‘No one has given Manchester United a hiding like Barcelona‘ Sir Alex was quoted saying when United lost to Barca in the Champions League final in May. And after watching the match most of us agreed unanimously thinking this is it, it is the final frontier. United were left battered and bruised. Up until last weekend, where it all changed.
Being a United supporter, I am like most of us (United supporters) blinded by the aura that surrounds Sir Alex. Whatever happens ‘Oh every single one of us, loves Alex Ferguson’. However, there comes a time when some things just become unacceptable. And the defeat to City last weekend was just that. Not because of the score line, no. United had lost 4-1 to Liverpool three seasons ago which was also quite a humiliating defeat in itself. But the score line hadn’t done justice to the match. This match however, did. If anything, it should have been worse. Not because City were particularly brilliant as was the case with both Liverpool all those years ago and with Barca in May but, because how bad United were.
For the first time in my life I wasn’t proud to be a United supporter. Not because of the endless calls and facebook insults that were being thrown in my face, no. I would defend United with all my heart in all cases at all times come what may, but last weekend’s performance was a real put off. It didn’t leave me exasperated as much as it left me hurt and disappointed. The nonchalance of the men in red was Jarring. Passion, hunger and a never-say-die attitude are words that are synonymous to Manchester United. All of those things were missing from United’s play.
It was as if we had 10 Berbatovs (minus his brilliance of course) on the pitch. The obvious exception being Wayne Rooney, the man labeled as a traitor by most of us last year, was the only player who was worthy of wearing United’s red. Again, not because he was brilliant or was he having a good game but because he played with heart and passion. What baffled me even more was that, even Sir Alex never got out of his seat. He is generally an animated manager. Someone who wears his heart on his sleeve. Always making sure that his team does exactly what he wants them to do.
All this meant that, for the first in my life I saw myself questioning our manager. I am not saying that because of one defeat he has suddenly became a bad manager. He is undoubtedly one of the best managers the world has ever seen. Perhaps even the best. I have always believed in his methodology and style of management. And till today, there is no one better for the job. However, in recent times a few doubts have crept in.
When Ronaldo left United, he left behind a huge void. United has never been the powerhouse it used to be. Ronaldo was the man who made this United team look like world beaters. It was because of Ronaldo that every other player had that extra fraction of a second on the ball. Even though at that time too, United did still suffer from from a weak midfield and lack of a play maker (with Scholes being very injury prone). But because of Ronaldo, even Carrick looked like a world beater. Once Ronaldo left, that midfield’s frailty was exposed.
However, the nature of United’s problem is not just the centre of the midfield but it is an amalgam of a few very essential attributes that make a great football team. This year, in Van Der Sar, we lost one of the best goal keepers in United’s history. Also, in Scholes we lost one of the best play makers the world has ever seen. But crucially, United lost two strong willed characters who could inspire the team by producing that one moment of magic. That is something that United misses the most. The characteristics of two champions. The passion, the heart, the never-say-die spirit.
Even the most obstinate of United fans will tell you that we massively over achieved last year. And yet, Sir Alex has failed to address that obvious frailty. Let alone the entire problem. Going into the transfer market and getting Phil Jones and the man I call ‘a poor man’s Nani‘ – Ashley Young in two departments that already had some cover, did not make sense to me. The same money could so easily have been used to get someone who would have helped to fill that void. Players like Tom Cleverly, Anderson don’t compare with Nasri and Silva. Let alone Xavi and Iniesta.
And not just that, this team suffers from a serious lack of flair. Not one player in the team has the quality that could be compared with the likes of Kaka, Ronaldo, Messi, Xavi, Iniesta or Sneijder. What a player like a Ronaldo or a Messi or a Sneijder adds to the team is not just flair, it goes way beyond it. The ability to inspire, the will to succeed, the character of a world class player and that moment of brilliance, of course. All of that and much more. The importance of a player like that is immense and looking away from it, is no solution.
United’s stubbornness in the transfer market is the sole reason that we saw this day. When a player of Sneijder’s quality comes knocking on the door and happens to be the ideal replacement for one of your retired stars, you do go over the odds to buy that player. Going down memory lane, United did previously miss out on Ronaldinho the same way, way back in 2003, and the rest is history. He went on to become a two time FIFA World Player of the year and galvanized Barca to two successive La Ligas and a Champions League title after five forgettable years. On the other hand a sluggish United won a solitary F.A. Cup during that period. And missing out on Sneijder could very well have the same repercussions especially with City’s rise in stature and the constant presence of Chelsea.
Which brings forth the question that does money truly hold any value against the massive heartache, that defeat caused millions of United supporters worldwide? Or would it hold any value against the humiliation of seeing the ‘noisy neighbour’s win their first league title in over 50 years? Or would it hold any value against being on the receiving end of yet another ‘hiding’ against Barca? Or, has the time finally come for United to abandon their high horse and rein in a world class player, for good measure.