Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Man United's 'Identity' Is Already Long Gone

The sale of Danny Welbeck to Arsenal is being held up as an example of Manchester United's distinctive identity being lost, as claimed by ex-assistant manager Mike Phelan.

Is it not the case however, that this started a long time ago? For a long time now, Welbeck has seemed at odds with the galactico-style recruitment favoured by the club. Even Fergie, in his latter days, plumped for a 29-year-old Robin Van Persie to play down the middle ahead of Welbeck.

If we really want to nit-pick, surely the club's identity was sold down the river to the Glazers, as part of their supposed milking of club funds for their own agenda, and holding the club from reaching its potential. Whether that is all accurate or not (the summer's spending spree would suggest this is exaggerated), it is a long time since the Class off '92. Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, the Neville brothers, Nicky Butt, and David Beckham, to name a few home-grown stars over the years are all of a similar retired age. Recent headline-makers include Wayne Rooney (a big-money signing from Everton), Cristiano Ronaldo (a Portugese wonder-kid turned global by Fergie), and the aformentioned Van Persie.

It is what all clubs have done. The idea of a club having an instinctive identity that breeds all the best-loved players from a 500-yard radius of the stadium is romantic, and part of the magic that connects a club to its fans. In the lower league it still exists to a large extent. But the big leagues are now about the biggest wallets, and have been for some time. Any club that splashes out in an attempt to reach footballing greatness is guilty of losing big chunks of their identity in return. Arsenal are held up as a shining example of all that is well and good about English football, in terms of sustainability, and style of play. Yet even they for nearly two decades have been managed by a Frenchman, and their largest shareholder, Stan Kroenke, is an American, just like the Glazers and John W. Henry at Liverpool. Chelsea are run by a Russian/Portugese combo.

In such a globalised world, this is all inevitable, particularly at the game's top table. Yet the dynasty of Sir Alex Ferguson lulled United fans into a sense of false pride at how their club was run. "Give a manager time, like Fergie was given", has been the standard cry from fans/pundits in defense of whoever's head was on the Premier League chopping block. Even when Moyes was appointed, Fergie himself perpetuated the myth that Old Trafford was somehow a special land of infinite patience. Nine months later, they became just like any other club, panicked into action by poor short-term results. Fergie would never have got the same time in this day and age, and neither will Van Gaal. Welbeck may have come from the United academy, but just like the overlooking of Giggs for the managerial post, a Dutchman, a Scouser, and a Colombian will all battle it out for striking supremacy ahead of the young Englishman.

In many ways, this dilution of local identity has led to more exciting football from a neutral's perspective. Football is as tribal as ever, but in a more fluid manner. Luis Suarez was no less thrilling to watch at Anfield for his foreign status, but even he now makes way for the cementing of local favourite Raheem Sterling (well, and Balotelli.) The time is now perfect for Man United to gracefully accept their status as just another mish-mash of world-renowned footballers from all the realms of the galaxy. As anyone who witnesses Angel Di Maria blowing his first Premier League defence away will testify, there are worse fates than your club losing its true historical identity.

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