The identity of a football club is something many fans and historians hold close to their hearts.
The best example of this would be at Barcelona where they believe they are “Més que un club” (More than a club). A bond between the club and the Catalan people was fortified during the Spanish civil war and in later years a style of play was introduced which became symbolic of the ‘Barcelona Way’.
With Barcelona, it’s about playing well and then if you manage to win, even better. The club and its supporters want to see “beautiful football”.
Barcelona always try to direct the game, they don’t wait for the opposition. They are always on the attack. That’s the way it has to be, that’s what their fans expect.
The identity of Barcelona’s long-time rival, Real Madrid, is unique in its own way. Although the club’s footballing philosophy has morphed in recent years, the club’s identity is still that of the “Galácticos”. This was a term born from a policy pursued by former Real Madrid president Florentino Pérez where during his early tenure he would try to sign at least one world class playereach summer.
His efforts were made in order to ensure the club returned to European glory year after year.
Real Madrid has one of the most talent-laden squads in all of Europe and is one of the richest, most popular clubs in the world while also accumulating nine European Cups/Champions League titles. But despite this wealth of on-the-field talent, the club has not won the competition since 2001-2002.
It could be argued that Real Madrid’s philosophy has led to the players becoming more important and powerful than the manager. The identity of the club has become that of its star players.
Manchester United’s identity was built on the set of beliefs laid down by Sir Matt Busby and was later enhanced by Sir Alex Ferguson. The foundation of the philosophy was simple: “The hard-working people of Manchester toiled all week in anticipation of watching football and they deserved to be entertained.”
What Busby, and later Ferguson, demanded from the players was to play entertaining, attacking football; while the manager made a commitment to self-producing new talent and allowing brilliant footballers to express themselves fully.
That is the ‘United Way’.
But too many times this season, Manchester United has shown a lack of desire to win. Whether it’s because of the players disagreeing with the manager’s training routine, poor tactics, a lack of talent or players just hitting the downside of their career. The bottom line is Manchester United is failing to live up to the values set forth by previous teams.
Most fans would accept losing if the players were fighting for the shirt and showing some kind of progress on the pitch. But each week Manchester United supporters are left wondering, “What team is going to show up today?” or “What exactly are we doing?”
For the fans to be worried about that, goes against the most basic value of the club’s identity set forth by Sir Matt Busby.
“The hard-working people of Manchester toiled all week in anticipation of watching football and they deserve to be entertained.”
This weekend, former Manchester United forward Dwight Yorke worked the match against Everton for SkySports and had this to say: “What I have seen is a Manchester United team who lack the desire to win a football match. What stands out even further is the desire from the players – they don’t seem to have it.”
Too many times this season, David Moyes and his players have stood in front of the media and expressed their appreciation for the support given by the club’s match-going fans. Before and after poor performances they vowed to improve and promised the next game would be better. Then the next match would come around, optimism was abound with the manager and players; only to be negated shortly thereafter at the first sign of adversity on the pitch.
Media reports suggest that David Moyes job is in jeopardy. The tabloids are having a daily go at the club and its manager with stories surfacing of “secret meetings” between United’s owners and possible replacements for Moyes. Other reports from “unnamed sources” are telling tales of player unrest and a loss of institutional control by David Moyes.
At every other club, these stories are a nail in the coffin for a manager.
But Manchester United is not any club. The club doesn’t react to speculation in the media and it won’t cede control to the players.
The last part is something Sir Alex Ferguson brought during his tenure and it is something the current leadership holds in high regard.
“You can never lose control- not when you are dealing with 30 top professionals who are all millionaires,” Ferguson told the Harvard Review. “And if any players want to take me on, to challenge my authority and control, I deal with them.”
That meant if players were undermining the team’s performance or violating the club’s standards, they were let go or their contracts were terminated.
One thing for sure, there will be a number of players leaving Old Trafford this summer because they haven’t been living up to the most basic values of the club.
David Moyes’ leadership, poor man-management and/or tactics could very well be the reason for the players capitulation this season. But regardless of any reported disagreements the players may have with United’s new leader, it is still their job to do what is being asked of them and play with passion for the club.
Prior to the start of the season, it was determined that the club’s roster was in need of an overhaul. So regardless of United’s current position in the league table, the players will be the first ones to face the firing squad.
Another part of the ‘United Way’ is the club’s belief in continuity at the leadership position.
When United hired Moyes, they did so knowing that the state of the club was not a quick fix. The understanding inside of the club was that the situation at Manchester United was going to be at least a two-year project.
While no one can be happy at the club’s position, the signs coming from United are that the owners are pleased with Moyes work behind the scenes in rebuilding scouting networks and in player analysis. All signs are pointing towards a number of arrivals to the Theatre of Dreams this summer.
A growing section of Manchester United fans will not want to hear this, but David Moyes will have two years to get Manchester United moving in the right direction, with the coming transfer window being the single-most important time of his early career at the club.
Should Moyes suffer through another disappointing summer and have the club languishing in the middle of the Premier League table while playing uninspired football at this time next season, Manchester United will undoubtedly be arranging for his replacement.
But for now, his job is safe.
The ‘United Way’ will endure. Which means a number of players will be on their way out.