Manchester United in dreamland
Original background photo: Steve Collis, CC BY 2.0
Since the Manchester Derby defeat to City, I’ve had a recurring dream. It's odd on many levels, but mostly because I rarely remember my dreams. This one never deviates; the same scene plays out for me every night.
Sir Alex Ferguson is United manager again. The Scot is the same curmudgeon but also different. He’s giving an interview with the squad all in the room. It’s a bit like that YouTube clip that reveals the pregame talk for a testimonial match in which all the United legends have returned. Rooney, Beckham, Rio, Scholesy and Giggsy. They’re not in the dream, though. Neither is the current group. This time, it’s an entirely different squad. I don’t recognise anyone.
Also, they’re not kitted up. Instead, they’re all wearing suits. There’s a distinct impression they’d be catching a flight if not for the interview.
Naturally, Sir Alex is decked out in a suit too. It’s black with a thin, matching tie and a white shirt. He looks thin as well, and younger, but it’s a façade. He doesn’t have his specs. His combed silver hair is replaced by poorly washed-out grey that’s more stringy and greasy than salt and pepper. He resembles Harvey Keitel in those service company ads. Both are blatant parodies of themselves.
The black, white and grey could simply be a consequence of not dreaming in colour although I feel like there’s a message there. Dreams are a message service for your mind, after all. It’s the subconscious trying to communicate an important idea that, for whatever reason, the conscious chooses to ignore.
The boss is overjoyed, holding court after United won a match. The winner came in Fergie time, to boot. That isn’t clearly stated because Fergie's brogue but, again, there’s a distinct impression in the air as Sir Alex relates how ‘Ryan’ chose not to hoof the ball clear, instead taking an extra touch, sidestepping a pressing opponent and picking out an inch-perfect long ball to spring the counterattack.
Original background photo: Aloba Oyvind Vik, CC BY-SA 3.0
My subconscious camera turns to Ryan. It's not Giggs. He’s not Luke Shaw either but, like Fergie time, my mind tells me he’s the left-back. He smiles uncomfortably. He isn’t embarrassed at his luck that things worked out after disobeying orders. The expression communicates he’d do the same again, each and every time, whether or not the gaffer finally cottons to the insubordination.
And that’s it.
It’s plain as day this imaginary United squad isn’t playing for the shirt although I’ve always found that notion ridiculous. Professionals play for a living and, with rare exceptions, put on the shirt of any club willing to pay. It’s only when said club is well and truly run that it becomes more personal, as it did with United under Sir Alex and is playing out now with Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp at City and Liverpool. The irony that the Red Devils’ two greatest enemies fight for their former place at the summit doesn’t escape me. Regardless, I don’t need my subconscious to tell me that’s a consequence of United’s woefully ineffective executive.
Nor do I require it to point out that United’s defence lacks the skill and confidence to play from the back.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer isn’t in the dream save perhaps for his salt and pepper hair. My imagination’s Sir Alex wears his mussed and unkempt but that could reflect the downturn in the Norwegian’s fortunes in the dugout. Does his absence suggest OGS isn’t the solution for the club? That the hope his understanding of its underlying philosophy could restore greatness is an empty promise? That he's lost the clubhouse already? Possibly, but I remain firm in the belief his early run earned the opportunity for support in the transfer window and a full season with players of his choosing.
Is that what my subconscious is screaming about? If so, I wish it would settle down. I don’t want to support a carbon copy of Barcelona or an evolved Borussia Dortmund. My club has an identity. It promotes players from within, plays a distinct style and doesn’t bend to the winds of change. If that means the game will pass it by, so be it. I accept the risk. The genuine Sir Alex and, far more so, Sir Matt Busby taught me that champions fight through difficult times. They don’t compromise their values.