Let’s kick off by saying that this season has been absolutely thrilling so far. Yes, we have had unbelievable lows against MK Dons and Leicester. But damn me if we haven’t played better football than we have done since 2009/2010. The play is at times dynamic, organized (but with a twist of freedom), quick and with flashes of technical brilliance. I am happy with all our new signings, as they have improved our squad depth but also the quality of our starting XI. I am also delighted with how our youngsters have dealt with the new system, manager, a new level of competition in the Premier League and with the injury situation at the club.
What delights me more than all this, however, is to see – yet again – the scapegoats from earlier becoming our new heroes. We have seen this time and time again, but people keep bashing, trash talking, and keep making insulting statements. And we see them rise back up again. In some cases, it seems like our fanbase does its best to destroy any confidence a player has, and I wish it would stop. It does not fall in lines with what I define as what a football supporter is. It is all in the words, isn’t it? Supporter. Now, there is a difference between being critical and being nasty. We are entitled to the first, while we should abstain from the latter.
This might be a history lesson for some of you newer fans of the club, but you will recognize how this mirrors what is going on in this exact season, as well as last year. A few years ago, two young lads broke through the ranks of MUFC. Coming from different parts of the United Kingdom, John O’Shea and Darren Fletcher were both signed to our academy from Ireland and Scotland. Seing as both were rather young, and our team was already playing well, they got time on the pitch for the first team when we had massive injury problems. O’Shea had a stellar debut season at left back, and Darren Fletcher got his playing time vacating for various players in different positions. Mostly at right wing. He did not set the world on fire with his performances, and neither should he have been expected to. A holding midfielder which qualities emphasized work-rate and intensity does not make for the world’s most exciting winger. The important part was, as Ferguson put it, to give the youngsters match time at the highest level. This so that they could adjust to the tempo of the game. And he did just that for a long time. As time went on, O’Shea vacated at pretty much every single position possible for us. From the wing, the central midfield, centre back, goalkeeper, striker. You name it. He always put in a decent performance, despite being a natural centre back from an early age. Still, he was the focus of a lot of hate from our fanbase. Visit any Man United-related forum from back then, and you will find insulting comments regarding everything from his body, size, way of running, attitude, sexual orientation and so on. At Old Trafford, I remember him being booed a few times in his early years before earning the trust of the Stretford End. Darren Fletcher was struggling with injuries while trying to break through. He got a lot of minutes from Ferguson, who repeatedly spoke of him in great words. Now, people were still mad up until the season he found his world class form for us. He dominated top level teams on his own in midfield, as Hargreaves was injured and Darren filled in that spot. A work rate matching that of Ji-Sung Park, defensive positioning like a Roy Keane and the attitude of a Gary Neville on the pitch. He finally “made it”.
Fast-forward to last year, and think for a minute about the way fans were treating the likes of Smalling, Fellaini, Cleverley, Young, Valencia and Ferdinand. Or how fans, this season, already have managed to take the piss out of the same players, but adding Januzaj, Jonny Evans and Robin Van Persie to that same list. And all of them, in one way or another, consistently put these fans to shame. I do not need to remind you of how parts of Old Trafford sarcastically cheered every time Fellaini touched the ball in a pre-season friendly this summer. Nor should I not have to remind you that Evans played one bad game coming off a longer injury, and suddenly is deemed not good enough to play for us. Or that one silly red card from Smalling makes him a bad player. Have you all forgotten how many red cards Nemanja Vidic got for us? Or how bad his first season with us was? Or for how many dozens of games Jonny Evans has been our best defender in the past three or four years? Or how good Fellaini was at Everton when he was not injured for a whole season? Where this is getting at, is that the constant scapegoating of our players serve no good purpose. Nor does it make any sense at all. As football fans, it is easy to get caught up in the short-term, as the game is emotional in is nature, and the act of supporting a team comes from within. But try to zoom out for a bit and look at the long-term perspective. For some of our players, it is apparent that they need love from the stands. Van Persie is a great example, and he seems to do better with every “Oh, Robin Van Persie”-chant. He seems happy, and his game reflects that as well. For others, it can be a factor that helps break them as players, and send them packing out of Old Trafford. Tom Cleverley is gone, and we could have done much better for him. This is not to clear him of his own responsibility to perform, but you can see how the support, or lack thereof from the stands play a part in all this.
As we have seen so far this season, players like Fellaini and Smalling have been among our top five performers. Januzaj and Van Persie have both been rusty, but please give it some time. Look at how others like Young and Valencia are now performing in Van Gaal’s system. Surely two brilliant players like Adnan and Robin can catch up and match that when they get going and find a good form?