United looked tame beyond belief. In the past, they would have been fired-up for a meeting with Chelsea, especially at this stage of the season, but the game only served to remind people that without Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie, United are as very blunt instrument, and the time is right for a squad overhaul at Old Trafford.
Moyes to blame? Not at all. Ferguson’s side last season did not play with the same verve or dependency of previous Premier title winners. There may have been signs that United’s current squad was past its best. In many ways, it could be compared with Liverpool’s triumph of 1989-90, which signaled the beginning of the end of the age of Anfield.
It’s too early to write off United as an all-conquering force, but suddenly, their squad looks very average, and that’s not a word you hear often when you talk about the Premier champions.
When dynasties end
Throughout footballing history – especially in England – football empires have looked impregnable, but once the dynamics change, it can mean the end of prolonged success. Where have we seen this? Some examples spring to mind: Leeds United under Don Revie, Nottingham Forest with Brian Clough at the helm, Bobby Robson’s Ipswich Town, Watford under Graham Taylor, Liverpool during the reign of the ‘boot room’. All of these departures led to a downturn in fortunes.
United have been fortunate to have had an extended reign – since 1992-93, when they picked up their first Premier title, United have won: two Champions League titles; one World Club title; 13 Premier League wins; four FA Cups; and three Football League Cups. But nothing lasts forever.
Why does it happen? Firstly, it’s tough for the new men who come in to wipe away the legacy and to change the way things are done – watch The Damned United to see how it shouldn’t be handled! United have seen it all before when Matt Busby retired. Moyes is certainly no McGuinness, but the bar has been raised incredibly high and it must be killing him. The creepy cartoon in the Guardian, with Moyes in bed and the image of Ferguson in the doorway of his bedroom said it all.
But Ferguson may have decided that the time was right to go because a lot of work was needed to rebuild the United squad, which would require money and patience. Rooney was seen as a “busted flush” a year ago, but he’s still got value and United should cash in their chips now on him before his value starts to depreciate.
United have enough financial clout to ensure they don’t stay away from the forefront for long, but for the time being, the Old Trafford crowd may have to get used to the “mediocrity” of merely qualifying for the Champions League, which they can still do, and the lowly position of 4th. And if things don’t go as planned, perish the thought, they might have to make do with Thursday night football a la Europa in 2014-15!
Champs to chumps
Certainly United’s current position is not good if they still have hopes for the title. Moyes is defiantly hanging on (actually, he cannot publicly concede so early), but Mourinho got it right when he said United needed all three front-runners to slip-up and that’s just not going to happen. They’ve lost seven games already, including four at their own fortress, which is more than any Premier champion since 1994-95 when Jack Walker’s Blackburn came out on top. The average over the past 10 years, when champions have become more dominant on their march to the title, losing as few as no games, is just four.
United are currently in seventh place, and if that is their final placing, it will be the joint lowest follow-on by a Premier champion since Blackburn finished seventh in 1995-96. Since the Premier came into being, there have been seven occasions when it has been retained and 10 when the previous season’s champions have finished runners-up. Twice, they have finished third and once seventh.
Moyes’ men will have to go a long way to break into the “one hit wonder” bracket. Ipswich Town and Leeds United finished 17th in 1962-63 and 1992-93 respectively. Chelsea, before they moved into the uber-rich bracket, finished 16th in the season after they won their first title in 1954-55. The biggest flops, however, were Manchester City, who won the old League Championship in 1936-37 and were promptly relegated a year later! United need not worry about that.
The rest of the Premier will be hoping that United’s current malaise is more than bedding-in problems for Moyes. It doesn’t spell meltdown in Sir Matt Busby Way, but it may well signal the start of a period of refurbishment that may kick-off in the transfer window but most probably will begin in the summer. If Moyes survives, and football should hope that he does, he will be allowed to preside over a new United side that, in all probability, will maintain the legacy that Ferguson left behind. If he doesn’t, Old Trafford may become as uneasy a place as it was after Busby moved down the corridor in 1969. The problem for Salford’s finest is that they have added pressure coming from the other side of town…