Barney Chilton, editor of RED NEWS fanzine, gives us his view on last season, the challenge awaiting David Moyes and the hole left by the previous manager.
SO weeks on and I am still waking up thinking ‘has he really gone?’
I am not doubting life after Fergie, that mix of excitement and fear that many Reds are going through right now as we await the first days of the Moyes era, but after so long with just the one man in our lives – and not just that, lighting up our lives – it’s understandable that in a game we elevate to at times inexplicable importance in our worlds, should see the mood in the wake of Fergie’s decision to retire feel akin to mourning.
That wasn’t to say it was mourning sickness after the dawning realisation that he is to walk down the touchline no more. We know there was never going to be the perfect time for him to make this decision, only the right time or the wrong one. As he did his jig those last times, we fell in love with the old man dancing to United goals, we know we had to let him go.
Last season will now be remembered as his last season, and the detail from it will get forgotten. No bad thing when defining many of the games – bland efficiency over bright football that we have become so accustomed to. It was the ultimate substance over style, results over refined. But it has to be considered in context of what came before – that gasping for air kick in the bollocks we suffered on the final day of May 2012 where Martin Tyler’s tones will never feel the same.
Robin Van Persie was the lift we all needed. We hoped he’d be an Eric like catalyst, and what we soon realised was that he was a good player from afar, and a great player up close when he was ours. I just loved watching his movement. I recoil when football artisans start to describe the game as if it were mystical, poetry psuedy nonsense, but here they had a point. He was the cause for our season acting out as it did, but he was also above the consistent drone of football achieving its point – and points – so that he lifted us and the team. And he also ate into the squad ethos of it being about the unit, over the individual. Not for him sulks or ego – just the cause and aim; a hunger that he knew to follow those around him who were used to the success that that squad ethos delivered.
Remember we started off with a defeat at Everton – nice CV. to lay down to the man not far away from contemplating a decision we’d always ignored, but one that was getting close enough to touch. We worried with that United angst that Reds possess – over analysing one result and its context, and as defeat stared us in the face at Southampton soon after, the thudding hangover of the season before seemed one worthy of an aid to stop the impeding headache. Then came Van Persie and his first significant moment. He’d missed his penalty, but he didn’t care. He showed he was a game changer as well as someone with that rare ability to be involved in the shape of the whole match itself, not the peripheral figure where many United strikers burdened with high hopes loitered in their very own elephants’ graveyard.
Too short is time to list all of Fergie’s strengths. Think of the one you favour the most and you’d still argue amongst plenty. But one of his greatest gifts was to have the team and fans buy into his moving bus theory so that we didn’t really ever look back, and rarely in the mirror, just always forward. That meant codgers like myself got a bit upset that titles once a blind hope which then came aplenty weren’t properly celebrated as they came so quickly, but it also meant the next one was never far away as we all demanded it, because it was the focus. Over expectation at times; greed, mixed with apathy meant that we moaned prematurely, too often, but in a United changed so much in his tenure that all that seems recognisable from Old Trafford is the framework of the stadium itself, he was a constant we could cling to, for reassurance, hope and then celebration. He was our constant.
It also means his time if not of course ignored, will be brushed aside in this new era. This can be a problem when each summer becomes a tedious game of transfer speculation that could give Jeremy Kyle a run for its money in the banal and depressing stakes. We do not know who will or won’t be signed, nobody really does apart from a few men whose job it is to do these things quietly, and you will just wake up one morning with it happening, so let it wash over you. David Moyes’ job will be tough enough without us comparing everything and anything with ‘the way it was under Fergie’.
In a way Fergie’s genius to look forward will help the new guy. The expectations will need to be tempered, and he will need more patience than some fans even unknowingly may be prepared to give, but we all must do. As each day dawns that this is a new era, we must treat it as so, and not keep looking back. With slate wiped clean. We want what has gone to carry on of course, but everything achieved must not be the anchor which could drown a new man in charge. It will take some juggling for Moyes to continue the traditions, or should that be achievements of Fergie, without actually being burdened with his template and our demands – hence that twinned imposter of expectation and fear I mentioned earlier – but do it in his own, new way. But in us trying not to look back, it’ll give us all the best chances of moving forward.
Let excitement drown out fear then. At United we’re better dancing with the devil than running away from it.