Manchester United – We Sell Out Stadiums, Not Our Souls.

“As for United, they stand for something more than any other person, any player, any supporter. They are the soul of a sporting organisation which goes on from year to year, making history all the time. They remain a club with a rich vein of character and faith. Because of that they have no fear of the morrow.” Manchester United programme notes from 1937

After a disappointing end to last season, there has been a sombre feeling amongst Manchester United fans. With the trauma of losing the Premier League to Manchester City on the last day of the season and ultimately ending up trophyless in 2012, many United fans have been calling for Fergie to break the bank and buy some new marquee signings. For some, the philosophy of United nurturing youth and purchasing potential instead of the finished article has started to wear thin as a means for success.

Last season, we saw Sheikh Mansour’s and Roman Roman Abramovic’s millions lift the Premier League and Champions League respectively; therefore many have a case study for their argument that the Reds should detach themselves from their old romantic ways and get to grips with the modern day trend of cheque-book trophy winning.

With many of our youngsters travelling with the United squad on this year’s pre-season tour, there would usually be many reasons to be hopeful about the future of the club. Now many see this as a sign of weakness, a lack of strength in depth and a signal of Manchester United’s lack of activity in the transfer market.

This, coupled with the exodus of three of United’s Youth Cup winning stars Morrison, Pogba and Fryers over the last year, could also indicate that even United’s young players are not buying into United’s philosophy any more.

The first couple of matches of this year’s pre-season tour will give what is left of our current crop of fledglings the chance to show if they have what it takes to be a Manchester United player. But if they prove themselves, will they want to stay? If so, why do the young players of this era have a different mentality to the great United’s prospects of yesteryear?

I could write epistles on agents in football, but I do not associate them with the beautiful game any more. Therefore, I will, first of all , focus on what makes a professional footballer a ‘Manchester United player’.

“I signed a contract at 16 which promised me £20.75 a week, so I didn’t come into this for money. I came here because I loved playing football and I loved United”. Gary Neville.

Gary Neville was by no means the most naturally gifted footballer that came through the ranks at Old Trafford; however his sheer will and determination meant that he was destined for greatness. After Captaining the Class of ’92 to FA Youth Cup success, he became a first team regular at right-back for club and country for the best part of 15 years. Along the way, he won 8 League Titles, 3 FA Cups, 2 League Cups, a Champions League, an Intercontinental Cup and a World Club Cup. He is now the voice of Sky Sports punditry and is the leading co-commentator. He cost United nothing and he never once asked for a pay rise or a move away from Old Trafford.

“The thought of pulling on any shirt other than the red one of United just doesn’t appeal to me. There’s no bigger club in the world than United so why should I want to leave? I want to stay at Manchester United, become captain and be the best player in the world.” David Beckham

David Beckham became a regular for Manchester United the hard way after his lightweight frame limited his chances of playing in the first team. A young Beckham was sent out on loan to Preston North End in an attempt to toughen him up. Before he became United’s next Iconic number seven, he had to prove himself in the lower leagues and then the reserves. He was described by Alex Ferguson as his most avid practice merchant, often stopping late after training sessions to perfect his skills. Despite preferring to play in centre of midfield, he stuck-out his whole career playing on the right wing for United, becoming the world’s best crosser of the ball in the process. He won every major honour with United and continued his success with Real Madrid. He is now a Hollywood star, the world’s most famous footballer and the world’s richest footballer. He cost United nothing and he never once asked for a pay rise or a move from Old Trafford.

“I didn’t become a footballer to be famous, I became a footballer to be successful. I didn’t want to be famous. Now people want to be famous. Why? Why would you want people following you about all day?” Ryan Giggs

When a young Ryan Wilson was spotted in Salford, (now Sir) Alex Ferguson described him as “a cocker spaniel chasing a piece of silver paper in the wind”. Giggsy’s penchant for chasing silver has not changed over the years as the Cardiff born winger is the most decorated footballer in the history of English football with 12 Premier League medals to his name along with 4 F.A. Cups, 4 League Cups and 2 Champions League medals. United’s Number 11 put himself into a class of his own with the greatest F.A. Cup goal of all time against Arsenal in April 1999, when he single-handedly beat every member of the best defence in Europe at the time to blast United on their way to a historic treble. Ryan is United’s record appearance maker with over 900 appearances and counting to this date, after beating the great Bobby Charlton’s record in 2008 against Chelsea in the Champions League final in Moscow. He cost nothing and he never once asked for a pay rise or a move from Old Trafford.

