A quick word of warning before I delve too deep into this piece: if you are not fully caught up on NBC’s (Comedy Central in the UK) The Office then please do not read any further. I would not want to spoil any of the fun that’s been transpiring on the show for the past few weeks for any of you.
I am a big fan of The Office, both the original British version and obviously the American remake. One thing I have noticed after doing a careful bit of research is that the managers of either Wernham Hogg Paper Company and Dunder Mifflin/Sabre and the manner in which they are perceived and loved by the fans of the show is extremely analogous to the goalkeeper position at Manchester United.
Ricky Gervais, the original manager, is in a lot of ways reminiscent of United legend Peter Schmeichel. For many United supporters, Schmeichel is the best keeper they have ever seen don the number one jersey. Tall, powerful and as strong as they came, the Great Dane set the bar for keeping excellence. Gervais, meanwhile, set the example for the kind of actor necessary to play the part of office manager.
Meanwhile, Gervais’ understudy at Wernham Hogg, Gareth Keenan, represented the antithesis of Gervais, the unfunny, awkward type who no one in the office ever took to, much in the same way that Fabian Barthez is viewed by many in the United faithful. Barthez just never seemed meant for English football and many reflect on his time between the Old Trafford sticks as one of a missed opportunity.
Years began to pass with United continuing their search for a proper replacement for Peter Schmeichel and fans of the UK Office began to wonder what would become of the series which only lasted for two years. The year 2005 proved to be crucial for both parties; Sir Alex Ferguson signed Edwin van der Sar and NBC shot the pilot for their re-imagining of the BBC’s programme The Office, recasting David Brent’s character as Michael Scott and casting Steve Carrell for the role.
And at first both van der Sar and Scott stuttered under the weight of such lofty expectations. Both were expected to be the men who would restore Manchester United and The Office to respectability. The initial ratings for The Office were not very high, but NBC had faith that the series could take off, just as Sir Alex Ferguson believed that given time van der Sar could be one of the best keepers in the club’s history. Eventually both men began to live up to the lofty expectations.
Edwin van der Sar has more than filled the shoes of Peter Schmeichel. In the eyes of some supporters he has eclipsed the accomplishments of his predecessor and changed the qualities that United value in a keeper. Edwin has lacked the same sort of power and presence in the box that Schmeichel had, but has made up for with his excellent instincts and has become a better player with the ball at his feet.
Meanwhile Michael Scott in many ways departed from David Brent’s more abrasive demeanor that made many think to themselves “Gosh that chap is a right c*&^ who would ever feel sorry for that git” and became a character who had his more than fair share of awkward moments, but was a personality that viewers had more pity for than scorn.
While van der Sar and Scott were making names for themselves, their understudies waited in the wings, anxious to one-up them and take their jobs. Tomasz Kuszczak and Dwight Shrute have made little secret of their desire for the number one spot at Manchester United and Dunder Mifflin. And during certain times both attempted to deputise for their superior, to mostly unflattering results.
Kuszczak had the opportunity to become the heir apparent to van der Sar last season while the Dutch legend was out due to injury and family issues. While he did turn in a few solid performances, there seemed to be little about him that suggested to anyone that he had what it took to replace van der Sar. Similarly, Shrute managed to mess things up whenever it seemed like he would be offered ultimate control over the office.
Fans of the programme will remember the time when Michael thought he would be receiving a position at corporate and promoted Dwight to be the new regional manager. In the immediate aftermath of that shocking decision, Dwight appointed Andy Bernard (the worst salesman in the office, regardless of his singing talents, and who may be considered for the sake of this whole analogy the Ben Foster of The Office) as his assistant and the two proceeded to paint Michael’s office black. Needless to say when Michael returned empty handed, he was less than pleased.