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TOP 5: Most disappointing Manchester United seasons

For most United fans on the internet, they’re too young to really the leanest periods of the club’s history. Munich, for them, is an anniversary to be marked rather than a visceral tug at the heart. The miserable times as United tried to replace Matt Busby sound like an aberration, a time served out by others as the countdown to Fergie Time began. Even 1991/2 and the failure at the last moment is probably too long ago for half the digitally adept United fan. Since the first Premier League season, United have either been successful, or plotting imminent success. The hairiest it got was when it seemed Jose Mourinho would never falter, but United ended that with Ferguson’s last great team, and a Champions League victory.

Disappointment comes from a position of privilege for most Manchester United fans, too lucky and cosseted to know what real failure is. That’s why this season is so scary. Failure, abject failure is inevitable this year, but the really scary thing is that there’s no indication of when it might be turned round. Transfer funds are promised, but who knows if they will be spent correctly by the man in charge.

With that caveat, here are five of the most disappointing United seasons:

2001/2

2001/2 is an underrated season of disappointment, sandwiched between years that weren’t quite so miserable, and with few long-term problems introduced. But that doesn’t mean the memory can’t sting as hindsight makes starker the failing.

United had Juan Sebastian Veron to combine with Ruud van Nistelrooy, the £28.1 million signing promising to take United from 4-4-2 predictability to the erection central thrill of Argentine flair and guile. The Champions League was there for the taking, as was the league. But it didn’t quite work out like that.

At the start of the season Jaap Stam was sent packing to Lazio for correctly identifying the Neville brothers as stupendously irritating, and replaced with the ageing Laurent Blanc, whom Alex Ferguson had had a crush on for some time. Available on a free transfer from Inter Milan, it was evident why he cost so little as his body failed to adapt to the demands of the league as quickly as his mind still could.

It then kept getting worse. United lost five league games in seven between November and early December. In January, infuriating and notably-accented elf Danny Murphy gave Liverpool another victory against United.

Then Alex Ferguson decided that he’d retire, sending the season into buggery. For a horrible while, Manchester United almost became managed by nascent sex tourist Sven Goran Eriksson as contract negotiations took place behind the scenes. Fortunately for United, Ferguson changed his mind, but he wasn’t able to secure a recovery in time to win the title. But the Champions League stayed winnable.

United had got through their group with ease, finishing top, above Bayern Munich, and then met Deportivo La Coruna in the quarter-finals. Despite squeezing through, United lost David Beckham to an Aldo Duscher tackle, and Uri Geller had a career renaissance. That gave them their next opponent, Bayer Leverkusen.

Put simply, United had the players that meant they should have won. But events conspired against them. Gary Neville fell to the metatarsal curse, and Roy Keane couldn’t play more than eight minutes in the first leg. Beckham, of course, didn’t play at all. The blame lay with United though. They’d had injuries before and would do again, and the team still had Van Nistelrooy, Paul Scholes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Ryan Giggs. This was United’s best chance to get through to a final until they met Porto in 2004. Given the genius of Jose Mourinho provides some retrospective mitigation, this failure should hurt more.

2004/5

There are bad seasons, and then there are seasons where life as you know it is irrevocably ruined; stained, damaged and tarnished forever. 2004/5 is one of those seasons. It was a moment up there with the time your first-born son tells you he doesn’t respect you as a man, and doesn’t understand how you ever ended up manager of his country, and thinks you’re a wanker.

The squad was utter filth – as any squad that had David Bellion, Eric Djemba-Djemba, Alan Smith and Liam Miller would be. But that wasn’t all. Jose Mourinho was around, tossing United into the bin as he laid the foundations for his years of torment. He started the season by beating United by a single goal, and then proceeded to hammer home his superiority at almost every turn.

That was bad enough, watching the nouveau riche nonsense of Stamford Bridge, and the misery that comes with seeing Chelsea fans happy. It got worse, as United lost to a toothless Arsenal in the FA Cup final (dumb luck to lose to a side experiencing its death rattle). It then got worse again.

