Article 4 | The Three Pillars
I’ve just witnessed three back to back losses, followed by a less than satisfying victory over Northampton in the EFL Cup. Even the most bias of Manchester United fans cannot deny that these results are a cause for concern. You can argue that Mourinho needs some time to settle and identify the correct balance within the line up before we can see a consistency in our results.
This case can then be countered with the knowledge that Guardiola seemingly doesn’t require the same time to adapt judging from his results and style of play. Again, I would challenge this with Pep arguably having inherited a maturer squad than ours. All of this aside, I call for a moment of calm. Manchester United fans are quick to get carried away with a run of good form, and quicker to turn on their players when it isn’t going our way. Thanks Alex Ferguson, because your historical run of glorious consistency has quite possibly brought us to the front of the fickle fan club, if there were one.
If you recall, my first article touched on the truths of our challenges this season. I made it clear that this wouldn’t be plain sailing for Mourinho and this is truer and clearer than ever now. Hindsight is a beautiful thing, but the facts are that the days of absolute dominance are behind us – but do they have to be?
We have a great squad and one I have faith in, but we cannot hide behind the reality that our greatest challenge and failure to win the title could boil down to quite simply a lack of consistency. To feel invincible is not just a state of mind over a couple weeks, but rather months and even years of winning. Leicester went under the radar last season with 1-0 wins, the odd draw here and there, building up a sense of invincibility that seemingly set them up for one of the most unlikely upsets in Premier League history. How to achieve this consistent run of form is a different, much harder question to answer, but I put it down to three main pillars.
I’ve already touched on the importance of having in-form full backs and wider players offering a team width and delivery, but strangely enough my first pillar focuses primarily on the centre spine of a team to be the greatest influence. Look back to any worthy long term dominating team – truthfully, Manchester United, Arsenal, and a short period for Chelsea. These are the only three that come to mind in my day. A goalkeeper that commands his area with an overwhelming presence, a leader in the back four, out jumping everyone and getting his head to every ball, a man to protect the back four, with the engine to drive forward and turn defence into attack, a playmaker in the centre of the park pin pointing his passes to perfection and effortlessly creating chances, and finally a prolific goal scorer to lead the line getting you 25 goals a season.
Chelsea dominated for a while with the likes of Cech, Terry, Mekelele, Lampard and Drogba. Let us not forget the Invincibles that Arsenal dominated with (Gooners certainly haven’t forgotten!) with the likes of Lehmann, Campbell, Silva, Vieira and Henry.
Manchester United have certainly had a few of these solid combinations over the years. Teams such as Liverpool and Tottenham in my time have always lacked an ingredient or two, and have failed to adopt the correct balance to really reach the level of consistency a title winning team would require. So I ask you, are our current crop of players capable of forming this spine?
David De Gea, Smalling, Pogba, Rooney and Ibrahimovic. Doesn’t sound too bad does it – but is it good enough?
My second pillar – the Hero. The memory of being on the edge of my seat as I watched my beloved Cristiano Ronaldo terrorising teams, is still as vivid as ever in my mind and heart. Having the player that can pop up out of the blue with a moment of sheer brilliance and possessing the quality and belief to win a game on his own. A Messi, an Henry, a Cantona – the list goes on. The team must come first, yes, but you cannot deny there isn’t a squad out there that has managed to dominate consistently without a hero stepping up to the plate and getting the job done in style. A player that doesn’t shy away from taking that shot, going on that run, finding that impossible pass – a belief with absolutely no ceiling. With that in mind, we arrive conveniently to my third and final pillar – Confidence.
I remember watching Vidic and Evra’s first few games for United, and if my memory serves me correctly, they were brought into the Manchester United squad at the same time. Between them I cringed at their clumsy play, lacklustre passing and heavy touches. It’s safe to say that their performances raised a few eyebrows and both their places at the club was certainly in question. I needn’t elaborate on how even the smallest dose of confidence can transform a player and these two examples illustrate this point perfectly. They both went on to become the greatest players named on the Manchester United team sheet.
The United manager, of course, has a role to play in the success of our young and talented team reaching their potential. Ultimately Mourinho’s objective is to communicate his (and United’s) philosophy to the players and coaches, and influence their growth in confidence to the best of his ability. With this will come results.
Right now we are screaming out for a Hero to step up and it could be one of a few players in our squad. I believe in the players we have, but I’d say we lack a bit of balance within our spine, which needs addressing. We rely on width and excitement, running at defences and playing through the channels. With the final ingredient of confidence, we could be a force to be reckoned with. There you go, football 101 – the three pillars. If only it was that easy.
Reigning champions Leicester on the weekend – let’s get the win lads!
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