Whilst Manchester United manager David Moyes is still trying to get used to being manager of the biggest club in the world, I have been adapting to life as a married man. My darling wife has zero interest in English football, to the extent that she thinks Peter Crouch is famous for being married to Abbey Clancey. Despite this, she obviously took her vows seriously, and has, in this season of all seasons, subjected herself to watching some of the meekest and most apathetic Manchester United performances since Lassie was a pup.
A couple of weeks ago, we had watched the once mighty Red Devils crash out of the FA Cup at the first time of asking against a Swansea side that played extremely averagely and still managed to leave fortress Old Trafford as victors. After the match, Moyes explained to the gathered media that Manchester United had actually played very well, and were very unlucky to lose the game. Swansea had more possession, more successful passes, and more shots on and off target. They also weren’t even at full strength.
Following on from the home defeats to Everton and then Newcastle, Manchester United’s new manager told us “I think we played quite well in the first half” and “we maybe abused it, the amount of opportunities we got.” This synopsis of the game came after his side had amassed two shots on target, and three off target. The lack of movement was staggering, and the lack of character in the side was apparent, a recurring trait after losing two home games without even managing a single goal. Aside from 18 year old Adnan Januzaj, the more experienced professionals seemed eager to hoof the ball at the earliest opportunity, or gift it back to the Welsh side. I honestly can’t remember Tom Cleverley completing a successful pass.
After the game, my wife turned to me and asked, in a way that was as naïve as it was perceptive, “Why are Manchester United so bad now? Surely it can’t all be because of Chris Moyles?” After briefly considering correcting her mistaken reference to a fat, loud mouthed disc jockey, I instead paused to consider my answer.
I have watched Manchester United week-in and week-out now for in and around 24 years. In that time, it cannot be argued that I have been a spoilt fan of a football club. I have never experienced the threat of relegation. I have never contemplated a season without European competition. I haven’t seen my side finish lower than third during a Premier League season. Given the cyclical nature of English football, that is quite incredible. You naturally become accustomed to success. You expect it.
Reflecting on the past, for most of us, involves focusing on the positives while failures get pushed to the back of our minds. Looking back on the Ferguson era, it is easy to look back on it and think there were never any genuine trials or tribulations. The truth is there were periods of time where fans grew restless, and the media circled like vultures waiting to announce the crumbling of the empire he had built. The 2001-02 season saw them finish third in the Premier League and trophyless. Jaap Stam was sold and replaced by the ghost of Laurent Blanc. Fabien Barthez continued to falter in goal. Diego Forlan was brought in to add some attacking impetus and managed to contribute absolutely no goals and as many assists. The expensive acquisition of Juan Sebastien Veron successfully managed to upset the balance in midfield.