When I initially penned this article, I began by writing, “The Gutless v The Opportunistic” then thought better and wrote: “The Luckless v The Plucky”; again I deleted and wrote: “The Soulless v The Gutsy”. Eventually, I decided against any of the afore-mentioned adjectives.
For while the latter titles may ring true for Newcastle United, it would be harsh in the extreme to give the former adjectives-turned-expletives to Manchester United Football Club.
This is a club steeped in great history, it has been producing top players which most clubs can only dream of, and has put together more records and set standards like no other in Britain. They also had the most decorated manager and the most successful player in their stable (who is still active to this day).
So I duly deleted all and began my analysis in earnest. For one who has followed the fortunes of this great club since 1989, this is certainly a new experience.
The last time Man Utd lost two games in quick succession to the point that they were labeled a team in crisis was in October 1996 when, after a 5-0 mauling at the hands of Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle, they fared little better a week later when an Egil Ostenstad hat-trick contributed to a 6-3 loss in a game remembered for a Matt Le Tissier gem of a goal.
Then, the press hacks speculated on a possible crisis for the Red Devils. Then as in now, they were reigning champions and as fate would have it, they went on to retain the title with the Class of ’92 nearing their peak.
Official stats state that the Old Trafford side last lost consecutive home games in 2002, but that was at the back-end of that season and Arsenal were already on their way to winning the title with Man Utd eventually finishing third.
Ironically, Newcastle were the opponents once again this time at Old Trafford as Yohan Cabaye side-footed home after an unfortunate ricochet had left Patrice Evra off the pace.
And with Arsenal now 13 points clear of David Moyes' side at the top of the Premier league, the ironies come end of the season may continue. United (the Manchester version) have never really experienced anything like this.
The faces of the fans at Old Trafford seemed to say it all; bemusement, anger, chagrin and an uncharacteristic frustration, the sort of angst you expect to be assuaged sooner rather than later but is never to be. When you have been spoilt by success like they have, it is all part of a new experience.
Moyes has 5 league games to go before commencement of the club’s most anticipated transfer window since the signing of Wayne Rooney in 2004. In the meantime he has to preside over a team low on confidence, down on their luck, lacking guts and playing as though they have no soul.
For when last did United surrender meekly at home to the Magpies? Better sides from the north-east have come, played brilliantly yet still got hammered. When Newcastle killed time from a corner in injury time, the body language said it all.
In 30 minutes of looking for an equaliser, only one effort from Evra looked likely to be a goal and the drive and hunger had long evaporated in a tepid display high on perspiration but markedly low on genuine inspiration and class, which is usually synonymous of any United side you can think of.
When a manager has to depend on a half-fit striker for 90 minutes and a promising teenager yet to play 10 games for the club, this says a lot for the state of affairs. Throw into this the widely circulated story that Robin van Persie has handed in a transfer request and Rio Ferdinand’s foolish mutterings, the crisis becomes difficult to deflect from.
Was RVP made to play through the pain barrier as a response to his “unhappiness” at the supposed training methods being used by the Scot? And is this in any way, a reason for Ferdinand’s lack of playing time after the veteran had started in so many more games at the start of the season?
Has Moyes’ built-in instinct for caution struck a wrong cord with most of the players (who were used to Fergie) leaving them too knackered to chase after games? Either way, it has to be a new experience for them.
Much has been made of United’s midfield wobbles and Moyes must approach the transfer window carefully lest we see shades of Arsene Wenger post the 8-2 humiliation by United a couple of years ago. Several players were signed, but only Mikel Arteta proving a worthy buy.
It is also interesting to see which top players he will attract, but the best player is the one that wants to play for you and does not listen to the wind.
There are more than enough quality players who will jump at the opportunity to play for Man Utd but Moyes must not just buy quality and quantity; he must begin the task of building a team in his own image, one that will tap into his philosophies and adapt to his style.
This is probably the reason why he has not stopped the pursuit of Leighton Baines. With a summer clear-out likely at the end of the season, he is in an unfamiliar position of having to spend real money, unlike his former position where he could not spend. Factor in the pressure and it’s all a new experience.
Further upstairs, it is a testing time for the board. Considering the steady progress which Brendan Rodgers is making down the M62 highway leading to their major rivals, they will be loath to make knee-jerk reactions, so it safe to say that Moyes will be given much more time into his 6-year tenure to prove his mettle.
What will be very difficult to take even at board level is the likelihood of Manchester United finishing outside the top 4, never mind outside the top 6.
From a commercial viewpoint and for a club so heavily saddled with debt, this is unthinkable and would put the club into a position they have not experienced since the advent of commercial television. It is, needless to say, all a new experience even for them.
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