No margin for error while United’s online masses demand instant success

Managing a football club is now about managing social media expectations too


Social media sites have become a breeding ground for outlandish opinions and hot-headed fans who jump to conclusions far too quickly. Teams are increasingly judged on one result and one performance, rather than a run of results.

Using Manchester United as a case study, since their fans are arguably the most irrational of all Twitter users, we tried to examine the difference between United fans now and ten years ago, when social media sites were in their formative years.

It’s often forgotten that Manchester United’s Premier League and Champions League-winning campaign of 2007/08 started with the Red Devils collecting just two points from three very winnable games.

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United began their double-winning campaign with a stalemate at home to Reading before drawing away to Portsmouth and losing at rivals Manchester City, who lost to Middlesbrough 8-1 in the same season.

Their stuttering start saw them drop to 17th in the table and only an unconvincing win over a Tottenham side that finished 11th that season got them off the mark. A season later draws with Newcastle and Chelsea, coupled with defeat to Liverpool, saw United kick off in similarly sluggish style.

United won the league in both seasons, averaging 89 points and, believe it or not, the world didn’t end after the lukewarm starts of either season.

Imagine the furore on Twitter over such starts nowadays.

The truth is, you don’t have to, as it’s unfolding before your eyes.

Manchester United have made a similar start in terms of points to those glorious seasons, but such is the level of hyperbole on the social media platform that this current start is being treated as the apocalypse.

Now, this is by no means a comparison between this current crop of United players and arguably the greatest team Alex Ferguson ever had at his disposal, but it serves to show that a start is just that; a start.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

It means little in the grand scheme of things. After all, United’s three wins from their opening three games under Jose Mourinho in 2016 did them little good as they stumbled and stuttered their way to a sixth-place finish.

However, such is the hyperbolic nature of the majority of Twitter users these days that only a strong emotion can be expressed. There are only black and white opinions and there is absolutely no room for the more sensible pundit who wishes to play devil’s advocate.

Reactions to United’s win over Chelsea and their loss to Crystal Palace two weeks later are almost symbolic of this new culture. The 4-0 drubbing of Chelsea was not met with the cautious optimism with which it should have been, but by a premature proclamation that the old United were back. It was a similar case after PSG had been dumped out of the Champions League last season.

Meanwhile, emotions ran high after the Crystal Palace defeat, with fans prophesising that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would not be in a job by Christmas and the victory over Chelsea long faded from their memories.

There is only room for short-term analysis with no space for perspective.

Had Paul Pogba dispatched his penalty against Wolves at Molineux and had Gary Cahill been correctly sent off for hauling down Anthony Martial at Old Trafford, United would more than likely be sitting on 10 points from four games despite giving more or less the same level of performance.

If that had transpired, the talk amongst United fans would not be of their desire for Solskjaer to leave his post, but of a prospective Premier League title next May.

Fans are simply too quick to judge results and not performances, leading to a culture where every unfavourable result is viewed as fatal.

That’s not to say that United fans wouldn’t have been frustrated as they watched their team fail to break down a stubborn Reading side in August 2007 or suffer a similar fate at home to Newcastle a season later. Of course they would, but they wouldn’t consider the season as a write off after just one or two bad results.

The fact of the matter is that the United team of 2007-2009 were realistically vying for Premier League titles and dropping points at home to relegation-threatened clubs was far more unacceptable than it is now. Yet, those results were met by a far modest reaction than results nowadays.

The current United squad is undergoing a massive rebuild and slip-ups are to be expected for the next 12 months. However, rather than being met with a reasonable frustration like they were a decade ago, poor results are now being met with an irrational despondency. All that matters is instant success, even if it is detrimental to long-term prospects.

It is a similar case for almost all clubs in England and the same thing really could have been written about every club in the Football League, with the exception of maybe Manchester City who do not lose games. There is simply no margin for error anymore.

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