Manchester United, their rapacious commercial department will be telling prospective shirt sponsors, could never be inconsequential.
The ‘Theatre of Dreams’ was rendered a misnomer once again on Saturday, however, in the dire and directionless goalless draw with Wolverhampton Wanderers.
That’s now 284 minutes since England’s most-storied club – Liverpool supporters, look away now – last found the back of the net in the Premier League. It is also one win, three defeats and one draw registered upon the slide down towards sixth in 2020.
Genuine excitement about Bruno Fernandes’ debut dissipated into the frigid Manchester night when manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer struck upon a cunning plan in the second half to drop one of Europe’s most-dynamic attacking midfielders deep, in a support role to Andreas Pereira. A youth product who has become an expert on blind alleys.
‘Happy New Year’, indeed.
Not even a planned, and well publicised, walkout of Old Trafford in the 68th minute to protest the continued Glazer-inflicted disorder could rouse the stultified residents to their feet.
This is the sorry state of play. United are not even comically bad, as they were in Jose Mourinho’s fraught final days, or possessed of a flamboyance off the park that made the charismatic Louis van Gaal’s football version of a sleeper hold, slightly, tolerable.
Football fans are, intrinsically, simple creatures of easily sated needs. They will forgive a multitude of sins if reason to believe exists.
11 - Manchester United are unbeaten in 11 home games against Wolves in all competitions (W9 D2), since losing 0-1 in February 1980 in a top-flight match – they haven’t trailed for a single minute in all those 11 unbeaten games. Impenetrable. #MNUWOL pic.twitter.com/qfENe8f0BP— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 1, 2020
Sir Alex Ferguson grew into a shaman after a trying opening at Old Trafford, carrying the crowd and his players onto epic success. Paul McGrath, Norman Whiteside, Mark Hughes, Paul Ince and Andrei Kanchelskis were just some of the stellar talents dumped, at various stages, in the name of progress.
The great Scot recovered from 1989’s infamous ‘Ta Ra Fergie’ banner. Protege Solskjaer, however, continues to chip away at the affection earned from 1999’s Treble affirming Champions League final clincher.
Saccharine positivity does not help. A thousand memes were launched by remarks after the Carabao Cup semi-final, first-leg hiding by Manchester City that “you know you’ve gone places” because a, questionably, full-strength team was utilised against them.
Neither do easily disprovable statements such as the rhetorical post-match question he posed: “How many teams break down Wolverhampton?”
Well, Northern Ireland’s Crusaders are one of 19 sides to do so this term. The Midlanders also last kept a clean sheet on December 4…
Solskjaer’s summer-long PR drive about the value of putting in punishing training sessions has been shown up by a devastating injury list. The Norwegian even damned himself with his own words, stating “I don’t think it’s (about) confidence – it’s energy” at the weekend.
The vast majority of sane supporters do not demand a constant flow of silverware. They just require players to love, youth prospects to encourage and a team that makes them smile.
Trophies are a welcome by-product. See how Borussia Dortmund maintain global endearment, despite last claiming the Bundesliga eight years ago.
This could never be the case at United when a manager is in situ who has learned few lessons from Cardiff City’s 2013/14 relegation in 20th place, or reviled executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward maintains a course that sees Liverpool (73) doubling his club’s points tally (35) after 25 fixtures?
United were reigning champions, do not forget, when the ex-investment banker took the reins.
In isolation, Wolves was a turgid match to forget. But it, simply, extended a state of play where 2019/20’s dreary iteration are the living definition of the shrugging arms emoji.
They represent a visage where irrelevance, not relevance, exists and dividends are paid, rather than investments made.
United in name, but not direction.
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