Progress is a strange thing. Something every club, player, manager, fan and pundit demands. Not wants, but demands. All the time. Yet infinite progress is impossible and progress for 20 clubs is also impossible. For 10 clubs to ‘advance’ 10 must fail. At least. Although even that isn’t so simple to work out. Either way – not every team in a division can progress at the same time. They are measured against a definitive date, a position in a table at the end of May each calendar year.
The arguments for and against Louis Van Gaal are now hinged upon this term, progress. Are we going forward or backwards, is this better or worse than Moyes, can we still compare the 2016 side to the one Sir Alex left us as Champions in 2013? There’s progression and regression. In many areas. Defensively, we’re the best we’ve been in a long time. Despite not being sure of our best right back, or having an incredible left back missing for the whole season, virtually, or playing a midfielder at centre half all year. We face the second fewest shots on target in the league. The issue comes at the other end where we’ve managed only the 13th highest shots on target.
How does progress look when we take a sensible look at what we have at our disposal? Much of what has been written about United this season and last is unfair. A portion of it absolutely fair. But Wenger’s failings have not been given anything like the speculation LVG has had to deal with, nor city’s. The way Klopp is STILL hailed as a genius despite winning only 0.09 points per game more than Rodgers, having been in charge since the first week of October and having a transfer window where he chose to do nothing. So, progress. I got distracted…
Under Sir Alex in those early years, there was this feeling that the fans had had enough and turned on the manager and if it wasn’t for Mark Robins FA Cup goal and ultimately Lee Martin’s FA Cup final replay winner, then ‘Sir Alex’ would have been fired, known only as Alex Ferguson former Manchester United manager and in 1990 George Graham would have been brought in. A few years ago I interviewed Bryan Robson. I asked him if he knew anything about that pivotal moment in United’s history, and he said that he’d spoken to (Chairman) Martin Edwards and Edwards had confided that Fergie wasn’t under pressure at that time as the board were happy with the ‘progress’ that he’d been making and could see the youth players and scouting networks being improved. That doesn’t stop the myth being perpetuated though.
So here’s what I can’t wrap my head around. Yes, there’s a different expectation. Yes, there’s a different footballing world as there was at the end of the 80’s. But ask yourself this, would ANY manager be allowed this, today? In 1988, United finished 2nd, a decent achievement after coming 11th in the first season under SAF. That’s progress. So what about the next few years? 1989? Back to 11th. 1990? 13th! That isn’t progress! That’s way worse than any season under Big Ron! Ron Atkinson finished 3rd twice and 4th three times. So why are we putting up with this dour Scottish bore? He doesn’t even wear fur coats, or have a tan!
Well you know what happens next. He won the FA Cup and didn’t stop winning until he walked out of Old Trafford in 2013, knighted, known as the greatest manager of all time, putting United back on the map as one of the biggest clubs in world football and having a haul of trophies unmatched anywhere in European football’s top divisions in that time. True dominance.
The decision to stick with Sir Alex in those regression seasons of 1989 and 1990 paid off in a huge way. I’m not saying that LVG is going to do the same, or should be given the same opportunity. I’m merely just showing how impatient we have become. Van Gaal has taken over a team in 7th, that then went on to lose a wealth of experience in Rio, Giggs, Vidic, Evra and many more. He guided us to 4th. We expected to kick on. We didn’t. But he may still come 4th, ahead of city, ahead of champions Chelsea and win the FA Cup. If I’d told you in August that would happen, you’d tell me that was progress, wouldn’t you?
The problem was how bad December was. It still hangs over our heads, it still shakes our confidence as we look towards the Norwich game tomorrow, where we should smash them. But I know not one red who thinks we will.
Que sera, sera. Whatever will be will be. But we’re going to Wembley. So stop fucking moaning and try enjoy the football.