Just Why are Manchester United so Bitter?

Last updated : 24 September 2003 By Anna Bailey

Ronaldo - Nice hair
So, just what is it exactly they are so bitter about? After all, they won the League last season. Reason enough for any team to be cheerful, surely? Especially given that they were pretty damn close to ending up with nothing. One factor, I suspect, is that the team is frustrated to have relied on Arsenal's capitulation last season, rather than winning the League in their own right. Rather than glorifying Man Utd, as in the old days, the media has talked about nothing but Arsenal's failings. But that frustration is far from the whole story…

A day before our trip to Old Trafford on Sunday, and guess what? Mikael Silvestre is boasting that Arsenal don't share Manure's team spirit. Set aside for the moment the sheer stupidity of this claim. Forget the fact that Henry, Pires and Vieira all signed new contracts this summer precisely because they didn't want to leave our famous team spirit. (That's the kind of team spirit, by the way, that made Henry pass up a certain hatrick against Everton at our 2002 Double Winners' party so that he could gift a goal to the boy Jeffers. The team spirit we all felt so proud of when the whole squad knelt down and worshipped Robbie Pires at the subsequent trophy presentation. And indeed, the same team spirit that led Sol Campbell to forgo saying goodbye to his dying father last week so he could play alongside his team mates in a Champions League match.)

The ridiculous nature of Silvestre's claim is self-evident. But one also cannot help feeling that the Frenchman protests too much. Surely he couldn't be jealous of Arsenal's famous team spirit, could he? After all, the United dressing room is one that has been divided for months. The Beckham ‘flying boot' incident is well-documented, but what has only recently come to light is the much darker build-up to this incident, with the jealous, bullying Ferguson driving Beckham to the verge of a nervous breakdown. Now, it is only to be expected that the remaining Manure players will stick together in public, and claim that team spirit remains strong. But Beckham's friendship with a number of those players goes back to boyhood. It is only natural that there is still considerable resentment of Ferguson simmering away under the surface, for daring to force out one of the team's all-time favourite players simply to satisfy his own ego.

Silvestre's latest touchy remark is just one in a long line of similar overly defensive outbursts to emanate from the United camp. Over the summer, Roy Keane came out with a cracker with his jibe that Ronaldinho had missed out on joining the best team in the world by snubbing Manure in favour of Barcelona. That remark came only a few weeks after Nicky Butt's gem that United are just as strong a team without David Beckham. The cause of all their anger? Suddenly, nobody is interested in Manure. The media circus has upped sticks and gone to Spain. And as we all know, there is nothing more hurtful than being ignored.

So what are Manure so bitter about? Simple. They are frustrated at their declining prestige in the world of football, and their apparent inability to do anything about it. Like a toddler having a tantrum, they lash out at everyone around them but to no avail. They may have won the League last season, but the big shock to them was that no one expected them to. That surprise hurts. Likewise, they are underdogs rather than favourites in Europe these days, as the big guns of Spain and Italy easily outplay them. No one except the Manure fans themselves expected them to beat Real Madrid last season, and so it proved.

With the departure of Beckham, United have not just lost the provider of many crucial goals. They have lost their glamour. While Arsenal retain glamorous superstars like Henry, Pires and Freddie Ljungberg, United are stuck with dependable but dull players like Giggs, Butt and the Nevilles. Don't get me wrong, put together they make a formidable team, but in terms of image and attractive football they may as well be Southampton or Sunderland. Hence all the excitement surrounding the arrival of young Ronaldo. The poor kid hasn't even scored a goal yet, but he does some fancy tricks and has a pretty haircut, which is precisely what Manure are lacking these days.

For the past few years the old United magic has been on the wane, now it appears all but gone. Ronaldinho knew it. Juan Sebastian Veron knew it. Harry Kewell knew it. It seems remarkable that a player would choose to join last year's flops, Liverpool, over the once mighty Manchester United, but that is the world we are living in these days.