at the Union Buildings in Pretoria
London – Let’s start with a spoiler alert, to be fair to all those who have alighted on this article in the hope of reading some reasoned football argument.
No, this one’s written with all the prejudice of someone who pays for his season ticket, and it concerns the subject that has bound us all so tightly this season, whether we wear the red-tinted specs of Arsenal or Liverpool, Man City, Everton or Chelsea-blue, or prefer to watch our football in black and white at Newcastle or white and navy blue at Tottenham: the glorious, calamitous and hilarious decline of Manchester United. Fans have been showing their delight online with plenty of internet virals doing the rounds.
Kevin Keegan once intimated he’d love their downfall but, honestly, did anyone really think we’d enjoy it quite as much as this? One of the pleasures of my job on the golf circuit has become gathering in some bar with the ex-pats wearing their team colours. We’ve all been united – pun intended – in finishing the night in a state of collapse, not through too much drink but at the latest episode of haplessness.
United have become so bad their away fans continue to sing when they’re 3-0 down. That’s the last resort of away fans who support rubbish teams, who do it to congratulate themselves on their loyalty.
We keep being told this transition period was inevitable given the mediocre squad with which David Moyes was bequeathed. Well, excuse me, but didn’t this mediocrity win the league by 11 points last season?
Man United, as usual, lapped my team Liverpool several times before settling for finishing just the 38 points ahead. One point per game! This season they’re six points behind. That’s not transition, that’s the most precipitous 22-game decline in football history. Indeed, ‘Moysie’ is looking like the parting gift from Sir Alex Ferguson to fans outside Old Trafford that keeps on giving. It’s certainly the first thing Sir Alex ever did for Liverpool.
What must he be thinking in his executive seat? Could you imagine a Ferguson side playing counter-attacking football at the soon-to-be-renamed Theatre of Dreams against the side sitting 19th in the Premier League, for heaven’s sake, as they did against Sunderland?
Of course, it’s not just the red half of Merseyside that’s doubled-up with laughter. Over at Everton the School of Science, abandoned for so long, has finally re-opened for lessons and rediscovered a spirit for adventure. Line of the year surely came from the bluenose who proclaimed: “Well, it took 12 years, but finally Moyes has lifted Everton above Manchester United.”
It’s true Moyes has been dogged by horrendous luck. Who knew overrated ref Howard Webb would stop giving penalties to United the day Sir Alex left? Last week at Chelsea, they were undone by Samuel Eto’o scoring a hat-trick. He wouldn’t have been on the pitch if Webb had sent him off against Liverpool, as he assuredly should have done for his disgraceful tackle on Jordan Henderson.
And what team could cope without combined talents such as Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney? Take Suarez and Sturridge out of my team, and they’d probably finish below Newcastle. But whenever fans of all clubs gather, it’s not these things we talk about.
Most of us have a sneaking admiration for Arsenal, and City taking over their neighbour’s mantle as the great entertainers; for Tim Sherwood in exposing AVB as the footballing pseud he appeared and the brilliant job Roberto Martinez is doing at Everton. When it comes to Man U, alas, all sympathy seems to get left at the door.
Is it because of a manager who proclaims he tells his players not to dive and yet all of them selected in a forward position have adopted the Tom Daley position at some point this season? Or is it euphoria at seeing the Ferguson jackboot finally freed from the throat of referees? Perhaps it is just the lot of the biggest club, when finally knocked from their perch, although I don’t recall such gloating outside the M62 corridor when Liverpool finally met this fate.
“Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse…” has become a well-used refrain among football writers and it’s hard to see how it could, following the comical penalty shootout against Sunderland.
But we mustn’t give up hope yet. After all, next up is the bottom club Cardiff at home… managed, lest we forget, by former United player Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
That would do it, wouldn’t it?
*Derek Lawrenson is a golf writer for the Daily Mail and a long-suffering Liverpool supporter.