Inside the Opposition: United (Part 2)

Robert Pollard

Our second derby day installment of Inside the Opposition is with United fan Mark Kelleher, better known for his brilliant Twitter account Herzog’s Child. He is a writer for the Huffington Post and stretford-end.com, and he has also contributed a chapter to a new United book called Deepest Red. It’s a pleasure to welcome him to Typical City. I got his views on all things United and City ahead of Sunday’s crucial game.

Neither City nor United have started particularly well yet a gap has appeared between us and the rest. How do you see the season panning out?

Difficult to call, really. It’s all been a little schizophrenic so far, perhaps not surprisingly. At the start of the season someone asked me how I envisioned things would go. I am heavily critical of United’s current side, for reasons that have lamentably persisted for a number of years now, but City are a more difficult animal to predict. I recall stating that one of two things would happen, and both would be inextricably linked to last May’s catastrophic end. Either City, propelled by the league win and the manner in which it was secured, would drive on relentlessly this season, or they would be jittery as a result of the burden being champions tends to create. In truth, despite the gap, neither side has been overly inspiring. Quite clearly both will once more joust it out until the end, the rest having been long felled, but for now it’s underwhelming. The table as it stands is looking pretty for both sides, but the gap has emerged more as a result of others collapsing. Other potential challengers – Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverp… (*stifles laughter*) – have all suffered predictable early crises and have fallen. There’s still an excitement about the league, a somewhat enjoyable uncertainty, but it’s tied to blatant mediocrity rather than a quality that can be deemed high and admirable. So, to reduce all that to simple terms: I think as the season progresses, few surprises will emerge. Both City and United will gallop even further ahead, with your lot eventually nicking it. As for the rest: call me disinterested, but I haven’t the heart to care about what happens below.

What do you make of van Persie’s impact?

Advocates will rightly point to his scoring record alone as proof of his instant excellence, but to reduce his impact to mere stats does him a disservice. In a United side distinctly sloppy and creaking due to the presence of aging legs, he has largely been the exception to the rule. The highlights reels will focus on his predatory side, but he also brings a refreshing exactitude to proceedings. The sharpness, the cutting precision, the fact that nearly everything he does is loaded with attacking intent — he’s just an all round terrific striker. Unlike our other three options there – three options who, I should add, are all excellent in their own way – he’s rarely complacent. Wayne’s erratic, Danny’s raw, Hernandez is ace inside the box and an arse outside it. Van Persie, however, is a striker in the most literal sense of the word. It’s not exactly a howl watching us play currently, but he offers moments that are utterly joyous.

How much have you missed Vidic?

This is a weird one. United have gifted, and I mean gifted, an extraordinary amount of cheap goals to the opposition so far this season. While many of those have been scratched off due to classic United comebacks, scathing critiques – particularly from reds – have centred on the defence. Personally, I find the process discomforting. Here’s why: while frailties in the backline have all too readily been exposed by really poor sides, one has to look at the whole picture (I am, I notice, straying into David Brent territory here!). The midfield issue, which appears to be 200 or so years old, is key to all of it. Leg-heavy, ensuring the space it covers is criminally limited, you can pluck any two from United’s available pool and it still won’t be convincing over time. No one puts in a tackle, no one properly protects the backline. As a result, teams just steam through the middle with ease, leaving the defence vulnerable. As it happens, Jonny Evans has done commendably. Save for last Saturday’s horror show, that is. But that match highlighted Vidic’s absence. His expertise is pinging crossed balls out of the box. So, yes, he has to an extent been missed. But the defensive issues are somewhat separate again. We have enough in our ranks to considerably deal without him. We do not, however, have enough in our midfield to protect the four who, understandably, are struggling now.

Some of my mates who are United fans are getting pissed off with some of your fans. They say that they’re becoming obsessed with City just like some of our fans have been obsessed with United in the past, singing songs about us and focusing on our results. You noticed that?

