Transition periods are a part of everything: life, relationships, work, etc. Sometimes they can go smoothly, but more often than not they can be tricky. Anyone who has been through a difficult transition period will tell you the best way to navigate through it is to be patient, let go of the past, deal with the present, and move forward.
Sports are not immune to transition periods. Players and managers may struggle during these times but they ultimately have control over their fate; the same can’t be said for sports fans. Ultimately, fans can only stand on the outside and observe things as they unfold. They can’t control player performances or the decisions of the front office and manager. That’s just the hard facts of being a sports fan.
But fans do have control over their emotions and can be a positive influence on their team. They can be constructively critical during bad times while also being supportive. Instead of being another negative influence when their team isn’t performing, fans can provide a lift to a team during difficult times.
At this time, do Manchester United supporters have a right to be angry or frustrated? The answer is “yes”. They are witnessing their club’s fall from greatness. Struggling is something which some United fans haven’t had to endure over their lifetimes. They have grown up accustomed to seeing United finish in the top four and competing in the league until the dying days of May.
But there are other supporters who have been through the bad times. Fans who experienced the crushing heartache of the 1958 Munich air disaster and the tragic loss of the Busby Babes. They were with United as Sir Matt Busby rebuilt the squad to win the FA Cup (1963), the English First Division (1965 and 1967), and eventually the European Cup (1968).
These older supporters have seen United relegated (1974) and had to stand by while Liverpool ran riot over the English First Division and Europe through the 70’s and 80’s. They supported the club during a 26-YEAR PERIOD when United failed to win a league title. Their patience and loyalty was ultimately rewarded during the 1992-93 season when Manchester United won the Premier League title; a feat they would repeat twelve more times.
“The greatest glory in living lies not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.” Those words were spoken by Nelson Mandela, the late political activist and former President of South Africa in reference to his battle against apartheid but they have been a source of inspiration for many people during different times in their life.
Prior to this season, Manchester United Football Club lost the greatest manager in the history of British football…full stop. Sir Alex Ferguson’s list of achievements is staggering. Over his 26-year career, the Scottish-born manager won thirteen league titles, five FA Cups, four League Cups, two Champions League titles, a European Cup Winners Cup, a FIFA Club World Cup, a UEFA Super Cup, an Inter-Continental Cup and ten Community Shields (….take a breath). Over the course of twenty-six years, Ferguson transformed his dream of rebuilding Manchester United into a reality.
Football experts will agree that one of Ferguson’s biggest accomplishments took place over his final two seasons as Manchester United’s manager. He took a squad which was glaringly weak in the midfield and somehow organized them into title contenders. United would only lose out on the title during the dying seconds of the last day of the 2011-12 season. Ferguson then gathered himself and reorganized the same squad (with the addition of Robin Van Persie) the following season while winning the 2012-13 Premier League title by a comfortable margin over Manchester City.
United fans will tell you that there were many times over the past few years that the players were underperforming during a match only to have fortune shine on them; whether it was a moment of genius, a refereeing decision, their opponents capitulating, or just the will of a collective Manchester United to push the team over the line to victory. These moments are a credit to the players and their ability to move forward. But they are really an indication of how important the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson was to the club. He was able to get the absolute best out of individuals who might not even have known they had that ability within themselves. Sir Alex Ferguson is the definition of a “one-off”. There will never be another like him.
So Manchester United was left with the responsibility of replacing a legend of the sport. How do you replace ‘greatness’? How does a team replace a Bill Shankly, a Vince Lombardi, or a John Wooden? How do you realistically improve on near-perfection?
You don’t. There is going to be some kind of transition period and Manchester United are going through that right now.
For now, United supporters need to let go of the past, deal with the present, and move forward. David Moyes is going to be the manager of Manchester United. He was handpicked by Sir Alex Ferguson to be the next manager of the club. That says A LOT about David Moyes. He is not going anywhere.
This current United squad is not deep and the club’s front office (once again) didn’t address the team’s needs in midfield and defense during the transfer window. So the team you see week-in and week-out is not going to change. There is enough quality within the team to be successful in the league, but it is going to take near-perfect concentration and execution in every match from here on out.
Unfortunately this season, the few key players United has have missed games due to injuries and/or suspension. The one time United was near 100% was against Arsenal and they put on one of their best performances in over a year. But that win was once again followed by injuries to Michael Carrick, Phil Jones, and Robin Van Persie. That’s just how things have fallen for the club this year. United has not been lucky.
United are still within striking distance of the top four and a Champions League spot for next season. This is due in large part to the parity of the current Premier League table. The Red Devils also advanced to the quarter-finals of the League Cup and are currently top of their Champions League group heading into their final European match against Shakhtar Donetsk. United is already through to the knockout stages of the competition and only need a draw on Wednesday to finish on top of Group A.
So far this season, poor performances in the league have not resulted in United stealing a point or grabbing a last second victory from their opposition. That’s how it is sometimes in sports. Things don’t always break your way.
United is currently coming off of two gut-wrenching home losses to Everton and Newcastle; the club and its supporters have been knocked down from their lofty title-winning heights. But this isn’t something new to Manchester United. The club’s history is dotted with periods such as this one.
Could United miss out on the top four altogether this season? Yes. It has happened before.
Will Manchester United endure another 26-year period without a league title? Probably not. But no team is immune to long stretches of bad luck or misfortune. United supporters have experienced this in the past. This current transition period will be another chapter in the club’s history. How they respond to this new challenge will define the club’s legacy moving forward.
How will United and their supporters look back on this point in their history? Only time will tell.