We have come in for a huge amount of criticism for our failure to challenge for the Premier League title in recent years, with Arsene Wenger lambasted for his mentality regarding the “fourth placed trophy” (via the Daily Mail)
Our lengthy drought was understandably accompanied by a huge amount of negativity from fans, pundits, and the media, with few taking a logical view and appreciating what Wenger had achieved when restricted to – compared to the likes of Chelsea, Manchester City, and Manchester United – a shoestring budget.
After a season without Champions League football, Manchester United are on course to finish fourth – and not only seem proud, but are being praised for their success as well (via the Wall Street Journal).
There seems to be something of a double standard here, and although unfair, it’s easy to see how it has arisen. It’s a case of oversimplifying far, far too much.
Manchester United endured a difficult season under David Moyes in 2013/14, crashing to a disappointing seventh placed finish and missing out on European competition completely. A fourth placed finish – which they look set to achieve this season – is, by comparison, fantastic. The media is therefore looking at the jump from seventh to fourth, and heaping praise on this amazing team that have somehow defied the odds and jumped several places up the table.
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This is farcical though, as a season cannot be called a success based solely on your finishing position compared to the previous campaign.
Louis van Gaal spent a whopping £153m on players like Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao this past summer (via the Daily Star), which is an astronomical amount. With that kind of investment you expect a return, and when you look at the expenditure of the teams around United, there is nobody that even comes close. Liverpool may have spent big money this summer, but that was offset by the sale of Luis Suarez to Barcelona.
The Dutchman is being praised for achieving a fourth placed finish after his massive spending spree, yet we were criticised for it after investing a fraction of the amount. People seem to expect progress, and ignore how much it takes to achieve that progress, how much it takes to maintain the status quo for a club, and whether it’s realistic to expect that progress.
Is a fourth placed finish an achievement for United? Of course. After finishing seventh, something needed to be done. But they haven’t overachieved or performed well in order to climb the table; a side which arguably boasts the quality to mount a title challenge collapsed the season after winning the Premier League, and have now gone some way to remedying that by getting back into the Champions League.
United haven’t played particularly well under Louis van Gaal this season, and you suspect that if they performed this way last season they still would have missed out on the top four. They have certainly looked better in the second half of the campaign, but it was only thanks to the heroics of David de Gea that they weren’t out of the race for the top four before Christmas.
The simple fact is, with the resources, the squad, the expenditure, and everything else that United have going for them, they should be finishing in the Champions League spots. The fact that they had a disastrous 2013/14 season does not suddenly make a fourth placed finish a huge success, they have merely returned to a state of normalcy.
We have started to flex our financial muscles recently, and are rightly looking a better side for it. We should now be expecting to challenge for the title in the coming seasons, so fourth place is no longer an achievement. That wasn’t the case for years, yet despite our limited spending we were still berated for only finishing fourth.
Perhaps if we finished fifth one year and then returned to the Champions League, we too would have been praised for our progress.
Arsenal coming fourth after losing our best players, closing the transfer window with a negative net spend, and having to rely on bargain basement signings and young talent is apparently not good enough, because it doesn’t show progress. United coming fourth with a Premier League winning side, after piling £153m worth of talent on top, and boasting players like Wayne Rooney, David de Gea, and Angel Di Maria is a massive achievement, because they had a disastrous season the year before.
It’s a far too simplistic analysis, but is something fans, the media, and pundits alike are all guilty of.