Manchester United and the myth of „know-how„
By Stephen Tudor, Wed 02 May 2012 08:39
When Manchester City began to haemorrhage points at Swansea, Stoke, Arsenal and to Sunderland the media understandably had a field day. The criticism - even the sensationalised nature of it - was, in context, entirely justified but the tired old axioms additionally being trotted out surrounding the contrasting mentalities of both Manchester clubs were not. Amongst the many charges aimed towards the club was that City had ‘bottled it’ and anyone who witnessed the nervy attrition against Sunderland would be hard-pressed to dispute that whilst the timid 1-0 surrender in Wales certainly suggests that the pressure was mounting and having a detrimental effect upon performances.
Added to this however was the completely yawnsome cliché concerning City being in unchartered waters. Naivety was included on the charge-sheet and, while their arch-rivals eked out a succession of victories – often while under-performing themselves – the nonsense spouted right across both the medium and public was that United possessed the ‘know-how’ in these situations. They had been there, seen it and done it many times before and had the seasoned nous to get them over the line.
Like a fine thoroughbred this was where United opened up its legs and romped down the final straight and the general consensus was that United knew exactly what was required in the challenges ahead whereas the harsh lessons dished out to City would prove to be an invaluable learning curve for future campaigns.
I am not discounting the importance for one minute of experience in sport or indeed in life. Yet these further qualities that are often attributed to Ferguson and his men towards the tail-end of each season have been greatly exaggerated and again were in full evidence from a fawning press and reds who were smugness personified.
Suddenly every word uttered by Ferguson was a master class in mind games while some were so enthralled by United’s business-end savour faire they even falsified statistics to further enhance their case. By some I am referring to Mark Lawrenson who stated with certainly on Match of the Day that City has surrendered a ten point lead. In reality it was seven and that was only due to the technicality of their rivals playing later that afternoon.
Now that United have capitulated an actual real eight point lead should they also then be thought of as ‘bottlers’? If not, why not? What is good for the goose is good for the gander surely? And self-destruction is self-destruction irrespective of how many trophies gleam in your cabinet. Yet strangely I have not encountered a single instance of this word being aimed towards Old Trafford.
Furthermore shouldn’t the conceding of two late goals against Everton also be viewed as extreme naivety? A team with ‘know how’ would surely have the fortitude and accrued savvy to close that game out?
What about Ferguson’s misguided team selection for Monday’s mother of all derbies? Weakening your own strengths and instead going like-for-like with a team who are specialists at ‘cluttering up the midfield’ (Ferguson’s words) was tantamount to suicide and the omission of Valencia bordered on the bizarre.
Will this be considered a ‘valuable learning curve’ for the dark Lord in the same manner that Mancini’s tactical miss-steps have been condescendingly portrayed?
Of course not and, to a large extent, rightly so. The truth of the matter is that this supposed knowledge in dealing with tense title run-ins is mainly a load of theoretical b****cks peddled by spellbound armchair psychologists that has become, over time, set in factual stone.
It is at this point of the article where I have to make the unnerving confession to agreeing with David Pleat.
This is an extremely rare occurrence – I tend to disagree with the creepy nasally one over almost everything, from the correct pronouncement of a player’s name to how fast you should drive through a red light district – but prior to kick-off on Monday he was talking on Radio5 about the two figureheads of United’s experienced credentials, Scholes and Giggs.
“I don’t care how many titles these two wonderful players have amassed or how many big games they’ve played a part in….if anyone thinks Giggs and Scholes aren’t just as anxious and tense about tonight’s game as anyone else they are very wrong”.
I couldn’t have put it better myself Pleaty my new chum. No, don’t touch me.
Indeed I’d even go further and suggest that the ‘winning mentality’ of these two – the supposed invaluable commodity accrued over countless previous campaigns that gives United a supposed invaluable advantage over City – is in fact a hindrance in comparison to others. Though the duo have admirably held back the years there can be no doubt that this is their final season apiece as prominent squad members. This therefore represents their last shot at glory, a chance to cap two extraordinary careers with silverware. With their vast experience they knew far more than any other player precisely what was at stake on Monday and would have felt the tension accordingly.
Who slept better on Sunday night I wonder? Giggs or Wellbeck, the 21 year old fall-guy for the Welshman’s inclusion, who presumably still regards football with the same excitable adventure as we tackle FIFA12? The answer is probably the latter regardless as Giggs was presumably sending saucy texts to a member of his family but I digress. Experience is not necessarily a beneficial factor. Who is more nervous about going to the dentist to have a tooth pulled out - someone who has never had it done before with all the blissful ignorance that brings or someone who knows that if it goes awry it hurts like hell and there’s blood all over the place?
The surprising events of the past couple of weeks has hopefully debunked in part a few long-standing myths that have been lazily perpetuated for far too long by folk hopelessly in awe of a club that is perceived as a mystical institution. United have a ‘winning mentality’ do they? No, it simply isn’t possible for an ethereal quality to seep into brickwork nor indeed be passed onto players such as De Gea, Jones, Smalling, Young and others who have never been in this situation before. Of the few individuals who do possess such empirical wisdom – as illustrated above – such knowledge is not always a positive thing.
As for Ferguson’s ‘mind games’ – unquestionably the most exasperating fallacy propagated by a beholden media – well, surely we can now lay that one to rest.
Mancini is the only manager who has directly taken on Ferguson with identical methods and anyone who witnessed the old man’s touchline meltdown and consequent hilarious hypocrisy complaining of a rival manager attempting to influence an official will plainly see that the Italian has had him for breakfast through the merest of effort.
City’s hard-fought victory has brought both sides level with only goal difference separating each and no matter what happens this weekend the title can only be decided on the final day. What will ultimately split them are goals, ability, high-level performances and good fortune, not the myth of mentality, know-how or mind games.
This is how it should be. This is how it’s always been.