Month May 2012

Month May 2012

Blues break United hearts in Fergie time

Ed May 13, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 93 comments

It is a little over four miles from Eastlands to the Granada Studios lot on which Coronation Street is now filmed. Perhaps, though, the time is nigh for those penning ITV’s long-running soap opera to slip into quiet retirement, lay down the quill one last time, and recognise that no Weatherfield ferment can ever match the emotion, melodrama, and sheer intoxication of this season’s Premier League denouement.

No Street plot line has ever been this improbable. Nor heart-rending for those in Red. For 28 tortuous minutes Manchester United, quite inexplicably, grasped a 20th domestic league title as Roberto Mancini’s Blues conspired to fall behind, at home, to 10-man Queens Park Rangers. For near half-an-hour of agony those in Red dreamed of Manchester City’s stunning demise, and a United triumph much against all expectations. It was truly a demi-heure like no other.

This was a drama with a stunning final revelation though. How could it be any other way? No happy ending for the 2,000 travelling Reds in Sunderland, nor the United players whom emerged victorious at the Stadium of Light, or the millions more watching in hope on television. Instead, only the agony, no, disbelief as Sergio Aguero jinked past Taye Taiwo’s lazy tackle and slammed home City’s title-winning goal at 90 minutes plus four.

That United had already departed the Stadium of Light field only enhanced the drama. Sir Alex Ferguson’s players standing, waiting, for what must have been the two longest minutes of many careers after securing a hard-fought victory on Wearside. Cruelly, it was Sunderland’s fans that brought the news that anyone in Red could only anticipate with horror – City’s winning goal at Eastlands.

“I congratulate City on winning the league,” said United manager Sir Alex Ferguson in the aftermath.

“It is a fantastic achievement to win the Premier League, it’s not easy to win, it’s the hardest league in the world and anyone that wins it deserves it. We knew there were five minutes of injury time being played there, one of our assistant referees informed us of that. Our game only had three minutes so for two minutes we didn’t know that was happening. Of course, they got the break and won the game.”

Cruel though the manner of league defeat is for those in Red, it is not the ceding of United’s Premier League title that will hurt the most. Indeed, losses to Wigan Athletic, City and the draw with Everton in the past month all but ensured that conclusion whatever Sunday’s matches brought. After all, United has made mistakes by the legion to help City erode a comfortable Premier League over the course of just six games.

No, the pain will reside in those 28 minutes of hope, when QPR unexpectedly rallied after Joey Barton’s imbecilic dismissal to take a 2-1 lead into injury time, and all too briefly United’s players, staff and supporters believed the club was champions once again.

“It’s cruel, but we’ve experienced many ups and downs in the 25 years I’ve been here – most of them are great moments,” Ferguson added.

“We’ve won the league title three times on the last day and today we nearly did it. Coming into the last game I said, ‘Concentrate on your job, that’s what we have to do’, because you’re going to get certain types of reaction from the crowd and you saw that.”

“At the end of our game our players didn’t actually know the results. Now, they’re really disappointed, I’m glad to say. There’s no other way they should be. They conducted themselves brilliantly today. Their performance level was good. I’m pleased at our performance this season. Eighty-nine points would win most leagues. It wasn’t our turn today.”

As with so many seasons winners and losers are selected in the details; an unlucky break here, a fortunate goal there. United’s players will hold many of those moments close in the coming months – not least the occasions on which points were squandered on the precipice of conceit. Blackburn Rovers’ unlikely victory at Christmas, defeat at Wigan, and a two-goal lead at home to Everton thrown away. Each should long live in the memory.

So too must Ferguson reflect on the cautious approach adopted at Eastlands last month that backfired in such spectacular fashion – a trick United almost repeated on Wearside. While the Scot has boldly lauded Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes in recent days, Ferguson could not trust the pair to win games against City, or again on the final day.

Whether Ferguson will, or can, address United’s issues is a question for the summer, and thoughts will quickly turn from defeat to the future. The new Premier League season is now less than 100 days hence, and United will find claiming back the league trophy from a City side emboldened and educated by glory no easy task.

After all, Mancini’s outfit is unlikely to repeat the mistakes made this season, nor fall victim to the bout of nerves that at one stage seemed set to sweep the tile to Old Trafford by Easter. Instead, City will now build from a position of strength, shedding disruptive influences or under-performing stars, and exploiting the market as only a club built on sovereign wealth can.

United, meanwhile, faces a painful summer in the knowledge that there are many questions to be asked and answered of Ferguson’s squad.

The coming weeks will be replete with talk of a ‘shift in power’, the ‘end of United’s empire’ and City’s looming hegemony. Ferguson, re-invigorated by City’s challenge, will have none of it, even if the pensioner is unlikely to meet City’s challenge in the transfer market this summer. In youth and history Sir Alex trusts, whether by his design or that foisted upon him.

“We have a rich history, better than anyone, and it will take them a century to get to our level of history,” adds the 70-year-old United manager.

“But for us it’s still a challenge and we’re good at challenges. We’ll kick on from here. I think we take credit in the fact we’ve had so many injuries this season and we’ve coped with that very well. Some of the young players have gained some experience and they’ll be around in five, six, seven years time all these young players at Manchester United. Experience is good for them – even if it’s a bad one.”

Yet, United will look back on a season where players and manager needed to raise their game to meet City’s challenge, and ultimately fell flat. Two defeats in five games coming into the final day cost United dearly – a pattern that cannot be explained away by inexperience, nor injury.

It all added, of course, to the most extraordinary league finale since Arsenal beat Liverpool at Anfield in 1989. The Eastlands tumult will rarely, if ever, be bettered for the wave of emotion. That, however, will be of little consolation to Reds tonight.

Evra relies on faith for season finale

Ed May 12, 2012 Tags: , , Matches 176 comments

The final weekend, and another title won or lost for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side. The drama, so those in charge of TV schedules tell us, couldn’t be greater, with the Premier League decided at the 38th game of another unpredictable season. Yet, for many Manchester United fans it is a campaign ending in an altogether more underwhelming fashion. Not so much last day glory, as after the lord mayor’s show. After all, bar a truly shocking result at Eastlands on Sunday, the Premier League title will head to Manchester City for the first time in 44 years.

City host relegation-threatened Queens Park Rangers, while United travel to Martin O’Neil’s Sunderland, and the Blues’ superior goal difference will separate Reds and Blues should points remain equal at 5pm Sunday afternoon.

