Quinton Fortune will have returned to club duty feeling an uneasy three-way split: excited about being a newly wed, dejected at his indifferent performance at the African Cup of Nations and not sure what to make of manager Sir Alex Ferguson’s decision to stay on until 2005.
For let no one be fooled, Fortune was the epitome of the haplessly disjointed display that led to Bafana Bafana bombing out of a tournament where they never really had a look-in. Forget the penalty miss against Ghana, it was against hosts Mali that Fortune let himself and his country down. When the chips were down and Mali 1-0 up, he failed to seize the initiative and not once did he successfully take on an opponent to fashion decent supply for strikers.
In the process he not only failed to repay the misplaced faith coach Carlos Quieroz has had in him, he also vindicated Ferguson’s decision to make him a bench-warmer. For it is safe to suggest that under a new manager, Fortune was hoping to drastically improve on his record of 20 league appearances and five goals in two and a half seasons. Now with Ferguson staying on Quinton should not seek to revive his fortunes at Manchester United, he should reconsider them by requesting a loan to a middle-sized ambitious club or a transfer after the World Cup.
The first thing that Fortune needs is honest introspection, an admission that he is far from his best and to stop labouring under the delusion that he cannot find a place because he is deputising for Ryan Giggs, the most influential left-wing in the English game. For in Bafana, Quieroz employs Fortune in the central left midfield, with Delron Buckley running wide and in the under-23s he used to play on the inside left channel with an array of improvisers like Steve Lekoelela and overlapping left-backs taking over flank duties.
Fortune’s body language does not seem to be that of a player who hungers for more. On a recent episode of TVshow Soccerzone he was content to show the leafy surroundings of Manchester but he never really discussed, in a frank and candid manner, his immediate future at the Theatre of Dreams. Ahead of the national team’s departure for Mali Fortune continually expressed collective confidence in his club or country’s ability to win and conveniently forgot to mention he is the weak link we can do without.
The core of Fortune’s problems though might lie beyond his control. If you look at Ferguson’s trophy-laden phase of his reign at Old Trafford, starting from the first league title in the early 90s, there are two types of players who have made an impact. The first are those who came through the club’s youth programme. Step forward David Beckham, Giggs, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers.
The second group are those players who came not with a lot of promise but established reputations in multimillion-pound transfers. This stretches back from the enigmatic genius Eric Cantona, to French goalkeeper Fabien Barthez and this season Ruud van Nistelroy and the unsettled Argentine, Juan Sebastian Veron. Any player who falls between the two categories finds that the Theatre of Dreams remains just that, a theatre of unfulfilled dreams.
Think of Ole Gunnar Solksjaer and Jordi Cruyff. They arrived in a group with Karel Probosky and Jesper Blomqvist. The other three have left, but Solksjaer has stayed because he is a super substitute and goalscorer.
Of the four, Cruyff’s struggle was the most poignant. He came bearing one of the most famous surnames in football, fresh from the tutelage of his legendary father in Barcelona. In four seasons he made a mere 31 appearances. To regain his confidence, he moved back to Spain, only this time to unfashionable Alaves. Last season, he helped them reach the Uefa Cup final, where they stretched Liverpool, and this season he helped them to the top of La Liga for the first time in 71 years.
If Fortune is not convinced that a move would do him good, he need only look at two people close to him: former Manchester United assistant coach Steve McLaren and home boy Benni McCarthy.
When McLaren left to become manager at Middlesborough, he naturally looked to United for players but not once did he mention Fortune. Maybe McLaren knows Fortune has allowed status to go to his head and is unwilling to work to improve himself.
As for McCarthy, a loan move from Celta Vigo to FC Porto produced a trimmer version for the Nations Cup that showed flashes of brilliance in early stages of the game but faded out due to lack of stamina. Who knows what intensive training in the next eight weeks and a solid run of 10 matches can do for him ahead of the World Cup? By then Fortune might find himself on honeymoon in Barbados contemplating life in a new club next season.