BRIAN READE: It’s been eight-and-a-half years since Sir Alex Ferguson cruised out of Old Trafford, but the soap opera his departure created feels like it’s been running longer than the one down the road in Weatherfield
Unless you’ve been in a coma you’ll be aware that another Manchester United era has begun.
It’s been eight-and-a-half years since the Sage of Govan cruised out of Old Trafford convinced he was handing the ship over to able hands in David Moyes, but the soap opera his departure created feels like it’s been running longer than the one down the road in Weatherfield.
Ralf Rangnick is the fifth coach since 2013 charged with ensuring United’s footballers bring the same level of success as the club’s commercial juggernaut. But, as David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer discovered, the sheer burden of expectation Fergie’s legacy placed on their shoulders made them wilt.
So will history judge the latest appointment as the dawn of a new era or another error? United claim Rangnick hasn’t been hired merely to guide them into next season’s Champions League but to create a brave new future. That he’ll ditch all the hotch-potch philosophies and prick all the pompous egos that have beleaguered them in recent years and establish a clear blueprint for how they train, play and recruit.
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But will the intense pressure on a 63-year-old who has never managed an elite club with global superstars prove too onerous? It’s a pressure that comes from many angles.
From fans who gorged on two decades of glory and now see their bitterest rivals streets ahead. From boardroom chancers and deal-makers who appear to lack the nous to do anything but make a quick buck. And from former players who filled their boots with medals when everything was right at United, who now fill them with TV money in return for explaining why everything has gone wrong.
There’s an array of legends queuing up to damn every poor performance with the words “this is Manchester United we’re talking about, here. They have to be winning. And winning in style.” Roy Keane even fired off an unhinged rant after a creditable draw at league-leaders Chelsea on Sunday. The man who never shies away from telling us it’s in “United’s DNA” to be winning titles defended buying Cristiano Ronaldo on the grounds that “he got them into the next round of the Champions League, that’s worth so much to the club in terms of business.”
It made about as much sense as Gary Neville’s blind defence of his mate Solskjaer after recent thrashings or Patrice Evra warning Rangnick that he was taking on an impossible job because “you need to both play the United way and be a winner.”
There’s a wide gap between where many of United’s cheerleaders demand they should be, and where they are. The “in my day” nostalgia means nothing as the team they face tonight, Arsenal, can testify, having gone from being England’s Invincibles to 17 years without a title. It can soon creep up.
United won’t lift the Premier League in May meaning they go into next season facing a ten-year gap since they were last English champions. It’s time to stop looking back.
At Rangnick’s brief introductory press conference he spoke blandly about helping players fulfil their potential. I’m sure if he’d been pressed on precisely what United now need his answer would have been similar to Jurgen Klopp’s, at his first Anfield grilling, when he said everybody who cares about Liverpool should throw off “the backpack of history” and have a “restart.”
That’s exactly what United need before the title absence heads towards two decades.
There’s been too much soap opera of late at that dreamy old theatre in Stretford. It’s time to get some gritty reality back.