Stuck in the Middle (With You)

It is said that almost everything in life is cyclical. Just wait long enough and those out of style bell bottoms you’ve been hanging onto for 25 years could be the fashion statement of your company Christmas party this year (that Rosso Bianco Nero Jimmy Murphy Bobble Hat will never go out of style though). The cyclical nature of pop culture is easy to follow. The cyclical nature of football can be also.

January 1, 1972 and United were top of the table under new manager, Frank O’Farrell. The Irishman had replaced the retiring legend, Matt Busby in summer of 1971. The Red Devils were away to West Ham on the first day of the new year. A 3-0 defeat was the beginning of United losing 7 league matches on the trot. Despite being 10 points clear at the top at one point they would never recover from this slide. They finished 8th in league. George Best, Denis Law, and Bobby Charlton finished the season with 26, 13, and 12 goals respectively.

The slump that took United out of the title race at the beginning of 1972 continued to the end of the year. O’Farrell couldn’t come to grips with the excesses of George Best and dropped him. The hard nosed manager would lose 11 of his first 22 matches in the new season and was relieved of duties in late December, 1972. O’Farrell only spent 18 months in charge of Manchester United.

Fast forward to 2015. Does any of this ring a bell? It should.

Louis Van Gaal has somehow survived as Manchester United manager. Like O’Farrell, Van Gaal should have been relieved of duty in late December after only 18 months on the job. Like O’Farrell, Van Gaal had United top of the league only to see it slip away after a shockingly poor run of results. Like O’Farrell, the right thing for United to do then, as was the right thing to do in December, was to make a managerial change.

Midseason managerial changes can be a shockingly bad idea. But to see Chelsea now, compared to how they were at the beginning of the season, shows that changes mid-season can have the right effect on a team devoid of confidence.

This was the change United needed in December of 2015, just as it was needed in December of 1972. Due to rumoured board room squabbles and executives worried about their own skin as opposed to the club’s, the change did not happen. The maddening thing is, everyone knew a change was coming. Everyone. Results were poor. Team morale was non-existent. Footballing creativity and joy was no where to be found. And United were slipping. Champions League had gone. 1st place had slipped to 7th place in a few short weeks. Had this season not been the strangest for 20 years, United wouldn’t be in 5th place as they are now – they would be occupying 11th place.

Depending on what and who you believe a change is coming. It didn’t happen when it should have but it is going to happen. Jose Mourinho will be the next manager of Manchester United, supposedly. Gentlemen’s agreements, secret deals, houses already purchased, and new players already coming in lead one to believe that the change is coming.

So where does that leave us now? Stuck. Somewhat hopeful of a change in fortunes, a run of good luck and results, possibly even a top four position… But, like Stealers Wheel sang in 1972:

Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

Trying to make some sense of it all,
But I can see it makes no sense at all
Is it cool to go to sleep on the floor?
‘Cause I don’t think that I can take anymore

Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right,
Here I am, stuck in the middle with you.

1972….2015. We’re stuck in the middle with Louis Van Gaal and there is still so much to play for.

I think I’ll just go to sleep, right here on the floor.


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