Offside, 25 July

Rio Ferdinand's transfer has sparked the customary anti-United moan-athon: 'Please mister, don't win everything....'

Duleep Allirajah

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Rio Ferdinand’s transfer to Manchester United is a dream move for the England centre-back, but is it a good thing for football? I suspect that everyone except United fans will be dismayed.

Most football hacks are probably glad it’s all over. Given the current slump in the transfer market, Rio’s protracted on-off transfer saga move has been the only newsworthy show in town, leaving the poor hacks struggling to find new angles on the story. Will Leeds sell? Was Rio tapped up? Will Rio ask for a transfer? Will El Tel persuade him to stay? How high are United prepared to bid? And so on ad nauseam, day after day. It was enough to drive a man to golf.

Leeds supporters are understandably incensed at seeing their club captain crossing the Pennines to join the detested Reds. ‘I can appreciate why the Leeds fans want me to stay’, said Ferdinand. ‘I just hope deep down they understand my reasons for putting myself on the list.’

And what exactly were your reasons, Rio? ‘I just feel I need Champions League football to help my career’, said the England defender. Rio’s agent Pini Zahavi put it rather more bluntly: ‘Rio needs to move to a bigger and better club’, he announced. In other words, Leeds are little more than a nursery club for Manchester United. No need to worry, Rio. I’m sure most Leeds fans are reasonable people who won’t feel slighted by that. ‘Good luck with your career’, they’ll shout when they pass you in the street.

Ferdinand’s record-breaking transfer to Old Trafford has provoked the now-customary howls of protest from the Anyone But United brigade. ‘They seem to think they are entitled to everything’, whined that loveable cockney rogue Terry Venables. ‘I think they want to become a super team, very much like the New York Yankees’, said John Moore, a football analyst at stockbrokers Brewin Dolphin.

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger reportedly thinks the title-race is a foregone conclusion. According to former Leeds boss David O’Leary, ‘Arsene’s unhappy because this transfer will give us the prospect of a title race with less competition than the egg-and-spoon race at the local school’. Journalist and Leeds fan Mark Lawson says he resents ‘Manchester United’s tendency to have other people’s ideas in the transfer market rather than their own’ (1).

There is something rather infantile about all these complaints. ‘It isn’t fair’, bawl United’s opponents. ‘They’ve bought all the best players.’ It’s a familiar refrain. We heard the same cries when United bought Ruud van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron last season. ‘Please mister, don’t win everything. Spare a thought for the little people.’

In recent weeks we’ve also heard similar complaints about Tiger Woods, the Williams sisters, and Michael Schumacher, all of whom bestride their respective sports like giants. They win therefore they are boring, seems to be the logic. What a peculiar attitude we have towards sporting excellence in this country!

Manchester United are an outstanding football team. They are winners, a rare thing in British sport. And yet everyone detests them, precisely because they always win. ‘Stand up if you hate Man U’, goes the chant – the one chant that is sure to unite all rival fans. They may as well sing: ‘We’re just a bunch of losers.’ The sentiments are much the same.

It’s about time we called a halt to the anti-United moan-athon. Instead of whinging about United, the other title contenders could, er, try to raise their own standards. If the title race is boring then don’t blame United – blame their rivals for not being good enough.

United’s spending power is undoubtedly formidable, but a team with the best individuals isn’t necessarily the best team. Ask Barcelona, or AC Milan, or Lazio: all big-spending under-achievers. As United themselves discovered last season, spending nearly £50million on two world-class players does not guarantee you the Premiership title.

I think that it’s a good thing for England that Rio Ferdinand will be playing for the best team in the land. We need our top players to be competing regularly in the Champions League and testing themselves against Europe’s finest.

We also need footballers who have acquired the mental strength and self-confidence that comes from winning tournaments. At Leeds, Rio was a star. At Manchester United he can become a winner.

Duleep Allirajah is speaking at the conference Sport and the All-Consuming Cultures of [P]leisure in London on 27 July 2002. For further details call Carlton Brick at the Centre for Cultural Research in Sport, University of Surrey Roehampton, on 020 8392 3541 (email C.Brick@roehampton.ac.uk).

Read on:

spiked-issue: Sport

(1) This time don’t blame it on Rio, Mark Lawson, Guardian, 20 July 2002

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