Malachy Clerkin: For the Manchester United fan, the season was over after 14 seconds

Bad times, misery, despair - there’s a long 10 months in store for Manchester United supporters

This one goes out to the United fan. The poor lost soul whose enjoyment of the new season lasted the 14 seconds it took Brighton to create their first clear sight of goal last Sunday. All that optimism, all that preseason good juju. All gone in the time it took Diogo Dalot to whiff on a clearance and Leandro Trossard to hit the side netting.

The United fan is not having a good moment. He wishes they could hit CTRL-Z a few hundred times and go back and start again. He’s afraid to go counting up the mistakes from the past decade for fear of discovering a new number previously beyond the imagination of mathematicians. He knows it would only encourage United to go and spend said number on a backup midfielder from AZ Alkmaar.

Don’t get the United fan wrong. She has nothing against Dutch players. She has nothing against United signing them. She adored Ruud van Nistelrooy, she sings the Batman theme tune every time anyone mentions Jaap Stam. All the way back to Arnold Mühren, she bows to no one in her admiration for what footballers from the Netherlands have done for her club.

But she’d like it to stop now, thanks very much. She reckons it says nothing good about United’s transfer policy that every signing Erik Ten Haag tries to make played either for him or against him in the Eredivisie. The world is wide and the club is wealthy. She wonders if anyone in the United recruitment department has heard of, say, Germany. Did they forget to renew their subscription to World Soccer or something?


The United fan laughs darkly at the idea that signing Marko Arnautovic might have been the last straw. Like, obviously he agrees that it would be a terrible idea but you’re talking about a club that made Marouane Fellaini the first post-Alex Ferguson signing nine years ago. Can you imagine an agent plucking up the gumption to suggest to Fergie that United should sign either of them, ever? Release the hounds, Smithers.

No, if the United fan has learned anything over the past decade, it’s that there is no bottom. She has been in work meetings where someone has said there’s no such thing as a stupid idea — she just didn’t think her football club would make it official policy.

She remembers the time they signed Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin on the same day to do the same job and watched as neither of them came close to doing so. She now thinks it was just a trolling exercise against Jamie Carragher. Have you ever heard him try to say both of them in the same sentence?

Seven days into the new season and the United fan is miserable. He knows it’s a given that they won’t keep pace with City or Liverpool. Chelsea were already 16 points better than United and they’ve signed Raheem Sterling, Kalidou Koulibaly and Marc Cucurella. The United fan didn’t even think Cucurella was anything special but then Brighton hockeyed them at Old Trafford without him so go figure. The United fan is resigned to Chelsea getting Frankie de Jong, the one Dutch player he wanted.

So, fourth place then? The United fan doesn’t see it. She can’t trust Spurs to be Spursy any more. Mikel Arteta looks like he knows what he’s doing with Arsenal. She knows in her bones that it would be just like United to finish behind Moysey’s West Ham. At least Leicester look to be on the wane, she consoles herself. Then she shudders at the thought of Brendan Rodgers looking for a job at some stage in the next 18 months. She wouldn’t put it past them.

Them. The United fan can’t even say their name any more. He has never really been that exercised about the fact that the Glazers effectively bought United with United’s own money. Give him a pen and a foolscap pad and ask him to explain a leveraged buyout to you and he won’t even click off the lid. That’s all rich people’s guff and he doesn’t have the head for it.

The United fan knows this, though. She knows that the football world has seen through them. It might not matter to them that United are a joke shop to players and agents and rival clubs but it matters to her. She’ll love Ole Gunnar Solskjær to the end of time but she knew from the start that he wasn’t up to the job. How could they not have? They have hollowed out her club through ruthless business predation, yet they gave Ole two contract extensions high on pure nostalgia.

And Ralf Rangnick? The United fan is still wondering WTF that was all about. First he was an interim appointment. Then it was interim with a view to being director of football at the end. Then he was maybe getting the job outright. Then he was going to combine a consultancy job with being manager of Austria. Then he got the Austria job and disappeared in a puff of smoke. This was all in the space of six months, during which United improved a mighty one place in the Premier League table. The United fan has been on stag weekends that were more coherently thought out.

Bad times. Despair. No hope on the horizon and 10 full months of it to go. The United fan is like a briar. Approach with caution.