It was the year 1999, Manchester United were up against Arsenal, the FA Cup holders at the time. A true spectacle, United were a man down and had conceded a penalty.
Dennis Bergkamp stepped up and hit the ball firmly towards the left of Kasper Schmeichel, who parried the ball away towards Ryan Giggs, and then came the run followed by a mighty hit from a tight angle to slam the ball onto the roof of the Arsenal net. Manchester United had won! I reclined back into my chair when watching the highlights from one the greatest moments in Manchester United history. A match that shot Ferguson towards fame and give Man United one of their earliest trebles.
But all said and done, Man United now are just a shadow of what they were then. Even after a total spending of millions of pounds year after year, in the hope of “improving” the squad, Man United are faltering and they are faltering bad. So what is this thing that differentiates that legendary squad and the current one?
Was it that one of the teams had seemingly better players, maybe a better manager or was it the fact that the supporters during that generation were just better? Although every one of these reasons may be highly probable from the perspective of a fan(except the last one), none of them are true reasons. It is simply the case of approach – approach to the game.
During the glory days when United won silverware on a daily basis, winning was never their primary motive. It was always to create a spark of magic that one would seldom find elsewhere, to have that touch of genius, and all in all to better the game of football. But now with all the investment and money flowing in, the meaning of the sport has gradually changed. Football no longer remains without constraints. The objective of football no longer remains to play entertaining football but win championships regularly.
You could argue how this could be good or bad for the players themselves and their development in its entirety, but however you could never argue that the football of 90s was better in every sense, be it in the perspective of a player, a manager or a supporter. And the funny fact is that United were the forerunners then, with respect to the fact they played beautiful football, and also are the forerunners now, with respect to the fact that they play “boring” football.
Whatever be the case, maybe an injury or a tactical analytical mismatch or whatever, Man United are doing terrific if their motive was to play unattractive football, and a simple task like buying a player or replacing the manager isn’t going to cut it. What is needed is a complete revamp. Change in the clear conception of how we approach the game. Take it back to the boardroom maybe, what do you want, trophies or histories?