‘It’s getting tickly now – squeaky-bum time, I call it.’
It was 2003 when Sir Alex Ferguson unloaded this gem of a phrase onto the footballing world. Taken to by giggly commentators and pundits ever since, squeaky-bum time has found its neat little perch in the bookshelf of football jargon, picked out whenever big games and season run-ins get too close to call. If only, United fans must wish, all of Ferguson’s legacies had proved so enduring.
For any other fan, however, these are special times. United are down in the dumps. Maybe I’m overstating a little – though the Europa League era of Moyes et al was a pleasure to watch, the club’s hardly in ruin. But following the appointment of the man-maverick Mourinho, two summers of hefty £300m spending and a return to winning ways with the Europa League and League Cup (second-best trophies, but remember, this is United fans we’re talking about – glory is glory) their current menu of 2nd-placed, shoddy, park-the-bus football is leaving fans – teased with the sweet whiff of success last year – underwhelmed.
“football as entertaining as homes under the hammer”
Add to this the fact that United’s ‘noisy neighbours’ City are playing football so seductive it’d make a George Clooney Nespresso ad look like Shameless, and you have a recipe for raging Red Devils. Maybe I’m noticing it all more because United are not winning. Maybe it’s wishful thinking – my wanting things to be worse than they are. But, fortunately – for every football fan that’s borne the brunt of endless gloating after some drab 1-0 United win, by some tyrant hooligan with absolutely no trace of Mancunian heritage – that’s not the case. The truth is United are just as far off their rivals City as the rest of the chasing pack, while their football is about as entertaining as [insert most boring TV show you can think of here]/Homes Under The Hammer.
This defies belief. “United?” – you might say, dismayed at the very notion. “But, their football’s always been so… watchable!” Then, once you’ve come to terms with the brutal reality that United were fooling you all these years, you point – lost for words – to the team-sheet. “But… Lukaku. Pogba. De Gea. Ibrahimovic. Sanchez. Martial. Matic…” (The list goes on.) “…Chris Smalling…” (Ok, not that far.)
time to whip out the tissues?
At this point I sit you down and pull out a pack of Kleenex for the imminent tears. Yes. All that glitters, I chime, inappropriately assuming the position of egomaniac guru, is not gold. Mourinho’s star-studded line-up is, somehow, producing pitiful football.
In fairness, it’s not all bad. United’s defence has topped the clean sheet charts for most of the season and is arguably the main reason they sit in second place, which – in today’s Premier League – is not to be sniffed at. So despite the downsides, there is something to sing about – something one fan took all too literally by vlogging his version of the Liverpool Song (a variation of The Archies’ Sugar Sugar, for those of you who missed the viral sensation). This Red Devil used every ounce of creativity to hijack the song, ingeniously switching the lyrics to celebrate United’s defence.
This spirited and frankly priceless optimism was lacking in United’s drab 1-0 loss to Newcastle, however. After Matt Ritchie poked a goal past David De Gea for Rafa Benitez’s men, United fans took to BBC Sport to vent their frustration. One blamed Mourinho. Another took it out on Lukaku. But overwhelmingly, fans seemed convinced that this wasn’t a typical United display. They wanted style; they wanted glamour. They wanted victory.
In a sense, they weren’t wrong. This wasn’t vintage United, no. Vintage United would have clinched the winner as Ritchie did, then sat on it and drained the living daylights out the game until the final whistle sounded. Nothing wrong with that. It’s efficient. Successful. But in another sense, the fans were outrageously hopeful. United have always been about pragmatic, winning football. Look at their win over Arsenal at the Emirates this year. David De Gea pulled off a Premier League record 14 saves and both Lingard and Valencia pounced at the other end to see an otherwise all-dominant Arsenal defeated. What’s laughable is the contrast in United fans between then and now. When Jesse Lingard’s second clinched it, an actual roar went up from the United fans in the Ram. Victory was sealed and with it, that unique pride of United fans which definitely doesn’t put good-quality football as its top priority. So drop the act, Red Devils – it doesn’t suit you.
“just how long can they sustain this leicester-esque style?”
All this makes you wonder: just how long can a team of United’s standing carry on playing the Leicester ‘sit back and counter-attack’ brand of football without getting results?
Currently, there are no answers coming from the United camp, which makes it only funnier to watch as fan fury builds. The rage isn’t exclusive to the fans, though, as anyone who’s seen Mourinho post-match will testify: the guy’s so venomous and personally afflicted from whatever question asked, you’d think passing him on the street with a ‘hello’ would be to chance a punch to the face. And ultimately, with the Special One’s Results Guarantee not working out and the seemingly wasted services of an array of attacking talent, Mourinho will be lucky to stay in the job come the end of the season, despite signing a contract extension after Christmas. But either way – whether the United hierarchy stick or twist – neutrals and rivals alike will hope this sorry saga lasts long into the future.