If City does claim the Premier League as expected then few can begrudge Roberto Mancini’s outfit the glory, with the men in Blue having proven the more durable side during the last month of the campaign. Words not often spoken during Ferguson’s 25-year reign at Old Trafford. It is the least that Abu Dhabi could expect for its £930 million investment in club and players. And, many will argue, the inevitable outcome of six years under-investment by the Glazer family at Old Trafford.

Not that many offers of congratulations will cross the great Manchester divide whatever Sunday’s results. Nine months, 76 games, 178 goals, and 172 points later – and one half of the city is sure to head home disappointed.

The weekend’s fixtures mean that more than one eye will be on City’s game back in Manchester while United take on Sunderland, although the hope that Mark Hughes’ QPR side will pull off a shock result will be rendered meaningless if United do not win at the Stadium of Light.

Indeed, claiming three points on Wearside could still pose a challenge, with O’Neil’s side having finished the season strongly enough to avoid relegation under Norther Irishman’s stewardship.

“It’s not going to be easy for us up there and we know that,” said Ferguson on Friday.

“We’re going there with a chance of winning the league and you know it’ll never be easy. These last-day games where have a chance of winning the league, three times we’ve won it and once we lost it at West Ham. They’re not easy.

“It doesn’t matter if Bolton win, QPR still have to get a point. Can it really transmit itself to players if other teams are losing? If they’re down with five minutes to go or something like that, but I don’t think it works that way.

“I think the disappointment of City losing the game would be unbelievable and untold at this moment in time [as regards] what effect it could have on them. QPR are at the other end of the spectrum, some players could be put on the transfer list, salaries halved and things like that. Relegation would have a dramatic effect on the club. There’s two ends of the spectrum but, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if we don’t win. We have to focus on that – that’s our job.”

Sunderland versus Manchester United, Premier League, Stadium of Light, 13 May 2012, 3pm.In a campaign where United will finish trophyless for the first time since 2005 should results go against Ferguson’s side, the Scot says analysis of a difficult campaign can wait until the final result. Indeed, focusing on the positive, Ferguson claims that the development of United’s youngsters mean that this is less the ‘end of an empire’, but a season of transition. Time will tell whether the Scot is right given United’s likely strategic decision not to invest at the top of the market in the coming summer.

“I think we can think about that after the events and analyse it properly,” adds the 70-year-old, who has won 12 Premier League titles in 19 seasons.

“There’s no point doing it now as nothing’s been decided and it’s the last game of the season, which is fantastic for the neutral and the media but agony for both clubs. We do tend to get there in the end but it looks like we’re going to miss out this season.

“We’re not looking as though it’s the end of an era for us. In many ways, it’s the start of one for us. The challenge will be really obvious to them [the players] now. If they lose the league, as we did with Chelsea a couple of years ago, we did something about it. Hopefully, we can do so again.”

Ferguson will have to shuffle his pack once again, with injuries ruling out Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Danny Welbeck. It has been the story of the campaign – Anderson, Darren Fletcher, Nemanja Vidić and Michael Owen will all still be missing from Ferguson’s first team squad for the trip to Wearside.

Injuries mean the Scot may have to pair Rio Ferdinand with Phil Jones in central defence, while Rafael or Fabio da Silva will start at right-back. Javier Hernández is likely to keep his place along side Wayne Rooney in attack in what will be Dimitar Berbatov’s last game for the club. Michael Owen, also out of contract this summer, is unlikely to make the match day squad.

Whatever the selection for Sunday’s match Ferguson faces the challenge of raising his team’s spirits after the flat performance against Swansea last weekend. United beat the Welsh side 2-0 at Old Trafford having already seen City dispatch Newcastle in the north east. Indeed, if the mood in United’s camp has been downcast this week it will come as little surprise. But there is little point in self pity – after all Ferguson’s side has blown the eight point lead it held barely a month ago.

“At the beginning of the week, the team was really down,” said United captain Patrice Evra admitted.

“And we were really down before the game against Swansea last weekend because we expected a little miracle from Newcastle. But it didn’t happen. Now we just believe. We’re level on points going into the final day.

“Maybe people will say I’m crazy or that I’m only saying this because I’m a Manchester United player, but I still believe we can win this title. I know the destiny of the title is not in our hands, but we will just make sure we start the game well against Sunderland.

“It’s not an easy place to go but I think we will win in front of all their fans. We have no choice but to believe. If we want to keep believing in the miracle we have to beat Sunderland. If we score first, maybe the City fans in the stadium will start to be nervous. When you are nervous, you rush things and you don’t do the things you want to do. That’s why I still believe, but we must make sure we are ready against Sunderland.”

Meanwhile, Sunderland manager O’Neil has injury concerns of his own heading into the game. Former United players Wes Brown and Kieron Richardson miss the tie through injury, while Seb Larsson is also out. However, fit again Titus Bramble should start for the Black Cats.

Whatever O’Neil’s selection, United need to run out winners. The omens are good – the home side has little to play for, chasing neither a European place, nor threatened by relegation – and United’s four victories in the past five matches at the Stadium of Light bode well. Meanwhile, Sunderland has drawn five of the side’s last seven Premier League matches, and won only two in the last 12, while United has lost only twice in 17.

Pressure can tell though, with United folding under it in recent weeks, and City thriving much against the Blues’ typecast. But it’s the  pressure that Evra and his United players hope brings out the worst in Mancini’s City side over at Eastlands Sunday afternoon.

The odds look slim, but as Evra concludes, all that is left now is belief.

Match Facts
Sunderland versus Manchester United, Premier League, Stadium of Light, 13 May 2012, 3pm.

Likely Line-ups
Sunderland (4-4-2): Mignolet; Bardsley, Turner, Bramble, O’Shea; Cattermole, Gardner, Colback, McClean; Sessegnon, Ji Dong-Won. Subs from: Westwood, Kilgallon, Bridge, Meyler, Elmohamady, Campbell, Bendtner.

United: (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Rafael, Ferdinand, Jones, Evra; Valencia, Scholes, Carrick, Young; Rooney; Hernández. Subs from: Amos, Lindegaard, Fabio, Fryers, Cleverley, Giggs, Park, Nani, Berbatov, Owen.

