We had just finished second in the league and won the League Cup, after finishing third the season before and winning nothing.
Ruud van Nistelrooy had been sold and no replacement had been brought in. After searching far and wide for “the next Roy Keane”, we settled on Michael Carrick for an initial £14 million, with the potential to reach £18.6 million.
Things had got “so bad” for United, that we were predicted to finish fifth in the 2006-2007 season by The Guardian, and fourth by Sky Sports. Our glory days were apparently over. Gutted.
Almost everything about the club reeks of disarray. Owned by the Glazers, who push buttons from a remote hideaway like Dr Evil; run by a manager who shreds his legacy at every turn; almost exclusively represented by the inadequate (Darren Fletcher and Kieran Richardson) and the odious (Rio Ferdinand); unable to close a deal for West Brom’s reserve keeper, never mind the new Roy Keane. The signing of Michael Carrick, a Pirlo when a Gattuso was needed, is a band aid for a bullet wound, and a ludicrously expensive one at that.
Darren Fletcher, fighting it out with Wayne Rooney for United’s best performing and most important player this season. Michael Carrick’s signing has coincided with one of United’s most successful ever periods, playing 144 games in his first three seasons, an average of 48 games a season. You don’t play almost 50 games a season during a time when your team wins as many trophies as United have, if you don’t have anything to add to the team.
If anything, it’s a surprise that United have bought anyone at all. This summer, they have been like a pathetic drunk lumbering across a dancefloor at 1.45am, trying to get off with everything that moves. No matter how many people they move in for – and if reports are to be believed, United have made offers for dozens of players – nobody wants to go near them. And the one person who surely would, Damien Duff, was allowed to slip into the arms of Newcastle for less than United paid for Patrice Evra. You couldn’t make it up. You don’t have to.
Oh yes, Damien Duff, who had a brilliant time at Newcastle, averaging just over 20 games a season, ravaged with injury. He did play in 30 of the 38 Premiership games last season… as they were relegated. These were the days when Evra was generally seen has useless and a bad buy from the manager. Now he’s the best left back in the world.
United finished second last season, but that as much about the deficiency of the Premiership as their own quality. Arsenal will surely not have a four-month blind spot this season, while all evidence suggests that Liverpool’s gradient will continue on its upward trajectory. With Tottenham getting stronger, even with the loss of Carrick, it is conceivable that, if they start slowly and get significant injuries, United could finish fifth; in today’s environment, that would be disastrous.
I think Arsenal would have loved to have just a four-month blind spot in the season that followed, with them winning only half of their league games! Finishing fourth, more than 20 points behind the champions, with a goal difference worse by 28, Arsenal were dreadful. Liverpool weren’t much better, finishing on the same points as Arsenal but finishing third because a record better by two goals. Spurs finished nowhere, 29 points behind the champions, with a pathetic goal difference of just 3.
It is an increasingly inescapable conclusion that, unwittingly or otherwise, Ferguson is winding down, a prizefighter who no longer has the stomach or the wit for an admittedly enormous challenge which, once upon a time, he would have fervently inhaled. Like he did with Liverpool. Ferguson’s almost maniacal yearning to “knock Liverpool off their fucking perch” was arguably the single most important factor in United’s 1990s renaissance. It makes it all the more vicious an irony that, 10 years later, he should knock United off the perch he had made for them through increasingly rank mismanagement.
How to respond? Will a smug grin do?
Indeed, it must irk him beyond belief that United are making exactly the same mistakes that Liverpool did: lack of pheromones in the transfer market; laughable, fall-back signings at suspicious and ridiculous prices; deluded ramblings (“we are as good as Chelsea, no question”) – and, worst of all, a dressing-room where playing the field seems as important as playing the game. Liverpool’s Spice Boys were bad, but they have nothing on Merk Berks like Ferdinand, Richardson and Wes Brown.
Those fall-back signings at suspicious prices are presumably Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, who cost just £12 million for the pair. Vidic has featured in the PFA Team of the Season every year since, Evra twice out of three years. Rio Ferdinand went on to lift the European Cup in Moscow, Wes Brown played more games for United than any other player during the second most successful season in our club’s history. How’s that for a Merk Berk? And how wrong Ferguson was to claim that we were as good as Chelsea – quite frankly, we were far better!
And the thing is, it is only going to get worse: Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham have all made shrewd, cheap signings and are going in one direction. United are going the other way: they are hugely dependent on Ferdinand and Rooney, but no number of Carling Cup medals is going to sate their ambition. Then there is the Glazer factor, the full, inevitable horror of which is only just beginning to emerge. United fans think this season is going to be bad. It hasn’t even started.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing. Players that you have written off can go on to do great things. Decisions that seem ridiculous can pay off. Things people say might sound stupid but turn out to be true.
United are currently second in the league, two points behind Chelsea, despite us spending a month or so without a defence. United are in the semi-finals of the League Cup, with just City, Blackburn and Villa the other teams left in the competition. United are through to the next round of the European Cup after finishing top of the group. Whilst the financial situation is a massive worry (and something I will get around to depressing myself over in writing about), what is happening on the field is fairly promising. We’ve had better seasons, definitely, and we’re adjusting to playing without The Best Player In The World, but we’re not bad. At least we have excuses for our situation but what about Chelsea? Could it be that they’re actually just not that good?
Just because we proved everybody wrong following being written off in 2006, I’m not for one second arguing the same must be said of now. The debt may see us go under (although I’m in the fairytale world of believing that there are too many rich and greedy people out there prepared to save us because of the money making machine we are), our players may not prove to be good enough, this might be the end of the glory years… but I can’t see it. That may be because I’m an optimist, fine, I’m happy to admit that, but it might also be because I’m right. Again, hindsight. We will see.
The above article was written by Rob Smyth for The Guardian, who we now know to be a good egg. He is a red who was voicing his frustrations and worry for a club he loves, the same way we do on here daily. In the summer of 2006, I was singing from a different hymn sheet (unpredictably!) and you should take a look at my ramblings. These were the days when maybe four people read RoM and I didn’t know what I was doing (so don’t judge!). I’m not trying to claim that I know it all, because I don’t, but that there’s no harm in looking to the bright side. (Although I scoffed at the idea of us winning the European Cup in THREE years time (let alone two!) and slagged Fletch off something rotten. Makes for quite embarrassing reading now to be honest).
Since that summer, we have won the Premiership every single season. We’ve won the European Cup and played in another final. We’ve won the League Cup. We’ve been in the FA Cup final.
Rob admitted the error of his ways two months later and at the end of the season, and last night gave me his blessing to rip his article to shreds, telling me he deserves everything he gets for writing that! I hope we’ll be reading similar acknowledgements at the end of this season, like we did from Oliver Holt at the end of the 2008 season.
To be a “proper fan”, it doesn’t mean never criticising the team. You may all feel you have more than enough reasons to criticise the team, but do hold the thought in the back of your mind that you could be wrong. We’re in a much better position now than we were the summer of 2006, so don’t be too quick to buy in to the doom and gloom stories… again.
We’ll never die.