Sir Alex Ferguson blamed “typical Germans” for Manchester United’s exit from the Champions League last night but he needs to look closer to home before playing the blame game. In a season of mediocrity by United’s very high standards Ferguson’s search for answers lies within, not in the decisions of referees or actions of opponents.
The Scot gambled both on youthful inexperience in Rafael da Silva and Darron Gibson and the fitness of his talisman last night. Ferguson could hardly do anything else after the drab displays in Munich and then against Chelsea.
It almost worked with United’s vibrant first half performance the best by the Reds for months. United and Ferguson at their best, trusting in the team’s attacking instincts to carry the day.
Then at three up United imploded. Michael Carrick’s poor defensive work, followed in quick succession by Rafael’s mindless tug on Franc Ribéry. Typically, Ferguson chose to focus on the actions of others and not his own players’ failings.
“They got him sent off,” said Ferguson of Rafael’s red card for two bookable offences.
“There’s no doubt about that and they would have never won if we had 11 men. He is a young boy, inexperienced and there’s a bit of immaturity about what happened but they got him sent off. Typical Germans.
“That sending off changed the game. I thought they were typical professionals in the way they saw the opportunity and forced the referee. It was only a slight tug at the boy and, Jesus, he was 35 yards from goal.
“He was having a marvellous game and it’s a tragedy for him but the ref wasn’t going to do anything until they forced him to get a card out. But we’ve seen that before from teams like that.”
But there is little need to resort to blame – first the referee against Chelsea and then the opponents last night – when by-and-large United has caused its own downfall this season.
While the side has struggled with its defensive work all campaign – understandably at times – United’s passing is of an abjectly lower standard than in the past. It’s a problem Ferguson must quickly address if United is to challenge in Europe next year.
But perhaps the team’s biggest problem is its passivity, with no obvious team leader having emerged in the post Roy Keane era. Such is the team’s desperate need that Ferguson resorted to deploying a half-fit Rooney as much for his inspiration as for his football last night.
The risk backfired with the forward limping heavily after a 20th minute challenge and never recovering. Now the striker is likely to miss at least the fixture with Blackburn Rovers this weekend.
Ferguson, outlandishly, accused the German side of deliberately targeting the 34-goal forward.
“I think that’s obvious,” he said.
“I don’t think there was anything serious, but there were a couple of challenges. We expected that, and the referee should have handled it.”
And then in his final analysis Ferguson chose to blame luck for the away goals defeat to Bayern Munich, with the German side scoring a deflected free-kick last week and benefiting from Rafael’s red card last night.
“I don’t think the best team got through,” the manager said.
“We have had occasions when we have had luck and I think they have this time. It’s hard to digest. In one way we could say we have thrown it away; in another we’ve been very unlucky.”
Indeed, football is won and lost in details but over the course of a season United’s 11 defeats signal the writing on the wall for this team. Professional football waits for no man.
At least the first 40 minutes of last night’s tie offers Ferguson a guiding light pointing to a better future next season. United must defend, pass and attack with more quality of that, as Ferguson likes to say, there is no doubt.
Spending is almost certainly required but perhaps so is a change of mindset. Starting with the club’s leader, Sir Alex.