I have an excuse for being a Manchester United fan. I really do. Growing up on the verdant and winding road up to Hilton in KwaZulu-Natal, in sparsely populated World’s View, we knew all of our neighbours. One neighbour I was close to was a boy whose parents spoke in that unfamiliar earthy accent of the north of England. The boy’s room was covered in Man Utd football posters. And while pushing cars and toy soldiers around on his nylon speckled egg carpet, I listened to stories of Best and Charlton while staring at posters of Norman Whiteside and Gary Bailey. In short, I was indoctrinated.
It has often been hard being a United fan. In the 1980s we were the perennial underperformers, despite a few FA cup successes. Then with the triumphs of Alex Ferguson, things got harder. “Jumping on the bandwagon”, was always something you would be accused of. And as for the Rooney/Ronaldo phase… however good they are/were as footballers, it is difficult to respect them as human beings. As some Newcastle fans today are finding out, it is hard to love something that has an underlying unpleasantness about it. Those slightly less successful days of Cantona were for me the most gratifying. But for most, the golden age was that of Beckham, Kean, Cole, Yorke and the “baby-faced assassin”, the king of the substitute’s goal, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
But with the post-Ferguson era of Moyes, Van Gaal, Mourinho, and Solskjaer (#sadbabyfacedassasin) the true hardness of supporting them has returned. These last eight years of football have been mind-bendingly boring to witness. It has been like watching paint drying into a colour that you slowly begin to realise you really dislike. The football has been either tactically conservative (VG and Mourinho) or seemingly without tactics at all (Solskjaer). As a result, a sentiment has been growing in me, one that only truly became clear while I was watching United vs Leicester two weeks ago. When Jamie Vardy scored to put Leicester 3-2 up, I cheered. It was a release, and perhaps the happiest moment football-wise I have experienced in years. “How,” I asked myself later, “could I enjoy watching Man Utd lose?” The answer is, I am sick of them. Sick of their misspent money, their bad tactics, their owners, Ronaldo, and their support of a sadly inept manager who was once their greatest natural goal scorer. I would be quite happy to see them relegated.
It is precisely the same feeling I have towards the ANC. My love for Man Utd was in some ways replaced in my teenage years with the same kind of love for the ANC. Of course, I am not talking about the camps in Angola, Zambia, Quatro, and their worrying (although understandable) links to the USSR. I am talking about the hope, intelligence, decency and promise of a non-segregated South Africa, offered by the likes of Mandela, Tambo, Sisulu, Luthuli, Plaatje and, yes, Cyril Ramaphosa.
But Ramaphosa is now the Solskjaer of the ANC. He is a totem for all that was once good about the organisation. Ramaphosa stands for the hope of the past but also the hopelessness of the present. And although he is a far more skilled politician than Solskjaer is a football manager, he is in charge of a group of people who he, like Solskjaer, seems incapable of moulding into his own image. South Africa has been beaten 5-0 by the ANC’s corruption and it is time that we now definitively turn our backs on those who led us here, including Cyril. Nothing short of substitution is required.
But the problem Man Utd fans have is that by calling for Solskjaer’s dismissal they will be performing an act of self-harm on their identity. Solskjaer meant something to us, something that smelted and then formed in our identity. But the simple fact is that self-harm has to be done. We simply can’t go on being led by a party that cannot self-correct.
Perhaps, like me, others will turn blue and begin micro supporting teams like Leicester. But this is not a call to vote DA. Far from it. For if Ramaphosa is Solskjaer, then John Steenhuisen is the José Mourinho of South African politics. He is the man capable of delivering something that, although functional, is far from desirable. Like Mourinho, Steenhuisen seems happiest when he is aggravating people and humiliating them — like when he smirked to himself while watching Gareth Cliff’s vile behaviour towards Mudzuli Rakhivhane.
The reason why Mourinho was sacked as Man Utd manager was that, despite ending second in the league and winning the Uefa Europa League, he made good players mediocre and got young talent to play unattractive football. You can support a Mourinho team, but there will be nothing particularly pleasant about the football itself. You can support the DA, but under their current leadership a better socially cohesive South Africa is simply not on offer.
Mourinho famously made the argument while at Man Utd that he had won three titles with Chelsea while others like Jürgen Klopp hadn’t won anything. For this, he claimed he needed respect despite his overly defensive team having just lost 3-0 to Spurs. The DA, like Mourinho, has a better track record than the other parties. That is true. But the question was not what Mourinho had won, but how the team was actually playing at that moment and what he had to offer the club in the future. Is Cape Town infrastructurally better off than Joburg? Of course, it is. Is it better off than it was 10 years ago? Probably not. Is it a place that offers social upliftment and good services for all? Certainly not.
The question is (and this is a very sad moment for any United fan to admit), where is the Jürgen Klopp of South African politics? For although you might hate Liverpool as a club, it is hard not to like its manager. He is — as far as managers can be — honest, open and inclusive. And along with this attitude comes skill, togetherness and a great relationship with the press (both the media and the footballing tactic). Klopp is proof that success and efficiency can come with decency. But Klopp also comes with ruthlessness. He gets rid of the deadwood, the underperforming and those not fit for purpose. Klopp is not Steenhuisen and he is not Ramaphosa.
Jürgen Norbert Klopp, where are you? DM