Around the start of April, it all seemed to be incredibly bleak. Manchester United were persevering with David Moyes. Moyes was a disaster, and it didn’t seem that he was learning. If anything, it seemed like a substandard manager had made things so bad that he’d never get out of the deepening hole. Nevertheless, the club still hinted that he would be given the chance to underwhelm until at least Christmas 2014. Manchester United were linked with Joleon Lescott and Seamus Coleman. It was a very dark time.
Edward Woodward had proven himself to be a buffoon. He was, in the first transfer window, unable to buy Marouane Fellaini for his cost price. He was unable to buy Thiago Alcantara, perhaps because of David Moyes’ wishes. He could not sort out the purchase of a wantaway Cesc Fabregas by forcing either the player’s or Barcelona’s hand with a proper transfer offer. Gareth Bale, apparently, was nailed on, it’s just that Woodward and Moyes did not realise he was nailed on to join Real Madrid. Ander Herrera’s transfer was apparently ruined by impostors, in the stupidest transfer fuck-up Manchester United might have ever managed, after Bebe. Fabio Coentrao almost joined, but then didn’t, Leighton Baines was frustrated into signing a new deal at Everton, and Sami Khedira ended up linked at the last minute. It was a disaster.
Woodward fared little better in the January transfer window. Juan Mata was bought. Amazing! A world class player at Manchester United. No, actual, er, central midfielder was bought, but never mind, a good manager would get the team in decent enough shape to actually push for fourth place. The thing is, Manchester United did not have that, they had David Moyes, who had also alienated Robin van Persie to the point he was consistently ‘injured’. Nemanja Vidic decided he’d rather the settled, serene environment of Inter Milan than spend more time with David Moyes.
Worse than that, Wayne Rooney and Luis Nani signed long-term contracts, wasting money. United were indulging some of the side’s most feckless players. Michael Carrick continued to exist, as did Tom Cleverley. It was a disastrous season, not likely to be improved.
Even worse than that, Liverpool were going to win the league. Liverpool were feeling the hand of history on their shoulder, and they had the talismanic Luis Suarez blasting their way to success. Brendan Rodgers had hit on a brilliant approach that weighted Liverpool to play to their strengths, and they obliterated teams in the first twenty minutes so often that they didn’t even need their resolve tested, it so rarely came to that. Steven Gerrard was giving inspiring (read, incredibly popular with Liverpool fans who would proclaim anything he did as the work of a genius and true club legend, despite his wretched displays) speeches at the end of matches, and then being superciliously belligerent about it when questioned on Sky.
It was the perfect storm – Manchester United’s worst season, set against Liverpool’s best, for two decades. The prominence of Liverpool in the media – earned by decades of superiority in football before the inception of the Premier League, rather than any insidious bias – meant United fans would suffer for months, at least.
But after what had started to look like the kind of season that could only logically be answered by suicide, changed a little.
Gerrard did, in the end, let it slip. It was his slip against Chelsea that allowed Demba Ba in to score the winner. Jose Mourinho had come with a plan – one that surely could only have come from an intense dislike of Liverpool (the title was more or less gone, he should have focused on the Champions League, and apparently elected not to) that started in his first tenure at Chelsea.
Then came Crystal Palace, when Liverpool blew a 3-0 lead to draw 3-3, a result that would never have occurred with an authoritative, effective holding midfielder, rather than a club legend positioned away from attacks, so he could not hold them back with his lethargy and technical weakness. Gerrard burst into tears, and Suarez covered his face and either burst into tears, or tried to appear as if he did, playing to the crowd. Liverpool fans – some of whom had slandered Patrice Evra when he was racially abused by Suarez – were pictured in tears in the crowd.
It got better. Manchester United announced Louis van Gaal as their manager, and cursory research showed him up as a mixture of a buffoon, a genius and a savant – the absolute opposite of David Moyes. Known for his tactical astuteness, love of attacking football and young players, it was the Manchester United approach that Alex Ferguson had pretended he still indulged in.
Robin van Persie looked happy, and then scored a ludicrous header against Spain, in a 5-1 demolition, and ran straight to his manager, recalling the moment he embraced Alex Ferguson after his duck-breaking goal against Stoke. The Dutch grew in strength, Manchester United closed in on Luke Shaw, and Ander Herrera finally signed with relatively little fuss (for a Woodward signing).
Liverpool’s meltdown, Louis van Gaal, and a central midfielder. Could it get better for United fans? Er, yes. The other Luis – Suarez – bit Giorgio Chiellini. Yep, he bit him. He bit another player. For the third time. That we know about. The internet predictably erupted, with the inevitable support for him from the digital brainless. It was his shoulder hitting Suarez in the face. It was Chiellini’s fault. It was a conspiracy by the English. By the Brazilians. By the Italians. By FIFA.
And then, the ban. Nine international games and four months of all football. For those who had predicted that the constant indulgence of him by Liverpool – rewarding him after unapologetic racist abuse, defending him despite unapologetic racist abuse, even a new contract after biting Branislav Ivanovic – would end up in him simply acting out again in a pathetic, entitled way, it was vindication. Better than that, it was vindication mixed with schadenfreude, the greatest of all feelings. The club that had crowed about their best striker in the world were given karmic punishment for allowing such an attitude to flourish.
No Manchester United fan would ever want to go through such a grim season ever again – it is much more enjoyable to actually win things, score goals, and not think your manager is incompetent. But having done so, Liverpool ultimately made it the most enjoyable season of failure in recent memory.