Dumped out of the Champions League in the group stages, outplayed home and away by a mid-table La Liga side in the Europa League, knocked out of the F.A. Cup by arch-rivals Liverpool in the fourth round and beaten in the Premier League title race by their noisy neighbours: there is no disputing the fact that this has been a season of failures for Manchester United, but is it time to say, as Carlos Tevez so eloquently put it, ‘R.I.P. Fergie’?
The fact that Manchester United has had to bring Paul Scholes out of retirement probably tells you all you need to know about the standard of their squad this season. Tom Cleverley and Anderson’s early season form may well have done United more harm than good; their performances against Tottenham and Arsenal in August were brimming with such creativity and invention that Ferguson perhaps thought that he did not need to strengthen the area further. However, since then injuries limited the pair’s involvement in United’s season, and consequently the midfield has, at times, looked devoid of imagination. Also, it seems that despite Ryan Giggs’ yoga classes, or whatever else he does to keep himself so fit, his age seems to have finally caught up with him and that United can no longer rely on the Welsh Wizard for regular performances. This season, they have lacked a midfield General to provide leadership and inspiration in difficult situations, something City have found in abundance in Yaya Toure: in
essence, United have still failed to replace Roy Keane. It is in this area that Ferguson surely needs to invest this summer, but he will be well aware that competing against City in the transfer market may well be even more difficult than on the pitch.
Many are saying that City’s victory against QPR on the final day of the season has signalled a shift in power in English domestic football and that they will surely go on to dominate for the foreseeable future. Mancini’s squad is an embarrassment of riches and it is sure to improve even further this summer with one or two more big signings as they now look to conquer Europe.
So should United fans now wave the white flag and resign themselves to a future under the blue moon? Not just yet. Let’s not forget that were it not for two last gasp City goals on the final day of the season this under par United side would still be the Premier League champions and that they were without their defensive talisman Nemanja Vidić since early December: how many fewer points would City have gained without Vincent Kompany? Ferguson’s teams at United have life-cycles, with a great team being produced every four or five seasons, the Champions League winning sides of 1999 and 2008 being standout examples. With talented young prospects of the calibre of Phil Jones and Tom Cleverley and an indication from the Glazers that there is money available to spend this summer, there is still reason for optimism for the future at Old Trafford.
United have faced many challengers for supremacy during Ferguson’s reign, but they have always been able to raise their game. Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea team won two Premier League titles in a row in the mid 2000s; United responded by winning the next three. However, the challenge that they now find on their doorstep is undoubtedly the greatest Ferguson has had to face and he will have to call on every single second of his 25 years of experience if he is to keep the promise that prompted Tevez’s ill-advised banner: will United ever go into a Manchester Derby as underdogs? ‘Not in my lifetime’. So one thing is certain then, United will not be going down without a fight.
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