Form
Sunderland: DLDDDL
United: WLWLDW

Match Stats

  • Swansea worked the United midfield hard last weekend with Michael Carrick covering the most distance individually from either team at 7.39 miles;
  • Compared against other Premier League strikers Wayne Rooney is ranked fifth for distance covered this season at 191.7 miles in total this season. Fulham’s Clint Dempsey has covered the most ground of any striker;
  • Rooney is ranked second overall in the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index having scored 26 league goals this season – he is the highest scoring Englishman this season, four behind Robin van Persie;
  • Rooney has picked up just the one yellow card this season;
  • Patrice Evra is the highest ranked player in the Index to have not scored a goal this season. The United captain has however completed 73.2 per cent of all the tackles he attempted;
  • Lee Cattermole has been one of Sunderland’s hardest players to beat this season, having completed 68.6 per cent of all tackles attempted – he has won 72 tackles this season;
  • Cattermole’s best game this season came against West Bromwich Albion on the 1 October 2011 – when the midfielder attempted 22 tackles, completing 16 at 72.27 per cent won;
  • Ahmed Elmohamady is the only Egyptian player in the Premier League this season and has managed just three shots on target, scoring one goal in the process.

Officials
Referee: Howard Webb (Rotherham)
Assistants: P Kirkup, M Mullarkey
Fourth Official: L Probert

Rant Cast 113 – Neville 1 – 0 United

Ed May 11, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 2 comments

On this week’s Rant Cast regular presenters Ed and Paul look back at Manchester United’s victory over Swansea City at Old Trafford. But was the 2-0 win too little, too late, with Manchester City securing a win over Newcastle United?

We talk United’s new gingham kit, Gary Neville’s planning victory over the club, the reserves in play-off action and Chicharito’s non-appearance in this summer’s Olympics.

Also on this week’s pod: Transfers – what strategy will United follow in the market this summer to rebuild a squad on a limited budget? Bébé – Portuguese police now want to question United over one of the murkiest transfers in the club’s history. And, finally, we take your many questions!

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

And if you really love the show, you can always help cover our bandwidth and equipment costs by making a small donation!

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.

Silly season underway, but United unlikely to spend big

Ed May 9, 2012 Tags: Opinion 97 comments

The domestic season may be four days from conclusion, but column inches are there to be filled, speculation to be drawn and presumptive deals scooped. There is, after all, nearly a month before the 2012 European Championships in Poland and Ukraine, almost 15 weeks before the 2012/13 Premier League season begins in earnest on 18 August, and 114 days before the transfer window slams shut at the end of August. And it always slams. Start the Sky Sports ticker rolling, stir Jim White from his hibernation, for silly season has begun!

Except, at Old Trafford, there are likely to be few dramas this summer, with Sir Alex Ferguson seeking just “two or three” additions to his squad, with the manager adding youth and pace to his squad. More to the point, few believe the great Scot will be afforded any significant sum to invest in the market this summer. It leaves Ferguson wrestling with a squad that is likely to finish trophyless, and in need of a refresh if it is to compete at home and abroad next season.

While Sir Alex can boast youth in depth, the 70-year-old United manager must also consider question marks hanging over more than half-a-dozen first team players, including those perennially injury-prone, sick or under-performing.

That United is stronger than after the club’s last silverware-free season in 2004-5 is not in doubt. After all, Ferguson’s team featured Eric Djemba-Djema, Kleberson, David Bellion and Dong in that campaign. But the competition for trophies will be more intense next season than seven years ago. Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal and perhaps even Tottenham Hotspur are likely to be highly active players during the summer window.

Indeed, City will invest from a position of strength and unlimited sovereign wealth at Roberto Mancini’s disposal. In west London Roman Abramovich will once again sign-off on a Chelsea rebuilding programme, while at Arsenal the penny may have finally dropped – Arsène Wenger securing two productive acquisitions in Lukas Podolski and Yann M’Vila.

Ferguson’s limited transfer budget – thought to be less than £30 million unless there are substantial player departures – leaves the Scot in a now familiar position of working the market for bargains and ‘value’.

One wonders what Wayne Rooney must think of it all 18 months on from the player’s now infamous “lack of ambition” press release at the height of the October 2010 contract dispute.

Rooney handled that affair with a gross lack of tact, allowing agent Paul Stretford to conduct a media campaign that brought embarrassment on his client, but was rewarded with a very large cheque nontheless. Yet, whatever assurances the 26-year-old striker received on signing the new five-year contract alongside a beaming David Gill and Sir Alex, United’s strategy has changed little since. It should surprise few if the Rooney camp once again agitates for change this summer.

Typical of recent seasons, United will seek to acquire younger players in the break, although having spent around £38 million net over the past 12 months the smart money is on a far smaller outlay this window. The family’s average net spend of around £7.5 million per season during its seven year Old Trafford tenure should provide ample guidance that the purse strings will remain tightly guarded until United IPOs, perhaps in the autumn.

However, the Reds may have already tied up a deal for Crystal Palace defender Nathaniel Clyne who has been outstanding at right-back for the south London side this season. The 21-year-old Englishman is expected to compete with Rafael da Silva for United’s full-back slot next season. Clyne, who is out-of-contract, will join for a low seven-figure fee.

Meanwhile, speculation that United has already secured a deal with Borussia Dortmund for Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa is premature, but the Reds remain in a good position to conclude the transfer. After all, it is an archetypal Glazer purchase, with Kagawa just 23-years-old and out-of-contract in 2013. With the player unwilling to sign a new deal in Germany, Dortmund will accept a transfer at a far lower fee than in normal circumstances. Reports of a €10 million fee may well be wide of the mark, but United could still secure a bargain deal for the two-time Bundesliga winner.

Kagawa will add pace and guile in what many expect to be a more flexible attacking formation next season than the oft-pedestrian performances during the current campaign.

Elsewhere, United’s strategy is less clear, although fans can be certain that the club is not in the frame for Arsenal’s Robin van Persie, despite the column inch filling reports on Wednesday. Nor in fact any of Europe’s leading names, including Eden Hazard, Fernando Llorente, Iker Muniain, Nicolas Gaitan, or half-a-dozen other £20 million plus moves who will head elsewhere in the summer.

However, Ferguson does have gaps in his squad that younger players cannot fill. At left-back the Scot needs cover for Patrice Evra at a minimum, with Fabio da Silva set to spend the season away from the club on loan. Meanwhile, in midfield persistent injuries to Anderson and Darren Fletcher’s long-term illness dictates the need for additional resources whatever the eventual outcome with Kagawa. After all, Paul Scholes is yet to sign a new deal, and is unlikely to play more than 30 games in a campaign anyway. Owen Hargreaves has never been replaced.

Much will be expected of Tom Cleverley once again, but the 23-year-old has suffered lengthy injuries in each of his four seasons of first team football to date, whether at United or elsewhere on loan. It would surely be a strategic mistake to bet on the fitness of Cleverley, Anderson, and Fletcher next season.

