Things come together and they fall apart. It’s just the nature of being. Stars form from dust particles, they explode and life is born. Life is born, it lives, and it dies. But it doesn’t really die. It just breaks down again and forms some other sort of life.
Football clubs are living things just like the rest of the world. The clubs themselves may still exist, but players, managers and even fans come and go. They’re born, they live and then they die, and nothing lasts forever.
No one will have felt that any more keenly than Manchester United fans over the last few years. After the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, United experienced bereavement. They experienced – for the first time in a quarter of a century – change.
They could be forgiven for thinking that the Sir Alex Ferguson era would last forever – it very nearly did.
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But it’s not like change never happened before Fergie left. Think Cantona, Beckham, Van Nistelrooy. Players who came and went. But the philosophy stayed the same. In many ways, the manager, the philosophy and the club itself were all part of the same unity. Like Davy Jones becoming part of the ship in Pirates of the Carribbean.
But people are breaking from it now. It’s an odd thing to see Manchester United playing under Louis Van Gaal the way they do.
It’s odd to see the club of Ferguson play in such a ‘sophisticated’ way. Read, in such a boring way. After all, Fergie was a no nonsense Scot, Van Gaal is a suave continental.
You can see it clearly in the style of play, but you can also see it in how the former players perceive the club. Is it really still their club? Is Paul Scholes really commenting on a club he played for, at least in a metaphorical sense? When he calls United out for playing un-United football, is he really just showing the world that the club has changed and he – and the rest of the former players – have been left behind?
I feel I have to point out right here that this isn’t to criticise Scholes or Valencia boss Gary Neville (wow that’s very weird to type!) who have criticised Manchester United. In many ways they’re quite right about United’s boring play. It’s definitely not what United fans want to see, nor is it the traditional United way.
But maybe it’s time to stop thinking about the United way as being a tradition thing. Maybe Louis Van Gaal will transform this club into something different, something passy and deliberate. A style of play that will outlive Van Gaal’s time at the club.
Most people think that Barcelona exhibit their own unique style and philosophy when they go out onto the pitch, and the Van Gaal connection is undeniable. Not just because the Dutch coach managed Barcelona twice, but also because the Dutch school of football coaching runs so deeply through both Barcelona and Van Gaal himself.
Yet Van Gaal wasn’t a huge success at Barcelona, and the club’s unique style was really implemented – or at least implemented best – by Pep Guardiola.
For the Barcelona we know today as the best team in the world, Van Gaal was the man toiling away behind the scenes years ago and who laid the foundations for something great. And perhaps through all of this gloom and boredom that defines Old Trafford is simply the lead-up to a new style of play, the transition from the United of old to a new United.
Pep was lucky because he had Messi, a once (twice?) in a generation player, and if United had that same spark of genius in their team maybe they’d be able to hit similar heights.
United’s transition should excite the fans, not throw them into anger and despair. Ex players shouldn’t be criticising the club for pulling away from the position the club held when they were players, they too should be excited that the club is moving in a different direction.
The fans of Manchester United and Barcelona are very similar. They just want to be entertained. With United sitting only a point off top spot, you could hardly argue they’re not in a good league position. But the fans are unhappy not because of the position, but because of how they got there. That just shows that winning isn’t everything to them – playing entertaining football is.
But if that’s the case, then surely the transition towards a ‘more Barcelona’ style of play isn’t a bad thing? After all, you can’t really think that the Barcelona fans aren’t entertained week after week!