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Feeling nothing as a Manchester United fan

Colm Boohig
Colm Boohig

10:31 25 Jul 2019

Love hurts and the last six years supporting the Red Devils have been oh so painful. As Manchester United fans, we exist in purgatory, somehow somewhere between antipathy and apathy, writes Colm Boohig.

We have never followed our team more than in this current stasis. That is what most Manchester United followers will tell you.

It's the hope that kills you and there's not much life left.

Supporters acknowledged that the immediate future would be challenging as Sir Alex Ferguson stood on that soggy Old Trafford soil in May 2013, addressing the masses in reflection of a predominantly glorious 27-year tenure. We didn't realise he was bidding farewell to the good times with it.

Well, we may have suspected as much, but we didn't want to admit it. Now, we have little choice.

In the summer of 2019 social media is densely populated by Manchester United fandom, alive and well with disdain and frustration towards a lack of attractive transfers in or out and with Ashley Young in general.

It's all so noisy but you'll struggle to hear a thing.

Manchester United fans leave early

The only relief is the wonderful memories of a bygone era that manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been criticised for excessively embracing and accused of residing in.

What else do you want us to do? Football is about escapism and the past is the only decent-looking route as Manchester United fans these days.

All that's there to see is a League Cup, FA Cup and Europa League (unless you're counting the Community Shield) in the Manchester United honours' list between 2013-19.

But we, like supporters of any other club big or small, want to live in the present. Ready to build, challenge and conquer and consign Ferguson's time to nostalgia we can visit on the quieter days for an endorphin hit.

The here and now is darker. Paul Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sánchez: expensive distractions. Jesse Lingard, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones: widely despised.

How many more chances are we going to give this modern team of unlovable misfits? The answer is obviously limitless opportunities because that is the price paid for selecting a team to blindly follow.

Manchester United goalkeeper David de Gea and Alexis Sanchez walk off after the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

It's the decision-makers that the fans worry about endlessly.

Relying on executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward and the Glazer family to deliver those halcyon days again is futile and that is becoming increasingly obvious to everyone except that cohort with each passing season.

Manchester United were hit with the double whammy of Ferguson (who isn't blameless here, having left behind an ageing squad) and David Gill departing simultaneously and in the six years since, Woodward has presided over the club's transfer activity with the specificity and planning of an eclectic Spotify playlist on shuffle.

Ridiculous sums spent in exchange for countless false dawns. Big players signed for little in return and a complete absence of on-field cohesion or strategy.

The erosion has been gradual but deafening.

Manchester United Chief Executive Ed Woodward (left) and Manchester United director Richard Arnold in the stands during the Premier League match at Goodison Park, Liverpool.

It's not all Ed Woodward's fault.

His current role is not his area of expertise, which makes United's structure crazier again, especially as the club refuses to entertain the idea of a director of football, despite suitable personnel stating their apparent interest in the position.

No, this decade Manchester United have sleepwalked into systemic failure that goes way beyond the individual responsibility of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or even José Mourinho.

And let's be clear: Ole Gunnar Solskjær is not the problem, but he may not be the solution either.

Supporters of football clubs will tolerate contentious ownership if signs of progress on the pitch are visible. In this regard, last season was Manchester United's modern nadir and the final day of the campaign the culmination of years of regress.

Old Trafford oversaw a 2-0 trouncing at the hands of the already-relegated Cardiff City. Most United fans sighed, raised their eyes to heaven slightly and carried on. That cannot be right but it was indeed the reality.

"Utterly shambolic" is how Andy Mitten, United We Stand editor, accurately described this recent period when speaking to Joe Molloy on Off The Ball. That was arguably even a little kind.

Players admitted that the intensity in training dropped dramatically as season's end approached and that a defeatist attitude had overtaken the squad.

Manchester United's Paul Pogba waves to the fans as he leaves the pitch after the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Well, it wasn't always rosy under Ferguson, either. But there was a key difference.

The 2005/06 campaign felt like a low-point in the Scot's reign; the outlier as a talented squad underperformed. The lowest ebb United had felt since the second before Mark Robins headed in that goal against Nottingham Forest in 1990 - the finish many subsequently claimed kept Ferguson, nearly a decade pre-Sir, in a job.

Winning the League Cup was scant consolation, despite the 4-0 hammering of a decent Wigan Athletic outfit. It was approaching three years since Manchester United lifted the Premier League trophy, stalling in the arrival of José Mourinho and his accompanying evolution into English football.

But Ferguson had a plan. He always did.

He rebuilt the house, forming his third great side with Ferdinand and Vidic as the foundations, Rooney and Ronaldo the building's life and soul. There were pillars of support all around.

Mourinho didn't last and Ferguson capitalised, winning three league titles in succession and another Champions League. There was always something to grasp hold of as a United fan.

Where is that feeling in 2019?

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (left) with Jesse Lingard (right) after the final whistle during the Premier League match at Old Trafford, Manchester.

Just like van Gaal in 2014, Solskjær has had a decent first summer in charge.

The Norweigan is unbeaten to date in pre-season, has convinced Marcus Rashford and David De Gea to commit their futures, acquired two superb young talents in Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka along with promoting the exciting Mason Greenwood and recalling the talented Axel Tuanzebe.

Encouraging signs and additions undoubtedly, if only faith in the overall operation could be restored.

In Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Manchester United could not have handpicked an individual more willing to succeed. But the truth is, the only confidence is in the chaos of the club and the only guarantee is in its uncertainty.

For this reason, Manchester United fans are in purgatory, stuck somewhere between a feeling of unspeakable fury and nothing at all.

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Alex Ferguson Manchester United Old Trafford Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Paul Pogba Premier League

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