Meanwhile, in attack, Dimitar Berbatov is set to leave, although United will demand a fee for the Bulgarian, raising the spectre of the striker warming the Old Trafford bench once again until the club raises the cash it is after. Tomasz Kuszack, Darron Gibson and Mame Biram Diouf will each attest to that strategy.

However, Michael Owen will surely not be offered a new contract after a third unproductive season in a row, although the ex-Liverpool forward’s ‘cost-effectiveness’ remains attractive to Old Trafford bean counters. Federico Macheda will leave the club on loan, if not permanently, while a number of younger reserve players, including Will Keane will be sent to the Championship for a season.

This leaves Ferguson in search of a fourth senior striker if one can be found in the bargains bin.

Yet, for the most part while the campaign has proven to be highly underwhelming, it is likely that silly season will follow a similar pattern. Those fans seeking big name acquisitions will be disappointed. It is a strategy that may leave United playing catch up in a little over 100 days time.

Fergie loses sight of financial reality… and title

Ed May 7, 2012 Tags: , , , Opinion 285 comments

There has been a certain sense of inevitability about Manchester City’s rise over the past four years. After all, while football has its own financial peculiarities, a market is a market is a market. Money talks in football just as in any other industry, and City’s money is singing from the rooftops this season. On the brink of a first domestic title in 44 years, City can thank Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth for the club’s recent success.

It was odd though that Sir Alex Ferguson should choose the week in which City effectively secured a first title since 1968 to complain about the Blues’ spending. Here, a manager who has spent quite literally hundreds of millions in the market over the years, can hardly have cause to complain.

Moreover, the Scot’s complaint would have far more legitimacy – any legitimacy some might add – had the 70-year-old not spent the past seven years supporting a Glazer regime that has sucked more than £500 million out of Manchester United in debt related costs.

No wonder there has been renewed talk by supporters of the Glazers’ affect on United’s competitiveness in the week since City disposed of Ferguson’s side. The sight of Sir Alex’ team meekly surrendering the Premier League title at Eastlands, without managing a single shot on target, while Ferguson left some of his most effective players on the sidelines, was genuinely bewildering.

In truth United played scared; Ferguson running for the sanctuary of a scoreless draw that never appeared. United’s manager, much like the fans, is fearful not only of City’s superiority on the pitch, but seemingly the looming change in hegemony – as Roberto Mancini put it so eloquently this week – in Manchester and England.

Yet, Ferguson is unable to move on from the now tiresomely clichéd excuse that there is no value in the market. Only the foolish now buy into that line given the dozens of examples of ‘value’, let alone bone fide quality, which United has missed over the past six years.

“It’s been an ­insane transfer market for a long time and I think clubs like City create that,” said Ferguson.

“They can buy all the players and put a marker on all the ­players and that makes it ­difficult for clubs then to be ­reasonable. There’s no chance of that calming down and I don’t see how the financial fair play can work. No-one can match City’s financial power – ­no-one.

“It’s not just about the top line transfer fees, it’s about the amount of money clubs can offer in wages. Players are being offered stupid money, the type of sums that are hard to turn down. We can make a player a very good offer, but unless he wants to come to United for football reasons he is not going to say no to stupid money from somewhere else.

“We have to accept that, so we do it a different way. We’ll try to look at young ­players with the potential to develop in the club, which we’re good at, so we’ll stay with that.”

While City’s wealth will buy the club trophies, closer to home Ferguson has continued to deny that the Glazer family’s tight-fisted budget has made any impact on United’s competitiveness. This despite the family allowing Ferguson to spend less than half of the net amount per season invested in the six years prior to the 2005 Glazer takeover.

What’s more, the Glazers regime has impacted United’s budget not against a backdrop of Ferguson’s protest, but with his vocal support. United’s squad quality has eroded, while Ferguson’s ability to recover from transfer market misses.

Yet, the excuses come thick from those proffering an alternate line. United’s loss to Wigan Athletic last month, and the disastrous late capitulation against Everton, is little more than a ‘temporary changing of the guard’; a short-term ‘loss of form’ at the worst possibly time. Blame the players, blame the referee, blame injuries. Blame anybody bar manager and his paymasters.

The wider context of United’s cataclysmic European campaigns is relevant though, especially when taken together with the Reds’ performances against Manchester’s other team. When viewed in the prism of matches against City this season, or those with Europe’s second-tier clubs, United’s regression is stark. This is true despite the 86 Premier League points garnered in a relatively poor quality league.

Defeat to City has a way of clarifying the collective consciousness though. And while there is nothing United, Ferguson, or the supporters can do about another club’s financial model, the cumulative effect of £7.5 million net spent per season under the Glazer regime, while rival clubs pump investment into the team, could do little but reduce the club’s competitiveness.

It is a truism that not only City, but Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, Sunderland, Aston Villa and even Stoke City have each spent more, net, than United since 2005.

And in the week that Cristiano Ronaldo secured the La Liga title, United supporters were given a taste of what has been lost – and not replaced – during the Glazers’ tenure. The Real Madrid forward has scored 45 goals in 37 La Liga games this season. Interesting, then, that Ferguson should believe Ronaldo still represents ‘value’ at £80, £160 or even £800 million.

“You can only assess value on success,” added Ferguson, who sold Ronaldo to Madrid in summer 2009.

“Like Real Madrid with ­Ronaldo. They’ll be saying ‘we’d have paid £160m for him with all he’s done’. At more than a goal a game he’s been a fantastic buy for them. At the time we thought £80m was not bad. Now I’m saying to myself it should have been a lot more. He’s been such a fantastic buy for them, maybe we should have asked for £800m.”

United didn’t genuinely replace Ronaldo, although there was once much talk of the ‘Ronaldo money’ being available for Ferguson to spend. Yet, mindful of working under the PLC regime that required layers of sign-off on every deal, Ferguson now enjoys working with a single paymaster, whatever the budget. His aggressive support for the American family may never fully be explained.

Increasingly, Ferguson has insisted, with no concern for historically accuracy, that United does not spend large sums on players, while promoting ‘youth’ as a method of bucking a market that offers no value. It’s hogwash of course, as those who completed the analysis presented in Soccernomics and Pay as you Play will attest. Money spent on transfers and wages counts for much: between 72 per cent and 89 per cent of success, in fact.

Record transfer signings, of one form or another, Roy Keane, Paul Ince, Gary Pallister, Rio Ferdinand, juan Veron, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney might disagree too. Fergie has always spent money – some good, some bad. According to some he offers the best ‘value’ of any manager around. Who could disagree?