“I am not a man of many words but I can honestly say that playing football is all I have ever wanted to do and to have had such a long and successful career at Manchester United has been a real honour.” Paul Scholes

Paul Scholes is the most highly regarded opponent by his footballing counterparts all over Europe. Zinedine Zidane, Xavi, Iniesta, Henry and Vieira have all queued up to compliment the ‘Ginger Prince’ with each player stating that Scholesy was undisputedly the best player that they have ever played against. With Paul being a man of few words, you have to leave it up to those who have seen him in action. United’s own Bobby Charlton summed it up by stating “I have no hesitation in putting a name to the embodiment of all that I think is best about football. It’s Paul Scholes”. The United midfielder’s low key lifestyle and laid back demeanour made him the most liked footballer off the field as well as on it. Quite simply, he was the best midfielder of his generation. Again, he cost nothing and he never once asked for a pay rise or a move from Old Trafford

“When I made my debut I came on for Bryan Robson, who was my hero at the time, still is. We played Oldham and won 3-something. Over the years the football principles at United have not changed. You work hard, train hard go out and win games to please the fans.” Nicky Butt

The Gorton born midfielder was one of the reasons that Paul Ince was sold to Inter Milan as he started to forge a midfield partnership with Roy Keane. The transition of Paul Scholes to midfield meant that Nicky Butt became thought of as more of an understudy. However, the Mancunian averaged over 40 appearances a season from 1995-2002. After Paul Scholes and Roy Keane were suspended for the 1999 European Cup final, Nicky Butt became the first name on the United team sheet as he was the only recognised midfielder available for that game. He did not disappoint as he played the full 90 minutes of the most historic match in Manchester United history and helped the Red Devils reach an unprecedented treble. His last appearance came in the F.A. Cup final win against Millwall in 2004 which was one of three F.A. Cup winning medals that he won throughout his United career, together with six Premier league titles and the Champions league. He cost nothing and he never once asked for a pay rise or a move from Old Trafford.

You see, when people say that Manchester United were lucky that they had so many good players come through the ranks at Old Trafford all at the same time in 1992, they often put it down to the players being such talented footballers. However the reason the club was lucky, is because they all wanted to play for Manchester United.

Matt Busby once said “You don’t have to chase money at this club, because if you play for Manchester United, money will find you”. This statement was vindicated by the Class of ’92 who never chased money, but are now among the richest and most famous people on the planet. All they wanted to do was to play for Manchester United and the rest just followed.

This has been the general rule of thumb for Fergie down the years. When you hear the great man say ‘He’s a Manchester United player’ about a footballer, the statement runs much deeper than having ability. Its truer meaning is having the hunger and desire to play for Manchester United. The willingness to put your neck on the line for the club and your team-mates when times are tough.

Having all the technical ability and skill in the world can win you football matches, but it does not stop you from losing them. It does not mean guaranteed success year after year, nor does it mean you are destined for greatness.

For all their ability in the world, Morrison, Pogba and Fryers are not ‘Manchester United players’, because they do not want to play for the club. They do not fit the mandate to play at Old Trafford week-in-week-out and there is no reason why Fergie should break his policies to keep them.

It is evident, therefore, that recent transfer failure Eden Hazard is not a Manchester United player either, because he did not want to play for the club, he wanted to go where the money was. Neither is Nasri, Sneijder or Modric. Talent and skill in abundance, but they all prefer a quick fix of monetary gain rather than immortal greatness.

Many fans believe Sir Alex Ferguson’s philosophy on transfers to be a kop-out, opium for the masses, an excuse to hide the fact that the clubs debt is limiting United’s spending power in the transfer market. However Fergie’s stance on market value is nothing new at Manchester United and it has always been their philosophy. United have always wanted players with the desire to play for Manchester United rather than the desire for money.

In 1988, Paul Gascoigne had verbally agreed to join United. However, after Tottenham flirted with his agent and bought his parents a house, he opted for a move to London. Gazza admits that it was a mistake to this day.

