When magister militum Orestes refused the request of Germanic mercenaries in his employ for land, 476 AD, dissatisfied militia deposed the last Western Roman emperor, Romulus Augustus. The Western Roman Empire fell, troops sacked Rome and within a century the Germanic dominated both the populous and culture of the city.
Rome’s conqueror, Odoacer, pronounced himself King of Italy, continuing the Empire in name, if not the same identity. It took more than a century for Rome’s culture to dissipate. Indeed, historians have long argued that the true fall came anywhere from Rome’s demise in 476 to the destruction of Constantinople nearly a millennia later.
This brief lesson of history teaches that change is a slow moving beast, even if the precipitating cataclysmic event seems anything but. The true end of Rome came not because of defeat in war but the inevitable cultural change that military destruction ensured.
Football’s relatively short history dictates a greater pace of change.
It is now 20 years since Liverpool last claimed an English crown. An empire long since crumbled; if not forgotten. With pride, if no little conviction, Liverpool’s invading hoards have sought to reclaim an outpost, if not the Empire, only to fall to the greater power of their enemies.
If Liverpool’s empire finally fell in May 1993, when Manchester United claimed its first English title in more than 26 years, then the cultural destruction was complete 17 years hence. Anfield overrun by Carlo Ancelotti’s invading army, with barely arms raised in protest, let alone a fight to the death.
Out of the Champions League, beaten by Atlético Madrid in Europe’s second division, slain on all fronts domestically; Liverpool’s players lay prone and offered no last stand.
Anfield’s pride, if nothing else, dictates that Rafael Benitez time has come as Liverpool’s stubborn manager.
Time and history will dictate whether Chelsea’s almost inevitable Premier League title win next weekend is the fall of Sir Alex Ferguson’s empire too, or just another battlefield retreat. Ferguson has been here far too many times for outsiders to make grand predictions for the Scot’s side.
Regeneration is no easy task at Old Trafford though. Another year older, Ferguson will squeeze even less out of Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs, Edwin van der Sar and Gary Neville next season.
Transfer funds, limited by the Glazer family’s destructive ownership, dictate that Ferguson will shop at the bottom of the market this summer, if at all. Ferguson’s faith is now placed in the myriad of promising recruits as yet untested at any serious level.
In the end, United – burdened by overwhelming financial pressure and foes with ever greater resources – may implode from within but an Orestes moment has not yet come. It may never.
With a degree more certainly we can say that Liverpool’s end has arrived. Remarkably, following his side’s meek dismissal at Chelsea’s hands, Benitez joined the post match press conference in jovial mood. Perhaps he already knows something that we do not.
Steven Gerrard’s antipathetic performance, including the misplaced backpass that probably signaled the end of United’s challenge this season, said much of the midfielder’s state of mind. Totally anonymous as the Merseysider’s captain, nobody will be shocked if he once again seeks out pastures new.
Liverpool’s long proud history dictated local supporter rivalries were irrelevant, said players past and present. The professionals’ pre-match presumption found little evidence on the pitch and United supporters’ have every right to be shocked at the manner of Liverpool’s resistance.
As the Kop celebrated the visitors’ win, little of the club that once dominated at home and abroad remained. Supporters and seemingly players alike are now fully assimilated to the inevitability of mediocrity; and a last pleasure taken in a rival’s defeat, however distant.
With no Champions League football next season, manager, captain and leading players, such as the absent Fernando Torres, may defect. Boardroom finances have already led to the departure of chairman and shortly – if a bidder is found – the much hated owners.
The empire fell two decades ago; its cultural destruction finished yesterday.