Which brings us back, not only to the Glazers parsimony over the past six years, but Abu Dhabi’s dizzying ability to outspend all others. ‘Tick tock’ mocked City’s supporters over recent years, suggesting that success was only a matter of time. Indeed, bar Queens Park Rangers pulling off a miraculous result at Eastlands in a week, United’s hegemony will have been broken.

Worse, those supporters hoping for a response by United in the market will be disappointed at early indicators of Ferguson’s likely transfer strategy this summer. While City may spend “insane” money, United will invest in youth. It may be some time before City’s superiority is matched.

Spending under the Glazer regime

United’s net spend 2005 – 2012 (in relevant financial year):

  • 20005/06 – £1m
  • 2006/07 – £4.1m
  • 2007/08 – £26.55m
  • 2008/09 – £33.75m
  • 2009/10 – (-)£64.5m
  • 2010/11 – £13.55m
  • 2010/12 – £38.15m

Net spend under Glazer regime 2005 – 2012 = £52.6m
Net spend per season under Glazer regime = £7.51m

Net spend 1998 – 2005 (in relevant financial year):

  • 1998/99 – £25.95m
  • 1999/00 – £16.05m
  • 2000/01 – (-)£8.3m
  • 2001/02 – £29.3m
  • 2002/03 – £27.05m
  • 2003/04 – £13.35m
  • 2004/05 – £21.35m

Net spend under PLC regime 1998-2005 = £124.93m
Net spend per season under PLC = £17.85m

Reds welcome Swans to last chance saloon

Ed May 6, 2012 Tags: , Matches 155 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson must pick up his battered troops for the weekend’s fixture with Swansea City at Old Trafford knowing that two victories in the next week may still not be enough to secure the Premier League title this season. Defeat to Manchester City at Eastlands last Monday means that the title race is no longer in United’s hands, with City’s superior goal difference a distinct advantage for the Blues with just two games remaining this season.

City play Newcastle United earlier in the day, meaning United’s players may well know the game is afoot before kicking off against Brendan Rodgers’ impressive Swans at Old Trafford. Either that or Ferguson’s side will be unexpectedly back in the race should Newcastle take points off City Sunday lunchtime.

United will only have one eye on St. James’ Park though, with the Reds surely needing to beat both Swansea and Sunderland to stand any chance of securing a 20th league title in just over a week’s time. Yet, there can be no conceit about United emerging victorious from those two matches, despite City manager Roberto Mancini branding the fixtures “easy”.

Indeed, United won a tight match 1-0 against Swansea in Wales last November, and Rodgers’ side has garnered significant acclaim over the season for the short passing style and attacking philosophy in a 3-4-3 formation. But away from the often patronising media coverage, Swansea has also comfortably retained its Premier League status despite the comparatively small budget.

Swansea can finish as high as eighth this season, although a fall-off in form over the past two months means that hopes of top-half conclusion of the season are now unlikely. Yet, there is enough talent in the Welsh side to believe the campaign is no one-off. In Gylfi Sigurdsson, Michel Vorm, and Joe Allen, Rodgers possesses three players that are likely to attract large bids from rivals this summer.

“The way Swansea have played this season has been admirable,” told MUTV Ferguson on Thursday.

“I went to see them last weekend. They want to play football. The manager has stuck by his principles and they’ve had a fantastic season. They look as if they are enjoying their game. They all want the ball and want to play.

“When you talk about how you pick manager of the year, there always has to be a consideration about the resources. Brendan Rodgers came out of the Championship and only brought two players in, Danny Graham from Watford and Gylfi Sigurdsson from Germany, and even that was not for a big financial outlay. He stuck by the players who got them into the Premier League and they have rewarded him.”

Meanwhile, Ferguson spent Friday complaining about City’s financial clout – once again raising the spectre of ‘value’ ahead of the transfer window. Claiming that United is after “two or three” new players this summer, the United coach admitted that City’s financial muscle is out of reach.

However, critics of the Glazer regime will point to Ferguson’s staunch support for a family that has sucked £525 million out of United in debt related payments over the past six years. It leaves Untied set to sign Shinji Kagawa the Japanese contract rebel from Borussia Dortmund, and out-of-contract Crystal Palace defender Nathaniel Clyne this summer. Whether Ferguson is given the funds to reach the top of the transfer market is highly debatable.

Manchester United versus Swansea City, Premier League, Old Trafford, 6 May 2012, 4pm.But the transfer market is for later this summer. In the short-term Ferguson will be without defender Jonny Evans and striker Danny Welbeck, in addition to long-term absentees, for the Swans’ visit. A rumoured dispute between the manager and Tom Cleverley, who was left out of United’s matchday squad for the loss at Eastlands, and Wayne Rooney’s apparent consternation with an apparent last-minute change of tactics for the derby, will also make for intrigue in the build-up to Sunday’s game.

Yet, there has been no admission from the United manager that he got both team selection and tactics incomprehensibly wrong against City on Monday. Instead, Ferguson this week blamed the players for United’s draw with Everton a fortnight ago, and the non-performance against City at Eastlands.

“It’s been quite muted and a quiet place to be,” admitted Ferguson of United’s training at Carrington this week.

“It’s to be expected when we lose a game like that. Our job is to get the players up for the game on Sunday because it’s such a big game for us. We have to analyse it [the derby] as it’s part of the game. Even when we win, it’s to see good and bad points and we’ve done all that.

“It’s over with. It’s not something we address with the players, it’s for the staff’s knowledge – myself, Mike [Phelan] and Rene [Meuelensteen]. It’s for our knowledge in terms of could we have done something different? At the end of the day, there were some fantastic footballers on that pitch and we didn’t do well enough.”

Whether that performance results in a change of personnel is open to question. Certainly Antonio Valencia and Ashley Young are in contention for a recall, while Javier Hernandez is likely to replace Welbeck in attack. Ferguson must also decided whether to stick with the much criticised Chris Smalling as Rio Ferdinand’s defensive partner, and whether to recall Rafael da Silva at right-back for the ineffectual Phil Jones.

Meanwhile, Swansea manager Rodgers will be make a last-minute call on former United youth player Alan Tate who may return from a calf injury, with right-back Angel Rangel the only other injury concern. The 39-year-old Swans manager says that a strong season has given Swansea the confidence to play at Old Trafford, especially that other teams have already won at the self-styled ‘Theatre of Dreams’ this season.

“Probably over the years teams have gone to Old Trafford not believing they can win, and that’s part of the reason Manchester United’s home record is so good,” said the Swansea manager.

