‘Silence is golden’ is not a phrase that many at Manchester United seem to know, unless it’s thinking about firing a manager for a day or so.
There were several platitudes on social media in the wake of City’s schooling. “I’m hurt,” wrote David de Gea or ‘David de Gea’. ‘Harry Maguire’ sounded about as inspiring as an MP on breakfast TV.
“You have not heard from me here, because as a United fan I did not really know what to say after Sunday,” wrote ‘Marcus Rashford’ days after Liverpool’s bombing last month, still saying something.
Players have a brand to cultivate. Tom Cleverley, the artist briefly known as TC23, was in front of the basket.
To stand in front in the wake of a chastening result is not as commendable as it once was. Players are now required to talk to rights holders who have paid hundreds of millions or billions for access to talk to them and still label it as ‘exclusive’.
Ruud van Nistelrooy once told me that he always stopped in the mixed zone after a European match. Reread his quotes from the dark night in Paris after the dull Little defeat in 2005, and there is a (stand-in) captain. The modern player is usually there only because they have to be, and they rarely repeat the feelings of the fans.
Neither does Phil Lynch. To those in the media who cover United a lot, Phil Lynch has never been mentioned in the conversation. Lynch, the media manager at United, has also never presented himself to the fighting media. In fact, it’s a struggle to remember Lynch’s presence near Old Trafford’s press box.
In a fateful podcast appearance, Lynch outlined his strategy to help United players and their teams ‘change the narrative’ and how they are equipped with ‘fan sentiment graphs’. No, you are not reading Private Eye. The clip was uploaded on November 1, but went viral in the fallout of the derby defeat.
Video not available
Lynch is another club employee who is tone deaf to fan feeling with his foot pushed into his mouth. It should not be necessary to say that the way for a football player to ‘change the narrative’ is to play well. A football player does not require media training for it, but some of the players’ media teams appreciate Lynch’s’ narrative ‘input.
One of the reasons this United team is overloaded with underachievers is that many are thin-skinned and constantly worry about the ‘narrative’ of social media. One player has blocked this correspondent on Twitter and another has blocked this correspondent on Instagram. Another player’s representative blocked me on Twitter before the account was deactivated.
The father of a player told me that my coverage of their son had been “red flagged” by the player’s social media team. The player still has a contract with United, but so peripherally it seemed inconceivable that he could have a ‘team’.
Already this season, a relative of another prominent United player has sent me a rude email. A follow-up arrived in my inbox an hour later from the same address, claiming they had been ‘hacked’. It was a hasty violation. The aforementioned players are all still at United.
Maguire is the United captain, and in that role he has to rise above the noise, but the mask slipped on international service with his ear-splitting celebration against Albania. By nodding towards the 63rd-ranked international side, who were 5-0 down at the break, Maguire felt he had brought his doubters to silence as his reaction actually proved their point. One of them was present at Wembley.
ITV’s producers must have been solemn about the decision to book Roy Keane. “Embarrassing,” Keane spat. He branded Maguire’s form ‘shameful’, and it has been. Ian Wright and Jermain Defoe, who stood next to Keane, agreed that Maguire’s reaction was poorly judged.
Maguire would not have taken off his boots when the online reaction began, driven by Keane’s comments on terrestrial television. The United Twitter account, which had apparently ignored the graphs of fan sentiment, then defended Maguire’s rip-off.
“As a group of players, we are going through a tough period,” Maguire wrote on social media the day after the derby. The message was an insult to United supporters when Maguire last year clarified that he does not go on social media or read it. Maguire is run by a professional agency, but they have misunderstood the space.
Video not available
In fairness to Maguire, Reece James’ cross at Wembley was a dream and he will not be treated to such a service by Aaron Wan-Bissaka, another United player with his own insignia and a vanilla Twitter account. The ‘spider’ has often been entangled over the last year.
During his only pre-season tour with United, Wan-Bissaka was so monosyllabic at the few times a microphone was presented to him that a senior United employee remarked, “this is not good”. Restraint has contributed to the players’ brilliance in the past, but Wan-Bissaka’s shyness is a curse.
His Twitter account has so far been dormant this month. Silence has always been gold for Wan-Bissaka.