Jesse Lingard's bus attack video may prove to be United's 'Spice Boys' moment
Published 16/05/2016 | 02:30
It's easy to be wise after an event and place a huge amount of emphasis on something seemingly insignificant but, if the perception sticks, it will live long in the memory.
Last Wednesday marked the 20th anniversary of the 1996 FA Cup final in which Manchester United beat Liverpool 1-0. Ask anyone about their memories of that game and what they should recall is Eric Cantona's majestic footwork and technique to volley the winning goal.
The first thing they will probably say, however, is what clothes Liverpool wore before the game.
"I said to Brian Kidd '1-0'. Because of that," Alex Ferguson told a BBC programme last year. The word 'that' was almost spat out in referencing the white suits worn by Liverpool players.
"I think that's, what would you call it? Arrogance or over-confidence. It was ridiculous. Absolutely ridiculous. Blue shirt, red and white tie and white suit. And a blue flower.
"I mean Jamie Redknapp's got sunglasses on, but you know the most telling part of it is Roy Evans and Ron Moran had black suits on. I think they were embarrassed.
"Liverpool Football Club's a great club with history - they've won the European Cup more times than Manchester United. Between Manchester United and Liverpool, they've won more trophies than any other club in Great Britain. That didn't represent Liverpool."
If they had worn black suits, pink suits or birthday suits, it wouldn't, in reality, have made David James punch the ball clear rather than in Cantona's direction and it seems doubtful that at any point during the 90 minutes of what was a poor game, the suits were any kind of motivating factor for United.
But, once they lost the final, their clothing became an issue for Liverpool: they were lumbered with the 'Spice Boys' nickname and their reputation as a group of players for being flashy but underachieving losers took several years to shake off. All because they wore white suits.
Last Tuesday, as the Manchester United team bus was being pelted with bottles from West Ham supporters, Jesse Lingard decided that the best thing he could do would be to pull a few faces and record how his team-mates reacted.
Perhaps Lingard (below) was trying to convey a message that he and his team-mates weren't intimidated and, by acting like a 13-year-old on a school trip, it succeeded in showing that they weren't afraid. The problem was that when Manchester United went onto the pitch, they looked far more frightened.
Like the white suits Wembley, it's unlikely that Lingard's video had any kind of decisive factor on the game but the perception it creates is of a group of players whose minds aren't focused on what was arguably their biggest game of the season.
In 20 years' time, Slaven Bilic might even tell a television show that he quickly logged on to social media before the game and, once he saw the video, he knew they were going to win 3-2.
There's nothing that will make you sound old as quick as moaning about the amount of time young people spend looking at their phone but, given the level of distraction they cause, it was still surprising to see so many United players with them when their focus should have been narrowing for the task ahead.
When he was Donegal manager, Jim McGuinness made his players give up their phones on the morning of an important game, which might seem like a small gesture but would probably be considered a violation of a player's human rights if a Premier League manager tried that across a 40-odd game season.
Instead, it's another headache for modern managers to handle while trying to continually motivate players for whom one good four-year deal will set them up for life. That said, had Ferguson still been in charge and found out thousands of people had video from within the United bus before the game had even kicked off, Lingard would probably have been removing the phone from some part of his anatomy.
The dictatorial shadow of Ferguson still looms large over United, as do the group of serial winners across the past two decades whose brand of leadership is sadly lacking in the current United crop.
As each year goes by without a league title - and it feels a lot longer than just three seasons - supporters hanker more for heroes of the past, in the same way that Liverpool fans looked at those suits in 1996 and found it hard to imagine players like Alan Hansen, Graeme Souness or Tommy Smith wearing them.
Nobody knows how the likes of Bryan Robson, Roy Keane or Nemanja Vidic would have reacted in a similar situation if social media and camera phones had been as popular then as they are now but it's almost certain that they would have taken decisive action on the pitch rather than the bus.
Instead, United were limp in the first half at Upton Park when they should have been fired up and, even allowing for him having the best season of his career, the sight of a player like Mark Noble dominating midfield in a game that United had to win was startling.
The fact that United seemed to go into their shell both at the start of the game and when it was in their hands at 2-1 up with 20 minutes to go was alarming and while pre-match videos had nothing to do with the appalling defending of Antonio Valencia and Daley Blind, it again fed into the perception of a lack of leadership within the group.
Next Saturday, United can salvage something from their season against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup final but if they freeze as they did against West Ham, the negative comparisons between their callow current crop and the glorious leaders of the past will only increase further.
Even if they don't wear white suits.