Champions League elimination at the hands of Basel may turn over a new chapter for Manchester United.
The chickens have come home to roost. Dumped out of the Champions League at the Carling Cup-with-croissants stage, this may finally compel Sir Alex Ferguson to address the deficiencies of a flawed Manchester United squad.
Wednesday night was the crashing crescendo to the complacency. Ferguson assured that the ‘concentration’ would return after its absence in the first fixture against Basel, but it was severely lacking in the following three games. The two wins – the only wins – against Oțelul Galați were painstakingly poor performances before an improved effort against Benfica, where United were undone by human error.
It returned again last night. The young players Roy Keane eviscerated post-match were culpable, with David de Gea going with his feet rather than his hands and Chris Smalling dithering a millisecond before Alexander Frei’s clincher. De Gea has exemplified on many an occasion that he will be a fantastic goalkeeper, but his mistakes for Benfica’s equaliser and Basel’s opener are a harsh lesson.
United hadn’t actually played that badly on a saturated evening in Switzerland. A bright start was rendered irrelevant when Marco Streller opened the scoring inside 10 minutes, but United sustained their dominance. However, as in recent weeks, they were just not clinical enough in the final third as substance continued to be a distant ally.
Nani was as bright as a button making hay on the right but Ashley Young continued his three-month demise with another ineffectual display on the left wing. This caused great consternation for lone man Wayne Rooney, who started to drift away from his domain to impersonate the in-vogue false nine. The difference being that they actually score.
Rooney’s been rather wretched for the Reds since he kicked out childishly at Montenegro’s Miodrag Dzudovic two months ago. For someone who happily (and publicly) betrayed the club to earn nearly twice as much, it is exasperating that he should then let his international discord conflict with his club form. He’s actually a soft touch nowadays, and before the match United supporters mused on how effective he’s been in M16. The general (and fair) consensus is that he’s had one great season out of seven; not good enough, is it?
His pathetic miss when Nani presented a cross wrapped with a rosy ribbon was an indicator that it wouldn’t be alright on the night. Especially in the second half when Markus Steinhofer smashed the ball against his own bar and Young toothlessly mishit a presentable follow-up. That was the Platoon moment.
On an evening that brought upon United’s only defeat from the six group games, it was the two home games they hadn’t won which proved costly. Four wins in their last 12 group games suggests that they couldn’t continue to coast through frivolously, and ironically it was in an easy group that they came undone. Just like in 2005.
They were never going to win the competition but knockout elimination has been replaced by group stage humiliation. They got what they deserved.
Ferguson and the players deserve flak for their sloppiness. As bereft of world-class talent United are, the team really should be qualifying from such a kind draw. They were never going to win the competition but knockout elimination has been replaced by group stage humiliation. They got what they deserved.
Then there are the owners in Tampa, leeching off of the club. Recently Ferguson actually tried to buy a midfielder (yes, a midfielder) for £10m. Who it was remains unknown but having agreed a fee and spoken to the player about his role at the club he was then not given the okay by those ‘brilliant owners’ who ‘never refuse’ him any money.
When United lost to Leeds, the Green and Gold movement started almost immediately. This is the caveat with the crusade; it is populated by the Johnny-come-lately brigade who are worried about not seeing a trophy paraded on the Old Trafford turf, not who owns the club. It will be wholly unsurprising if it recommences now that the club have a date with Thursday nights in the Europa League.
Clearly they’ve not noticed that United have overachieved since the summer of 2009. When Cristiano Ronaldo left for £80m and not a penny of it was spent, United had run out of funds and the purse strings were tightened. Now they’re padlocked.
They overachieved by just running Chelsea so close to the 2010 Premier League title, let alone the minor miracle of winning it the following year. Any sane supporter would’ve been pessimistic ahead of those, and this, campaigns; expectations are curbed because United don’t possess the manpower to be the force they were at their zenith.
And what those bandwagon jumpers wearing replica shirts with a G&G scarf (one of sport’s most ironic snaps) fail to gauge is that trophies are temporary and love is eternal. Personally, I’d trade the nine trophies the club have won since the Glazer takeover just to be rid of them and the debt they saddled the club with.
We’ll keep the Red flag flying high because Man United will never die, but the ingenuity of Ferguson is not everlasting. He is rarely seen on the touchline cajoling players or officials anymore because he is 70-years-old on New Year’s Eve, anybody that age has to conserve their energy. His achievement last year was astonishing because of certain astonishing circumstances (eg. buying Bébé), and although one writes him off at their peril, the task is tougher than six years ago.
The Swiss strife should be a blessing in disguise, but it still hurts despite delaying the inevitable. At least all the experience and desire can be poured into the efforts to obtain a twentieth title, but beyond that it looks bleak. Ferguson needs a centre-back, a left-back, two midfielders, a left winger and a forward, but it’s foolhardy to speculate who when United are skint. Knee-jerk contracts handed out to Michael Carrick, Anderson and the permanent reliance on 38-year-old Ryan Giggs highlight the haphazardness. We may actually turn into ‘who the f**k are Man United’.
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