Last Tuesday’s Carling Cup defeat to Manchester City, coming amid the continuing focus on the club’s long-term financial well-being, marked a truly dire start to 2010 for Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United. But one man can lead the fightback from within, at least on the pitch, as Ferguson’s men challenge for honours on three fronts.
The club’s financial turmoil has been widely publicised and there are serious repercussions looming, not least the upcoming European competitions ban for indebted clubs if the tyrannical Michel Platini has his way.
The demise of Leeds United in 2003 and now the financial hardship being felt at Portsmouth should serve as a serious reminder of how bad things can get. Even for Premier League clubs. Despite this, it appears the Glazer family faces little opposition from their peers in the deep seated pillage of football’s greatest club.
On the pitch it has been an inconsistent season for United. Normally, Ferguson’s side pushes on in the second half of the season. It’s a charge fans are still waiting for as January comes to a close.
There are challenges ahead. The old stalwarts of the side are beginning to fade from the picture. Captain Gary Neville has struggled to maintain his high standards this year and retirement is imminent. Paul Scholes, although a great player on his day, is unquestionably in the twilight of his career and struggles to guarantee a starting berth. Ryan Giggs remains the shining light for United’s experienced bunch and is still an indispensable asset but at 37 it can’t last forever.
What of the year to come with United still competing on three fronts? It’s a feat Liverpool have failed to match, small comfort though it may be. United’s upcoming tie with AC Milan in February and March looms large in a bid to save a season that could be marred by shortcomings.
And with no FA Cup to rely on for a trip to Wembley, it is now clear how important the Carling Cup is to Ferguson’s men. A derby day return leg tomorrow is now a major priority.
Then next weekend comes the trip to the Emirates for a mouth-watering, do or die, fixture with Arsenal that could define United’s Premier League ambitions. The match is followed by difficult trips to Villa and Goodison parks as ‘squeaky bum time’ begins.
Each of these matches is now a ‘must win’ for a United side struggling for consistency. The experienced members of the side need to raise the morale of a side evidently lacking in confidence. Neville, though a peripheral figure, can focus all his aggression and quality to inspire a side over-laden with underperforming youngsters.
The defender’s actions against City in the past week display a certain defiance that is a common character of the man, although may not be the mark of professionalism. It should not be underplayed. Neville’s finger illustrates that the fire is still burning deep inside. It’s something normally associated with the Roy Keane and it needs to be communicated to the current generation.
Then let us hope the thieving Americans, known as ‘owners’, realise they have all but destroyed the future of a successful club and sell up just in time for the dying embers of our season to be rekindled. This, however, may be wishful thinking.