Many column inches have been filled with the talk of Manchester United and the pedestrian style of play that has engulfed their season. Nevertheless, their monopoly on possession and their ‘crab football’ has proved fairly successful this term. The Red Devils find themselves just two points off the top of the table and have tasted defeat just twice in the league all season. Not bad on paper.
However, it’s just not quite United is it?
The signs were always there. Louis van Gaal has never been a manager prone to playing exciting football. His Holland side that made it to the World Cup semi-finals was not one of flair and guile, it was a group of functionality who just so happened to have a demon winger in the shape of Arjen Robben, a good striker in Robin van Persie and an extremely sturdy defence.
The massive 5-1 success over Spain muddied the waters over the Dutch and how they approached the tournament. That game was the perfect storm. La Roja missed chances and the Netherlands were clinical, what followed was the crumbling of a dynasty as Vicente Del Bosque’s team disintegrated before our very eyes and Van Gaal’s stock rose to levels not seen since his time at Barcelona.
The familiarities between Van Gaal’s two teams are staggering. The resolve at the back is what has led his current side to conceded just eight goals in 12 top-flight games. Anthony Martial is developing into the ideal striker too, but the Frenchman is at present the only player who adds genuine flair to the Old Trafford scene.
There are plenty of tidy footballers in the Man United team – Juan Mata, Ander Herrera and Bastian Schweinsteiger are all masters with the ball but they aren’t going to take a player on and get the fans off their seats in the Stretford End.
Van Gaal needs a maverick. The supporters deserve a thrill when they turn up to watch the eleven men bearing that famous crest. They need an Eric Cantona.
When The King turned up in the north-west in 1992 the Red Devils had not won a title in 25 years.
The club needed a spark, Sir Alex Ferguson knew that he required a catalyst if he was to deliver on his promise to ‘knock Liverpool off their perch’. Cantona was that gamble, and it was probably the greatest gamble in the history of the club.
The Frenchman brought with him a huge ego but he also brought, excitement, goals and titles. From the moment he strutted on to the turf it was clear that he was going to be remembered for years to come at the Theatre of Dreams. One look at the current crop, and other than the cocksure Martial, it is hard to think that any of these players will be remembered as fondly as Cantona, and that includes Wayne Rooney.
Where that flair could come from is up for debate, but no matter how well they are doing, it is clear that supporters, and maybe even the players, could do with a lift, no matter what the league table says. A visit to Old Trafford is no longer a cause for total enjoyment, at times it is a task to be endured. A shot of whiskey needs adding to the tepid tea being served up at Old Trafford.
Who could provide that shot in the arm? A return for Ronaldo would certainly lift spirits or even a 12 month spell for the enigmatic Zlatan Ibrahimovic would not be a ridiculous suggestion.
Personality is just as important as ability. Just look at Cantona. As excellent a player as he was, it was the way he led by example and how he made his teammates feel that few inches taller that was arguably his greatest trait during in his time in England. Imagine how much the likes of Martial, Jesse Lingard and Andreas Perreira could benefit from an enigmatic presence in the dressing room.
Manchester United may win the Premier League this year, but they won’t win it in the Manchester United way. Now, that may seem sentimental and naïve but the majority of supporters consider the way their team plays to be just as vital as success on the pitch. No more so than at Unted.
A boring United just isn’t right. It’s bad for the Premier League and it’s bad for football. The English game is suffering from a dearth of quality right now and the country’s most recognisable club is an unfortunate beacon of that. A maverick addition in Manchester could breathe life into both the Red Devils and the top-flight. It needs to happen soon, or we could lose the Manchester United that their own supporters love and all football fans admire.