• Matthew Whiley

Fan's Perspective: Manchester United

Updated: Jan 14, 2021

Manchester United have always been the club that I've loved to hate. When I was about seven or eight years old, and looking for a football club to support (sorry Dad, other than Halifax Town, that is) Manchester United were in the middle of winning the Premier League three times on the bounce, as well as reaching back-to-back Champions League finals, and having one of their players win the Ballon d'Or.

And yet, my grandad (❤) decided to buy me a Liverpool shirt instead, subjecting me to much mockery at school over the ensuing five years. As it turns out, what a long game he was playing! Out went Sir Alex at Old Trafford, in came Jürgen at Anfield, and, well... I would say the rest is history, but in fact the rest is now-story!

Regardless of some questionable transfers and more than a few sub-par performances recently, a survey completed by market research agency Kantar last August showed that United are still the most popular football club in the world, with an estimated 1.1billion followers, or around one in seven of the world's population. Now, it's worth noting that the survey in question was actually commissioned by the Red Devils, and has been reported on by the Manchester Evening News (https://www.manchestereveningnews.co.uk/sport/football/football-news/manchester-united-fans-news-latest-16771943) so you'd be forgiven for possibly taking those numbers with a pinch of salt.

However, what is clear is that even the most anti-United propagandist would be hard-pressed to deny that the club does enjoy enormous worldwide support. On the basis of that, it makes sense for the first Fan's Perspective about a football team to be about Manchester United. The fan in question whom I spoke to is my sister Libby's boyfriend Alex (three interviews, three people called Alex - they are all different people, I promise).

As with my other interviews, I wanted to start with a general sense of the sport, so I kicked off with the customary what is it about football that you love?

I love that it brings everyone together, no matter where they're from or what they do - it's got that community feel to it. Then also, you've got the fact that when people are playing it, it's good for their mental health, like any exercise.

Why Manchester United?

Libby was observing the interview over Alex's shoulder and chimed in with "he's got no taste" at this point. After turning to her to deny that with a laugh, he continued... No, it's because they were the only team I really knew when I was younger and starting to like football; everyone in my house seemed to follow them and when you have that around you, it's only natural you'll start following them yourself.

Can you remember your first game?

I think I went to see us play... West Ham around 2012 [Alex would have been 12]. I don't remember a huge amount about it, although it was a midweek game, and we definitely won.

What he does remember is spot on; United defeated the newly-promoted Hammers 1-0 on a Wednesday night in November thanks to a Robin van Persie goal after just 32 seconds. On a brief sidetrack for a moment, I was also 12 when I went to my first Liverpool game (a 1-1 draw against Wigan at Anfield in which Luis Suarez made his first start for us) although I'd been going to Halifax for a fair few years before that. We'll return to that Wigan game in a moment, but for now let's continue with Alex...

What's been your highlight of supporting United?

Definitely when I was watching the derby against City and Rooney scored with that unbelievable overhead kick. That was such a good memory.

I said we'd return to the Wigan game, and the reason being is that Anfield, for that game, is exactly where I was when I saw that overhead kick go in live. As a former Everton and Manchester United player, and an annoyingly brilliant one at that, Rooney is the pantomime villain in my mind, but you can't not appreciate sheer footballing genius like that.

What about a low point, if you can bear to think of it?

The second season with Louis van Gaal wasn't great, was it? We won the FA Cup, but the football was just depressing, and some of his tactics were really odd. That whole season, really... there's no other way to put it, it was just bad!

That was a common criticism levelled at the Dutchman during the second of his two seasons in charge of United, especially towards the end of the season. The football was dour, uninspiring, and some of the manager's decisions were a little questionable, to be polite. It's a shame, really, because it put a sour note on an otherwise very successful career in management for van Gaal.

Who would you say is your favourite United player, both now and ever?

