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The dangers of complacency

In 2005, the England cricket team won a test series against Australia for the first time in 18 years. The rivalry between the two nations is the fiercest in the sport and an Ashes series usually makes for compelling viewing. Almost two decades is an awfully long time to consistently come second in a two-horse race, and the English players celebrated victory in arguably cricket’s greatest ever series with reckless abandon. There was an open-top bus parade through the streets of London, an alcohol-fueled reception in Downing Street and even MBEs from the Queen.

Eighteen months later and Australia won the following series against England 5-0. That humiliating whitewash had everything to do with the complacency of the England players. Instead of viewing their success as a platform for greater things, the English celebrated as though they had reached the top of the mountain. Rather than pushing on and attempting to overtake Australia as the No. 1 team in the world, there was a sense that the players felt as though the hard work had been done.

It was a similar story with Manchester City last season. Having won the league in the most dramatic circumstances imaginable the year before, Roberto Mancini struggled to motivate his side. Winning the Premier League two seasons in a row is extremely difficult, particularly when you consider that even Arsenal in their prime under Arsene Wenger never managed it.

Having gone such a long time without winning a championship, snatching the trophy from under the noses of their closest rivals with almost the final kick of the campaign must have felt like the zenith for players and fans alike. Unfortunately for City, football never stops.

City were not alone. Queens Parks Rangers also suffered for thinking only about the immediate future. In 2011, a documentary was released about the club entitled The Four Year Plan, the title derived from Flavio Briatore’s declared aim to be in the Premier League within four years of the takeover in 2007.

QPR managed to gain promotion to the top flight in that time only to end up relegated last term. It does make one wonder whether they ought to have added a few more years to the plan and devised a strategy for not just getting up but staying there.

Complacency is a difficult thing to avoid. The psychological effect of United’s defeat to Real Madrid this time last year was keenly felt, mainly because there was a feeling, largely unexpressed, that the title was already won. The FA Cup exit soon after ensured the only competition left to play for was one in which United were already almost home and dry.

The performances after that second leg against Madrid reflected this, as United limped over the line in their pursuit of a 20th league title. Brendan Rodgers was mocked for his envelope tactic in Being Liverpool, but at least he was attempting to keep complacency at bay. In fact, it was a technique pioneered by Sir Alex Ferguson in an attempt to keep his players hungry after that first league title back in 1993.

Ferguson’s own desire was insatiable, and it is remarkable to note how often he managed to produce teams capable of winning the league two or even three times in a row. He would doubtless agree with the words of Tracy Flick in Election: “Coca-Cola is by far the world’s number one soft drink and they spend more money than anybody on advertising. I guess that’s how come they stay number one.” This was a man who was never averse to strengthening a title-winning team and removing a player he suspected of becoming complacent, regardless of reputation.

Bayern Munich’s performance in the second leg against Arsenal a year ago showed just what a curious effect the sense that a job has already been done can have on footballers. One can be pretty sure they won’t make the same mistake twice against the same opponents.

For United, while David Moyes and the board must shoulder a large portion of the blame for the David Lynchian nightmare of the last six months, the players are fortunate their own failings have been largely ignored. Indeed, other than Wayne Rooney and Danny Welbeck, almost every other member of the squad has suffered a decline in form since the departure of Ferguson. One can argue that it is the job of Moyes to motivate his players but those on the books at United should have enough professionalism and pride to perform at a higher level. It is all well and good complaining about tactics but some of the lapses, particularly at the back, have been unforgivable.

Nemanja Vidic has looked entirely unfussed about recent results (unsurprising given the team have very little left to play for in the league and he is off in the summer) while Rio Ferdinand and Javier Hernandez have resorted to passive aggressive tweets, the modern equivalent of holding a press conference and outlining their frustrations. At this precarious moment in the club’s history, it is patently unhelpful and more than likely to irritate the supporters.

For the fans, this has been a season to forget. Rarely in recent years have United had nothing to play for as early as February but, since only the most optimistic of reds would predict Champions League triumph, that is the reality of the situation. The only question that remains is whether the players have enough professionalism to give it their all until May, particularly with their reward likely to be the dubious honour of a place in the Europa League.


About Darren Richman

Darren's work has appeared in The Independent, The Guardian and The Daily Mirror. Follow @DarrenRichman on Twitter.

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115 Comments

  1. Tommy says:

    David Gill resigned to get a pay rise at UEFA and Sir Alex decided to retire to spend more time with his wife who lost her sister, are you going to tell him no you cant retire, utter joke really, you cant stop him retiring when he wants too

  2. NBI Red 21 says:

    @ Fletch – unfortunately you are right. We thought we had the best structure, but it was down to two people in Gill and SAF, the system itself was weak. We need to learn from City and Spurs etc and we do need a Director of Football imo.

