Entertaining football: It’s the only way we know
Maybe David De Gea said it best as he stood in the pouring rain on Tuesday night, still jubilant from our 2-1 victory over Paris Saint-Germain: “We showed again we are Manchester United. We can beat big teams like PSG, playing well and creating good chances.”
Sir Matt Busby once reportedly told a young Bobby Charlton: “All those lads you see going to the factory in Trafford Park, they come to watch you on Saturday. They have boring jobs, so you have to give them something they will enjoy.” Times may have changed but that culture is still very much a core philosophy of United today, as our results over the past week clearly indicate.
Yet, for United, that simply isn’t in our DNA. Across those four matches, there were a remarkable 20 goals in total - an average of five per game - beginning when our Under-23s drew 3-3 with Arsenal on Saturday, a few hours before Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s senior side beat Newcastle United 4-1 at St James’ Park.
The following day and Casey Stoney’s Women dismantled West Ham United 4-2 away from home, before perhaps the club’s most impressive display was reserved for Tuesday night as we beat last season’s Champions League runners-up PSG at the Parc des Princes.
While there is always a hint of good fortune and timing with such an outstanding sequence of results, make no mistake about it, the need to attack and entertain underpins all four performances.
It’s something Ole referenced within the first few months of his managerial tenure at Old Trafford: “I've been brought up in a way that we need to attack teams. I think that's our strength as well, going forward and attacking, as a team when you look at us now the way we've played.”
“You never take a draw when you're at Man United,” he said in a separate interview last season. “I want to go out there and get three points. It doesn't matter if it's Liverpool or Man City or Brighton, we want to win games.”
The 2019/20 campaign, Ole’s first full season in the hotseat, demonstrates this aptly, as under his stewardship the Reds registered our highest-scoring campaign since Sir Alex Ferguson’s time as manager, with Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood all scoring over 15 goals, while January recruit Bruno Fernandes bagged 12.
Of course, so much of what influences Solskjaer’s footballing philosophy comes from what he learned at the Theatre of Dreams in his playing days. It’s even something the boss referenced in his first day on the job.
“He [Sir Alex] just said 'go out and express yourselves, take risks. The last game he had as a manager was the 5-5 draw against West Brom. Of course you don't want to concede five goals, but that was almost the perfect end for him as a manager, with the way he played football. I want the players to just be similar to the kids that love to play football and go out [to play] in front of the best fans in the world.”
It is perhaps one of the longest persisting legacies in world football and this ideology, from Sir Matt and Tommy Docherty, through to Sir Alex and Solskjaer, has always emphasised a brand of football that captives and enthralls supporters.
This is a culture that has always influenced our Academy teams, including today’s current batch. “We want to see the sort of Manchester United traits like really good possession, fast-breaking attacking, creating chances and scoring goals,” Under-23’s boss Neil Wood said earlier this season. “At the same time, being defensively organised; being strong with resilience and a lot of character in there. I've been very pleased with the style we've played.
In recent years these footballing principles have also been evident with our Women’s side, who last season even managed to put 11 past Leicester City in a single match.
“I’d like to think that when people come and watch us we play attacking football,” Casey Stoney said in an interview with the Guardian earlier this year. “We’ve got players in our dressing room that can hurt the opposition.”
Whether it’s Ole’s men, Casey’s Women or the various Academy sides, this offensive playing style is something we pride ourselves on, and it will remain a fundamental component of our identity for years to come.