“They have won so many games there, and won many of them so well, that they have built that feeling up. But what’s important for us is that we play the game tomorrow. The surface will suit us — we will be able to pass the ball and open the game up. We have shown no fear at any stage of the season and I don’t expect that to change now. We have to look at teams like Blackburn and Athletic Bilbao who have won at United this season.”

Meanwhile, all eyes will turn to City versus Newcastle at St. James’ Park Sunday lunchtime – surely United’s last hope of retaining the Premier League title this season.

“Newcastle will be a hard game for City all right, but City have had six days to recover from the derby,” added Ferguson.

“Newcastle played on Wednesday night, then had to travel back from London. Losing the title on goal difference would be a nightmare, when you think of the game we lost 6-1 to City, with three goals conceded in the last three minutes. When you consider all the opportunities we get in games there’s no doubt we are frivolous at times.

“Then there was that crazy game against Everton, when we were absolutely stupid. Giving goals away like that is hard to take when you think of how long the season is and how much work we have put in over the months, but that’s what could cost us.”

‘Ifs and buts,’ critics might add of a United squad that is patently less talented than Ferguson’s greats of 1994, 1999 and 2008. Yet, with a lengthy injury record this season, and talent slowly sucked out of squad by United’s tight-fisted owners, Ferguson has done well to keep the Reds in contention at all.

By 6pm Sunday it will either be over, or the Reds will have one final chance this season.

Match Facts
Manchester United versus Swansea City, Premier League, Old Trafford, 6 May 2012, 4pm.

Potential Line-ups
United (4-4-1-1): De Gea; Jones, Smalling, Ferdinand, Evra; Valencia, Carrick, Scholes, Young; Rooney; Hernández. Subs from: Amos, Lindegaard, Rafael, Fabio, Nani, Cleverley, Pogba, Giggs, Berbatov, Owen.

Swansea: (3-4-3): Vorm; Williams, Caulker, Monk; Allen, Britton, Sigurdsson, Orlandi; Dyer, Graham, Sinclair. Subs from: Tremmel, Taylor, Tate, Rangel, Routledge, McEachran, Gower, Lita, Moore.

Match Stats

  • Swansea has won only once in the last six fixtures, and will be looking to deprive United the points the Reds need to remain in contention with City for the Premier League title;
  • Jones has been the toughest United defender to beat this season. Jones has won 92 per cent of all tackles he attempted, more than any other United player (discounting any players to have made fewer than 40 tackles this season);
  • Striker, Hernández, who is likely to start against Swansea, is United’s second highest goal scorer this season behind Rooney – 56 per cent of Hernández’s total shots have been on target this season, and he’s picked
    up ten goals in the process. Hernandez has scored with 43 per cent of shots on target this season;
  • Nani is currently top of the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index for crosses completed this season – the winger has completed 133 cross this season in 28 appearances for United this season at five per game;
  • Swansea’s Ashley Williams has won 77 per cent of all tackles he’s attempted this season – the highest tackles won percentage of any Swansea player (who has attempted 50 tackles or more);
  • Sigurdsson has scored seven goals this season, and the young midfielder has some impressive stats in front of goal – Sigurdsson’s shots on target percentage of 68.4 per cent is higher than top goalscorer Danny Graham (58.4 per cent);
  • Scott Sinclair has completed 111 dribbles this season and is second behind Gareth Bale in the Index for dribbling;
  • Joe Allen has been crucial to Swansea’s success, having completed the most passes for Swansea this season at 813 – he’s 13th overall for passes completed this season.

Form
United: WWLWDL
Swansea: LLLWDD

Officials
Referee: Chris Foy (St. Helens)
Assistants: D Cann, R West
Fourth Official: M Clattenburg

Fergie blames players and trusts fates to others

Ed May 5, 2012 Tags: Opinion 13 comments

Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t a United Rant reader – at least not that we’ve been told here at Rant Towers – and, indeed, if there was any doubt that Rant’s message had failed to reach the great manager’s Carrington office then Ferguson confirmed it on Thursday. The Scot’s mistake? Buying into the hope that Manchester United may yet still win the Premier League title.

Manchester City’s trip to Newcastle United on Sunday, says Ferguson, is tricky and could result in dropped points. Wrong move, Sir Alex – no good can come of it!

We know differently here at Rant, of course, where the Gods of Hubris punished our premature conceit by surreptitiously planting the seed of Park Ji-Sung in Sir Alex’ brain. Entirely unbeknownst to the Scot, Ferguson unleashed an unfit ‘one and-a-half lung’ Park on City last Monday with entirely predictable results. This is, after all, the only credible theory we’ve come up with to explain the most mind-boggling team selection from the great manager in 25 years at Old Trafford.

But Ferguson’s power of denial is strong, with the 70-year-old coach glossing over the calamitous team selection and tactics in the one-sided defeat to City on Monday night. Not before blaming the players for United’s 4-4 draw with Everton a fortnight ago – a result that increased the pressure on the Reds heading into the derby.

“The Everton game was the killer for us. It was an absolutely ridiculous performance in the last 10 minutes of the match. Just absolute carelessness,” said Ferguson on Thursday.

“It’s all right saying the history of the club is to attack all the time but it was a stupid performance and it’s put us on the back foot, no question about that. If we lose the league, we’ll have to accept it’s the Everton game that did it.”

A fair point, given that United needed only to shut down the game at 4-2 to ensure victory against Everton. Yet, some fans might add that Ferguson’s decision to not add extra legs into midfield until after Everton had scored a fourth was a strategic error of negligent proportions. Rant couldn’t possibly comment.

But if Sir Alex is unwilling to accept his share of the blame for failure over the past four matches, then there is little surprise the Scot is placing faith in the Geordies to pull off a surprise result this coming weekend. Should Newcastle win or draw with City at St. James’ Park, United will be back in the Premier League driving seat.

And Newcastle, chasing fourth spot in the Premier League, has much to gain from taking points off City. Despite the recent hammering at Wigan Athletic’s hands, Newcastle has lost only twice at St James’ Park this season – to West Bromwich Albion and Chelsea last December. Then came Papiss Cisse’s stunning double as Newcastle beat Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday night. The European Cup finalists, beaten in their own back yard no less.

“The challenge for City is to win at Newcastle,” added a downcast Ferguson, one suspects in hope more than expectation.

“Newcastle are playing very well. They lost 4-0 at Wigan but galvanised themselves to win at Chelsea and, as everyone knows, winning at Chelsea is very difficult. We have not done it for eight years. Their form is good and it won’t be an easy game for City.

