ONE of my mates is a Manchester United supporter. I’ve been giving him a bit of banter over WhatsApp recently, sending him stats about José Mourinho’s start at to life at Old Trafford. If you’re on Twitter you’ll have seen the same sort of things: he’s won just 35 points from 29 games since the start of last season, for example. He’s notched up less points than David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal after 13 games. No team has won a Premier League match in Manchester since the 24th of September.
His response was that he’s confident that the Portuguese boss will come good at Old Trafford and it’s a perfectly valid opinion. I’m not totally convinced and I posited the suggestion that if you were to look at the current situation of both Liverpool and Manchester United and were asked who was likely to be more successful over the next 10 years then the smart money would be on the Reds from Merseyside.
Unsurprisingly he disagreed and in order to make a point he sent through a story about how Manchester United have been written off numerous times in the past and have always recovered and had the last laugh. It was a bit cringeworthy and read as though it had been written by a child, but I’m sure United supporters have all shared it between themselves on Reddit and Facebook and had it printed out to put up in their bedrooms. Here’s a snippet of it:
Blood, toil, sweat and tears.
That is Manchester United.
Our squad needs a reshuffle you say.
Our tactics are outdated you say.
You laugh because you think we are down.
You laugh because you think we are lost.
We smile because we have seen it all.
We smile because we know we will ALWAYS be back.
Wins from incredible positions.
“The Comeback Kings” is what they named us.
Glory from the darkest despair.
That is Manchester United.
The moral of the story appears to be that good teams tend to win stuff even if they haven’t won stuff for a few years. A tricky one to figure out, that, but thankfully it’s there in a long and poorly written tale for us all to get our heads around.
I could have saved the author a lot of time by getting him to write something like, “Football’s cyclical. We’ll be back competing at the top in no time”, but where’s the fun in that I suppose.
I was thinking about the cyclical nature of football as I watched us play Leeds on Tuesday night. It wasn’t the best performance the Reds have ever produced but it was good enough to get us into the draw for the next round and it was noteworthy for the performances of a number of youngsters.
Ben Woodburn obviously stole the show with his 81st minute goal and Trent Alexander-Arnold impressed throughout, his cross for Divock Origi’s goal being a clear standout moment. I thought Ovie Ejaria was also really impressive and one of his first-half passes was absolute filth that deserved a vine all of its own. On top of that it’s easy to forget that Origi is only 21, Can 22 and even Mané’s only 24.
I might be making this up but it doesn’t feel like all that long ago when we were complaining about the lack of youth players coming through the ranks at Anfield. The likes of Joao Teixeira and Suso were touted as being the next big things only to ultimately disappoint when they made appearances for the first-team before departing. Discussions of ‘major surgery’ being needed were par for the course during the closing stages of Brendan Rodgers’ time in the Liverpool hot seat and young players like Jerome Sinclair were determined to leave the club to further their opportunities.
Some will use that as a stick to beat the Northern Irishman with, of course. But then some slag him off for getting his teeth done so that’s not really a massive surprise. I had some sympathy with him, personally. He knew he was under pressure and it’s difficult to turn to youth at a time when you feel like you’re clinging on to your job.
There was very much a vibe of saying that The Academy could no longer produce stars like it has in the past. Where’s the next Steven Gerrard? The next Robbie Fowler? The next Michael Owen? That was a common refrain from fans and pundits alike.
Interestingly it was never really discussed that players like Gerrard and Fowler are once in a generation for a country, let alone a city. Opposition fans love to slag off Gerrard but in their heart of hearts they know they’d have given anything to have him at their club. He was one of the best all-round midfielders that there’s ever been and certainly one of the best English ones.
Robbie Fowler may never have hit the heights with the England national side, yet he was one of the most gifted natural goalscorers the country has produced. He also wasn’t the first player to be overlooked by managers who feel it’s more important to kowtow to press opinion than pick the best players available to them. Still, the critics look at The Academy and ask why they haven’t been producing more of those types of players, as though it’s simply a matter of getting them to run around a bit more and they’ll quickly become the greatest player of their generation.
Of course there’s no telling right now how the careers of Trent Alexander-Arnold or Ben Woodburn will turn out. Yet it’s undeniable that they look like real talents who have the ability to give some of the Liverpool youth system of days gone by a run for their money. The Academy is doing great work right now and they’ll be rightly proud of seeing their players make such a difference to Liverpool’s performance in an important cup match.
Football is cyclical. We’ll doubtless have another lean spell when it comes to young talents in the years to come. That’s why it’s important to celebrate what we’ve got and get excited over youth players when they get their chance in the next year or so. They’re working with the best manager in the league when it comes to nurturing youth, too, so the future looks very bright indeed.
The kids, as they say, are alright.