It must be simple to be a journalist assigned to reporting on Manchester United these days.
I don’t just mean that social media channels, blog sites and news aggregators make it very easy to glean a few facts, try to spell the words correctly when the ‘copy and paste’ fails or, just get an impression of how things are going at Old Trafford and add a few ‘comments’ of your own.
If you can, at the same time, have a go at the clubs based at the other end of the East Lancs Road then so much the better as that will always sell or increase impressions for those with their grubby fingers in every digital pie.
It’s simple because you just have to turn up at one of José Mourinho’s press conferences before, after or during a match to understand what it must be like to be a Manchester United player or one of its medical team. His latest soundbite concerns fixture congestion and his honest assessment that not appearing in the semi-final was a ‘blessing’ because his players wouldn’t have been good enough to beat Spurs.
A simple Google search would have revealed that José appears to hate Luke Shaw – not because his latest injury has made the total greater than the sum of the parts of José’s remuneration package, but because he wanted it to be a ‘big injury’ to show that he wasn’t faking it. Or is that fake news? Simple enough for ‘qualified’ journalists to put their own spin on it.
It is also much simpler to cover The Red Devils now than it would have been for any 1950s hack in the McCarthy era because money talks and ex-Manchester United players are nothing if not greedy, or ‘mad for it’ as one Mancunian might once have described it.
After comprehensively failing as a football manager – apart from a stroke of luck with a four-leafed clover at Sunderland, who still think a United rainbow will lead them to a pot of gold, Moyes the pity – Roy Keane now puts into words what bullying, fouling and inducement to violence could never quite convey.
His latest targets are his old club and, ahem, Liverpool (what did I tell you about the East Lancs connection!) because of their apparent celebration at getting into the top four of the Premier League: “When I see clubs like Liverpool and Man United celebrating getting into the top four, I cringe at it, I really do.”
Journalists will interpret this as him thinking that these teams – like Real Madrid and Barcelona – should set their sights on winning not qualifying. However, this assumes that a) Roy thinks b) Roy isn’t secretly delighted that United have not been nearly as successful since he stopped playing for them and c) Roy isn’t more interested in his bank balance growing at the same rate as his beard is greying.
Roy’s former partner in crime, Paul Scholes, used to shun the limelight and the entire nation wishes that this was still the case. Paul has a typically ‘little man’ outlook on the world and constantly tries to big himself up as a hard man with apocryphal stories such as him kicking Paul Pogba to ‘toughen him up’ in days gone by (or as Pogba ran past him). Paul is extremely insightful too (if the money’s good enough) and has shown that he is now over the fact that Louis Van Gaal didn’t recognise him, suggesting that, these days, “there is a speed and desire to score goals which win games.”
While Scholes is dull beyond belief, Rio Ferdinand is infinitely more interesting, though his speaking voice is hampered by the fact that he seems to dribble – which never happened very often on the pitch – and run out of breath very quickly – which never happened very often on the pitch.
Journalists looking beyond the UK (and Ireland) for comment and analysis will be thrilled to know that Owen Hargreaves is a ‘co-commentator’ for BT Sport. Unfortunately, Owen shows consistently – unlike on a football pitch – that ‘co’ does not mean ‘same.’ True, he listens very carefully to his commentating colleague and repeats, faithfully, what he has just heard – sometimes throwing in a word of his own – but is about as penetrating as Middlesbrough.
Overseas experience also comes, of course, from Gary Neville, whose knowledge of La Liga has been greatly enhanced from his short holiday in Spain before he sat down with himself and his tactics board and had to admit that he didn’t really like the food.
Gary’s brother, Phil, must really have the last word on this because, as in his football day, his was a story of inconsistency, interrupted by really, really, bad decisions that live long in the memory. Phil’s latest, considered opinion is that, after listening to his father talking about George Best and Pele, Ronaldo is at least as good if not better than they were because “He is a physical specimen, a total athlete.”
I wonder what George would have made of ex-Manchester United footballers today. I suspect that words would have failed him for once. As for Pele, well, if only he’d strived to be the best …