    Gill and SAF told Glazer that they were happy to stay on a bit longer if the transition would be damaging but Glazer said it was fine. SAF noted they specifically raised this as a concern with the owners and the offer was there to stagger their departures. That may have meant Gill resigning end of year which would have made more sense.

    Cheap shot to say Gill resigned for a pay rise do you know what he was on at United and that this was the reason – money? He is still a non-exec Board member for United.

  3. Redfrog says:

    good read : http://www.theguardian.com/football/blog/2014/feb/26/david-moyes-manchester-united-manager-job

    The journalist is stating that we don’t look like United, even compared to the 70′, 80′.
    We are in big big troubles.
    Moyes is simply not up for it in every aspect of a football manager. Don’t worry guys, we have Round and Phil to save us…

  4. Unagi says:

    Gill did not resign as much for pay rise as I guess for new challenge and more power in Footballing world (this includes probably pay rise).

    He got recognize for what he did being at United and he took another step.

  5. Tommy says:

    @NBI

    Money or promotion but hes got a top job at UEFA, I would think hes got a better deal now, it might be that hes looking for the top job in UEFA tho

  6. Unagi says:

    My comment was just to underline that Tommy and NBI are both right.

    And from me I am not surprised that Gill made that move as it is logical choice.

  7. Fletch™ says:

    NBI, I didn’t say Gill left for a pay raise. If anything, just think he wanted to pursue other interests.

    Agree we need a DOF at the moment. And it needs to be someone who is not part of the family.

  8. edcunited1878 says:

    Evra has always given his best to United and he’s always defended the club and spoken highly of it. But it’s well known he’s been angling for his next and probably final move from the club. Sir Alex bought Buttner as some type of understudy, obviously that hasn’t worked out, and then Moyes pretty much alienated himself with Pat with his pursuit of Baines then the Real Madrid LB from Portugal, but Evra doesn’t mind about Moyes. He’s got too much pride and love for the Club to let that bother him.

    And Evra’s standard of performance has dropped because he’s aged. There’s no shame in admitting that. It’s incredible how many matches he plays without significant injuries.

  9. Jorge Curioso II says:

    NBI Red 21 says:
    @ Jorge Curioso II – spot on about Evra too, given how Moyes made clear he did not rate him and wanted him out the fact Evra has given 100%, delivered and kept his counsel shows he has far more class than the manager.

    Cheers, NBI. I agree, Evra is one of the classiest guys to pull on the shirt, a lovely fellow, and a rock for the club. Not for nothing SAF handed him the armband so frequently.

    If Rooney had Evra’s disposition, he’d be the club legend his agent (and deluded Moyes) thinks he’s is.

  10. Fletch™ says:

    @ Jorge Curioso II Hahaa, no mate, I don’t want to imply that Fellaini was evidence of Moyes prowess in transfers. I actually think Moyes only went for Fellain because everything Woodward toughed turned to ash.

    Let’s just all agree last summer was a complete shambles. Not enough page time to permit any sensible discussion about who was to be blamed for what. I blame the Glazers and Woodward because the timing of the entire episode was down to them. Moyes should have started immediately. The vacation was the stupidest thing you could posibly have devise.

  11. Fletch™ says:

    As to Evra,

    Evra can activate a 1 year extension on his contract because of games played.
    It might be that either party can activate it. We will see how that plays out.

    Moyes has said some to things about Evra of late.

    via Duncan Castles:

    Moyes
    “He is one of the finest men and leaders around the dressing room that I have ever seen”
    “He is inspirational behind the scenes.
    He demands. He doesn’t think winning one game is it.
    He is saying, ‘No we will win all the games’. He is a great man.”

    Love Patrice Evra! Feel Patty loves this club as well!

  12. Jorge Curioso II says:

    Fletch™ says:
    @ Jorge Curioso II Hahaa, no mate, I don’t want to imply that Fellaini was evidence of Moyes prowess in transfers. I actually think Moyes only went for Fellain because everything Woodward toughed turned to ash.

    He tried for Fellaini and Baines very early in the window, too. Fellaini was a Moyes target from the start.

  13. Jorge Curioso II says:

    edcunited1878 says:
    Evra has always given his best to United and he’s always defended the club and spoken highly of it. But it’s well known he’s been angling for his next and probably final move from the club.

    I call bullsh*t on this one. Where is the evidence that Paddy has been “angling” for a transfer? That’s a very strong accusation.

  14. Mohit Bhatia says:

    Just one comment, The authors view that AUS-ENG rivalry in cricket “is the fiercest in the sport” is very debateable. Just in cricket itself the rivalry b/w India and Pakistan is unparalleled for its intensity and impact on and off the field.

  15. Mr Pacty says:

    Check out Hitlers reaction to the latest United result – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nuqT0I_sc5s

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