Why Manchester United fans can't have nice things
Background photo: Daniel Xu, CC BY-SA 4.0
Polarised might be the best word to describe Manchester United’s season. There were highs. There were lows. There were incredibly joyful moments sandwiched between embarrassingly shameful ones, on the pitch but more importantly off. Beyond Jose Mourinho’s antics, there was a brief obsession with a sale to the Saudi Crown prince. As things stand, it appears the result will be the club starting over yet again in Sir Alex Ferguson’s wake. Some blame players for the problem. Others point to the manager[s]. Still others look higher. I’ve become increasingly convinced most of those people should look in a mirror instead.
News broke early in the week that Juventus had inquired about Paul Pogba’s ability and United were entertaining their interest. If this is true, they are doing so for one reason. Chief executive Ed Woodward bends with the winds of popular opinion.
At season’s end, fans in the Stretford End took their opportunity to pillory the Red Devils' best player in person. The abuse which began on social media continues to gather momentum. To hear them talk, Pogba is a miserable underachiever who hasn’t proved worth the exorbitant price the club paid for his return.
They dismiss the fact he scored and assisted more than any other central midfielder in UEFA’s top leagues. They ignore that he did so despite Jose Mourinho’s antagonism, attacks in the media, and the benchings that gave every other player in his position across the continent several games in hand to pad their stats. Those players couldn’t pad them enough to better Monsieur Labile. Are United fans optimistic he can do even better? Please.
Detractors will tell you he’s inconsistent, that the bulk of his numbers came in one short stretch. The truth is he never missed the scoresheet for more than three Premier League games until season’s end when the entire squad went south.
I said he is United’s best player and I’ll say it again. In terms of talent, creativity, intelligence, athletic ability and pure class, he is miles beyond anyone else who pulls on the shirt, whether it was handed to them by the kit man, the clerk at the megastore or the driver for Amazon Prime. He is the last player United should be looking to offload.
When Mourinho took him out of the lineup, did Pogba take their feud public? No. The most controversial comment he made during Mourinho’s tenure was to say he wished the club would be more relentless in attack when they held the advantage. He wanted to kill off games. If you follow United fans on social media, you know they desired to see the squad show exactly that mentality. Yet, they attacked him for insubordination.
Does Pogba go out clubbing then miss training sessions? No. He is a devout family man who is only seen away from the pitch when doing charity work. Nevertheless, United supporters will claim he is all about good times, that he lacks commitment and dedication. When he said it would be any player’s honour to play for Real Madrid, they held him to task for disloyalty.
Letting your club know others are interested in you is a way to maximise your income. People in normal jobs often inform their employer that another firm expressed interest. They do it not because they wish to move, rather out of a desire to stay. If they can get a pay rise without having to pick up stakes, all the better. Nor are a good many held hostage by a contract.
Certain Pogba backers believe the animosity towards their star stems from racism. It doesn’t. Wayne Rooney went through the same ordeal when he played up Manchester City’s interest in him in 2010. Life was never as hospitable for him at Old Trafford again.
That said, the true problem is revealed when you consider how Rooney and Pogba's treatment differs markedly from the Kop’s response to Steven Gerrard’s Chelsea flirtation. The Liverpool legend was made to know he was wanted by club and fans alike. That made his decision to stay easy. United fans don’t seem to understand that their abuse makes it easier for Pogba to listen to interested parties like Juventus and Real Madrid.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was right when he said Pogba was a player to build a squad around. But when you expect a footballer to play for the shirt, you must first make him feel welcome at the club. We are called supporters because it is our job to support, not to denigrate. United supporters want the owners gone. They think the chief executive is incompetent. They turn on the manager and the squad whenever there's a bad result. They find something wrong with each and every player. The astounding sense of arrogance and entitlement that Manchester United fans exhibit is the primary reason the team is in turmoil. How easy is it to find tweets with the words "not a United player" or worse, "get out of my club"? Collecting a massive salary doesn't mean one should take their abuse and like it. If so, what would be the point of winning the lottery?
The bottom line at Old Trafford is that players don’t feel welcome. They don’t feel supported. They aren’t inspired to play for the club. They feel like they are punching a clock, marking time. That's on us. We are the ones responsible for that attitude and here's a news flash: if Paul Pogba’s time at the club is up, we are the worse for it, not the better.