That Benfica game wasn’t that entertaining was it? A bit like that game against Spurs, or the draw at Liverpool or the defeat to Huddersfield. But we got the three points, that’s us effectively qualified, isn’t it? That’s all that matters, those three points. All that matters is the three points.
Is it though? Is it really?
United brought in Jose Mourinho on the 27th May 2016, replacing the outgoing Louis Van Gaal. The choice the club made was clear: they wanted to win trophies again, to win the league and to be the best. Gone was the talk of developing youngsters, of attacking football, of continuing Ferguson’s ethos. It was now win at all costs. We tried hiring Ferguson’s choice and that was a mess. We hired a successful manager who developed kids and played ‘like United.’ But that was boring and we finished 5th. Now was time to win again.
The first season under Mourinho was a mixed success. United won trophies (a treble no less!) and managed to get back to the Champions League through the back door of a Europa League triumph. But they finished 6th. There were several games when we played six in defence (away at Middlesborough, away at Liverpool, away at City). We were hammered 4-0 by Chelsea, drew ten times at home and were never entertaining. But we won two/three (delete as appropriate) trophies!
This season is different. This year United are ready for a title challenge. There’s flair, there’s goals, the winning mentality is back. But then we go to Anfield and play for a draw. We’ve won all the games in the Champions League but were poor against Basel and Benfica. Jose is popping off at the fans and the media and we’re in the season he’s supposed to walk the league.
As fans, is that what we want? Is winning really that important? Do we want the club to sell out all its principles just to win? Do we want a title rather than watch exhilarating football?
As fans, what do we gain from winning a trophy? A few hours, weeks or months of bragging to other fans? What’s that worth? Are the hours of wasted time watching low scoring, solid displays, worth being able to tell your boss that his team is worse than yours? We didn’t win that title, we just watched it. We have no ownership of it. What we do own are the emotions we experienced when watching it.
When we look back on United seasons of old, under Ferguson, no one talks about the titles alone. No one just lists the years or the points totals. What people recite are the individual performances, the games, the moments, the icons. Eric Cantona. All those last minute winners. Roy Keane in Turin. Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Ronaldo vs Arsenal in the 2009 Champions League semi-final. The 8-2 win over Arsenal. Beating City 3-2 with a last minute winner in 2012. Everything Marcus Rashford ever does. Attack, attack, attack, attack, attack.
This might all be because I’m coming from the privileged position of growing up during United’s domination of the sport, but winning means so little to me. Yes, I care. I get upset when we lose, I get nervous before and during a big game and I’m pleased when we win. But after a few hours or the next day, whatever the result, that feeling vanishes. But put on that 8-2 win, or a Van Nistelrooy highlight reel and I’m in dreamland. To me, fandom is about the moments, not the trinkets. I want flair, tricks, flicks, dribbles, long shots, volleys, bullet headers, 3-2, 4-0, 8-2. The means are far more important than the end. I don’t care about the three points.