Yes, there’s certainly some truth to that. City’s rise was always going to intensify matters to a greater extent, but there has to be a degree of order to its delivery, I feel. I’m not one to criticise songs, particularly in a climate where all that can be done to endanger the potential for atmosphere is being done, but obsessively singing about a side you’re not playing on the pitch has always struck me as a little peculiar. I see little issue with focusing on results, particularly as the knock on effect on both sides is clearly of importance. I guess it’s all just part of a rivalry that has reignited as a result of City’s fortune. Psychologies are bound to change when positions do. Similarly, on the flipside, I’ve noticed that the vast majority of City fans have, since the takeover, had no qualms with embracing all that they purported to hate about United for years. Before, United were seen through Blue eyes as a corporate and soulless entity, while little old City were still rooted in football’s romanticism and purity. As we all know, things are different when silverware is in sight. United’s prolonged glory years brought with it undesirable elements, but the nastiness has to be endured if you want to witness the beautiful moments. So, yeah, it has all changed a bit in recent years. It has certainly made things more interesting, but I’m sure I speak for most when I say I wish City were as comically crap as they used to be before. The change in attitude in the way both sets of supporters now view things is understandable, even if it does tend to verge on the tedious.

Who’s your favourite United player?

Paul Scholes. The last of my United heroes – and now, given I’m not at that age anymore, there will be no more. There’s little point applying superlatives at this point, only to say that even now, that bit slower and less influential, he above anyone else remains the one player who still inspires a silly smile during matches. Even in defeat. Case in point: during the Spurs home loss early season, United contained the ball for the second half with a surreal ease. Spurs had hardly a sniff of it. At the heart of it was Scholes, his wand of a foot manipulating and gliding and tricking and controlling and doing everything that makes one fall in love with the game during youth. I hate the sadness that watching him now provokes. There are still moments of astonishment, when the football and not the result seems most important, but I wish he had been able to retire quietly. During the aforementioned Spurs match, it was odd; in one way, his near flawlessness helped ease the pain of defeat, but I knew part of the reason why we lost – and why we’ve stumbled so often in recent years – was because he wasn’t gone and we hadn’t replaced him. I commented on the time that watching him in that game was what it must feel like to have sex when you’re terminally ill. Pleasure in the immediate, but when it’s over the looming and ever-present issues still linger on. I hope he goes next year.

What’s your perception of City from the outside?

Mixed feelings, really. The manufactured nature of City’s rise is something that, to me at least, doesn’t make it as horrific as maybe it should be. I think even the most blinkered would quietly concede that amidst all the brilliance within the team, and challenging for silverware, and investing off the field for the future, there’s something still inorganic about it all. Of course that coming from a red will inspire blue wrath, given United have all too willingly taken advantage of fortune and the brand success has earned them, but even still much of what United have spent has been produced by the club itself. On that side of things, then, I’m not overly bothered. Football has gone that way – as seen with Chelsea, and PSG, billionaires can saddle up at any given time and transform everything around them. Its knock on effect is damaging, of course, and I do wonder how many of the old time-served Blues feel about it all. But then you get a day like May, and the madness of it I’m sure makes everything seem perfectly legitimate. As for the team and boss – parts really impress me, others not so much. I quite like Mancini, even if it’s unpopular to say so. Tactically he’s been a little sloppy this year, but I admire the risk he takes. I’ve been surprised by his tolerance of Balotelli, mind. I was pretty surprised City retained him and didn’t flog him during the summer. A bad egg, whose cons outweigh the pros. There are some good characters within the team. Kompany, Silva and – begrudgingly – Tevez have the right stuff on the pitch, while Toure is the beast I wish wore the red, and not blue, of Manchester. The side has been a bit stop-start this season. Again, it might be a little hangover from May. The next month or two will be intriguing; now out of Europe – thanks for the laughs, by the way! – I’m interested to see how they react. I fear it will be better for them in the long-term, while hoping that the confidence knock is something that will carry into the next run of fixtures. Starting with the little one on Sunday.

Who is that midfielder United desperately need?

A midfielder, you say? What’s that? Mmm. I like the kid Götze at Dortmund, and I was aggrieved to see Dembele leave for Spurs for what was essentially a pittance. If I’m to enter a little dream-world for a moment and pluck a few from the league, I’ll take that beast residing in your midfield, and the snappy, sneering but brilliant little shit Wilshere from Arsenal. But it’s all a bit “Waiting for Godot” – endless waiting for something that, essentially, will never ever, not in a million billion years, ever turn up. They ponder suicide in that, don’t they?….

Match prediction?

Plenty of the ball for you, plenty running around without it for us. And you’ll score more.

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