While Manchester United continue to fade, it’s the supporters who suffer most

  • Manchester United were outclassed by Liverpool on Sunday
  • United’s worst start to a season in decades
PUBLISHED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 6:34pm
UPDATED : Monday, 17 December, 2018, 6:34pm

There’s a tense scene in Netflix’s new series Sunderland ‘Til I Die where Sunderland’s chief executive Martin Bain, manager Simon Grayson, experienced player John O’Shea and club captain Lee Cattermole meet the wealthy fans and sponsors. Things are not going well and Bain explains that costs have been cut. A fan speaks.

“We can’t walk away from this football club because we were born here, we were bred here,” he calmly explains. “This football club is in our blood. He [Ellis Short] put us in this position as an owner. The decisions he’s made, the people he’s employed and the money being spent. He’s put us in this position. It’s us that’s left with it, on a weekly basis, on a daily basis.”

There’s no reply, but silence from the four seated club employees. The fan is cogent, realistic and accurate. And he’s clear that it’s the fans more than anyone who have to live with the consequences, not the contracted executives or footballers who are likely to move on.

A year on and following another relegation to England’s third tier, Bain, Grayson and O’Shea are no longer at Sunderland. Cattermole remains, so do the fans. Despite relegation, Sunderland, a giant with a magnificent history, have seen average home attendances rise to 29,911 – bigger than seven English Premier League clubs.

It’s almost always the fans who pick up the pieces. They’re the cornerstone, the soul of the club. They want people who care about the club as much as they do on the inside.

At Manchester United, there are many brilliant people working for the club, but it’s the vast fan base which sets the club apart, which provides the money that should bring success. It’s that fan base which is attractive to the sponsors that the club courts.

United are a successful commercial beast, but, like Sunderland, they are also a failing giant and the key protagonists are under serious criticism. Paul Pogba, who was told by his manager exactly what he thought of him in front of his teammates before the recent Southampton game – and it was not positive – is not playing but is still getting paid enormous wages. He could leave – and don’t bet against it as United tire of him – and have plenty of suitors.

Jose Mourinho, who’ll almost certainly lose his job if United fail to qualify for the Champions League, would find work. All United’s underachieving professional footballers would find another club if they left. They wouldn’t get close to the wages they’re being overpaid and underperforming on at United, but they wouldn’t be short of offers. Ed Woodward, the club’s executive vice chairman, would be in demand – at least for his commercial acumen. He leads a profitable, growing business.

But, collectively, they’re failing. Football is a results business – and it’s results on the pitch rather than the financial ones off it which matter to fans – and United’s are not close to sufficing.

Sunday’s 3-1 defeat at Liverpool was United’s eighth of the season.

You have to go three years into Alex Ferguson’s reign to find the team losing as many games as this so early in the season. Ferguson turned it around to conquer, but while he fought many battles, he had most of the players with him. Mourinho does not have the same support from players or the club.

The Portuguese is seldom happy and it shows. Maybe he is right to highlight the club’s recent failings in recruitment, but he can’t be spared criticism for failing to get more from players who wouldn’t be bothered if he left.

The club is unrecognisable from that of 1989 now. Then average home crowds were 38,000 mostly working-class fans. United had to pay AC Milan to visit Old Trafford for a friendly game. The club has changed so much since that it’s one of the three biggest in the world – except on the pitch.

None of the people paid a great deal of money by the club want it to be like this. Mourinho wants to be winning trophies, Pogba wants to be shining and enjoying his football, Romelu Lukaku scoring rather than seldom getting near the ball. Woodward wants to be seen as the man who brought it all together, but it’s not coming close to working and they’re all culpable. Instead of working for each other, they’re working against each other in an environment of mistrust and paranoia.

United don’t score enough goals and concede too many. Their goal difference is zero after 17 games, the gap between United and Liverpool is 19 points. This is a poor side lacking the United spirit with players who don’t look good enough to wear the famous red shirt.

Pogba, a player bought for a record fee for United to be rebuilt around, is so proud to play for United that he shows no evidence of it on his Twitter profile where he’s pictured in a France shirt, which states that he’s proud to represent Adidas across the world. He, Adidas and United know his value is dropping.

United’s defeat at Liverpool wasn’t a blip, but part of a pattern of regression. Major decisions need to be made about the manager and failing malcontents like Pogba. The fans think several players don’t care, that talented performers are ruined at United, that the players are not good enough and that they’re anything but united.