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Manchester United appear to be going through their 1989 misery all over again


Deja vu: The current United crop is going through a similar rough patch to their 1989 counterparts Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Deja vu: The current United crop is going through a similar rough patch to their 1989 counterparts Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Deja vu: The current United crop is going through a similar rough patch to their 1989 counterparts Photo: GETTY IMAGES

Twenty-five years ago today, plain old Alex Ferguson woke from the biggest football-inflicted hangover of his career after witnessing his Manchester United team suffer a 5-1 humiliation at the hands of Manchester City at Maine Road.

It was the low-point of a nightmare start to the 1989-90 season for United, which got worse before it got better, and Ferguson was forced to ride a storm before ultimately steering the club to great success.

But as Louis van Gaal goes from boom to bust in his opening weeks as Old Trafford manager, the similarities between Ferguson’s year of turmoil and now are striking.

For Manchester United, it appears as though it is 1989 all over again….


A rebuilding programme was launched in the summer of 1989, which was sparked by Ferguson’s controversial decision to sell crowd favourites Norman Whiteside and Paul McGrath.

United outspent all of their domestic rivals by lavishing £7m on five new players -- Mike Phelan, Gary Pallister, Neil Webb, Danny Wallace and Paul Ince -- as Ferguson attempted to overhaul an ageing squad.

The massive outlay failed to deliver instant results, however, with each of the new signings struggling to adapt early on.

Twenty-five years on, Van Gaal has overseen a dramatic squad rebuild this summer, with fourteen first-team players leaving, including long-serving Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, with six new faces coming in.

A total of £153m has been invested in the playing squad, but United remain in a state of flux as summer turns to autumn.


United broke the British transfer record to complete the signing of Middlesbrough defender Gary Pallister in August 1989.

Ferguson had set his sights on Fiorentina’s Swedish centre-half Glenn Hysen, but after believing a deal to have been agreed, the player then stunned the United manager by choosing to sign for bitter rivals Liverpool instead.

So Ferguson turned to Pallister, a 24-year-old England centre-half, to form a partnership with Steve Bruce.


Although Pallister endured a shaky start, he eventually formed the bedrock of United’s decade of success in the 1990s.

Back to 2014 and United have once again smashed the British transfer record by paying £59.3m for Real Madrid winger Angel di Maria.

The Argentine, man of the match in last season’s Champions League final, has scored twice in his three appearances so far for United.


With a new team on the pitch, built around England’s midfield pairing of Bryan Robson and Neil Webb, Ferguson saw United open the 1989-90 season with a 4-1 rout of league champions Arsenal at Old Trafford.

Prior to the game, prospective new owner Michael Knighton had taken to the pitch to show off his ball skills in front of the Stretford End.

The euphoric mood around the club was boosted even further when Webb, a £1.5m buy from Nottingham Forest, marked his United debut with a stunning volley from twenty yards.

It proved a false start, however, with United going on to lose three of their next four league games, against the might of Crystal Palace, Derby, Everton and Norwich City.


Van Gaal has also suffered from expectation being raised and then deflated this season.

The promise of an unbeaten summer tour of the USA, including wins against Real Madrid and Liverpool, hit a brick wall with an opening day defeat at home to Swansea, while the 4-0 victory against Queens Park Rangers was followed by a shock defeat at Leicester.


Marcos Rojo’s £16m transfer from Sporting Lisbon last month appeared straightforward at the time, but the Argentine defender ultimately had to wait almost three weeks before making his United debut.

A complication with the issuing of a working visa, related to an alleged incident in Argentina, forced United to suffer an extended wait for their new signing.

Ferguson endured a similar wait to complete the signing of Paul Ince from West Ham in September 1989.


Ince had enraged West Ham supporters by posing in a United shirt before a deal had been done and the photo appeared to be a disastrous case of jumping the gun when the player failed a medical at Old Trafford.

West Ham looked set to be stuck with a player who had made himself Public Enemy number one, while Ferguson feared missing out on a midfielder he regarded as Bryan Robson’s long-term successor.

But after a lengthy wait and prolonged negotiations between the clubs, Ince finally moved to United in mid-September for a fee of £1m.


Van Gaal’s weekly injury bulletins have seen the Dutchman run through as many as ten casualties, including virtually every member of his defence and new signings such as Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera.

The injury list has resulted in United fielding a different defensive line-up in almost every game so far, but Ferguson endured similar problems back in 1989.

Ferguson lost Webb to an Achilles tendon injury suffered an England duty after he had made just four appearances for United.

The injury to Webb was then compounded by further injuries to Bryan Robson and Steve Bruce, with captain and vice-captain being forced to miss the 5-1 defeat at City in September.

Without Bruce in defence and Robson and Webb in midfield, United were overrun by their neighbours, with uncertainty and confusion affecting Ferguson’s team at the back.

Twentty-five years on and injuries and confusion are proving just as debilitating for Van Gaal’s United.


Sunday’s 5-3 defeat at Leicester will go down as one of the most infamous results in United’s history due to the manner of the team’s collapse when seemingly in a commanding position.

Leading 3-1 after an hour, United allowed the floodgates to open and paid the price as Leicester scored four goals in a brutal final half hour at the King Power Stadium.

But while the defeat at Leicester was a painful one, it is unlikely to knock the 5-1 hammering against Manchester City off the top spot of United’s league table of humiliation.


United went into the derby on the back of a 5-1 victory at home to Millwall in their previous league game -- similar to the 4-0 win against QPR prior to the Leicester defeat.

But Mel Machin’s young team ripped United apart, with Andy Hinchcliffe scoring the fifth goal in what has become known in Manchester as the ‘Demolition Derby.’

United fans still claim that Mark Hughes’s spectacular scissor-kick was the goal of the game.

In 25 years, they may be saying the same about Angel di Maria’s goal at Leicester.


With English clubs still banned from European competition in 1989 as a result of the violence at Heysel Stadium prior to Liverpool’s European Cup final against Juventus four years earlier, United only had domestic silverware to focus on, just as they do now.

But a third round League Cup tie at home to Tottenham in October brought United’s hope of success in that competition to a crashing halt, with Terry Venables’ team cruising to a 3-0 win at Old Trafford.

At least Ferguson’s United were able to progress to the third round, however.

This season, Van Gaal has been forced to suffer the ignominy of guiding United to a first round exit in the same competition following last month’s 4-0 defeat against MK Dons.


Although fielding a weakened team of youngsters and fringe players, United would have been expected to perform better against a club from the third tier of English football.

But United were outplayed and outclassed and Van Gaal admitted after the game that he was ‘not shocked’ by the result.


For Ferguson, the turning point came on January 7, 1990, when a home-grown striker by the name of Mark Robins headed in a Mark Hughes cross at Nottingham Forest to secure a 1-0 FA Cup third round victory at the City Ground.

Ahead of that game, Ferguson’s grip on the job was under severe threat, despite the public backing of chairman Martin Edwards.

From the victory at Forest, United found form, escaped the relegation battle and eventually ended the season by winning the FA Cup -- Ferguson’s first trophy at the club -- following a Cup Final replay against Crystal Palace at Wembley.

Van Gaal is unlikely to need a Mark Robins moment to save his skin this season, with the Dutchman handed the chance to rebuild United by the club hierarchy.

But a turning point might be welcomed, all the same.

Online Editors