It’s funny how football affects your mood, innit? I always intend for this ‘A Week in Football’ column to be full of tomfoolery and japes, but I don’t really feel like it this week. Apologies, but the derby hurts many hours and days on, and I imagine it’s going to hurt all summer long. As such, I have decided to alter the nature of the column for this week, so that instead of the usual light froth it’ll be a bit more sombre and possibly a bit more thought provoking. If you suddenly find yourself thinking that you’ve read these words before, I actually wrote this piece originally for my own blog ‘The Rise and Rise of Tim Lovejoy’ and published it on there earlier this week.
This post is intended to be a bit of catharsis I need to “throw out there” in order to get over Monday night’s awful Manchester derby and the choking away of the 2011/12 Premier League title. Before I get onto all that however, I want to talk to you a little about a man called Mariano Rivera.
Mariano Rivera is a pitcher who plays for the New York Yankees. He is called a “closer” – which basically means that if the Yankees have a lead going into the final inning, it is his job to “close” the game out and stop the other team scoring a tying run – and he’s been doing this job since 1995. Mariano Rivera is also very, very, very, very….(wait for it)….VERY good. If you don’t like/know about baseball you’ll just have to take my word on this one, but I assure you that Mariano Rivera is jaw-droppingly good and a certain Hall of Famer. Of course, Mariano is now 42, and no man – no matter how talented – can ultimately defeat the sands of time. As good as he is, there’s always the worry that Mariano is going to wake up one morning and it’s gone. All gone. Here’s what Baseball Prospectus 2012 says:
“He can’t go on forever, of course, and like Cary Grant retiring from the screen while he still had his looks, let’s hope Rivera quits before his famous cut fastball does. The only thing worse than not having him would be seeing him fail.”
If I now bring this back round to Manchester United, you might begin to see where I’m going with this one. Ryan Giggs and Mariano Rivera don’t have an awful lot in common, but I can’t help thinking about both of them today. Whilst the latter keeps on going relentlessly, it might be about time to admit that for the former, his race is run. It isn’t easy to say that, and I’ve written off United players before and they’ve proved me incredibly wrong, but I really do feel it’s the case this time. For a while now we’ve all been thinking about what impact Giggs can have in the “big games” nowadays, but we’ve never had the nerve to say it out loud. He isn’t the flying left-winger of yesteryear, his body isn’t suited to centre midfield anymore and the past season or two he’s given the ball away a staggering amount – far, far more than he ever did. Little mistakes have crept in as the clock has kept on ticking, and it’s sad. It really is.
Of course, if we’re going to look at the Manchester United midfield, we shouldn’t stop there. A player by player analysis suddenly throws up some serious problems:
Ryan Giggs – See above.
Paul Scholes – Reserve team coach who came out of retirement (and has done brilliantly)
Darren Fletcher – Won’t play again (?)
Paul Pogba – Gone to Juventus.
Anderson – The least reliable person ever.
Nani – Great, but inconsistent.
Antonio Valencia – Great.
Ashley Young – Unconvinced. Has talent, though.
Michael Carrick – Splits opinion, but I love him.
Ji Sung Park – Love him, but he’s old now and as his legs go an incredibly important part of his game goes with them.
Tom Cleverley – Talented, but injured this season and still a kid.
And that’s it. Here’s football writer Iain Macintosh:
“When the biggest team on the planet is still relying on 1991’s breakout player and the reserve team coach, there’s a problem, isn’t there?”
I’d say that Real Madrid were the biggest team on the planet, myself, but regardless of that – he’s correct, and we know what…sorry, who….the problem is. But when you float the club on the stock exchange and let any Tom, Dick or Malcolm with some $ able to take over what do you expect?
This isn’t a knee-jerk reaction to last night, and I understand that a football team can’t win everything, every year. I’m glad that they don’t, to be honest, because gosh that would be dull. I also recognise that I’m very lucky to support the team I do, particularly at a time when we’ve seen smaller clubs have to fold and start again, or in the case of Wimbledon just suddenly picked up and moved miles away by some businessman.
No, it’s not that we won’t win anything this season. It’s the sense of unease around the place. That we know the manager hasn’t got long left. That all the success recently has been in spite of the Glazers, not because of them. That Sir Alex is effectively fighting against the tide. That our friends across the city have overtaken us and are driving off into the distance. That – to quote any amateur historian – every empire crumbles eventually.
I don’t know whether you’ll blame Glazernomics for this one or not, but Monday night was not the game for two club legends such as Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes to be playing in centre midfield together.
The only thing worse than not having them? Seeing them fail.