The Pressure of Being a Top Team
When Hull City went 10-7-21 in 2014, no one batted an eye. The team wasn’t good (still isn’t, really), and was perfectly living up to its fairly low expectations. A year later, when that same team finished the year 8-11-19 again there were no flinches. There were relatively few articles written about their consistent mediocrity simply due to the fact that Hull City has been mediocre since entering the Premier League.
Currently, Hull City sits in 18th place with a 2-1-6 record–as far from surprising as it is from sterling. Meanwhile, Manchester United sits in 7th place with a 4-2-3 record. By all accounts a much better showing than that of Hull City, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the stories and subplots that surround the team and the city.
Mourinho isn’t happy. They used poor tactics vs Liverpool. The training and coaching is poor. The wrong players are being sold, and those who are kept aren’t concerned with winning. The rhetoric surrounding the team–a team that is playing better than average–is overwhelmingly negative.
The fact of the matter is that in sports–much like in other walks of life–some are given loftier expectations than others. Failing to meet those expectations, even if your performance is above average in most regards, is just that–failure.
A team like Manchester United should, in a perfect world, be playing better than they are. The matches they’ve won have been solid, albeit not spectacular. Those they’ve lost have been debilitating to a degree. The record, while above .500, is faltering. And the media has taken the opportunity to jump on this, displaying to the world that a 4-2-3 team is falling apart.
In part, this is due to who this team is and the recognition that the club continuously receives. The big names, the powerhouses, the elite clubs that compete year in and year out are the clubs that competitors wish the worst upon. They want more than anything to see the mighty fall. Like Major League Baseball’s Yankees or the NFL’s Patriots, teams that are consistently good are also consistently hated. In constant competition for top spots in the Premier League standings and a perennially competitive team, others like seeing Manchester struggle.
The media recognizes this, capitalizing on every fault and stumble by the club, turning it into a sign, a symptom of things to come. There are more people who want to read about a Manchester loss than who want to read about a Watford win any day. When you have a history of winning, every loss is big to those around you.
The players can be affected too. While morale is at its tipping point, the influx of negative media surrounding a team can weigh heavy on their conscience. The crumbling predicted by the media and wanted so badly by other teams then becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Being a perennial powerhouse in the best soccer league in the world is a dangerous game. For Manchester, it’s time to plug their ears to the boos and hisses and play like the team they can be, not the team they have been.