Nostalgia is an interesting thing, the ability for the most minute of things to send one yearning or remembering a time long gone that only exists within that person’s mind. Part of it is the idea that somehow things can be different if that memory was still here, no matter what the current reality is. With the ripples of the two transfer windows being felt in the Premier League, it feels that many of the moves were made on feelings of nostalgia.
In the past few years, there has been an influx in the use of nostalgia to sell products or revive old franchises. The recent Super Bowl is a perfect example of that where older celebrities and franchises took part in ads selling just about anything as an attempt to play to these feelings.
This doesn’t necessarily mean that things sold on the basis of nostalgia are inherently terrible or useless. Rather playing to people’s nostalgic senses is a cheap way to pretend that a team is trying instead of just floating. It’s a way of saying ignore the deep underlying issues of the team and look at this shiny thing, it’ll all be better.
Invoking these feelings to sell a new car with an appearance from an actor who was on a show in the mid 2000s is the same as Everton bringing in Frank Lampard as manager. When Chevy tries to sell their new truck with actors from The Sopranos, the greatest TV show ever, they are doing the same thing as Everton. Despite his failure at Chelsea, Lampard is being sold on his name rather than the reasoning behind his appointment.
Just as in all sports, from the MLS to the NBA, the Premier League has been inundated with these moves at all levels. Middling managerial hires and player transfers in order to convince fans that clubs are in good shape despite glaring failures.
Last season had Gareth Bale moving on loan back to Tottenham after leaving the club in 2013 for Real Madrid. Again, this was a move meant to do nothing besides evoking memories, as Bale has declined severally and can barely stay healthy, but meant that ownership could pretend that all was well.
There have been a few instances where these types of moves have paid off with Philippe Coutinho being the prime example. Coutinho’s move to Barcelona was a disaster from the beginning and when it was announced that he would be returning to the Prem, many wrote it off as a useless move. In the short amount of time since his return to the Prem, Coutinho has torn it up for Aston Villa, replacing the hole left by Jack Grealish’s move away.
However, not every team has been as lucky as Villa with these types of moves, as often they are failed gambles.
In the most recent transfer window, Everton brought in two players whose names conjure up memories of past successes. Dele Alli and Donny van de Beek both moved to Everton, as both desperately needed to revive their fledgling careers. At the same time Everton needed to convince fans that all was well with the team flirting with the relegation zone.
At one point Alli was one of the most exciting English prospects with his first two seasons in the Prem being the stuff of legends, but since then. While van de Beek was a key part to Ajax’s rise in the Champions league, he was quickly buried in the bench at United. Both players haven’t shown their top class abilities in years, but many still remember their highlights.
Lampard’s appointment on the final day of January is another example of Everton’s transfer and managerial policy. While Lampard could develop into a good manager, nothing that he showed at Derby County or Chelsea has proved that he is ready for a job in the Prem. It’s similar to Juventus and Andrea Pirlo, where they hired the club legend as manager just to do some fan service and it failed.
It’s not just been Lampard, but looking at the past two managers of Everton, the same pattern has emerged. Both Rafa Benítez and Carlo Ancelotti were the wrong managers at the time with Benítez being a dinosaur tactically and Ancelotti just there to rehab his image after his tenure at Napoli. The two managers are legends in their own rights, but were brought in just to sell an idea rather than build something.
Everton tried to sell fans on both players becoming key players in their survival in the Prem while dragging attention away from the club’s failures in the past five years. The litany of failed transfers and managerial hires have been the reason why Everton has failed, as ownership has never had a clear plan. So it was easier for them to bring in players who can try to distract from the core issues at the club.
Cristiano Ronaldo’s move back to Manchester United is another great example of this over reliance on nostalgic feelings. A heavily celebrated move, as it was a nice return of one of the greats to the club where he rose to global recognition.
Taking back the number 7 jersey, fans could see the old times coming back with memories of Ronaldo tearing defenses apart with Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney. Over a decade after he left the club, Ronaldo would finally help United return to the top of the league.
It clearly hasn’t gone the way it was supposed to be, although he has still been elite in the Champion’s League, both the club and player has struggled in the Prem. United are in no better place than they were last season and Ronaldo hasn’t reached the heights he did in Italy last year. The team and player were favored to achieve success in the Prem, but are now barely in the top 4.
It does seem that United failed to learn from the mistakes that Juventus made in Ronaldo’s last two seasons there. By failing to properly supply Ronaldo with a midfield that can playmake at an elite level and pairing him up with another elite scorer, he could never thrive at the club.
Putting United back amongst the elites of the Prem was never really the goal of ownership, it was to get fans engaged without addressing the dire state of the club. Ever since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, United has been rudderless, hopping from manager to manager and transfer to transfer. This has resulted in the club being a shell of its former self, as their rivals become world beaters.
Management has seemed unwilling to either completely rebuild like Liverpool had to or spend their way out of this issue like Chelsea or Manchester City. This isn’t an argument that one of those paths is better, rather staying in a state of limbo like this can only affect the club’s image. The hope was Ronaldo would be able to paper over deep cracks in the club and deliver a sentimental feeling to fans.
One of the summer’s biggest transfers, Ronaldo’s move back to the Prem was sold as a gift to fans. Much like Everton’s moves, Ronaldo’s impact on the club has only been one of nostalgic euphoria, as outside of rewatching old highlights, there hasn’t been much done for the good of the team.
Nostalgia is a heck of a thing and can often push us into believing in a reality that simply doesn’t exist anymore, but it doesn’t mean those memories are any less meaningful. Those memories have helped shape one’s reality in the past and should be thought of fondly. The only real danger is escaping into those memories as a way to avoid dealing with the issues in one’s current reality.
Certain clubs have seemingly decided to operate only on nostalgic feelings in order to distract from their glaring failures. Both Everton and Manchester United are chief amongst the clubs that have tried to paper over issues with fan service. Time will tell whether it was correct to build from these memories rather than those memories being left as a reminder of who things were.
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