Liverpool went down 3-0 to AC Milan in Istanbul. Ha ha ha. At least the scousers were going to provide a cheering end to the season.

No. Rafa Benitez’s mathematical foul-up eventually alighted on a Liverpool team with Djimi Traore and Vladimir Smicer in it, and yet still performed a three-goal comeback of ludicrous excitement. Then the extended horror of extra time, when we all knew what was coming, which was then strung out over a penalty shoot out. Liverpool had heroes – and annoyingly those heroes had earned their praise justly, in a Champions League campaign of balls and tactical expertise – and United had nothing.

Throw in the fact that the Glazers had also completed the takeover which would see Alex Ferguson and the executives set about handicapping the side to the tune of half a billion pounds (and counting), and you can count 2004/5 as a foreboding, genuinely tragic glimpse into the future, not simply a nightmare from the past.

2011/12

Some of us elected to sit out the end of the season, knowing that it would obviously end in a Manchester City league win. They had to beat QPR, woeful all season, and that would ensure their victory. Some of us decided to go to their local for lunch. Some of us were given a free bottle of red to match the roast lamb, and some of us decided that it would be best to have as much of it as quickly as possible to dull the pain.

Some of us were stupid to absent-mindedly check the scores as they came in, and found out that the title was weirdly, in the balance. City were losing, at home, to QPR. United were doing what they needed to and had taken the lead at Sunderland. Pints were ordered to settle the nerves. The phone was increasingly frequently refreshed to provide updates. As the stress started to be outweighed by excitement, more booze was funnelled.

Minutes to go, and United were going to do it. City had fallen apart. It was ridiculous. What a triumph. You sir, a bottle of champagne. United were gonna do it. Oh, an equaliser. No problem, there were only a couple of minutes left but it was getting a little stressful again.

Oh.

Shit.

91/92

2013/14

Let’s get this one out of the way, then. Losing the best manager of all time, Manchester United replaced him with David Moyes, available on a free transfer and with no history of top level trophies or European success. Then, the sole transfer target delivered was Marouane Fellaini, who failed to impress and then got injured. Because of a mixture of incompetence, indecision and other less embarrassing circumstances, United tried to reinforce with Cesc Fabregas, Thiago Alcantara, Fabio Coentrao, Leighton Baines, Sami Khedira and Ander Herrera, but didn’t.

Then players decided to rebel against Moyes, as real or rumoured transgressions or general mardiness came from Tom Cleverley, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Michael Carrick and Robin van Persie. Phil Neville and Moyes undermined Rafael and chose to use the static Chris Smalling in his place. Shinji Kagawa was rated as less effective than Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia. Cleverley and Carrick were given the chance to prove that they never would be good enough, and no longer would be again, respectively.

Age caught up with Patrice Evra, and the central defence pairing of Vidic and Ferdinand dissolved. David de Gea didn’t quite regress to his weakest days, but he was less imposing than he had been before. Juan Mata was purchased for £37 million, and Moyes decided to use him as a winger, just one example of Moyes being unable – so far – to adapt to managing some of the best players in the world and instead getting them to get the ball wide and hit cross after cross after cross.

There were embarrassing results, with losses to Liverpool, Manchester City, West Bromwich Albion, Everton, Newcastle United, Spurs, Chelsea, Stoke City, Swansea City and Sunderland (in a pathetic League Cup exit), with poor draws with Cardiff City, Fulham and Southampton. More failures than successes for the first time in recent memory.

It’s not that there aren’t reasons for it – Ferguson and the takeover had left this implosion in the post. But it was Ferguson’s genius that masked just how bad it might get once he left – though he deserves much of the blame for creating the situation in the first place. It showed up that Moyes might have been able to take over a successful team, but not one about to collapse. On the season’s poor showing there is no evidence for fans to hope that he will make the best of the chance to rebuild. Now, that’s disappointing.

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87 Comments

  1. RepeatOf99 says:

    @wayne

    you are spot on. The mega rich clubs have fucked up transfer fees and wages all over Europe.

