David Hirshey writes regularly for Deadspin about soccer.
Go ahead, bow down. Heel before Manchester United like you would a certain overdressed German guy with a pointy hat who's playing to a sold out Yankee Stadium this week. They deserve it. They stand on the cusp of pulling off an astonishing double championship, and they have done it with style and panache. So why am I not ready to genuflect?
Because for all the beautiful soccer they play, they are an ugly club, and I'm not even talking about the pitbull mugs of Rooney and Tevez. My bitterness doesn't even stem from the fact that United administered last rites yesterday to Arsenal's trophy-less season in a game that will be enshrined in the ManU-Arsenal pantheon right up there with the 1999 classic that saw Ryan Giggs slalom through the entire Gunner defense in the 109th minute and then display more chest hair than Robin and Venus Williams combined.
No, what makes United so unloveable to me is their relentless gamesmanship. Of course, like the rest of the planet, I'm in awe of Ronaldo's wondrous gifts, but I want to drown him in his own hair gel when he starts performing his Harlem Globetrotter tricks in the middle of a breakaway. I am impressed by the tactical genius and shopping talents of Sir Alex, and yet I pray his head will explode every time he unleashes one of his purple-faced rants at a referee.
All of ManU's best and worst traits were on abundant display yesterday at Old Trafford, as they opened up a six-point lead at the top of the Premier League and dared Chelsea to catch them. Even though Arsenal's season had essentially been buried alive at Anfield earlier in the week, the Gunners were determined to make this more than just another validation of United's majesty. They began as they did against Liverpool with Fabregas and Hleb threading the needle into the tiniest of spaces, only for Arsenal to waste chance after chance. In fact, had Adebayour not turned into some kind of U-11 girl in front of goal and rolled candy-ass shots into the grateful arms of Van der Saar instead of powering them past him like, say, Fernando Torres would have done, Arsenal might have been up by two or three goals at the half.
"I think when Adebayour cut his hair," Dublin Dave said, "he also cut his dick off." Dublin Dave is the leader of the Kinsale Reds, and even before the match you could tell he was nervous by the way his United scarf was wrapped around his neck like a noose. "I'm not feeling good today," said the normally ebullient Irishman. "I had a dream last night that Ronaldo broke his leg."
You can hardly blame him for his dark premonition, given that defenders are now starting to go on record that Ronaldo risks being Eduardoed if he continues to humiliate them. Just last week, Roma's David Pizarro accused the Portuguese showpony of doing "spiteful things" after the United midfielder had taunted the defender by bamboozling him with his repertoire of step-overs and backheels rather than simply taking the ball past him on the run. Yesterday it was Justin Hoyte's turn to be tormented late in the game, and the Arsenal defender responded by clattering Ronaldo to the ground. In other words, the message opponents are sending to Ronaldo is that they can deal with him beating them on the dribble, but if you rub their faces in it by stopping and performing your look-at-me-aren't-I-simply-amazing antics, prepare to eat some turf.
Still, there are times when you have to admire Ronaldo's sheer audacity. Yesterday, he had basically been kept in check during the first half by the heroic efforts of Clichy and Eboue, who tracked him tirelessly whenever he switched flanks. But after Gallas was whistled for a hand ball (sad to say, it was a legitimate call ) in the box, Ronaldo stepped up to take the penalty kick. And then he stopped mid-runup. And then he blasted the ball high to Lehmann's right for his 38th goal of the season. But wait. A ManU player, fooled by Ronaldo's stutter-step approach, had run into the box before the kick was taken, and the goal was disallowed. Ha!
Except that only made Ronaldo more determined to prove why he's the best player in the world. Without missing a beat, he nervelessly stepped up again. And stopped again. And scored again, this time with an inch-perfect kick inside the right post. It is a toss-up as to who Lehmann would rather have knee-capped at that moment: Almunia, the man who kept him on the bench for most of the season until an injury yesterday afforded the German a rare start in goal, or Ronaldo who TWICE beat him with the same infuriating technique. Can you imagine Chad Johnson walking backwards into the endzone after juking a cornerback? Oh wait, you can.
Anyway, with Lehmann talking scheiss at Ronaldo, not to mention his defenders and the ref, Ferguson sensed Arsenal's implosion and went for the throat by bringing on Tevez and Anderson. How incredible is it that Tevez, who is one of the key members of the world's no.1 team, Argentina, isn't a regular starter for ManU? That is down to United's depth, which Ferguson brilliantly provided in the offseason, when he added ol' Scarface as well as Anderson, Nani and Hargreaves. By contrast, Wenger brought in Eduardo and a box of croissants.
So deep is United that Hargreaves, who starts for England, can barely get in a game at Old Trafford and lately has been in Ferguson's doghouse for turning up late to practice and team meetings. But given a chance to redeem himself yesterday, the Canadian-born midfielder showed all the guile and composure of his friend and countryman Steve Nash dishing a no-look behind the back pass in crunch time.
After a silly foul by Silva just outside the box, Ronaldo and Hargreaves stood equidistant from the ball. Surely, everyone in the stadium, including Lehmann, expected the Portuguese winger to take the free kick; he had scored some astonishing dead-ball goals this season. But it was Hargreaves who wrapped his foot around the ball like a certin Armani underwear model and sent it swerving over the wall (Damn you, Van Persie, for not jumping!) and into the lower left corner of the net.
Old Trafford erupted in song and Dublin Dave was kind enough to translate the lyrics .
"You hear that?" said Dublin Dave, now jumping up and down with his United brethren at Kinsale. "They're serenading you, Hirshey. 'you're gonna win fuck-all' 'you're gonna win fuck-all. ' "
True, we will win fuck-all, but at least we won't rub it in.