Now, without a doubt, Marcus Rashford [my favourite United player too], he's just fantastic. Ever... that's a bit more difficult because we've had so many really good players, but I'll say... *thinks* Rooney, because he was the first name I got on a United shirt. I got that shirt when I was learning to ride a bike, and my Dad said if I rode down the street, I'd get a shirt. "Aww," went Libby at this point.

If you could bring one current player to United from anywhere in the world, who would it be?

Sergio Ramos, from Real Madrid, no doubt. He's such a brilliant all-rounder; one of the best centre-backs... well, probably, ever, to be honest; his defensive abilities are great. He scores so many goals as well, doesn't he? How often do you see a centre back regularly taking penalties? Yes, definitely Ramos.

Oh, way to annoy me even more! I still haven't forgiven Ramos for *that* foul on Mo Salah in the 2018 Champions League final in Kiev. Not to worry, what followed the year after made up for it...

Did you support Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's appointment, and do you still support him?

Yes, I did, and I still do. A lot of United fans I speak to still support him, and we're definitely of the opinion it's not the manager that's the problem. I definitely don't think he deserves the sack now, he should be given time to rebuild and make a success of it. I think when you look at the past few managers we've had, and compare him to them, I certainly wouldn't sack him yet. I think it's much higher up the club that needs sorting out.

Who do you mean by that?

The whole structure of the club; the directors, Ed Woodward, it's all wrong. That needs sorting out if we're going to be successful again.

What would you personally do to turn Manchester United around? They sit 15th at the moment; if you could influence the club, how would you get them back into the top four?

I'd want to start by looking at the transfer policy; too many of our signings have been too expensive and haven't delivered, so that would be a big thing. I wouldn't object to spending big money if we need to, for example to get a top class player like [Borussia Dortmund's Jadon] Sancho, but my problem is with spending big money to get players that haven't shown that they're worth it. On the playing front, I'd encourage them to stick with the system we played against PSG a couple of weeks ago; that was the best I've seen us play all season. If we can get quality players to fit that, I think we'll start to see a turnaround.

What do you think United's targets are over the next few years? Is a title challenge in the near future realistic?

I don't think going for the title in the next couple of seasons is possible; too much needs to change to keep that up over a season. I would really hope to see us winning the league after a few years of building though, if we can get a proper plan together and a clear idea of what we're aiming to do then that should be possible. In the meantime, I think domestic trophies are our main aim; we should be looking at things like the FA Cup and the League Cup. If you look at how we did in the FA Cup last season - we got to the semi-finals, so in competitions like that I think we're close. I'm hopeful, anyway.

Finally, if you imagine that you're speaking to someone who's looking for a football team to support, how would you persuade them to go for Manchester United?

You can talk about the history of the club and the fact that down the years we've had so many great footballing names, both players and managers. Even now, ignoring what you see in the club's higher management, we've still got some brilliant players - look at the likes of Rashford, for example, one of England's best. We're a big community club as well, again, going back to Rashford, look at his campaign around free school meals and how he wants to give back to the community he grew up in, and for him it's about more than just his pay cheque at the end of the week.

I would really agree with that; Marcus Rashford is definitely someone to be admired, both for his achievements on and off the pitch.

I can honestly copy and paste my thanks message now, as the name hasn't changed! Thanks very much to (the latest) Alex for taking the time to answer these questions, and I'm sure it'll dawn on him soon enough what a mistake he made picking United over Jürgen's Mighty Reds.

No, I'm joking of course - Manchester United remain one of English football's forces, and although their powers may have slightly faded since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, they will come again. One thing I would say, though, is that I entirely agree with Alex in that that won't be until Ed Woodward moves on. More on that another time, I think.

As a reminder, I'm always on the lookout for people to answer questions about their relationship with sport. If you think you (or someone else you know) might want to take part in answering some questions about either:

A) A particular team you support - it can be any team, playing any sport - or,

B) Your experiences of playing a sport,

then I'd love to hear from you. Please get in touch with me using the 'Contact Me' form at the bottom of the homepage, or using my social channels - https://twitter.com/LongStorySport and https://www.facebook.com/longstorysport.

Signing off,