Aidan Fitzmaurice: 'Roy Keane right about 'scary' United - and there could be worse to come'
It was, according to legend, a win in a cup tie against Nottingham Forest which saved Alex Ferguson's job as Manchester United manager, a long, long time ago.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer won't get the sack should the unthinkable happen tomorrow night and United lose at home in the League Cup to Rochdale, the third-tier side managed by Corkman Brian Barry-Murphy. Likewise, a win won't save the Norwegian. This agony runs deep and will be prolonged.
Please log in or register with Independent.ie for free access to this article.
The glaring problems at United are so deep-rooted that there is no quick fix, issues so worrying that the 11 picked to play on a given day don't have the talent, desire or ability to play themselves out of it.
"It's scary how far they've fallen," says Roy Keane. Used to captaining United to league titles, the only 'win' for Keane these days in tussles with Liverpool people is pointing out to Jamie Carragher, on live TV, that Liverpool "nearly" winning the Premier League was not the same as winning the Premier League.
Harry Redknapp labels this crop as the worst United side of the Premier League era, and at the back of it all Jose Mourinho smirks and snarls, thinking 'It wasn't me, it was you all along'. So it's not just Keane who is aghast at the state of Manchester United FC in 2019. As a PLC, they have never been as rich. As a football team, though, it's decades since they were this poor. And Keane is right: this United side is shockingly bad.
There are some United fans headed to Old Trafford tomorrow who wonder if that word used a few lines above, unthinkable, is even appropriate for this game, asking if their club has sunk so low that even beating a team seventh from bottom in England's second-lowest league is a given.
Barry-Murphy's side haven't won in four games, and fewer than 2,000 paying punters turned up for Rochdale's last game in this competition, so they make the 20-mile journey to Old Trafford in faint hope more than with bravado. But the club's Irish manager has earned widespread praise for the work he had done with a minuscule budget.
He signed a number of players over the summer but didn't spend a penny in transfer fees while the sale of their very highly-rated teenager Daniel Adshead, to Norwich City, earned them around £300,000, more to come if he makes progress, the kind of deal that can keep a club like Rochdale afloat. Alexis Sanchez pocketed that amount, and more, every week whether he tried or not.
Rochdale are not competing for promotion (yet) but the big win came last season when the team, with Barry-Murphy as caretaker and then permanent manager, avoided relegation. Success for Rochdale means staying alive. But standards at Old Trafford have slumped so low that no one knows what success means these days. United are an outfit with almost unlimited resources who regularly waste what they have at their disposal. Their transfer policy looks like lunacy mixed with idiocy, with indecision, fear and ignorance thrown in.
Since Alex Ferguson left in 2013, United have spent over £900m on players (and that's on transfer fees alone, not including wages) but are no closer to winning a league than the day Ferguson walked away. The Champions League dream has been downgraded to Thursdays against Astana in the Europa League.
Rivals Manchester City have spent more than United but won trophies. A problem for United is that others in the same division are in another league when it comes to the business of football: Liverpool's outlay on players like Alisson and Virgil van Dijk looks scary but it's offset by their ability to turn a profit, selling players such as Coutinho and Suarez.
But United's recruitment policy is what has them where they are. Daniel James looks like good value for his £15m price tag. But, James aside, when was the last time a United player made a mockery of his transfer fee, or even lived up to it? The cover price for Salah was £3m short of the fee United agreed to for Matic. Fred cost more than Fabinho.
Keane appeared to absolve Solksjaer from blame when he spoke after United's poor showing at the weekend. "A lot of these players aren't good enough for Man United, it's as simple as that," he groaned. He knows it will get worse before it gets better.