From Champions to Also-Rans: Dealing With The Fall of Manchester United

Manchester United is not just a football club. Manchester United is an idea. The idea is that they are exceptional in some fundamental way. The idea is that the general rules somehow do not apply to them — They do not struggle, they do not lose and they do not accept anything less than the best. Just as political, national and racial exceptionalism have ultimately found those who believed in it hoisted by their own petards, so will Manchester United if they do not learn to accept that they are indeed just a football club.

Manchester United does not believe that they must abide by the rules that govern other clubs because they never have had to before — in recent decades. They have never had to, say, consider selling Wayne Rooney because, despite his failure to live up to expectations, he has been the face of the club since he joined them. They have never had to consider managerial upheaval because they had the greatest manager of all time leading them. They never had to consider playing younger, more inventive lineups because they could always develop young players alongside their established stars. This all stems from the fundamental belief that they are exceptional, and up until this year they have been able to believe that because it has been true.

But now, times have changed. The air of invincibility and exceptionalism has gone. Fergie has left. Rooney is not the White Pelé of yore. Van Persie has been injured. The development of young talent has been stalled. Manchester United is no longer exceptional. And it is time for them to reckon with that fact. This means that they need to start acting like other clubs. This begins with accepting that David Moyes may not be The Chosen One, as banners hanging from the stands at Old Trafford decree. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they must sack him, but they need to accept that a lot of the problems they have had this year stem from his ability, or lack thereof, as a manager. What Moyes accomplished with Everton was undoubtedly impressive but with all due respect to the Toffees, they are not Manchester United by any stretch of the imagination. Moyes has a great mind for the sport, but he needs to address the idea that he needs to tailor his strategy to his players, not vice versa. Whereas smaller clubs like Everton must construct their teams from the ground up, the best clubs construct from the top down by purchasing the best talent and supplementing it with homegrown players.

Moyes stepped into a club with an already-forged identity and in his attempt to impress his own style, he sacrificed both his own integrity and that of his players. Ultimately, the club must accept that their first manager after Fergie does not have to be The Chosen One, and that it is acceptable to sack him because that’s what clubs in seventh place do.

Of course, the blame does not lie solely on Moyes’ shoulders. Injuries have plagued the team. The age of their former stars has slowed them down. These are not intractable problems, though. What the team needs to do though is stop hoping and waiting for their legends to return to form because that may (read: probably) never happen. Last year’s healthy RVP may very well be an apparition amidst a career of injuries. Rooney may have peaked. Giggs, Evra and Carrick are all old. It is time to accept this and move on, and that may mean selling Rooney and focusing more on developing their young stars, Adnan Januzaj, chief among them.

In considering Manchester United’s recent struggles, I find myself reminded of the Mark Twain quote of specious origin: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” When all is said and done, the club sits in seventh, just nine points out of a Champions League qualification. Speaking of which, they are still alive in the Champions League, and a win against Olympiakos in the first leg later this month would be a huge boon for them. All of this is to say: Part of not ending the Manchester exceptionalism means believing in the club’s ability to overcome adversity. As hard as it may be to believe that there is a silver lining to this season, far worse clubs have overcome far more. Manchester United may not be exceptional, but with just a few months left in the season, they can still salvage a season particularly with qualification for next season’s UEFA Champions League as well as a healthy run in the competition this season.

For more Manchester United news, analysis and opinion, visit the Red Devils team page.

25 thoughts on “From Champions to Also-Rans: Dealing With The Fall of Manchester United”

  1. As much as fans of other teams hope and pray we fade away like Liverpool did in the 90s deep down inside they all know its not going to happen. When you have consistently been setting the bar so high for decades these bad moments tend to look like the end of the world but we will be just fine. We may have a couple of so called bad seasons while we rebuild the fact is there are 17-18 other clubs in the league who would kill to have the resources and the foundation to build on that we currently have.

      1. I am a Man Utd fan for almost 50 years. It’s more than possible that things will stay bad. Think how quickly things sank after the 68 Euro win.

        In the late 80s and 90s we had the most money. This is no longer true.

        We were the biggest draw, no longer true, the wages paid by others and the genuine wish to live in London is a major factor (MCFC’s massive wages negate that but MUFC does not pay that).

        This could well be the end for a while.

        I feel Moyes made a mistake by replacing the backroom staff.

        It’s quite comical right now, I almost enjoyed the predictability of Fulham’s goal.

        1. nice to hear from a true fan.just think of all the glory hunters that are jumping off the bandwagon.From a long time suffering Forest fan.Cheers!

