It has been a week where Manchester United has hogged the limelight from those around it, and who can argue with that? The way that things have been going for the club, of course it will draw the most attention. Some of it is cultural, some of it is footballing and media tradition, but mainly it’s that this is a team that, since Monday, just cannot stop winning. (Unless they lost today.)
There are moments in your life when you will never forget where you were. When the authors of this Diary bore witness to the events between United and Shrewsbury Town, we made a mental note of just what our surroundings were. For one of us, it was knee-deep in piss in a flooded pub toilet in Peckham. For the the other, it was watching the first one pass out knee-deep in pass in a flooded pub toilet in Peckham. For our friends who know us, of course, this comes as no surprise. That’s what we do every night, alternating between the observer and the comatose one. But for those who merely admire our work, we feel like now is the time to share publicly the glamor of the modern day soccer/football blogger.
Sadly, due to being in that toilet for a couple of hours — why break with a long established habit? — we missed the game live, but caught up with it on replay the next day, even though we were following the scores on our smartphones at the time. It was apparent that Louis van Gaal had turned a corner. We promised ourselves that we’d do the same in the morning, after the memories come back, and just before a hot, revitalizing, and entirely essential shower.
United played with a bravery and a resilience not seen since one of those American films about soldiers who invade a poorer country and then get attacked by soldiers who resent their neocolonialist invaders. Imagine soldiers getting picked off, one by one, by snipers probably armed by the CIA 20 years ago. That was United’s fate, but with injuries and fewer deaths. Child soldier Cameron Borthwick-Jones left at halftime to be replaced by Joe Riley, another teenager. Jesse Lingard suffered yet another injury, and finally it was left to Will Keane, on for a few minutes, talking about the girl back home he was yet to marry, going down under the weight of his own weight. Everyone else, he instructed, should go on without him.
And go on without him they quite literally did. They romped to a magnificent three-goal victory while keeping a clean sheet, after weeks of defensive incompetence. There will be those who point out that celebrating such a victory is merely an inevitability when one side has far greater resources than the other. They will point out that chest-swelling is a bit undignified. But we refer you back to our previous U.S. war analogy. It all fits.
To continue an awkward film comparison, we move on to Arsenal versus Barcelona, where we were inexplicably reminded of the film Barcelona. How that fell into our minds is a near impossibility to fathom, but sometimes the brain works in magical and complex ways that’s still years from human understanding. Nonetheless, having seen Barcelona play, Barcelona the film, set in Barcelona, jogged our memories. In it, one character explained that any shortcomings he might have, as an expat, would simply be attributed to him being American, rather than any of his own specific personality traits.
Arsenal played against Barcelona on Tuesday, and lost due to a brainwrong from Mathieu Flamini, and an inability to concentrate in attack, which opened them up to Lionel Messi’s counter-attacking opener. That made us think: perhaps we’ve been looking at Arsenal wrong all this time. Instead of getting furious at the repeated mistakes — the brittle attitude and the self-satisfaction of the players — maybe it’s not their fault. Just as the character from the aforementioned film Barcelona was seen in his environment as a typical American, the blame should be leveled at Arsene Wenger. The Arsenal players aren’t bad players; they’re just unable to escape the branding that comes with playing under Wenger. Move Wenger anywhere in the world, and the same, godforsaken, tedious nonsense would play out again and again and again.
Which, finally, brings us to Manchester City, who beat Dynamo Kiev 3-1 away from home. This reminded us of a UAE-backed film designed to appeal to Western audiences and distract from human rights abuses, but that nobody really could bring themselves to care about. We think it was called something try-hard and self-consciously cool. Something like, “How Are You, Brother?”