It’s through gritted teeth and while in great pain I am going to admit the following. Manchester United is a very good football club. There, I’ve said it.
Former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson is seen in a file photo from April. Photo japantimes.co.jp
Being from Liverpool it is part of my DNA to hate all things Red Devil. The rivalry between Liverpool and Manchester United is as intense as any in football.
Inter/AC Milan, Celtic/Rangers, Boca Juniors/River Plate. All great games, great teams and great rivals, but there’s something about the match between the two teams from the North West of England that puts it head and shoulders above the rest.
For large chunks of the 1970s and 1980s Liverpool were the top team in England and Europe, then along came a tough-talking, no-nonsense Scot by the name of Alex Ferguson. He vowed to “knock Liverpool off its perch,” and he did.
United won 38 trophies under Ferguson between 1986 and 2013. There’s a stand named after him at Old Trafford and a statue in his honour outside the ground.
Over and over again he built winning teams from scratch. Sure, he spent a few quid and made the odd mistake along the way, but United were undoubtedly for long periods of time the greatest football club in the world.
Eric Cantona summed it up best for me when he said: “You may find another Beckham or Ronaldo, but never, ever will you find another Sir Alex Ferguson.”
And that is essentially Manchester United’s problem today.
They thought they had found another Ferguson when David Moyes took over. They hadn’t. They thought they had found another Ferguson when Louis van Gaal got the job. Nope, they never. And they thought they had found another Ferguson when Jose Mourinho was appointed manager a few seasons ago. Wrong again, it seems.
This week after United were thumped 4-1 in a pre-season friendly in America, yet more gapping cracks have appeared all over the club.
There’s talk of dressing room unrest. Jose is clearly not a happy man and he’s the bookmakers’ favourite for the first manager to lose his job this season, before a ball has even been kicked.
He’s moaning he’s not getting the financial backing from up above and he’s already having a pop at players in his team.
So what can United do to turn this around?
From a personal point of view, 99 per cent of me hope they don’t. Being from Liverpool most of me wants them not only to fail, but to fail spectacularly. In fact, I hope Liverpool can knock them off their perch.
But somewhere, niggling away at the back of my mind is this perverse desire for United to come good again.
Why? I’m not too sure. I guess it must have something to do with what can only be described as sibling rivalry. Football fans love having a team to hate.
Geographically speaking Liverpool FC’s main rival is Everton. But let’s face facts, they are rubbish and don’t really count. The hatred I feel towards Chelsea, Arsenal and Tottenham is mild in comparison.
Manchester, on the other hand, may be 30 odd miles away from Liverpool but there’s a lot more in common with the two sets of supporters (the ones actually from Manchester and Liverpool) than people think.
Both Liverpool and Manchester are tough, industrial, working-class cities with proud, hardworking, no-nonsense people who live there. Both have a rich history in not just sports, but music as well.
Both felt (and rightly so) very hard done by during the Thatcher-led governments of the 1980s and both teams have suffered terrible tragedies, United in 1958 and Liverpool in 1989.
In fact after giving this much thought, the only real difference I can see between people from Liverpool and Manchester are their accents and the way they walk (think Liam Gallagher on stage and you’ll have some clue to how a typical Mancunian walks).
So really we are just northwestern brothers and sisters who don’t get on too well.
I want Liverpool to beat Manchester United every time they play. Last weekend’s friendly in Michigan was anything but a friendly for me. My alarm was set for 4am and I cheered every goal as if it was a Champions League winner.
Next season I hope we batter them whenever we meet and week in week out I’ll be cheering on whichever team they are playing against.
But for a team to succeed they need a rival to beat. A rival to hate, and I suppose, a rival to admire.
Liverpool’s rival is Manchester United. And let’s face it, this so-called team in crisis with a supposedly rubbish manager and a poor squad did finish 2nd last season.
I just hope and pray Liverpool can go one better than their bitterest of rivals. — VNS