month in our hand We already have five new players in the squad and I still can’t believe it-one of them SCHWEIN-FREAKING-STEIGER.
We are doing particularly well in warmup games and the best so far was the character players showed on the pitch against European champion Barcelona (though a slightly weakened one without Messi and Neymar!). I did not care much about the result but our ‘kids’ were fearless and not afraid to play Barca at their own game. It’s like a Christmas in July.
Though I was going crazy while watching the game, we should take the victory with a pinch of salt. Because Barcelona are exactly at a place where Man United should have been 4-5 years back.
Barcelona completed their second treble couple of months back which is quite extraordinary. What amazes me even more is how far they have come since Johan Cruyff took over in 1988. In last 25 years, they have bagged 13 La Ligas and 5 Champions Leagues-which constitutes all of their European success.
But what I find even more incredible is they won 4 out of 5 European Cups in last decade alone. No club has stamped such authority in recent time. I have nothing but grudging respect for them but at the same time I can’t help in feeling little envious.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Man United more than Zlatan Ibrahimovic loves himself. Nothing makes me more proud than supporting United and I owe to the club as much as I owe to my parents. Man United is undisputed King of England. We’ve set an impeccable standard in Europe with 2 Champions Leagues with couple of more finals.
There is more to it though. What makes us uniquely special is air of romanticism that surrounds the club. The club rose from the ashes like Phoenix after Munich tragedy. We won it on Sir Matt Busby’s 90th birthday in the most remarkable fashion. We did it again on 50th Anniversary Year of Munich tragedy. What a beautiful way to commemorate man who built this colossus!
At the same time teams like Barca or even Real are even more successful as far as Europe is concerned. Barca won 4 in 10 years between 2006-15. Real were crowned Champions of Europe 3 times between 1998 to 2002. On the other hand after winning it in 1999, it took us 9 more years to repeat that feat and after 2008 we are yet to win it again despite reaching 2 finals since. No prizes for guessing the team who thumped us both the times.
Situation at United gets little tricky. Heart and soul of the club was ripped off in 2005 with Glazer overtake. Selfish owners saddled all their debt on the club limiting our spending power. Yet this dark period coincided with one of the most successful in English football thanks to the genius of one Sir Alex Ferguson. He kept pulling rabbit out of the hat season after season and no manager in the world can ever achieve that.
But Fergie’s 1999 team surely could have achieved little more in subsequent years. What makes it even more baffling is that side featured world class players like Keano, Becks, Giggs, Scholes in their mid 20’s who were hitting their peak. We could not capitalize on the European success like Barca or Real did. Out of starting XI from 1999 final only Giggs won it again. Then captain Roy Keane took United’s ‘failure’ in Europe badly. After defeat in Munich in 2001 Roy thought Bayern had moved on since 1999 but United hadn’t. Can you blame him? As Fergie told him, he was at United to win in Europe!
I may sound like a spoilt fan but believe me I’m not. But that doesn’t change the fact that some players prefer sunny Spain to United and I don’t think that is down to just cultural similarities/differences. Many European/South American players are more seduced by Real/Barca than United and the reason could be their European pedigree. They have been better than us in recent times.
I feel that Van Gaal have recognized this. He is quoted as saying “They(Chelsea) have Hazard, he can always make goals, he can always make an action and decide a goal. Manchester City have Aguero, it’s the same type. Barcelona has Lionel Messi, Neymar and Luis Suarez. We as Manchester United have to compete with these clubs. So we have to look also for that kind of players.”
Things will not change over night though. This ‘process’ of team building is going to take time. But once United are up and running, we better make sure that more than Chelsea or Man City our real competition is with Barcelona because they have set the benchmark too damn high!
Written by Mangesh Puranik