“Everton had something to play for when they came to us after losing to Liverpool, and they want to finish above Liverpool in the league. Newcastle are fighting for that position in the top four and have a chance. They are a point behind Arsenal and have the same number of points as Tottenham with two games left. It’s an exciting end to the season for all the teams involved in that. Newcastle is a very difficult place and they are playing well.”

The problem for United is that City, needing victory to all but secure a first league title since 1968, will head into the tie 4/6  favourites with the bookies for a very good reason – the confidence of Monday’s win, together with 10 goals scored in the Blues’ three previous games, will be near impossible for Newcastle to counter. On such momentum are champions normally made.

Thankfully, Ferguson also delivered a dose of realism for those fans still talking about goal difference, with United needing to make up eight and win two games for the Reds to keep the title without relying on help from elsewhere. With Swansea City and Sunderland to come, United will do well to take six points on current form, let alone hit somebody for a cricket score.

“They have got two games left. If they win their two games they win the league,” Ferguson added of City’s chances this season.

“People talk about goal difference, but it depends how many they win by. Say they win 3-0 on Sunday, their lead would be 11 and they still have QPR at home. That would be impossible. We will be aware of what is going on because everyone will be watching it, hoping it works out for us. You can’t avoid it, but whether we pay a lot of attention to it I don’t know because we still have to prepare for our own game. We are not going to be neglecting that part.”

Strangely though Mancini has spent the week insisting United’s fixtures against Swansea and Sunderland are “easy” compared to City’s trip to Newcastle followed by Queens Park Rangers at Eastlands in just over a week. It’s the second time the Italian has repeated the charge – a remarkably transparent attempt to rile United’s upcoming opponents.

It’s an insult Ferguson is quick to reject.

“I don’t think you get easy games,” Ferguson responded.

“If you are going to Sunderland on the last day of the season you are thinking with the support they have got up there and the manager they have got, you don’t expect an easy game.

“The way Swansea have played this season has been admirable. Brendan Rodgers came up through the Championship and he’s been rewarded with fantastic performances. He has stuck by his principles and they’ve had a fantastic season. When you talk about how you pick your manager of the year, you have to take into consideration the resources you have.”

Indeed, with just four points from United’s previous four matches Ferguson has much to fear from upcoming games. It has been a very un-United-like run-in, with talk of City ‘cracking up’ now long in the past.

It is the Reds that have most reason for introspection. Which is why it is now so surprising that United’s fates now rest in others’ hands. Just don’t start hoping too much just yet. It’s not good for your health.

Rant Cast 112 – blue monday

Ed May 4, 2012 Tags: Rant Cast 23 comments

On this week’s downbeat Rant Cast regular presenters Ed and Paul look back at Manchester United’s defeat at neighbours City, analysing Sir Alex Ferguson’s team sheet and tactics. Just how badly did the Reds get it wrong at Eastlands and where do we go from here?

We talk goals and player of the season nominations, ahead of the Rant Cast awards later in the campaign, and we review the FA’s appointment of Roy Hodgson as the new England manager.

Also on this week’s pod – transfers: could Japanese midfielder Shinji Kagawa be on his way to Old Trafford this summer, and who would we like to bolster the United squad? Finally, we take all your questions and preview the weekend’s games ahead.

Hit us up with any feedback below or follow the pod on Twitter: Paul – @UtdRantCast, Ed – @UnitedRant.

And if you really love the show, you can always help cover our bandwidth and equipment costs by making a small donation!

Stream this episode using the player below or listen on iTunes and leave us a review! The podcast RSS feed is available here.

Poll: how should United approach the summer transfer market?

Ed May 3, 2012 Tags: , Polls 60 comments

In the aftermath of defeat to Manchester City on Monday night, Manchester United could end the season trophyless for the first time since 2004. That is unless Papiss Cisse and his Newcastle United colleagues do the Reds a favour this coming weekend, while the Reds emerge victorious from games against Swansea City and Sunderland.

But in a season where Sir Alex Ferguson’s side has lost 11 times, and exited early from four competitions, questions will be asked about United’s quality whatever the conclusion to the Premier League title race.

Critics point to a degradation in squad quality over six years of ownership by the Glazer family, with the club having spent more than £500 million on interest, debt repayment and associated fees over the period. At the same time rivals such as City, Chelsea, Real Madrid and Barcelona have invested heavily in the market, on both transfer fees and wages.

Indeed, net transfer spend since the Glazer takeover is approximately £7.50 million per season – significantly less that United’s rivals at home and abroad, save for Arsenal. Meanwhile, United has slipped to 12 in the global sports pay scale, behind the aforementioned quartet of rivals, accoring to industry analysts Sporting Intelligence.

There is mitigation. Some fans will point to the £38 million net spent last summer on Ashley Young, David de Gea and Phil Jones as proof of United’s investment in youth. While others point to United’s extensive injury list in the current season, or the ‘potential’ of many younger players within the squad during a ‘season of transition’.

The question is where does Ferguson go from here? Spend big in order to compete with the very best at home and abroad, or trust in the current squad and transfer strategy to regain former glories?

How should United approach the summer transfer market?

View Results

Loading ... Loading ...

Hope and despair

Ed May 1, 2012 Tags: , , Opinion 86 comments

Scrutinising Sir Alex Ferguson’s team sheet for the first time shortly after 7.15pm on Monday night many Reds were reminded of that old John Cleese jibe. You know the one about it not being the despair, but the hope that he could not stand. Mercifully, for those fans suffering under the strain of the Premier League run-in, all hope was swiftly killed by Sir Alex’ selection. Not for the first time supporters can be thankful to the great man, although far from the manner in which many have become accustomed over the past 25 years.

The team selection was, after all, patently absurd to those who stood in bars or on terraces and observed, mouths collectively aghast, as the Scot sought to meet Manchester City’s vibrancy and athleticism with a quartet of players unfit for the task. Fortunate, then, for those desperate to end the pain of hope that Ferguson should compound his irresistible urge to tinker by moving United’s better players around, or indeed, out of the team altogether.

What amusement Sir Alex must have found in deploying Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung – each of whom was so undercooked for United’s biggest game of the season that it was unfair to expect anything less than sub-par performances. How the Scot japed when dropping Antonio Valencia and Danny Welbeck, or shifting 33 goal striker Wayne Rooney away from the deeper position in which he has flourished this season.

Except the joke was all on supporters who gathered in the hope that United could stop City’s oil-fueled juggernaut for this season at least. It quickly turned to despair.