          1. Wow, the glory hunter thing. EVERY fan from United to Cambridge United is ‘hunting glory’.

            You mean the t&&ts that buy the shirt and “support” whatever team is no.1 at that time. Those? Yep, I remember when Blackburn shirts were all around the streets, that went with the money. Chelsea and Man City have these “glory hunters” jumping on the success (no disrespect to fans who have been supporting these clubs forever), its these sugardaddy clubs that will lose the “glory hunters”. If United came up for sale Abramovich or the oil guys would drop Chelsea or Citeh like a stone. It’s not secret THE club they wanted as no.1 choice.
            This board may be full of 20 somethings, go look at the attendances before Fergie came along, when we were relegated, when we were a cup side, when Liverpool won just about everything…??? see the figures?..yes, wasn’t Liverpool the most supported, biggest gates, it was…ta daaaa…United, top dates rain or shine, trophy or none. Why? Something money cannot buy…REAL history and tradition, REAL tragedy, struggle and triumph, REAL fantastic GLORY, the tears and the joy, you cannot know one without the other. Those of us older are not worried. This season doesn’t matter,we are not part of the twitter “want it now or its the end of the World generation” and neither is United Charlton,Fergie directors), which is why Mourinho didn’t and won’t ever get THE job. See, its NOT Chelsea, its “the Special One” and thats why he’s at Chelsea, maybe he’ll go to Citeh one day, but United has a tradition LIVE by. Chelsea and Citeh are trying to BUY history and tradition, we’ll see, it takes more than money, their glory hunters, like Leeds and Blackburn will jump the ship first sign of trouble. United lose their “for the good times fans”? GOOD! You’ll find, even without them, United are still (as in the 60’s,70’s,80’s,90’s etc…) THE BEST SUPPORTED CLUB IN THE WORLD. Only REAL MADRID have a right to argue it.

        2. not as long as you – only 25 years but I agree with you.
          Liverpool was HUGE in the 80s and it only required one Graeme Souness to destroy the club.

          1. The question not answered yet is whether DM is the next manager to keep United aloft and we won’t know that until the end of the season. I still want to give DM the benefit but it will also play out on how he handles the players to step up to the competition, too many times United’s looked flat when they should really be tearing into the other side. We’ll see what happens tonite. Btw, I predict 2-0 United win.

  2. I have said for years, that the first man to follow SAF was doomed to fail. This seems to be happening as we watch. One hopes the search is on for the next person to continue the heritage of Busby and Ferguson. As a fan since childhood, I see no obligation to blindly follow The Chosen One over the cliff to oblivion. I love my one and only club. Always will. This is no mere stumble upon the road to continued glory. It is a massive error of choice. If this is the rebuilding time, so be it. Play the kids, as we’ve always done. Get rid of the mid table ‘talent’. If Liverpool can come back from the abyss, so can United. I took no delight in watching Liverpool stumble and falter. I take less watching United do the same. Bring us a backroom staff who have a clue. Bring us a real live manager who knows how to manage a club toward top level performance. Bring us players who have a desire to play for an historic club. Bring us attacking football. Bring us the never say die, never quit attitude that seems to have retired with Sir Alex.

  3. Regarding the main article. Man Utd’s dominance has lasted for 20 years. That is only half of my conscious football watching life. The first 20 years were a disaster.

  4. United will be fine in the long term. The commenter above to said the first manager to succeed SAF was doomed to fail. That’s just how it is in sports. Smart managers knew this and stayed away, so United hired a second-tier talent in David Moyes and fed him into the woodchipper. He’ll be fired by early next season if the play doesn’t improve. THEN you’ll see no shortage of smart, clever, sophisticated managers who would LOVE to follow David Moyes.

    Plus, United won’t go away. The club is too valuable to really fail. They aren’t rich because of a billionaire owner, they’ve valuable the same way McDonalds and Coke are valuable. The money they organically generate will buffer a lot of managerial incompetence. And…..if the club gets too run down, oil billionaires will come in and buy the club from the Glazers. Owners like Chelsea and City have bought those clubs because they couldn’t buy United (or Liverpool).

    It’ll be fine. This season sucks and next season will probably be yucky too as we’ll have to watch David Moyes struggle until November, get sacked and then we’ll have some interim manager. But, but this time next year, the rumors of, “Who will be Manchester United’s next manager?” will be the big story.