In 1992, United made a swoop for Alan Shearer. However, the Southampton striker opted for money at Blackburn Rovers. Shearer went for Jack Walker’s cash, one league title, then a career of trophyless mediocrity. After a second attempt to sign him in 1996 failed , the Reds had to look elsewhere. Yet all they could find was an unknown Norwegian league player, who wanted to play for United. Fergie took a chance on this kid, and three years later he dramatically crashed home an injury time winner in the Champions League final for United. In all, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won six league titles, two F.A. Cups and a Champions League.

In 1993, Roy Keane was ready to join the original money merchants of the Premier League Blackburn Rovers for £4 million; however he turned down higher wages to join Manchester United for a reduced fee of £3.75 million. That Blackburn team won one League title and since then they have been relegated twice and are owned by a chicken company. Roy Keane became one of the greatest players that ever lived and won seven league titles.

In 1995, Andre Kanchelskis wanted a move away from United because he was asked to do more defending in games. He went to Everton with the blessing of Sir Alex Ferguson and United brought in David Beckham from the reserves as a replacement. He’s now the most famous footballer on the planet.

In the summer of 1998, United tried to sign Patrick Kluivert from Ajax; however the Dutch forward said that there is only one team in England, and that is Arsenal. Fergie opted to buy Dwight Yorke instead; the following May Manchester United became the first English team in history to win the treble, Dwight Yorke was the leading goalscorer and he and Andy Cole forged the best striking partnership in Europe. He is now a Sports Ambassador for Trinidad and Tobago and has a football stadium named after him.

The boss’s eagerness to buy young players has also disheartened many who want players to do the business now and not in a few years time. Buying young potential such as Nick Powell does not seem to wet the appetite of fans anymore. Wayne Rooney was dubbed an overpriced teenager when United bought him in 2005. He is now the best English player of his generation, and homing in on every Manchester United scoring record. Cristiano Ronaldo was ridiculed as a one trick pony and too lightweight to succeed in England. He was the laughing stock for many anti-United fans for the first couple of years of his career and his signing was deemed as one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s biggest failures. A few years later, he became United’s fourth Ballon d’Or winner after Best, Law and Charlton and is now regarded as the number one player in the world alongside Lionel Messi.

United’s history, philosophy and morality are not even worth compromising over an overpriced player who wants to play football for the love of money, not the for the love of the game. And I will reiterate what I have suggested since the carnival that is the transfer window began: We lost the league on goal-difference last season because we did not have Vidic; not because we did not have a big name midfielder such as Hazard, Nasri or Sneijder. People can say that they would have made a difference, but the 6-1 defeat to City, the 3-2 defeat to Blackburn, the 4-4 with Everton and the 3-3 with Basel would not have happened if our captain would have been there.

So losing the Premier League on goal difference to a team that spent over 900 million to achieve it and finishing 25 points ahead of the Champions League winners whilst scoring the second most goals in United’s Premier League history does not mean that United are in need of a massive overhaul. Chelsea and City spent billions to be like us. We should not spend billions to be like them.

Perhaps United will purchase that marquee signing this summer. Perhaps more young talent will come through the door at Old Trafford. One thing is for sure, we will make movements in the transfer window in this close-season period. However if we do miss out on another of our targets to a club who are willing to pay extortionate wages and tip the agents, we should not be disheartened, nor should we be ashamed.

Manchester City are a soulless entity with no history, who have a half-empty stadium that is named after an aeroplane company. Chelsea are a faceless organisation that has its team picked by an oil tycoon oligarch who never watch a football game until he bought his Chelsea monopoly board.

Manchester United are still the same team today as the team I watched from the terraces as a small kid. The ground is still called Old Trafford, they still have a philosophy of playing open attacking football and they still have faith in their youth team players.

There are many reasons why Manchester United are the biggest and most famous club in the history of football and why we have 639 million fans around the world. It is no surprise that Manchester United were recently named Forbes most valuable club. It is no coincidence that we have 77,000 fans watching the Reds play at Old Trafford every week and have the best away support in the country which fills every single ground that we play in; and there are many reasons why we are the only English team to have won the treble, have won more league titles than anyone else, have had three Ballon d’Or winners playing in one team and are the most romantic team in the history of football.

And none of these reasons are because we have had a rich owner pumping money into the club or because we have spent billions on overpriced players who only want to play for the money.

Paul Merson predicts Man City vs Liverpool and other Premier League GW 29 fixtures! Click here

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Edited by Staff Editor
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