Like many people on Tuesday night, I couldn’t quite believe what I was witnessing. It was not just the defeat of Manchester United, but it was the total collapse of everything that they once represented.
Following the woeful performance by The Red Devils, which resulted in a 4-0 defeat to MK Dons, it is becoming more and more obvious what the problem is. It is a deep, inherent issue that runs through almost the entire Manchester United squad. The problem is quality.
David Moyes knew this, but for some reason chose to ignore it – at his peril – and instead looked to paper over the cracks that were rapidly becoming gaping holes. Juan Manuel Mata was last season’s “saviour”, the man that would arrive like a White Knight and transform the season. Angel Di Maria looks to fill that role this year. As good as both Mata and Di Maria are, they are not what is needed at Old Trafford.
United fans will argue that it was only the Capital One Cup, and that it meant nothing, and that their team was weak, and full of inexperienced youngsters. As all fans do, they will look to downplay what a catastrophe that night was, but try as they may to convince themselves that “it wasn’t that bad”, the reality is a painful pill to swallow.
Despite it “only” being the Capital One Cup, it was, realistically, one of only two pieces of silverware United could win all season. Outside of the FA Cup, it was the only cup competition they would be involved in. Therefore it represented 50% of winnable silverware, and they were trounced 4-0 to a side in the third tier of English football. As Iain Macintosh states in his excellent article for ESPN, “If [United] go out in the FA Cup third round, their entire season will consist of just 40 games.”
No matter what was said by Van Gaal post-match, it was clearly a game he wanted, and expected to win. The starting line up that he chose was significantly weaker than his preferred 11 but it still contained five full internationals – four of whom appeared at the World Cup – and was later bolstered by the appearances of a sixth who also played in Rio.
A Manchester United loss at any stage of the season, and in any competition, should be a disappointment no matter what, but losing in the manner that they did against a team as poor (no offence MK Dons fans) as MK Dons is enough to enrage even the most tranquil of United supporters.
I wonder whether a team playing under Sir Alex Ferguson would have whimpered out in such a pathetic manner. Or whether after such a woeful performance the manager would stay behind to sign autographs after the game, rather than heading straight down the tunnel to prepare the hairdryer.
For reasons that seem completely illogical to me, every bookmakers, including TitanBet, gave better odds to Manchester United finishing in the top four, and winning the league, than to Liverpool doing the same thing. I have no idea what possessed the industry to do such a thing, when it quite obviously was not going to occur.
Perhaps United fans and bookmakers alike got caught up in the romance of a post-Moyes era at Old Trafford. Perhaps the media had given such a compelling account of Louis Van Gaal’s genius that nothing outside of a top four finish was even considered.
I imagine since the MK Dons result the odds may have changed slightly.
The fact is that very little has changed from the United of last season, before the Di Maria signing you may even have said they were weaker. Patrice Evra, Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand have all moved on, and though they were probably past their best, they were still capable of doing the job. I don’t believe that Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Johnny Evans are adequate replacements for the defensive trio that have left this summer. The attack has certainly been strengthened with the signings of Di Maria and Anders Herrera, but the attack only represents half the team. The old mantra of “attack wins games, defence wins championships”, still rings true. Real Madrid, and more recently Liverpool, will attest to that.
I am willing to put my (future) reputation on the line here and say that the only thing that United will achieve this season is breaking the British transfer record.
This is not a reactionary statement off the back of a nightmare performance in Milton Keynes, but it is the obvious conclusion to make when a thorough analysis of Manchester United’s squad has been conducted.
Though a portion of the blame must lie with the manager, the large majority of it lies with the players, and the manager that recruited them. Van Gaal, like Moyes before him, can only work with what he has, and what he has is not a lot.
This isn’t the first time I have written about the inheritance that Fergie left behind. Months before Moyes got the axe I said that he was destined to fail. Not only because the man who came before him was irreplaceable, but also because Fergie gave no favours to his successor. The squads that both Moyes and Van Gaal have inherited are the cause of United’s downfall, and because of this, the blame lands squarely at the door of Ferguson.
Many may claim that the 2012/13 title win proves that the team Fergie left behind was good enough, but they are only fooling themselves. That team was running on empty, Paul Scholes had to be brought out of retirement in order to steer the ship, and even senior sources at Old Trafford were surprised by the title win. The Daily Mail reports that: “They had seen the quality of the squad wane” and “did not expect [to finish first]”.
Following the departure of a stalwart dressing room figure, and an iconic manager, it is always going to be difficult. We are still seeing Barcelona struggle to deal with the loss of Pep Guardiola, and Chelsea have only just began to stabilise after years of attempting to find Jose Mourinho version 2.0. Management hand-over’s should be as painless as possible when they have to occur, and the way to do this is to ensure that adequate resources are being left behind for the next manager to achieve the desired goals.
After winning the Champions League in 2008 Fergie seemed to take his foot off the gas. Perhaps he knew that his time was coming to an end, or perhaps, as Mark Ogden of The Telegraph believes, his transfer frugality was a response to the “kamikaze” spending of nearby neighbours Manchester City. Whatever the case, the fact is that there appeared to be no real investment in the future. The transfers that were made were either low-key signings or over-priced failures. Of the 25 signings Fergie made following the success in Europe, it could be argued that only three have been worthwhile; Antonio Valencia, David de Gea, and Robin van Persie.
The demise and downfall of United has been long in the making. Since the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo, United have been on a slow decline. This decline has coincided with the resurgence of Chelsea and Liverpool, the rebirth of Everton, and the meteoric rise of Manchester City. Arguably United are now England’s sixth best team.
The lack of quality in the United ranks comes sharply into focus when compared with the spending of their city rivals. As Ogden points out in his piece in The Telegraph, in the 2010/11 season Manchester City spent a combined total of £154.5m on the likes of Mario Balotelli, James Milner, Aleksandr Kolarov, Edin Dzeko, David Silva, Yaya Toure and Jerome Boateng. That same season United spent almost £27m on Bebe, Chris Smalling, Javier ‘Chicarito’ Hernandez and Anders Lindegaard.
When the time came to finally hand over the reigns, the luggage that was being carried had lost both its gloss and its quality. Rather than heading to the top of the league, the United machine was heading to the scrap heap.
The era of Ferguson may be over, but it could be years until his ghostly shadow is vanquished from Old Trafford. The reputation of one of the greatest managers of all time, diminished only by the inheritance he has left to his hapless successors.
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This article was originally published on TitanBet on 28/8/14