They say you’re never far from a rat in Central London. The same could be said of Manchester United fans, pretty much all over the country. They happen to share a characteristic with rats at the moment though: you certainly can’t see or hear them.
I’ve always been surrounded by so-called Mancs. They’re here, they’re there, they’re every-effing-where. And they took every opportunity to rub your nose in it when they could. It was all lacking substance of course; as well all love to tell them, they only live round the corner. But the chirpy old Man-Ure fan is a thing of the past at the moment. No texts of anticipation. No battle cries. Not even a ‘looking forward to this weekend?’ as yet.
You see the United we all grew up to know and hate is a thing of the past. Sir Alex Ferguson has gone, as have some of the great talents of yesteryear. Even when Wolves headed to Old Trafford, towards the twilight of Ferguson’s time at the club, his presence emanated a fear factor that enveloped United as an entity. Even if you were holding on, you were sitting petrified of what might come in the last 15 minutes, the ultimate onslaught, a pressure of an ocean on top of you rather than waves of attack normal sides produced. But this is not the club we visit on Saturday.
A hollow shell remains. The stadium is still formidable. The fanbase is still heavily swollen. But the aura is gone. In it’s place stands a marketing exercise, a bulging bank balance and a psychological case study of a football manager.
It says a lot that the first game we had at Old Trafford under Mick McCarthy required us to play an entirely weakened side. The XI we faced was: Kuszczak, De Laet, Vidic, Carrick (centre-back), Evra, Valencia, Gibson, Scholes, Obertan, Rooney, Berbatov. Not a vintage United side by any stretch. But this was indicative of the mentality teams approached trips to Old Trafford with. it was defeatist, surrendering the result before a ball had been kicked. How times have changed.
I believe in the theory that a team reflects the image its management portrays. We have Nuno, a confident, secure man, who knows what he wants and fears no one. Wolves play the same way whatever the opposition, each player knows exactly what is required of them and they approach each game confidently. Then we have Jose Mourinho.
The first thing to note about Mourinho is that he has always – ALWAYS – been a manager who thinks of the opposition before his own team. He plays on the back-foot. What is there to fear about a team that will already be more concerned about how we approach the game than themselves? When you begin to contextualise the build up to the game, coupled with Mourinho’s own haphazard nature, there are more reasons to be cheerful as we head up the M6 on Saturday. Referring back to the idea that teams reflect their manager, they’re currently in a good space. We all know how quickly this can turn with Jose though.
Their form so far has been temperamental, without ever truly convincing anyone of their credentials as potential title winners. Their losses to Brighton and Tottenham were both poor indictments of Jose’s footballing philosophy and man management and yet they both drew very different reactions from the Portuguese. There is such a sense of ‘what on earth will he do next’ that the club just seems to be in a spin at times. You can point to his methods of deflecting criticism from his team or his use of himself as a bodyguard for his squad, but he’s also bullied his players to the point of concern for their mental health. There are many faces to Jose and many faces to his team it seems. This uncertainty is where Wolves can capitalise.
We will frustrate them. Nuno is too savvy to allow us to open up in the way Mourinho wants. We will sit deep and allow United to work themselves into a frenzy. We will create chances. We may not take them all but we will create them and we will score. I honestly believe we will take points from this fixture. Whether it is 1 or 3, I’m not in the business of predicting but we will go to Old Trafford and not lose. Because we have that belief, they have that fear and as a combination it is set up in our favour. The more I watch us the less I see us being outclassed by any team in this league. Get used to it ladies and gentleman. This weekend, statements will be made.