It’s The Hope That Kills You

There’s been a familiar pattern at Manchester United, as of late.

United win a couple of matches, and everything is hunky-dory. Ralf Rangnick is a great manager who’s making his mark and could even get the job on a permanent basis.

They lose or draw a couple, and the buzzards start flying overhead. Suddenly, Rangnick is in over his head, and players are questioning his tactics and training sessions (because heaven forbid they start later in the day or work on basic things like team shape and organization). ESPN even reported that the players have started derisively referring to American-born assistant Chris Armas as “Ted Lasso,” after the titular character in the popular Apple+ series starring Jason Sudeikis as a clueless Yankee manager who somehow manages to land a job coaching an English football team.

You know what? United would be lucky to have Ted Lasso right now.

Saturday’s 1-1 draw with Southampton followed another typical script. United scored early, played well for a half, then got breached defensively and ended up throwing away points. One moment stood out, though. In the closing minutes, United geared up for one last attack and the Stretford End stood as one, trying to give their team a desperately needed lift. The commentators said it sounded like hope.

Well, as the Brits like to say: “It’s the hope that kills you.” In fact, that phrase was the title of a Ted Lasso episode.

For those that aren’t aware, Lasso was a joke character created by NBC Sports to promote its coverage of the Premier League in the U.S. He was an American football coach who, somehow, became manager of Tottenham Hotspur despite not knowing anything about soccer (like what the offside rule means, or that league matches can end in a draw). Somehow this concept inspired a streaming television show that has earned rave reviews, a devoted fan base and tons of awards.

Obviously, Lasso changed quite a bit from the NBC Sports spots, where Sudeikis portrayed him as obnoxious, loud, and ignorant. The series shows him more as an upbeat, relentlessly positive person (at first) who makes up for his lack of tactical nous by displaying an uncanny ability to get the best of out his players while fostering positive team camaraderie. In the show’s two seasons (it’s been renewed for a third, and possibly final season, but Apple+ reportedly wants more), Lasso’s charm and dogged likability allow him to win over a hostile owner who has, initially, set him up to fail, a skeptical media looking to take him down, and his own players, who think he’s a joke.

He may not get soccer, but he understands management and assembles a staff that takes care of training, strategy, and tactics. He even gives Nate, the lowly kit man, a chance by recognizing his tactical knowledge and promoting him to assistant manager (although anyone who knows anything about football knows that some of Nate’s “tactical innovations” are pretty basic things, while others are completely unlikely or unrealistic, like playing a “false 9” in a must-win game on the last day of the season when the team hasn’t done it all year).

He also understands athletes and knows what buttons he needs to push to get the desired result. For instance, he challenges team captain, the over-the-hill midfielder (and Roy Keane expy) Roy Kent, to become a more inspirational leader both on and off the pitch. He also molds diva star striker Jamie Tartt into a team-oriented player who can dip back into his selfish nature to produce individual moments of magic.

But mostly, he got his team to believe — in themselves and each other. He even hangs a sign that says “believe” over the doorway of the locker room and it serves as an important symbolic rallying point for the team. And it works. Belief carries them through some pretty tough times — getting relegated by Man City at the end of Season 1, weathering a long winless streak at the start of Season 2, being embarrassed at Wembley against Man City (them again!), and dealing with an arrogant and credit-hungry Nate, who leaks information relating to Lasso’s mental health issues in order to enhance his own reputation. (Nate ends the season as West Ham’s new manager, presumably replacing David Moyes.)

Simply put, United could use some of that Lasso magic right now.

For instance, United desperately need a Roy Kent — a leader who can inspire the others to play their best. Harry Maguire’s credentials as team captain have long been questioned by the media, fans, ex-United players (lots and lots of ex-players) and, reportedly, current United players. It doesn’t help that Maguire has been in poor form this season, which means he can’t really lead by example. Cristiano Ronaldo, David de Gea and Bruno Fernandes would seem to be much better choices to serve as skipper.

They also have a diva problem, only instead of one Jamie Tartt, they have several. Clubs like Chelsea and Real Madrid are no strangers to the dangers of “player power,” but United had long been immune to the concept, thanks to strong-willed managers like Sir Alex Ferguson, Louis van Gaal, and Jose Mourinho.

Now, however, thanks to Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s soft touch and a transfer policy that has emphasized commercial appeal over team chemistry, it seems like United are in need of a major attitude adjustment.

Witness the aforementioned leaks about Rangnick’s training sessions, staff and tactics. Or Anthony Martial, reportedly, refusing to suit up for a match in order to force through a transfer (he denied it on social media, but it raised more questions since he directly contradicted his manager’s claims). Or Edinson Cavani, who decided he wanted a few extra days off after an international break (and got it). Or Jesse Lingard, who also, reportedly, asked for time off after his transfer failed to materialize (and, like Martial, denied it and contradicted his manager). Apparently, United is turning into a social club where you can come and go as you please.

I’ve been hearing this phrase y’all got over here that I ain’t too crazy about. “It’s the hope that kills you.” Y’all know that? I disagree, you know? I think it’s the lack of hope that comes and gets you. See, I believe in hope. I believe in belief. Now, where I’m from, we got a saying too. A question, actually. “Do you believe in miracles?”

“It’s The Hope That Kills You,” Ted Lasso, Season 1, Episode 10

Unfortunately, at this point, belief and hope are in short supply, and it’s probably going to take a miracle to save United’s season. Maybe another sports cliché would be more appropriate: Wait ‘til next year!

February 24, 2022

Unfrozen Caveman Law Writer

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