Monday 11 December 2017

It's a matter of arithmetic for United

Man Utd don't win the League by being good, they win it by beating the bad teams, writes Declan Lynch

'WHEN is the last time Manchester United were good?" I said to a respected football man, as we pondered the meaning of that 6-1 defeat to Manchester City which seems to have so astonished the world.

Now, a lesser man might have started talking about some match a few weeks ago when United turned it on against Bolton, but this respected man knew that I meant "good", as in, really, seriously good. So he thought about it for a long time, and then he began to smile.

"Do you remember that night they played Arsenal at Highbury and Roy Keane scored twice?" he said.

And it was indeed many years ago, but I remembered it well.

"Aye, they were good then," he said wistfully. "They really were good, back then."

And I would not argue with his assessment. Yes, it is true that Manchester United have won the Premier League many times since that night at Highbury, which means that they've been good enough to win those titles without actually being good, as such.

Indeed, despite all the excitement about that massive, massive defeat by City, there's an excellent chance they will win the Premier League again this year, just like they won it last year, when not only were they not good, for the most part they were really quite bad.

Which brings us to the point that continues to be missed by the thousands of commentators whose job, apparently, is to miss these things -- Man Utd don't win the league by beating the good teams. They win the league by beating the bad teams. Which they do, again and again and again.

So in the end, they only need to be good enough to beat, say, Norwich, as long as they do it every time.

How good is that?

Not very, you might say, but then Liverpool couldn't do it last weekend.

Man Utd, by contrast, played exceptionally badly even by their own standards against Norwich a few weeks before that at Old Trafford, yet they still beat them. Because that is what they do.

That is their core business, the one thing that United, reflecting the personality of their manager, do better than anyone who has ever lived -- the beating of lesser men, the bullying of the half-hearted, the crushing of the weak.

Thus Norwich did not score at Old Trafford, because deep down they felt that somehow they were not allowed to score, that they were peasants in the home of the overlord and they must bend the knee. Like several generations of the lower orders, they arrived in Manchester already beaten, happy to be afforded the opportunity of losing 2-0.

Even if they had taken their chances, even if they were still in the game at 90 minutes, they would know in their hearts that the match would continue until such time as United had won it.

So what we have here is a form of tyranny. With Alex Ferguson as its President for Life, it has, in fact, become the longest unbroken tyranny in Western culture.

Ferguson is a man in total control, of things that probably no man has ever controlled before -- little wonder that he seemed strangely detached from the proceedings last Sunday, as City kept scoring, apparently unaware that no-one is allowed to do this, that it is against Nature itself.

Like many a great dictator, he expects the system to work by itself after about 20 years, and it must have been upsetting to see these flash gits defying him on his own turf.

Yet it was not a major malfunction -- City are a good team and while the six goals were embarrassing, the United system has always easily withstood defeats by good teams. Its genius lies elsewhere, and it is characterised by its utter simplicity.

It is a matter of the most basic arithmetic, that in the English first division, there are always many more bad teams than there are good ones. And since you get the same number of points for beating the bad teams -- and since United will invariably beat the bad teams because that is what they do -- the result at the end of the season is somewhat inevitable.

And yet, time after time, there is this hysterical burst of hope when United drop a few points.

This is a team which won the league quite easily last year despite losing to Liverpool, Arsenal and Chelsea, and winning a mere five matches away from home. They also did it without much of a midfield, and now they have almost no midfield at all. But they have enough, for Norwich and Blackburn and Wolves.

They will not have enough for Barcelona.

The bullying of Ferguson just doesn't work outside of his own turf, which means that for a team so dominant at home, United have an appalling record in the Champions League. I explained this in some detail last year before the Champions League final, when United received their by-now routine shafting by Barca, with most commentators still half-expecting United to put up a respectable show.

But they did not, because that is not what they do.

It is perfectly obvious what they do, and yet those commentators still think they are doing something else.

I note that their next 11 league matches are against Sunderland, Swansea, Newcastle, Villa, Wolves, QPR, Fulham, Wigan, Blackburn, Newcastle again, and Bolton.

They will win them all.

Sunday Independent

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