There’s no questioning the statement. It is a fact. English football has an added entertainment value when Manchester United are competing for titles. That’s not to say that their relative demise under David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal wasn’t thoroughly entertaining. It was. But as much as those around the world who have gone through their entire lives refusing to jump aboard one of the biggest bandwagons in sports history found enjoyment in the Moyes/LVG era, there was one major thing missing, something that just didn’t feel right. It was hard to hate Manchester United.
There’s no difficulty in finding reasons to hate the Red Devils this year, and nobody is happier about that than Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who recently was quoted (in an Instagram post no less) as saying, “I need new haters. The old ones became my fans.”
That statement in many ways embodies where United are at as a club. They need new haters. A substantial chunk of the old ones started taking pity. This rediscovered hatred is what is best for the Premier League. There are few better feelings as a supporter of any English club than that blood boiling shiver you get when you see United on the schedule. The thought of that particular feeling departing or even lessening over recent seasons was a troubling one. Sure, there were plenty of other clubs at which to direct your disdain, but none of them matched the intensity of that unadulterated United hatred, that feeling that was so easy to find when Sir Alex was in charge.
Jose Mourinho brings much of this back to the fold. Whether it’s the uncanny smugness and swagger that have been cornerstones of his managerial crusade across Europe, the scarf around his neck, or his often pompous and occasionally delusional comments, the Special One is arguably the most universally despised manager in modern soccer. The notion that United was always his “dream job” is as perfectly fitting as that vest he wore during his last Chelsea reign.
It was no secret that Mourinho idolized Sir Alex Ferguson. They had a “rivalry” of sorts, but that was a trumped-up media game, with both men embracing yet another strategy to take pressure off their players. Mourinho wanted to be Sir Alex. While that may never be fully possible, he now holds the post that Fergie held for nearly 30 years. The dream has become a reality.
That dream is the nightmare of so many others, but it’s a nightmare that is as necessary to the drama of the English game as rain and song. United are back. Jose Mourinho is their manager. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is their marquee striker. Some guy named Wayne Rooney is hanging onto the threads of a dream, caught in a foggy delay between one final piece of Premier League glory and that train depot known as Testimonial Station, desperate for you to stop feeling sorry for how god awful England played at EURO 2016 and start hating him again.
The Theater of Dreams is back in action, and there’s but one major question being posed. Come the end of this Premier League season, will United be back to their glorious ways, or will the haters have the last laugh?