Man United fans struggling to cope with downturn in fortunes
'There are not many out there who have not enjoyed watching them flounder like a chip-shop destined Cod on the deck of a fishing boat'
David Moyes may need a Champions League title to save his side's reputation and sympathy from other fans is in short supply.
If you listen closely, you might just be able to hear the world’s smallest violin playing a sad song mourning the demise of Manchester United.
Melancholy has gripped those who enjoyed almost three decades of trophy-laden success under Sir Alex Ferguson, but few outside of this band of not so merry men, women and children are tormented by David Moyes’ arduous succession to the Old Trafford throne.
It is impossible not to admire what Manchester United achieved under Ferguson. To deny them that respect and reverence is pointless and wrong.
They have been the preeminent club of the Premier League era and one of the star turns on the European stage for almost as long.
At various times, and with varying degrees of difficulty, United – they have irritatingly for the many other proud Uniteds of this land, made this shorthand their own – have seen off the domestic challenges of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and, in Ferguson’s final flourish, Manchester City.
In Europe, they have more than held their own with the other heavyweights and while two European Cups is not quite the haul others managed, the Red Devils have been feared by all.
Not this year, not now Ferguson’s retirement has caused cracks to appear; not now the rot has set in and the Empire has started to crumble.
It is not a terminal decline, yet, but where once you wrote United off at your peril, it is now tempting to do so with pleasure.
After years of watching them prosper, begrudgingly accepting their success, there are not many out there who have not enjoyed watching them flounder like a chip-shop destined Cod on the deck of a fishing boat.
There is something comforting about listening to fans who have gorged themselves on silverware and attractive attacking football for so long, being made to suffer like the rest of us.
Football hurts and it was about time United’s supporters, the local hardcore, the committed long distances followers and the random glory hunters, lost their immunity.
For the first time in a generation, United’s millions of followers worldwide are learning what it’s like to be a proper fan. They are discovering what it is like to be angry and frustrated by their team. They are having their loyalty, as well as their patience, tested.
It’s no longer about being upset when the team does not play well, coping with the odd shock defeat or trophy near miss, it is worrying about the direction the club is heading, questioning the manager and his tactics, while moaning about the quality and heart of the players.
These are all things football fans do, but they have so rarely been experienced at United that many of their younger supporters must be utterly bemused by the emotions they are experiencing. Welcome to the club and do not assume it will get better.
In 26 years, Ferguson won a staggering 38 trophies, including 13 Premier League titles and those two European Cups.
It is a slightly scary thought, but if you were born after 1989 you have never known Manchester United struggle as they do now. It has been easy to support them.
I remember a time when United were just another club. A club with a tragic, yet prestigious history, but nobody in my Primary School were in awe of them. Liverpool were the Manchester United of my youth.
Liverpool were the team everyone wanted to beat, a benchmark in brilliance, but I can remember how they gradually lost their aura of invincibility and slipped into a downward spiral.
United appear to be heading down the same path and unless Moyes finds his bearings soon, they will have travelled too far to find their way back.
It is tough on Moyes. He was given the keys to the palace by Ferguson, but once inside, found it had lost its old splendour. A series of patched up problems now need major rebuilding work. That is accepted and understood, but there is also an expectation it will be done quickly.
United have the money do it, despite the financial drain caused by the Glazer family’s takeover, but that does not automatically mean the renovations will restore them to their former glory.
There are those who hope Moyes fails, and there are those who just wonder if he might, but these are difficult, uncertain times for a club that had been so sure of its ability to rejuvenate every few years under Ferguson. It fascinates even those who would relish seeing them tumble.
United have already lost their Premier League title. Few give a team that is seventh in the table and already out of both domestic cup competitions, any hope of winning the Champions League, despite their relatively smooth passage from the Group Stage.
Moyes took on the most daunting job in football replacing Ferguson, but he cannot hide from the fact he must improve.
Europe might offer unlikely salvation. For the first time since he left Everton, Moyes may benefit from low expectations when the Champions League resumes at the end of this month.
If he can steer his new team into the latter stages, he will provide much-needed evidence all is not lost. They have been given a decent draw against Olympiakos and can throw all their energy and resolve into that competition.
To reach the semi-finals would be great and would suggest progress is being made. To win it would instantly wipe away the doubt that surrounds him.
This is what Moyes must aim for. As unlikely as that lofty ambition seems on current form, he has to start thinking like a successful United manager, not an under-pressure Ferguson replacement.
Moyes is being mocked and questioned in equal measure at the moment, but for those who want to cling to the lessons of history it is always worth remembering that Ferguson also struggled in his first few years at Old Trafford.
He needed a FA Cup final win in 1990 to keep his job.
Moyes needs to impress in the Champions League, as well as push for top four finish in the league. Or those sheltered, young United fans might have another new experience soon – chanting for the manager’s head.