As an Arsenal fan I could never respect Spurs, mainly because there is nothing to respect, but Manchester United is a different story...
As far as I’m aware, this series of articles is for fans to write about some sort of regrettable admiration for a rival. As a loyal Gooner, there’s very little to admire across North London, as ‘Arry Redknapp leans out of his car window to tell Sky Sports that he “ain’t no f**kin wheelah deelah,” and that Luka Modric “will be stayin’ ‘ere one million percent cos he’s a traffic lad.”
As the Emirates banner proudly states: “forever in our shadow,” Tottenham, despite their fans’ deluded fantasies, are not and probably never will be in my lifetime, a bigger club than The Arsenal. For all The Gunners’ current shortcomings, they still remain above the old enemy who are propping up the rear of the Premier League table. It’s some sort of reassurance that Gooners will always live by: however bad things get, Spurs will still be there to point and laugh at.
For all the local history between the sides, these days I don’t think there’s any genuine deep-down hatred of the Lilywhites; they really are something of a laughing stock, a club we enjoy poking fun at because, let’s face it, they’re of no real threat to us. In 2006 when they finally had the chance to overhaul us, they quite literally, filled their knickers.
The other historical rival has to be of course, the newly-crowned most successful club in the history of English football. I was privileged, or perhaps unfortunate enough to be at Old Trafford for the Champions’ mauling of my beloved Arsenal the other week.
Another stick unable to beat United with is that they have ‘bought’ their success in the same way Chelsea have and Manchester City are looking set to do in the near future
I must first of all say that I thoroughly enjoyed visiting the city of Manchester for the first time, the environment was pleasant and the locals were surprisingly friendly consoling considering I was sporting my Gunners jersey. I even shared an enlightened footballing conversation over dinner later that night. But I’m here to write about the football club, not the surrounding area or minority of United fans not from South London.
You can do your best to knock 19 League titles and three European Cups amongst other honours but it’s a bit of a foolish act. The most valid accusation you can throw at Ferguson’s all-conquering teams is that they were ‘jammy.’ One could argue there is an element of luck at constantly snatching goals, and consequently vital points, at late stages of games but frankly, it can’t simply be good fortune when it occurs on such an unerringly frequent basis. As so many of the players will tell you, a never-say-die belief system is instilled early on, and the ability to keep on trucking, even when the proverbial chips are down, is one that has contributed to their haul of trophies over the last 20 years.
Another stick unable to beat Manchester United with is that they have ‘bought’ their success in the same way Chelsea have and Manchester City are looking set to do in the near future. The Champions may have spent large sums of money in the past, but not on the same outrageously unnecessary scale as the aforementioned Blues. Their billionaire owner has notoriously done more harm than good to the club, so they cannot rely on his backing like so many Premier League clubs are having to nowadays.
Any revenue generated is essentially a consequence of their supreme success on the pitch. Trophies equals prize money, which equals television and sponsorship deals which equals even more money. You get the picture; it’s a big snowball effect. Manchester United’s success has spread worldwide and they are now a global brand.
I have far more respect for this ‘organic’ financial growth than I do for a sugar-daddy pumping his blood money into a club.
The signing of Ji-Sung Park epitomises what the club have become. Primarily, as every player should be, he was bought because of his ability as a footballer. There has been an immensely positive side-effect, however through the reaction of their ever-growing Asian fanbase, who are delighted to see ‘one of their own’ make it at the biggest club in the world. Shirt sales have been a sensational source of income, and tours of the Far East have helped United reach out to this demographic and reap further benefits. I have far more respect for this ‘organic’ financial growth than I do for a sugar-daddy pumping his blood money into a club.
They continue to compete at the top level because of a series of by-products of their unrivalled success on the pitch. Despite having spent a hefty £65m or so, United have also strengthened through the promotion of young players; particularly the likes of Tom Cleverley and Danny Welbeck who have returned from loan and made a terrific early impact.
As wretched as Arsenal were at Old Trafford on that quite remarkable afternoon, United were excellent and, whisper it quietly, were pretty enjoyable to watch. Wayne Rooney has returned to the form that temporarily placed him alongside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in the echelons of the world’s elite and the addition of Ashley Young has been inspired; as the versatile forward has added another dimension to their game and as we all know, he scored two terrific goals against the Gunners.
There seems to be more respect between the sides, including Wenger and Ferguson themselves, than there ever has been. Personally, I think it’s more a case of pity because Arsenal aren’t nearly as threatening as they were at the turn of the millennium. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t miss ‘the good old days’ with the titanic clashes that turned every which way, leaving every viewer completely compelled and on the edge of their seats for 90 minutes (except the drab 2005 FA Cup Final of course in which Arsenal somehow won on penalties).
The infamous van Nistelrooy ‘penaltygate’ incident saw Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, Jens Lehmann, Lauren and Ashley Cole all punished as well as Ryan Giggs and a young Cristiano Ronaldo
Keane v Vieira going head-to-head was a battle eagerly anticipated by all, and there were always fierce characters in both camps who were up for the battle. The infamous van Nistelrooy ‘penaltygate’ incident saw Martin Keown, Ray Parlour, Jens Lehmann, Lauren and Ashley Cole all punished as well as Ryan Giggs and a young Cristiano Ronaldo. I don’t condone violence in football but it was just fantastic to watch tensions boil over in that manner. And it happened every single time the teams met.
But even amidst the intense rivalry, there really was some deep-down admiration for either side because they had kept each other on their toes. Even with Chelsea’s rise to prominence, I don’t, and never did, feel the same amount of adrenaline pumping through my blood as I did when Ferguson’s men came to North London, even if Jose Mourinho briefly threatened to become public enemy number one.
Nobody can deny that Manchester United have been consistently competing at the top end both domestically and in Europe for over two decades now. It’s an outstanding achievement considering the cyclical nature of football; how Liverpool’s dominance was replaced by Arsenal, and more recently Chelsea and Manchester City have entered the fray. Throughout each passing phase, Ferguson has kept his side at the forefront of the title race and all signs point to a prolonged stay in the future, with an exciting generation of young players now coming through.
For all their ‘social shortcomings,’ that make them hated by the rest of the country, you know, like Fergie’s punchable purple nose and the bribing of referees, there is no doubt that Manchester United are a fantastic club and one I have the utmost respect for. That is all, I’m now off to shoot myself.
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