Ah, March: the weather slowly improves, as does the football. With the title race and the narrative of relegation to consider (SIX POINTERS EVERYWHERE!), it all starts to mean something. Or maybe not. In fact, forget football, what’s the point of life?
Webbe (2002) observed that the nature of ‘life’ means it’s liable to “flip 180 in a matter of days” and it felt like that at times. On the one hand, we had a Shinji Kagawa hat-trick, the equivalent of having another birthday, but then came the horrors of a few days later, when United lost to Real Madrid under mildly questionable circumstances. Turns out that the cake had rodenticides in it, because you can’t have two birthdays. That’s cheating. (An aside: I [redacted by editor] hate that [redacted] referee, you stupid [redacted] [redacted].)
March, then, was simultaneously United’s best month yet, simply on the basis of 15 points, but also the worst ever month in history, ever, ever. It promised a lot – and sometimes kept that promise (did you hear about the 15 points?) – but it could have been so much better. Actually, some of the football itself was a reflection of these false promises. Two games went roughly like this, with one evolving into something much bigger than a football game:
*Over-enthusiastic applause* – United are 45 minutes away from a rather convincing aggregate win over Real Madrid. They deserve to be winning 1-1, Clive.
*Over-enthusiastic applause* – Javier Hernandez opens the scoring against Chelsea in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” – Sergio Ramos scores an own goal. United lead Madrid by one.
“Yes! Yes! Yes!” – A Wayne Rooney free-kick makes it 2-0. Not a good start for Chelsea.
“Oh, hell*.” – Nani sent off. United still lead Madrid. (*Words changed by editor.)
“Oh hell.” – Eden Hazard scores. United still lead.
“Oh.” – Modric scores. 1-1.
“Oh.” – Ramires. 2-2. A replay, then.
“…” – Ronaldo. 2-1 Madrid.
“…” – Full time. United are out of the Champions League.
“…” – Next day, Wednesday 6 March.
The Chelsea game, like football, was just a game. It was easy to get over, because, well, United didn’t lose when they very easily might’ve and mistakes can always be corrected in the replay. Real Madrid wasn’t quite the same. But not solely because of the idea that Nani’s red card was not that at all. It was the effect the red card had, what it represented. It wasn’t something you could just isolate. It was the nagging feeling of “what if…” (Derulo, 2010) that hurt the most. It almost didn’t matter that a rule book somewhere thought referee Cuneyt Cakir right.
United fans have heard far too much about how the current side simply does not stack up to those in the past, despite their rather sizeable lead at the top. The criticism, essentially, ranks an opinion over fact (as is football) but here was an opportunity to change that. Or at least convert the soft-headed ones. And did you see that, soft-headed ones? Manchester United played so well over 180 minutes, against Real Madrid no less, that something greater should have come from it. The underdogs in the team performed, too, in keeping up with the theme. Danny Welbeck, David de Gea and even geriatric Ryan Giggs all impressed. Then … for that to be all there is for this season. No more of Europe until next year. Look, it didn’t have to be a European Cup-winning performance, but it was the performance of a European Cup-winning team, opposition considered. Not that Madrid did not ultimately deserve their win in the circumstances, but the game’s dramatic turn posed so many other, unwanted questions. Robin van Persie struggled to recover from it even weeks later: “For an hour everything was looking good … we really had the feeling that we were going to score the second goal … but then the referee pulled the red card.” We’re thinking about all the grey hairs.
But, rejoice. 15 points! The aforementioned Kagawa hat-trick helped United beat Norwich City 4-0 in what was easily the best game of the month, though the score was somewhat flattering (March wasn’t great fun, folks). There are still concerns with Kagawa, chiefly his stamina, or apparent lack of it (just how many times does he complete the 90?), but there’s little an elegant pass/deft finish can’t mask over. There were two other wins in the league; both were 1-0s against Reading and Sunderland that had so few talking points, except 15 points! Which is fantastic. For every Real Madrid game, international break, not-actually-a-Van-Persie-goal and second halves like those of the Sunderland and Reading games, you have Kagawa scoring Kagawa-esque goals, Welbeck getting praise, plenty of clean sheets and 15 points! So, March: you’re alright.
You know what’s great to think about, now? April. Imagine how good April can be. Don’t let us down, life. Don’t be a Cakir.