Once again, nails belonging to Man Utd fans all over the world were being bitten nervously as Man Utd made hard work of reaching the quarter-finals of the Champions League for the 5th season in a row.
Sir Alex Ferguson complained, in his programme notes, about the criticism the team have received this season despite being top of the league and progressing well in the cup competitions. The media have indeed been scratching their heads, trying to make sense of this Man United team while a lot of United fans have been routinely trying to find scapegoats even when the team wins!
I think it is fair to say that, compared to previous United title-winning squads, our current squad is not the most glittering. We don’t have a Roy Keane, a Cantona or a Ronaldo anymore. We did have a Rooney, until he started going astray (although to be fair, he has been magnificent in our 2 recent games. Particularly happy with his new deep role!). We have had a few near-misses this season, where draws or wins might have easily been losses. As a result, the lack of such a spark in midfield has often been highlighted. As a blind believer in Fergie and as someone who prefers to look at the bigger picture, I haven’t been very critical of our squad, but I think if we still had Ronaldo, we would probably be cruising towards a 5th title in a row at the moment! The right kind of signing this summer could make us absolutely fearsome.
But amidst all the moaning of fans and the dithering from the media, we fail to appreciate something which our current squad probably possess as much as, if not more than most previous Premier League champion sides: belief. There have been matches this season where even if the score looked tight, or even if we were desperately chasing a game, you just knew someone would step up. When goal threat was lacking, league top scorer Berbatov came up with the goods. When the defence suffered from personnel shortage, young Smalling and the Da Silva twins had the confidence to step up. We have also had more than our fair share of late goals and comebacks this season. This deep-rooted belief as well as the realisation that everyone would have to contribute more to make up for the lack of a true fulcrum within the team has led to what seemed like cautious play in several matches, but it also meant that the players have been very efficient, working effectively as a team rather than trying to go for the jugular, knowing that however a match started or was unfolding, they had the ability to score goals, turn the tables and win.
So, despite the perceived shortcomings of our squad and our seemingly nervous showings, we should be thankful that the belief is still very much there, which is why Man United is still challenging in major competitions. That might be enough to take us over the finishing line come May, just like it did last night!