    1. I kinda diagree. If you pick the right manager, you could have someone that keeps United aloft. Doubtful anyone would ever win what SAF has but at least keep United a top side team. I think Mou was never going to be picked beacause of his negativity and is short terms with clubs. I thought if United were going to be true contenders they’d pick Pep but he’s won with a La Liga style that wouldn’t fit in the PL but then we see what his Bayern club is playing and see that perhaps Pep could have been the right pick after all. Thankfully, it has not come out that Pep turned down United. That would be embarassing.

  5. I remember how quick the media turned on AVB at chelsea which was weaker than this united team but now everybody is pleading for patience just because Moyes happen to be british.

  6. It’s sacrilege but Ferguson deserves a lot of blame. It’s clear his retirement was not planned for sufficiently. He had too much say in his successor. And truth be told, he left a squad that has been exposed as mediocre this season. How he won the league with these players only embellishes his legend.

    United were at a very different place after his retirement than when Ferguson took over. They should have gone with a top tier manager who could attract the best players in Europe. That might have continued the successful run they were on. Now it’s a full scale rebuilding job with a manager who is being exposed week after week. It’s getting painful to watch Moyes. He is out of his depth given the task in hand. If Ancelotti leaves Real Madrid this summer, they should snap him up.

  7. I gave Moyes the benefit of the doubt until I saw Sunday’s tactical screw-up. I thought the players were totally letting him down but with the strikeforce Utd had on the pitch, they should have destroyed Fulham, who are bottom of the league and are atrocious away from home. I’m beginning to wonder if Moyes is one step behind and not the world class manager Utd need. I doubt the owners/board will tolerate more than one season of poor results.

    1. The Glazers can be ruthless. They sacked Tony Dungy because he kept on losing in the playoffs (and IIRC some said that the Glazers believed that his playing style was too conservative), they sacked their Super Bowl winning coach John Gruden and sacked Raheem Morris and Greg Schiano. I don’t think the Glazers will do nothing while watching their investment losing value everyday.

      1. The difference is that the Glazers know something about American Football whereas they rely on people like SBC and SAF to advise them on United. I doubt very much that they will go against the very people they appointed as advisors. Of course the United board is made up of more than these two people but only if the board suggests that Moyes should be replaced will the Glazers act.

  8. Time to face the facts that United have a almighty crisis going on. To many players past there best and a world class goalscorer forever injured.To be able to challenge for the title again you need around 5 or 6 world class players or young gifted players.

    The problem at the moment with Moyes is down to a few factors. He has never won anything before and is at a club which the players have won trophies.The players have more experiance than him so why would they fully listen to what he says.Moyes tactical game is he hasnt or ever has had one.He performs better with a small group of players who have a battling quality with little flair but a togetherness.
    He has one style of football that is not suited to a top club at all.He knows no other way to play the game.

    1. I’ve said it several times: Moyes’ team always worked hard but never had flair.
      Completely agree with you.

      I don’t think the players were against him from day one but I think he lost the dressing room quickly. The players are not stupid, they can see which managers have ideas and who don’t – as these players have played for different managers in their careers, especially with their national teams.

  9. M.united w’ll never come back in the summit of english football! Their brain hit stroke and its very very difficult for person to recover stroke. Their brain was alex ferguson and he is gone! And they gone as well.

  10. What I don’t understand about these articles, which i seem to be reading every day, is how in the same breath you can say “United are not what they once were” and give several reasons for that and then say “but if they qualify for the Champions League and do well in the current CL they’ll be fine”. If three quarters of the season has put them in 7th place and their aging roster has let them down what reason do we have to believe that they’ll suddenly be better?

    A few weeks ago it was “wait until RVP and Rooney and Mata play together, then you’ll see”. You’ll see them draw last place Fulham at home. You’ll see them continually and repeatedly cross the ball into the box for reasons that remain a mystery.

    A better article would be something along the lines of “United Fans, remember the glory years (aka the last 20 or so)as we spend the next two to three years rebuilding”. Then you could argue how replacing all of the over 30 contingent with well scouted players in their early 20s over the next two seasons will bring them back to a place where United are contenders on four fronts every year.

    1. To be fair, the United articles are written by different writers, so each of them have their own opinion. And there isn’t one “World Soccer Talk opinion” that we have. We encourage differing viewpoints.

  11. If United beat Arsenal today the comments will quickly be about United turning a corner and how they now are serious contenders for getting into the Champions League again and that the win against Arsenal proves that United haven’t fallen off the pace. This has been a crazy season so far and with 13 games to play there’s still a lot of football to be played. After every round of fixtures there’s a surprise.

    Only when United no longer have a mathematical chance of finishing in the top 4 and are out of this season’s Champions League can we truly discuss where United are and how much improvement is needed.

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