London rivals Arsenal and Chelsea have celebrated quarter-final victories to move within two matches of a possible Europa League derby final.
I know, I know.
Immediately as you read the title of this article you will think, “Too much money, players are too soft, there is no loyalty in the game anymore”.
And you would be correct.
But that is not the point of this article.
Indulge me if you will.
I recently stumbled across a documentary on YouTube titled ‘The Feud: Ferguson vs Wenger‘ (a well done piece and would highly recommend to any Football fan) and it highlights a pretty astounding point. We have lost the heart in the game.
Yes, you can say United and City still hate each other, that Arsenal and Tottenham still provide decent spectacles, and the Merseyside derby is still a fun occasion, but no longer are the days that you saw pure hatred spiral out onto another team whilst on the football field.
In this documentary it highlights the passion, the love, and the sheer determination of the both Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsène Wenger in their pursuit to win football matches, and more importantly defeat the opposition.
As the great leaders they were, their hatred of one another filtered through to their players who would week after week put there bodies on the line to win.
This is long gone.
We are in a time now where footballers are worried about their hair, their Instagram and the weekly pay-check as apposed to the most important thing, winning football matches.
In the tunnels before matches where we once got ice cold professional footballers who would barely acknowledge the opposition, we now get ‘banter’ and opponents conducting super-elaborate handshakes and high fives with each other that probably if converted to morse code are signalling their agents to ask for more money.
They are too focused on themselves.
These days when players are dropped or have the slightest provocation from the manager, agents are called, stories are fed to the papers, and players whinge about how they deserve to play, whereas their predecessors would’ve knuckled down and proven the manger wrong on the pitch.
Most frustratingly managers are sacked after loosing a couple of games. If United had followed that trend at the start of Sir Alex’s career, the footballing world would have never seen the brilliance of a career spanning more than quarter of century.
What a bloody shame!
But I digress, back to the documentary.
My favourite clip of ‘The Feud’ doesn’t even take place on the pitch and doesn’t involve either manager, but the two captains.
February 2005, Highbury.
We all know the incident.
After Patrick Vieira and other Arsenal players attempted to intimidate Garry Neville during the warm up, Roy Keane in the tunnel confronted Vieira with only referee Graham Poll stopping Keane from destroying Vieira before the match had even started.
This was the era where footballers went to war and put their bodies on the line to do what it took to win football matches.
Now by no means am I condoning all of Keane and Vieira’s behaviour during their careers.
We certainly don’t need career ending tackles and abusing of referee’s on a weekly basis. But what we do need is some fight.
I, if you couldn’t tell already, am a Manchester United fan. Always have been, always will be.
Any United fan will tell you that the years since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure have been torturous. This season has been particularly frustrating because we haven’t shown any signs of life, folding to weaker teams, and quite frankly not showing up.
But the game against Newcastle at the weekend, was different.
The game started horrifically for United going down 2-0 within ten minutes.
But what happened next truly surprised me.
United went on the front foot. Attacked and defended with a vigour and energy about them that I haven’t seen since the Ferguson era.
And on the stroke of the 90th minute, United took the lead and won the match 3-2.
Scenes of pure joy and jubilation from players, fans, and even one particular manager followed.
This is what football is all about.
Not the money, not the cars, the sponsorships, the Instagram, or the fame – but the game.
For a moment we all forgot about Jose Mourinho’s potential sacking. We forgot about Paul Pogba’s off-field antics. We forgot about the fact united are seven points off the leaders after eight rounds. We were just in the moment celebrating and rediscovering the most important thing… heart.
Now, obviously we can’t get into a time machine and whisk our way back and I’m not sure I’d want to. But we are this close to completely losing what is truly great about the game.
They say the first two steps of solving a problem is 1.) accepting that there is a problem and 2.) identifying the problem.
So now we have done that I ask of you, the fans of the game… what is the solution?