Watching Manchester United’s stuttering, staggering collapse this season has been akin to witnessing a once enormous, extravagant empire - now mired in decadence and greed - slowly crumble away and I just don’t know how to feel about it.
As long as I’ve followed football, Manchester United have always been the elite club. Others have fleetingly come and gone and come again but they have always steadfastly remained at the summit. Over that period, they have had enviable triumphs and their fans have swam in the glory of that success. Reality now, finally, bites hard.
The question is: who exactly is responsible for this season’s apparent demise? The blame game is in full swing. Some fans are calling for David Moyes’ sacking. Others want the Glazer’s heads on spikes but the more I read, the more I watch and the more I listen, the most informed opinion I can give is that the man accountable for this empire’s downfall is the man who did so much to build it - Sir Alex Ferguson.
Question marks punctuated the appointment of David Moyes as Fergie’s successor and they loom larger now than they ever did before. It’s highly debatable whether the former Everton boss is, or ever was, the correct man to replace one of the most revered managers the game has known. After all, what has the Glaswegian really achieved in his career to date? Sure, he did relatively well with Everton and they regularly made the top 6 but he’d never won a major trophy. When Sir Alex Ferguson took over the reins at Old Trafford, he’d already broken the Old Firm monopoly and won the Cup Winners Cup with Aberdeen. He had forged his reputation in league titles and European trophies. He was ready; his replacement is not.
But I’m done kicking shit at David Moyes and questioning his ability. It’s unfair, and frankly, it’s too obvious. Instead, I’m pointing the finger at Sir Alex and accusing him of knowingly handing his beleaguered successor a veritable poisoned chalice.
For the last few seasons of his reign, Fergie failed to address massive squad issues - a replacement for the now-retired Paul Scholes most obvious of those issues. It’s also quite clear that Ryan Giggs and Rio Ferdinand are nowhere near the required quality anymore whilst the likes of Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra are patently on the decline. The spine of this once fearsome squad has been allowed to dissipate whilst Ferguson splurged on relatively unnecessary, short-term signings such as Robin Van Persie, to fuel his narcissistic, unquenchable thirst for trophies.
That’s before you even attempt to describe the challenge of taking over from a manager who has become so synonymous with a club that anyone less than the very biggest of names would place insurmountable pressure on that successor. Surely someone of the calibre of Jose Mourinho was far more suited to such a momentous task? A proven, world class record with an ability to get the best out any squad he manages.
You have to wonder if Fergie - sat high above in the stands, lapping up the adulation fawned upon him at every game he attends – knew exactly what he was doing when he handpicked a hamstrung Moyes and whether the Glazers erred badly in not selecting their own man. After years of preaching about loyalty, one wonders whether the only thing Sir Alex was actually loyal to, in the end, was his own legacy.
Right about now, a lot of people will tell you they’re delighted to see those same Manchester United fans - who have baited and sneered supporters of other sides for years - have a taste of their own medicine and for brief, ephemeral moments I find myself in that boat too but first and foremost, I’m a football fan and I get no pleasure from seeing supporters of other clubs suffer; I know how much it hurts.
United fans don’t need or want your sympathy, though, because they know that their club was a giant of English football long before Sir Alex Ferguson arrived on the scene. It may take longer than some would prefer but from the ashes of one empire, a new civilisation will rise once more.