Allow me to clarify before I lay the poser – I do not question the quality of our Latin American contingent and I get excited as any fan to hear that we’ve been linked with the next big thing – be it Falcao of recent times, the links to (fat) Ronaldo or Batistuta in the mid 90s, and the thrilling signing of Anderson last year.
Certainly the addition of the likes of Ronaldo and Anderson have introduced an incredible dimension to Manchester United that before we as fans could only dream of. Sir Alex has married, quite beautifully, the style and flair that is the trademark of the club we love with the unique individual styles of the new players.
My “dilemma” is one that comes from a feeling I got following the weekend reports that Anderson fancies a move to Italy and Inter, and under Mourinho. Of course the accuracy of these reports is open to debate, but it wouldn’t surprise me if they are true. That on its own leaves me gutted – behind Giggs and Rooney, “Jiggy” is my favourite United player.
But should we be surprised? We’ve already gone through a summer of Ronaldo saying his dream is to play in Spain while every so often we hear of Tevez’s desire to play in La Liga. Would any of us be agog if say, Nani wanted a move to Valencia or Milan, or a couple of years down the line, Rafael made clear his wish to leave?
The question therefore is as follows – has Sir Alex swopped the team ethic borne through longevity in his 1996-2001 side for an equally talented but less dedicated group of players who see their future elsewhere?
Back in 1996, all the way through the team you saw players who loved United and would only leave if kicked out of the door. They were at their holy grail, they were part of the fabric of the club. The nonchalant chest puffing of Eric after scoring an outrageous goal was accompanied by the unbridled passion of a goal that meant something to the club. In 1999 Ryan Giggs’ stunning FA Cup Semi Final goal was celebrated in such crazy fashion – yet the nature of the celebration was probably 90% down to the importance of the goal rather than the quality of it. And for all reports about Beckham’s ego, scoring against Spurs in the final league game of that year was celebrated with the relief and importance of what it meant to the CLUB, not the player.
I actually enjoy the shrug of the shoulders of Ronaldo when he’s like “oh yeah, I just did that”, and the Chun Li celebrations of Nani are entertaining on the eye, but just once I’d like them to go wild eyed, spin around the goal supports alá Eric, or kiss their badge in front of a couple of thousand baying Scousers. Sometimes it’s discouraging as a fan to see Berbatov sulking away after scoring a goal at the stretford end.
I may sound like I’m placing too much emphasis on goal celebrations, but there’s only so much lack of enthusiasm you can take before you begin to wonder whether the players are more bothered about their reputation rather than the end goal, which of course is always more trophies for the club. That lack of desire to achieve for the club rather than for themselves could be the difference between trophies or not. The treble year, and the dozen or so times we snatched a result from defeat or a drawing position shows that.
Ferguson has managed to maintain that dedication to the club through some of the current squad – Ferdinand wants to retire at Old Trafford, and Rooney’s devotion to the club is undoubted, but where in 1996 or 1999 I could believe that every single player would give their all to play for Manchester United, hand on heart I don’t believe I can say that about the current crop, as talented as they are.
Maybe I’m a little misty eyed and allowing myself to indulge in my first real “good old days” reminiscing at the grand old age of 27, but is it a worthwhile sacrifice? Am I just worrying about nothing? Am I placing too much importance on player loyalty?
Perhaps I’m being a little over cynical or over sensitive. Perhaps I shouldn’t expect that Anderson will give 8 years of his career to United with the same unwavering dedication that Schmeichel did. Maybe it’s too much to expect that Ronaldo will become an icon in the mould of Cantona not only for his brilliance but, too, for his love of the club and his commitment to the fans.
What do you think? Do you prefer the dedication of yesteryear or are you just happy to see the likes of Anderson and Nani light up Old Trafford with their outrageous skills, even if their heart isn’t truly at United?