And so it is. Just like you said it would be. Manchester United are rubbish, and not in a loveable, romantic way. Forty years ago today, on the 15th of August 1992, Brian Deane of Sheffield United scored the first ever goal of the English Premier League, against Manchester United.
The Blades beat the Reds 2-1 that momentous day under the watchful eye of their manager, Dave Bassett. In the losing corner snarled Alex Ferguson. Far from a Sir then, he was a man feeling heat like a Mayo man in the bog this past weekend.
How ironic that that first lodgement in the onion sack came against a club that would go on to win 13 of the next 19 Premiership titles, including that first one. How ironic that 30 years to the day, that same club sits perilously upon an inglorious abyss. Because in football, there can be the odd glorious abyss, but United find themselves teetering between irrelevance and oblivion.
How romantic the cautious promise of the David Moyes regime must seem now. Or the Mourinho one. Hell, even Van Gaal won the Cup and Ole won the hearts and minds of the Stretford End till Fergie's ghost came whispering to his innocent mind: “you’re done, boy!”.
Football is a cruel and unforgiving place, unless you are billionaire owners who “buy” one of the greatest clubs in the world with all the good intent of a human trafficker promising an Eritrean kid safe passage to Europe on the “promise we will pay you back when you get there”.
United. The Glazers. Pogba. Greenwood. Ronaldo. Van De Beek. Gary Neville. Chamberlain and peace in our time. Frenkie de bleeding Jong. Each name and noun a byword for a decade of decay. Arsenal's identity crisis at least had a soul. A tortured one, but a soul nonetheless.
Chelsea have never been a transfer window away from rediscovery. Spurs have been almost likeable in their pursuit of happiness. City and Liverpool begrudgingly admirable for their excellence. United? The Damned United. Rotted by gluttony and excess and Days of Our Lives plot twists, the Club has become the antithesis of the two men who made them - this contemporary iteration at least - great. Keane and Ferguson.
So alike, so entwined in purpose it eventually tore them apart, but the virtues they espoused in their late nineties pomp were those this relic of a club choose to ignore daily. This isn’t Jake LaMotta telling off-colour jokes on stage in a Miami Beach comedy club, it’s not even a punch-drunk Ali falling to Larry Holmes. There is nothing sad about this. No, this is a tragi-comedy played out in a packed theatre.
And now, at the front of it all, is a man called Erik ten Hag. Credited with the rejuvenation of Ajax Amsterdam, a club whose name has long become a byword for innovation and excellence, particularly in the face of the over-capitalisation of football. In a way, ten Hag's defection to United must have felt like a defection from Cuba to the US. Opposing ideals in so far as Cuba had an ideal, however flawed, but the USA had none. But they do have lots of money. Well, kinda.
Want some more irony? Outside of Klopp and Guardiola, ten Haag may be the most secure manager in the league this week. His reputation, and that of his predecessors, and the subsequent performance of the team has pretty much rendered replacing him out of the question.
The notion of player burnout across elite level sport took another twist last week as Australian rugby union captain Michael Hooper withdrew from the Wallabies’ Rugby Championship Test against Argentina 24 hours before kick-off, saying he wasn’t in the “right mindset” to lead or represent the country.
The flanker had been named to lead the side in his 122nd Test last Sunday morning but instead returned to Australia, missing both matches against the Pumas.
Had it been any other player, one wonders what the reaction of a notoriously harsh Australian sports media would have been, but Hooper's reputation as a committed professional is unimpeachable, and in stepping forward and raising his hand, he has undoubtedly furthered the cause of player welfare.
“My whole career I’ve looked to put the team first,” Hooper said in a statement, "and I don’t feel I am able to fulfil my responsibilities at the moment in my current mindset.”
Recently, Brian O’Driscoll described playing rugby at the end of his career as being akin to sitting an exam every week in public.
Last week, Tom Brady skipped pre-season practice to deal with a personal issue. Sounds innocuous enough, but in the microscopic world of sports media attention, it was headline news on ESPN, receiving the full “what does this mean for the GOAT?” from Stephan A. Smith et al.
Brady’s hiatus is most likely a preplanned family event rather than an emergency, but the attention it generated only serves to highlight that no amount of money paid to players, no amount of superstardom, precludes them from needing time away from the spotlight. Whatever the reason is nobody's business but theirs.
The GAA intercounty off-season has never been longer, and the devil sure makes work for idle hands. Managerial appointments are happening at such a rate that some even go unnoticed.
Davy Fitz’s return to Waterford snuck up on us like an autumn heatwave; wholly unexpected but thoroughly welcomed by all (save for those who think it’s “too hot”). Talk of Liam Sheedy and Eamon O’Shea pitching up in Offaly to manage the hurlers might be big news any other summer, but this off-season is proving as entertaining as a couple of nights on Love Island, and that’s before Mayo go full Casa Amour on us.
As the European Athletics Championships kicked off in Munich last week, it reminded many that the 50-year anniversary of the 1972 Munich Olympic Games is due to fall at the end of this month. The ‘72 games were due to be a celebration of the healing power of sport, coming as they did just 27 years after the end of World War II.
Instead, they became a totem for a world divided, when members of the Palestinian militant group Black September took nine members of the Israeli Olympic team hostage, after killing two more. The death toll eventually ran to 17.
Its worth remembering in the context of events in Gaza these last two weeks, how little or far we have come, and how, in spite of it all, sport is still a force for good.