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The Busby Babe Mid-Season Awards, Part 2: The worst so far

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At the halfway point of the season, we hand out some “alternative” Manchester United awards.

2018 EPL Premier League Football Everton v Man Utd Jan 1st Photo by David Blunsden/Action Plus via Getty Images

The “I’m not angry, I’m just disappointed” Player of the Year

In a season and a half, has Henrikh Mkhitaryan even had a dozen good performances? The mercurial shithouse Armenian is not as good as Juan Sebastian Veron was or as likeable as Shinji Kagawa, but he is destined to join them on the scrapheap of failed Manchester United playmakers just the same. After showing so much promise at the start of the season, the off-brand Nani has been missing in action now for months.

Mkhitaryan in full flight is a devastating force, but he isn’t quite good enough or young enough to be worth persevering with through his extended bouts of anonymity. We’ve bought an Arsenal player by mistake.

The “The Banana is Not to Laugh” Award for Best Mourinho Line of the Season

Because I don’t behave as a clown on the touchline, it means that I lost my passion. I prefer to behave the way I am doing it, much more mature, better for my team and myself, I don’t think you have to behave like a crazy guy on the touchline to have that passion. That passion, you see it every day. The way a person is dedicated to his work, not what you do in front of the cameras.

Jose Mourinho has spent a lot of time saying a lot of tedious things this season, but it was nice to have this reminder that when he wants to, he can still be annoying and entertaining at the same time. This is not just because the ensuing row with Antonio Conte — you’re senile! no, you’re a match-fixer! — has been pretty funny. Nor because it might yet come to actual blows, or at the very least hair-pulling, when Chelsea come to Old Trafford on 25 February.

No, it’s the efficiency of the thing that really appeals. Mourinho, of course, didn’t specify which clown he meant; only that he meant some clown. And the red nose and giant shoes don’t just fit Conte. This was a multi-purpose insult. At least one aspect of tBB took it to be directed at Jurgen Klopp’s touchline persona, that strange combination of benevolent uncle and petulant bear. And you could even stretch it to include Pep Guardiola, who doesn’t jump around as much but does dress, clap, and smile like that weird geography teacher who wanted all the kids to call him by his first name and suddenly disappeared in the middle of term.

One line, three rivals: bop, bop, bop. Mourinho’s still got it, just about.

The Band-Aid on a Broken Leg Prize

The terraces of sports stadia surely remain some of the most fruitful sites for anthropological work on the scapegoat phenomenon: anyone would be forgiven for thinking that Tom Cleverley, and not Claude Lévi-Strauss, had inspired René Girard’s famous mimetic mechanism.

[Takes off beret, stubs out Gauloise]

However, also evident among football supporters is another, associated occurrence: a kind of inverse scapegoating, or, what we may term the poster boy phenomenon. This is when supporters become overexcited with the performances of a certain player, blind to his weakness, perhaps even to the detriment of the team itself.

The current poster boy is without doubt Nemanja Matić, a player whose performances so far this season have been competent, indeed good, but in need of qualification. So long has it been since United have had a proper defensive midfielder, that Matić only needed to be a slight improvement on Michael Carrick to be received as a tactical genius. Yet thinking back to the latter days of Alex Ferguson’s reign, a showroom dummy would probably have been more effective than Carrick in stopping a counter-attack.

Matić has been solid, but has arrived so long after that ship sailed that celebrating his arrival cannot help but feel vaguely pathetic. United still have a midfield problem, notwithstanding Paul Pogba’s unquestionable potential, and at 29 years old, Matić may not be the long-term solution.

The Lord Lucan ‘Missing Man’ Prize

The worthy winner of the Lord Lucan Prize is not the player that does not play (Michael Carrick); nor is it the player with the consistently high-profile snubs (Luke Shaw); nor he whose only appearances of the season have been in the gossip columns (Matteo Darmian).

No, the worthy winner of the Lord Lucan Prize is the player that you had forgotten even played for United. And for these mid-season awards, there can only be one winner: Daley Blind. He’s made five utterly forgettable Premier League appearances so far this season, two of which have come from the bench. But so inoffensive and unremarkable have they — and he — been, that there’s barely been the faintest murmur of discontent in the camp. Congrats, Daley — wherever you are.

The Grass Is Always Greener Prize for Most Tantalising Loan Performances

A shared award here, since this depends on the nature of United’s underwhelming performance in any given week. Are the team huffing and puffing at the back, thanks to a rotating cast of past-its and never-will-be’s? Get Timothy Fosu-Mensah back from Crystal Palace! Are the team looking laboured in midfield, and is Paul Pogba missing, suspended, or just faffing around? Get Andreas Pereira back from Valencia!

You might ask what good it would do either player to sit on the bench while Jose Mourinho frowns, frets, then brings on Ander Herrera. But you’d be missing the point. We yearn after loan players not because we actually want them back, but because we are drawn to the idea of their return that is suggested by their absence. In that absence, they are valorised. Were they to come back, we’d only bitch and moan.