Scapegoating is a particular ugly human trait. It masquerades as logic, claiming to be a legitimate response to adverse circumstances yet in truth is nothing of the sort. It’s a psychological reaction that aims to make the perpetrator feel better by blaming an individual or group for a situation and thus allowing him to feel better by deluding himself he’s sorted out the problem. Other than that, it was no value whatsoever.
The so-called United ‘fans’ who have indulged themselves in the pastime this season may be guilty of something rather less heinous than, say, Hitler’s treatment of the Jews, but their claim to logic is just as spurious and the effect on the team they claim to support entirely without a positive outcome. They don’t, of course, represent the wider body of United fans and it’s only in their own heads that they’re doing anything positive for their team.
Tom Cleverley, the latest and most pronounced victim of their ire, has recently closed down his Twitter account as the result of such criticism. Their choice of Tom as their target is particularly telling. When examining the profiles of those who tweet their irrational abuse , certain characteristics become apparent: they’re often the same people who denounce United’s failure to spend big, delude themselves that Ronaldo will one day come back and generally, though by no means always, are of an age that means they missed out on the less successful decades of the seventies and the eighties; their support of United has been restricted, through no fault of their own, to the trophy-laden years. As such, they actually love the trophies far more than they love United.
Not that every under-30 adopts this approach, of course, but it’s significant, I think, that those that do select a scapegoat and choose as their target a man who worked his way up through the youth system and cost United nothing at all. Their main gripe is the failure of United to spend big money on a quality midfielder and, in their skewed mind-set, Tom Cleverley is the player in possession of the shirt that this imaginary player ought to be wearing and therefore is to blame.
For me, Cleverley has had an inconsistent season rather than a bad one. In the back-to-back away wins at Aston Villa and Stoke before Christmas he was arguably our best player at a time when it looked, briefly, as if we’ve got our season back on track. He was similarly influential in the home win against West Ham during the same period and, recently against Arsenal, didn’t lose out on a tackle during the ninety minutes. He has, admittedly, has some less distinguished performances, but then there are only three players in the United squad who I wouldn’t say the same about this season.
Even if he’d had a consistently terrible campaign, however, it would hardly justify the level of abuse he’s received. I’m glad to say I’ve probably got very little in common with those who have been delivering it, apart from supporting the same club, of course. But I suspect that word ‘support’ has a more literal meaning for me than for them, because I believe you get behind your team and every one of its players not just through the bad as well as good, but especially during the bad. Tom Cleverley, whether you agree with my assessment of his season for not, is one of us and that, for me, is enough.