Thursday, 14 April 2011

'United' - More Than Just A Name

Sir Alex Fergusons latest Manchester United incarnation are nothing if not fascinating. They are proving the time old and often ignored adage that a team collective can compensate for the limitations of individuals. They truly are greater than the sum of their parts.

It's this that creates the dichotomy amongst commentators, journalists and fans.

On one hand, we accept that, in football, results speak for themselves. To the pragmatist, this is the beginning and the end of the debate. On the other hand, we look at Gibson and O'Shea and wonder which other big club would have them in their way. We look at t Berbatov and say he doesn't score (or even play) in the big games. We see
Rio fit for roughly 30% of the season. We see a belligerent Rooney only flirting with his potential. We wonder what Carrick contributes at all. We chastise Nani for his theatrics. We are amazed that VDS, Giggs & Scholes are still going well into their 90's! We acknowledge that the Brazilian twins, Hernandez and Smalling have varying degrees of potential but display similar levels of youthful naivety. We almost forget that players such as Fletcher, Anderson & Hargreaves are even in the squad.

Whether it be age, experience, fitness, disciplinary record or form, each Man Utd player hasn't had far to look for his problems this season.

However, and it's an enormous however, when they are together, their problems almost cease to exist.

It goes without saying that Alex Ferguson is one of the greatest managers of all time (I'm not a fan of saying 'the best' - it's too complicated an issue to be definitive about) and this season, it could be argued, will be the setting for his greatest triumph.

The word Fergie used earlier this week was 'momentum' and that is a precious if intangible commodity to have. (Ask Liverpool fans about it. It nearly carried them to a Premiership trophy in 2008/09). This momentum is not achieved easily. No - it is borne of sheer determination and effort - both collective and individually.

This is the ethic that Fergie prioritises this above all else. If you are playing bad, run yourself into the ground - regardless of your performance, you can run and tackle and try. Never stop trying.
Once you have a whole squad that subscribes to this ethos it becomes very hard to convince them that they can be stopped.

Aside from this, the key to the performances is in Fergies management of each game. Every player knows what is expected of them and also what their role will be in any given position in any given formation.

On the face of it, when you see Giggs at left back, Valencia at right back, Rooney practically centre midfield or O'Shea on the pitch at all, that it is a case of square pegs in round holes but Fergie doesn't ask his players to do things they can't do. Giggs isn't expected to play at left back like Evra does. He'll do things differently. Better at some things, worse at others. The rest of the team reacts accordingly. Giggs isn't gonna fly past them on the left wing - he'll maybe come inside more, play passes but he'll be comfortable. Almost like evolution at work, they adapt to survive.

Now, we are appraoching the home straight and if you are still competing at this stage, you have a chance. All of Utd's graft has paid off and the squad that nearly everyone wrote off is in the mix.

Since Inter eeked out the necessary result in the Nou Camp in last seasons Champions League semi-final, I have longed for this season to be the one that would result in an unprecedented second treble that would surely mean Barcelona would be judged the greatest club side of all time - a recognition I feel they merit.

Only last night did I realise that the same may be said for Man Utd and the way things stand today, I would not back against them to do it.