Manchester United’s men’s team is, on balance, in the broadest and most rounded sense of things, not a serious football team.
They are, however, many other things. For example, they are an argument. Several arguments: Should that have gone on Instagram? Should somebody have picked up that striker? Should Phil Jones really be taking a penalty, or playing at all? And these arguments are all clamped together into one giant meta-argument, the great tottering triple-headed Thunder Megazord that is Jose Mourinho vs. Whatever The Hell The Glazers Are Up To vs. The World.
But they are not a serious football team.
They are a farce. If you wanted to parody United’s strange blend of old-school egoism and new-school online content provision, you couldn’t do much better than: manager refuses to shake hand of star player, in front of television cameras, in response to an Instagram story that was sent at the wrong time thanks to dodgy stadium wi-fi.
Which hopefully demonstrates why they are not a serious football team.
They are an appalling waste of money. This isn’t just about Alexis Sanchez, though it is a bit, or about Morgan Schneiderlin or Angel di Maria or any of the other creative ways United have found to set fire to cash over the last few seasons. We discovered earlier this week that the debt carried by the club is still knocking along at nearly half a billion pounds. All that money owed, just for the privilege of having the Glazer family as owners. Think of the players it could be wasted on.
So, yeah. Not a serious football team.
They are an absolute headache to watch, but you knew that already. Seventh in the Premier League on points, but something like 14th or 15th when it comes to watchability. This isn’t just a question of playing pretty: tight, intense, foot-on-the-neck football can be just as gripping, in its own way, as anything else. But United don’t do that. They don’t really do anything.
Certainly, nothing that deserves to be taken seriously.
Perhaps, however, they are filling an important role in England at the moment. As the teams around them develop exciting football in interesting and creative ways, here are United, stinking the place out. Here are United, showing you what happens if you just … don’t. A sort of cross between a control group and a terrible warning.
Bit weird that to take them seriously we have to invent a job that they absolutely would not want to be doing, but there we are. Nothing real about this team is serious.
They are still mighty fine unit shifters, apparently. Record revenues of £590M, smashing Manchester City into a distant second when it comes to bringing in the cash. Glory and indeed glory. You could almost take it seriously …
… if that were the point. But it isn’t. Or if it is, then it shouldn’t be. Either way: long, loud raspberry noise.
They are there for the taking. And everybody’s noticed. Mourinho, neatly demonstrating his own personal fall from seriousness, complained earlier this week about teams that find extra motivation against United. This is never a good look in any manager, but is particularly embarrassing here: they’re not trying super hard because they hate you, Jose, but because they know that of all the big teams, United are the ones handing out points.
Not even their inferiors take United seriously any more.
But they are, still, the biggest club in the world. We know this because Ed Woodward said so, and it might even be true, by the arcane metrics that he uses to justify his own continued relevance. But biggest doesn’t mean best, it just means a kind of weaponised attention-seeking. A presence maintained in more minds than most. An itch. An ambient hum.
Nothing to be taken too seriously.