clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

The one thing Manchester United are getting right

Louis Van Gaal's men aren't very good at much, but at least they're annoying people again.

Michael Regan/Getty Images

Joy is a multi-faceted, many-flavoured thing, and football, wonderful thing that it is, can deliver up plenty. There's the sense of swelling pride that comes from watching your lot steamroller that lot, or the untrammelled schadenfreude that comes from watching the great and the good slipping at just the wrong moment. There's the quiet, pseudo-paternal warmth that comes from watching a kid from the academy step onto the pitch and grow, before your eyes, into a footballer — perhaps tempered these days by his inevitable, bad-tempered defection up the food chain, but still — or the wild, animalistic fist-pumping that comes around whenever a flying volley lands on the laces just right.

And, sometimes, there's one of the noblest, most sacred pleasures of all: the knowledge that you — your team, so by extension you personally — have completely gotten away with it, and everybody's really annoyed about that. Scientists refer to this as the 'Hot Piss Paradox', so-called because rolling around in hot piss is literally a terrible idea, but metaphorically great fun indeed.

This probably needs a little explanation. 'Hot piss' is what happens when 'piss is boiled'; one's piss is boiled, metaphorically, when one is angry. A personal theory is that 'makes one's piss boil' is an inelegant variation on 'makes one's blood boil', a phrase of uncertain origin that the internet claims dates back to the seventeenth century. TBB has heard it suggested that there may be a link to humoralism; alternatively, it may just be that extreme anger does make a person a bit warmer. In all respects.

Take Manchester United, traditionally piss-warmers <i>nonpareil</i>. Already they have an advantage in the piss-boiling stakes, by simple virtue of being Manchester United, with all the success and money and 'Not Arrogant Just Better' banners that implies. Then, add to that the fact that this season, although they've not played well, they keep getting decent results; nothing irritates as much as undeserved reward, except undeserved reward involving Wayne Rooney.

Then take last night's game against Preston North End. It's live on the BBC, it's the FA Cup, it's against a team from League One. Words like "plucky" and "spirited" quiver on the edge of everybody's lips, and things only intensify when Preston take the lead ... only to come crashing down again when United equalise, then take the lead, then seal off the win. Three debatable goals, too. Was Rooney interfering with play when he jumped out of the path of Ander Herrera's equaliser. Did Marouane Fellaini commit a foul in the build-up to the winner? And did Rooney then dive to win himself a penalty?

(This isn't to say that debating those goals would be worthwhile, or that goals shouldn't have stood. But their fairness can certainly be debated in a way that, say, Preston's goal can't.)

In short, the widely loathed Manchester United ruined everybody's evening, not just Preston's; they charged onto the stage at the magic show and pointed out that the glamorous assistant was, in fact, just hiding under the table. Hugely annoying for plenty of not-United fans; commensurately pleasing for United fans; and, judging by his tone of voice here, for the BBC's Martin Tyler a disappointment on a level with the unexpected death of a much-loved family pet.

You might think all this was just an excuse to use the word 'piss' a lot under the guise of writing about football, and you'd be partly right. But it's important that United are doing this, because this — along with David de Gea turning into a properly good goalkeeper — is the only real pleasure that's coming from this season.

This is what's setting MUFC-by-LVG apart from Moyes' Boyz. Both teams are playing most of their football somewhere between average and awful, differences in style and personnel notwithstanding, but where last season's Manchester United were mostly a source of amusement to everybody else, this current vintage is back to annoying people. Annoying Chelsea by poaching a last minute equaliser. Annoying Arsenal by making them look like Arsenal. Annoying the BBC by ruining the FA Cup with their offsides and their dives. Annoying the neutrals by doing all that and not even having the decency to be good to watch. They're scraping past teams, they're nicking undeserved equalisers. They're being lucky. The bastards.

It's not ideal, of course: by this point in the season United were supposed to be playing glorious free-flowing total football, instead of the inglorious, weirdly constipated nonsense they've been serving up. Falcao should have been scoring his sixteenth hat-trick, not squinting to see whether it's his number on the board. And it could all fall to pieces as the fixture list gets a little rougher through March and April. But as things stand, it looks very much as if United have rediscovered the art of vexing the wider world.

Perhaps this, as much as anything, is underpinning what patience Van Gaal is being afforded by many United fans. If United aren't fun to watch, then they're at least fun to watch other people watch. Joy is joy, after all, whatever the flavour. Even when you really shouldn't be drinking it.