The Fall of Manchester United
By Quazi Zulquarnain Islam
I had planned to write this last week and now when I sit here writing this it feels as if the topic at hand would have been more appropriate at that point of time. However, I then realized that it doesn't really take much away from the topic because the fall of Manchester United is still very much in progress and evidence and a victory over the billionaires from London, albeit good for team spirit will do little to reverse their continuing slide down English football's hierarchy. Even their most ardent fan will be hard pressed to deny that.
It was at that time that I read a wonderful article by the Guardians Rob Smyth that touched upon all the points of the United demise. Although I failed to agree with him on all the necessary points what could not be denied was the stark truth that emanated from within the usual journalistic jargon.
The United empire, looked on the verge of crumbling in recent weeks, what with defeats to mediocre Lille and a schooling lesson by Middlesborough a team coached by former Ferguson protégé Steve Mclaren. Add to that, the by now infamous Roy Keane rant in MUTV which was so harsh that it was pulled from the scheduling.
Keane, the no-nonsense hard man and United captain and the person with whom so many people associate with United's success over the years delivered a damning rant on MUTV and went as far as to point fingers at certain players telling them that they did not have the drive and will to play for United. His rant included everyone from a certain multi-million dollar defender to a Scottish international who perplexes critics by getting into the team.
But as the Guardians Rob Smyth puts it, there was only one thing wrong with Keane's rant- it didn't take Sir Alex Ferguson to task for what he's doing to Manchester United.
We all know what it contained but as many fans have said over the past few days and weeks there were some points missing from it. As they put it, if Keane was truly uncensored, it would be fascinating to get his views on the influence of Carlos Queiroz the man who they regard as the reason for United missing their attacking élan of old. And what could really have boosted MUTV's dismal ratings would have been Keane's views on his manager.
Both men have had their differences over the past decade but what has earned them both mutual respect from each other is the fact that they both saw mirror images of themselves in the other. Both had the insatiable desire to win and that is what united them under one common goal. As Smyth puts it, Ferguson cut Keane slack for his misdemeanours; Keane gave Ferguson his most influential figurehead, a man without whose iron will a team of superstars just could not function. Now, as then, Keane was at the centre of all that is going on Old Trafford: it is he for whom Ferguson changed his system to the hated 4-3-2-1 last season; it is he who United look so rudderless without; and it is he who, after months of everything being brushed assiduously and patronisingly under the carpet, has finally told it like it is. United are an absolute shambles at the moment, and nobody is doing a single thing about it.
Anyhow, unsurprisingly Keane's comments had been vetoed by Ferguson and the thawing of their relationship is symbolic of Ferguson's demise. Keane's values - the pursuit of excellence at all costs; the bristling intolerance of the excuses of modern sport - have not changed. Ferguson's have. He has become resigned to and tolerant of a mediocrity that Keane cannot countenance.
The problems go back to the summer of 2001, when he sold Jaap Stam, paid £28.1m for the curse known as Juan Sebastian Veron and killed a golden goose that was delivering a Premiership every year in pursuit of a farewell European Cup at Hampden Park. Since then, he has made some desperate mistakes. These are not borderline errors of judgement; they are decisions that fly in the face of all rhyme and reason.
There is his record in the transfer market, with at least three Klebersons for every Gabriel Heinze and the shocking failure to address the decline of a once-majestic midfield; the delegation of significant power to the woefully negative Queiroz, which has made United neither successful nor entertaining, despite Queiroz's belief-beggaring proclamation that: "We are producing the most exciting, attacking football in the league". The questions have come thick and fast for Ferguson from the once adoring fans and TV pundits - Why did you sell Jaap Stam, Sir Alex? No, really, Sir Alex - why did you sell Jaap Stam? What does Liam Miller do to earn more per week than most of your supporters earn per annum? Why are you earning £4m per year if, as Ryan Giggs says, you have given Queiroz "the responsibility to train us, prepare us for games, organise the team and decide the things we need to work on"?
Then there is the incessant tinkering - Fletcher ahead of Ronaldo; dropping Ronaldo, Scholes and Wayne Rooney to derail United's title charge at Crystal Palace last season and the like.
So far, Ferguson has been able to get away with doing as he pleases. The consequence is that only in the underground world of fanzines and pub chats is the truth that dare not speak its name being spoken: Sir Alex Ferguson has tangibly, irrefutably lost the plot.
Most United fans have had enough. They have had enough of 4-3-2-1; of an abuse of the traditions of the club that has not occurred since the Sexton years; of the moronic twitter of the man they lovelessly call Carlos Queirozzzz; of the fact that only a Scouser, a sub-standard Leeds fan and a Portuguese pretty boy show the requisite desire; of a gaping chasm where once there was the best midfield in Europe; of the apathy of Lord Rio Ferdinand; of Sir Alex Ferguson.
In United's glory years, Ferguson told of a trick he would use at the start of each season to keep his players on their toes. He would assemble the squad and show them an envelope, in which, he said, were two or three names of players he felt had taken their eye off the ball, and who he was keeping an eye on. In reality, the envelope was empty (although Paul Ince and David Beckham were sold for precisely that reason). But if Ferguson opened it now, he might get a seriously nasty surprise.
"Every single one of us loves Alex Ferguson," is a song that will be heard around Old Trafford for years to come, and the joy Ferguson has brought imbues his failure with a brutal poignancy. But if you love someone you have to set them free and, based on the unforgiving demands of modern football, and his performance over the last five years, Ferguson does not deserve to be manager of Manchester United. Reputation and gratitude are not enough.
The decline for better or worse set in four years ago and it will take one or two more years before it is realized. By that time Chelsea and possibly Arsenal will be over the horizon and United will quite possibly be like Liverpool, living on the glory years and hoping they will return.
If there is one thing that almost everyone is agreed on it's the fact that the Scotsman has lost his zeal for the game. There is, of course exceptions, like the Chelsea game where Fergie's will to win was all too evident. However days like that now come few and far between.
As my friend Sebastian- a lifelong United fan, puts it, “"Caesar is naked" but no-one dares to tell him is a line from Shakespeare, and its sums how Fergie is acting right now.”
Lets hope for all concerned that a team like United, so breathtakingly popular in football, fix their rudder as soon as possible. Whether that means a parting of the ways with the man who has bought them all the glory in the first placed is a decision best left to the concerned authorities and the Scotsman himself.
(anyone who has differing views on the United demise or fail to agree that there is a demise or think that there are other factors responsible for it, be sure to write in and express your views at firstname.lastname@example.org )