If you are a Manchester United fan, it feels more like the nightmare before Christmas than a holly, jolly holiday.
When it comes to English football, Manchester United have long been the epicenter of success over the last 20 years. And like Margaret Thatcher many moons ago, United have ruled with an iron fist for so long, it’s almost strange to think how life would be if their prolific reign came to a dramatic end.
Success in sports is cyclical and following Manchester United’s shocking exit from the Champions League at the hands of Swiss side FC Basel, coupled with the 6-1 thrashing at Old Trafford courtesy of “noisy neighbours” Manchester City, you could argue the football tide is turning. Is this going to be a season where United win nothing?
When the season started, nobody expected Manchester United to fail so miserably in the Champions League. They had one of the easiest groups of any big team in Europe and their failure to qualify for the last 16 was as shocking as seeing Mike Tyson hit the canvas in Tokyo back in February of 1990. Tyson was so good, you never thought he could lose. And Manchester United have been so good for so long, a defeat to FC Basel wasn’t something the fans or media were expecting.
Mentally, I don’t believe they have yet recovered from that horrific 6-1 loss to their biggest rivals. There is no doubt Sir Alex Ferguson is one of the best managers ever. He will go down in history as a managerial pioneer of the modern game. From tactics, to mind games and handling the media, he has provided a master class for all to enjoy. But, his overall demeanour of late has not been the same and I truly believe the epic loss to Manchester City felt like a death to him and he might well still be in his grieving period.
To hear Sir Alex Ferguson apologise to fans following their loss to Crystal Palace at home in the Carling Cup was shocking. Yes they fielded a weaker team, but they still had the likes of Park Ji-Sung, Antonio Valencia, Darron Gibson and five other international players on the pitch. Regardless who plays, United look a shadow of the team we’ve seen in recent years. And let’s be honest, some of Sir Alex Ferguson’s recent team selections, especially in the Champions League have been questionable.
Granted it takes United a while to heat up their season and they are where they usually would be around this time of year. The difference however is that they are playing so much worse than they normally would at this stage. There is very little creativity in midfield and their inability to replace Paul Scholes following his retirement is clearly evident on the pitch. Yes Tom Cleverley is a wonderful young player, but how did he become so integral to their midfield after only just starting in the first team this season? Hernandez hasn’t yet captured the dizzy heights he reached last season and Rooney’s incredible start has come to a grinding halt.
Even with Nemanja Vidic in defense and the emergence of hugely talented players like Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, United still appear extremely vulnerable at the back. Rio Ferdinand is an aging defender who has lost his pace and the overall inconsistency of not playing the same group of players together more often has definitely hurt them. They also have issues with David de Gea in goal. He cost a lot of money when he came from Atletico Madrid and he continues to make expensive mistakes that should not come with an almost 19 million pound price tag.
You can never write off Manchester United, but it’s hard not to flirt with the idea this season. They are just not good enough and their history and pedigree shouldn’t be a reason to diffuse the critics opinions about the current state of the club. There’s no doubt one should beware of the wounded animal, but right now, Manchester United can barely compete with Newcastle, let alone Barcelona, Real Madrid or Bayern Munich.
The mighty have definitely fallen and we have yet to see Sir Alex Ferguson overcome too much adversity in his illustrious career with the greatest of the Manchester clubs. He’s rattled by City and for the first time in a long time, his magic wand has eluded him in European competition too.
It probably won’t be too long before Manchester United are back to their usual best. But for now, it’s the turn of their fans to suffer in a football nightmare and just before Christmas too…