It is hard to point the finger of criticism at players – it is not the United way. After all, many of these players were placed in an impossibly difficult position.

Smalling was drafted in as an emergence centre back following Jonny Evans’ injury against the Toffees last weekend. The former Fulham defender has suffered with injury recently, starting a league game for the first time this year at Eastlands. It was hardly the youngster’s fault, but Smalling’s rustiness was exposed repeatedly on the night, not least by Vincent Kompany’s 45th minute winning goal.

With one enforced change in defence it made little sense to willingly foist another upon the team. Jones has suffered a nightmare run-in, with injuries and a dramatic loss of form hampering the teenager’s progress in all of the three positions that Ferguson has deployed the 19-year-old.

In truth Jones was a bizarre choice at right-back, selected apparently for his height, but displaying all the ‘headless chicken’ qualities that had fans mocking comparisons with the late, great, Duncan Edwards. Shouts of “Duncan! Duncan!” rang around one bar packed with more than 500 Reds on each occasion Jones’ first touch was heavy, and the second was inevitably a tackle.

Meanwhile, Rafael was dropped after one poor performance in the past three months – that against Everton last weekend. In truth it was the kind of slack defensive show that Ferguson’s favourite lieutenant Patrice Evra has descended to on an almost weekly basis.

Yet, the United manager’s odd team selection didn’t end with the back-four. In midfield Ferguson drafted in both Giggs and Park – two players who have between them produced zero stellar performances this season. The Welshman is a genuine legend in an era when that superlative is greatly abused. But, it is a painful truth to admit that the 39-year-old has also suffered, by some considerable distance, his worst ever season in a United shirt.

Good job for those still burdened with hope, Cleese might add, that Giggs was made to “run up and down the bloody touchline” by Ferguson – the very the role United’s manager admitted four years ago that the Welshman could no longer perform.

And if Giggs’ 75 per cent pass completion rate was not wasteful enough, then Sir Alex followed up the Welshman’s inclusion by deploying Park – a player whose one-time epithet of ‘three lungs’ now looks embarrassingly wayward. Thankfully, the former PSV player only touched the ball 17 times – falling over more often than not, those of a crueler persuasion might add.

Unfortunately, Park’s direct competitor Yaya Touré made four times as many passes, as the Ivorian stamped his undoubted authority on the match.

Elsewhere Rooney was moved from the ‘hole’, disrupting a vibrant and productive partnership with Welbeck, and forcing the Scouser to plough a very lonely furrow up front. Meanwhile, United’s most productive player in recent months, Valencia, was dropped for the supposedly more defensively secure Park. It beggared belief.

Yet, none of this really mattered compared to the style in which United played; negative, scared and inhibited. This too was not the United way, and it was becoming neither of players nor manager to perform in fashion that yielded not a single shot on target all night. It was the first time that United had stooped to that particular low in more than three years.

In truth, although Ferguson had vehemently proclaimed otherwise pre-match, United sought nothing more than parity with City and paid a stiff penalty. Ferguson’s team got the defeat the selection, tactics and attitude fully deserved.

Patently, the Scot did not trust a midfield pairing of Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes that had been over-run by Everton the weekend before. With good reason – Scholes’ 37-year-old legs looked their age against the Merseysiders for the first time since the midfielder’s reintroduction to the United team in January. Carrick, outstanding all season, retreated into his shell.

On the night the pair simply could not cope with City’s energy, even if the pass completion ratio was at more than 90 per cent. That neither player made more than 50 successful passes tells a more pertinent story though. Carrick has exceeded 100 numerous times this season, but was unable to exert any control over proceedings on Monday night.

If parking the bus was designed to gain United a point then fans can ask whether the Reds genuinely held a contingency plan? After all, Valencia did not enter the field until the game was almost up, while Ashley Young saw just six minutes of action. United’s caution, as Roberto Mancini astutely observed in the aftermath, was the side’s undoing. City simply wanted victory more.

Little wonder that Ferguson was apoplectic on the sidelines. But it is not unfair to suggest that his ire was directed inwards, and towards neither Mancini, nor the officials. The Scot’s team selection universally backfired, while the tactical approach has brought little bar condemnation.

Moreover, failure at Eastlands simply compounds the real problem this season – United is likely to lose the Premier League title not solely because of double-defeat to City, but through dropped points against Blackburn Rovers, Everton and Wigan Athletic. In each United was exposed both by the opposition and outrageous complacency. The team has proven itself simply not good enough to play with conceit.

The words of a spoilt generation, some will argue. But few Reds want a return to, say, the 1980s when United was subservient not to City, but Liverpool. Yet, this is the doomsday scenario prompted by such comprehensive defeat.

As more than one observer mused today, City’s victory and probable title win could be the springboard for a period of domination. The club will be able to strengthen from a very healthy position, removing any dead wood and unwanted distractions, while leveraging Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth to acquire almost any player available.

Meanwhile, United is quite obviously playing catch-up, with Ferguson at the very limit of his almost limitless power to extract far more than the sum of the parts from his squad. When the greatest manager in the game’s history also makes calamitous mistakes, as he did on Monday, everything falls apart.

City’s victory may be a portent of things to come. United has lost 11 times this season, while exiting four cup competitions at an early stage. It is likely to be United’s first trophyless season for eight years. That glorious run is to Ferguson’s eternal credit during an era of Glazer-inspired parsimony that has eroded the squad’s quality-in-depth.

Nobody should question Ferguson’s ability, but his choices on Monday were proven disastrously wrong. Unfortunately, the talent available is such that United no longer has a margin for error.

And if – it still remains an “if” – United is to end the campaign without silverware then the nightmare scenario of Liverpool, City and perhaps even Chelsea each claiming glory at home or abroad will remind supporters of a certain generation that the club has no divine right to victory. There is no shame coming second as long as there is a strategy to compete.

And that is the rub, of course. Fans fear, with ample evidence, that United simply cannot or will not compete with rivals in the Premier League or Europe. Queue, cynics might add, the soon-to-come proclamations of a belief in youth, the lack of value in the market, or the apparent talent in droves held by Park, Anderson, Michael Owen, Bébé or any other under-performing budget purchase.

But eventually fans will shake off Monday’s disappointment. Slowly, optimism will return, even if the Premier League trophy is paraded in front of Manchester Town Hall on a Blue open-top bus.

Whatever the summer brings, eventually hope will raise its head once again; the despair of Monday night forgotten. Until, of course, the next occasion on which United turns out, without truly turning up. It’s the hope that hurts the most.