15 September ~ These are happy days for the global football brands of north-west England. On Sunday the New York Times Style Magazine – a thick and glossy supplement to the paper's already fat Sunday edition – made Manchester United their cover feature, promising on the inside Cristiano Ronaldo and a tribute to 25 years of the club. Cristiano Ronaldo of Real Madrid? And just 25 years? Oh, never mind the details, the PR chiefs at Old Trafford will tell any jealous detractors. This is nothing but positive exposure to a new and very wealthy audience.
The article in fact tells us mercifully little about Cristiano Ronaldo. It's just that the editors obviously decided he had a handsome face, and so they made him the cover boy. And they do point out that he enjoyed "a six-year career with the Reds" (who ever calls Manchester United "the Reds"?) beneath another picture on the inside of the player wearing a $2,500 Gucci coat and "his own diamond stud earrings". The remainder of the pictures concentrate on people who are actually part of the team.
There's Sir Alex, "English football's enlightened despot", wearing "a Paul Smith suit, shirt and tie custom-designed for Manchester United", and a $16,900 Hublot watch (injury-time button optional). Rio Ferdinand looks tough and ready for action, arms crossed in a $4,575 Hermes coat and "his own Scotch and soda shirt" (presumably what Fergie threw over it during a half-time tantrum). Michael Carrick, looking bemused (perhaps he knew in advance that they were planning to describe him as "arguably the best passer at Old Trafford"), wears "a $2,750 Bottega Veneta coat". And then there's the "working-class hero, whose spirit is matched by his skill" – with his new hair in a losing fight to outgrow his stubble, it's "Liverpudlian striker Wayne".
"He looks like a TV detective," said one of my daughters, contemplating the forward looking moody in a Tom Ford coat ($4,980), shirt ($585), and trousers ($990). She had a good point. Meet Rooney, the uncompromising, unorthodox cop in conflict with the twin demons of crime and chronic hair loss. Unafraid to venture into the city's sleaziest fleshpots, risking self-incrimination as he expunges society of over-aged vice and public urination. And all the while wearing a spotless pair of shiny black Kurt Geiger shoes. Though it's definitely an improvement on his legendary lollypop pose.
Just to show it's not all deadly serious in the world of fashion and football, Nemanja Vidic wears a goofy grin as well as a Dries van Noten overcoat (a bit of a snip at $1,926). But he's out-trumped by Eric Cantona, hands thrust into his coat pockets, with an expression, as always, like he's about to correct some know-nothing on a simple philosophical point of information. Eric is wearing Giorgio Armani to keep out the cold ($3,995). According to the article, Cantona kick-started "Ferguson's peerless reign" when he returned from his six-month ban for "leaping salmon-like over the gate" at a Crystal Palace fan. It cleverly invokes the salmon image in the context of one of Cantona's pseudo-profound epithets. Though I've never heard of a salmon being charged with assault.
The feature is breathless and shamelessly transparent myth-making. Here, take a look at Manchester United, team of "outrageous feuds" and unparalleled success. They're a bit like those maverick fashion designers, eh? All iconic flawed genius, darkly shot in expensive coats. It's a fair distance from looking self-conscious in Wembley blazers once a year on Cup final day. But almost as inevitable in its clumsy, superficial execution as every other depressing off-field attempt to dress football up outside of its natural domain. Call me Top Man, but I preferred the Shoot! photo features of a player at home with the wife and kids in a T-shirt, jeans, and a relentlessly creeping bald patch. Ian Plenderleith