    But that’s why it just isn’t as simple as pointing the finger at the Glazers and saying that we haven’t been able to compete financially because of them.

    No-one can compete with them financially!

    We have spent enough to expect better than where we are now. We may have overspent on a few ‘squad players’, but the truth is that our squad for the most part is not that bad. We have bloody good players. They just aren’t playing well at the moment

  2. Fletch™ says:

    Tommy
    Thats were we disagree. Rio has not been fit for an entire season in years. That is one light in the 4, leaving 3 1st choice CBs. Filling the cracks with Jones, then 18 and Carrick just didn’t cut it and has continued to deteriorate.

    When I say 4 fit CB’s I don’t mean 4 sort of. I mean 4 FIT CBs like we had in 2008.

  3. Fletch™ says:

    I’m off you beauties. Looking forward to Crystal Palace.
    How long since we had proper footy. I hate being out of the cups and having to watch dross.

    Sigh.

    Come on United! Ha!

  4. RepeatOf99 says:

    @Fletch

    But we do sort of have that.

    Evans, Jones, Smalling, Vidic

    True, they have been hit with injuries…but Tommy is right, we don’t buy to cover our injuries.

    I would have liked to see a new CB brought in (Hummels is my first choice), but it would have been because I wanted better cover for Vidic and Evans. I am sure with Vida leaving now, we will see a new player coming in. (maybe Garay as he has been heavily rumoured since before Moyes even came in)

  5. Tommy says:

    @Fletch

    I know what your saying but you have to let 1 go before bringing in another otherwise your keeping players on 150k a week like Rio to sit on his arse, not really feesible mate

    @Repeat of 99

    You say who can compete with them, well Barcelona are not run with oil money and neither are Bayern Munich, United should all day be able to compete with them but theirs one thing holding us back, I wonder what that is, plus we dont have the threat of FFP hitting our arse like the other clubs. I do think Pogba would of been a good player here, but I think it would of took him a year to settle in to first team football and not make the seemless step up like he has at Juventus, and the contract on offer was a very good offer that we offered but he chose elsewhere so we move on

  6. Fletch™ says:

    RepeatO99:
    That list? Aged to 2014??
    Compared to Rio, Vidic, Brown, O’Shea, Pique in 2008?
    There is ABSOLUTELY NO comparison.
    You are pulling my leg mate! Cheers.

    Again, I said Either / OR. Muppets! Hahaha! Cheers all.

  7. RepeatOf99 says:

    @Tommy

    Over the last 5 years, we have spent 20m less than Barca and 9m more than Bayern.

    Do you still think it’s the Glazers holding us back?

  8. Tommy says:

    @Fletch

    Your missing the point mate, we currently have 5 CBs, whether they are your cup of tea or not is irrelevant their getting paid by the club, Do you think we should of bought another 5 and had 10 CBs, Just incase 7 got injured lol it doesnt work like that mate

  9. RepeatOf99 says:

    @Fletch

    No, I agree with you….we need better CB’s.

    It’s just that Tommy is right…..that means we would have to let some of our current ones go. There is no sense in keeping players who are past their best and earning huge money, as third choice.

    Ideally, with Vida leaving, we would see 2 new CB’s and a left back coming in. (and that’s if we keep Evra).

  10. RepeatOf99 says:

    @Tommy

    I am jealous of the way that Bayern are run. But not because of their transfer spending.

    I wish we were run from top to bottom by people who have a rich history with the club, and who care about it and it’s success as much as the fans. And in fact, who care about the fans too!

    The Glazers don’t give a shit about us, and I don’t think they care much about our success (any more than how it touches their profit margins).

  11. Fletch™ says:

    Ok, one last try.
    The discussion I started was that the 2011/12 loss was down to 3 years of deterioration in the side that was unchecked by suitable up grades and lead to City taking the title on GD.

    All I said was that this was, IN MY VIEW, Fergies and the Glazers fault for not
    1 investing is 1 fit CB or
    2 investing in 1 decent MF.

    There is nothing I don’t get. And I don’t need to be educated.
    IF you can’t let me have my view, then you can all do one!

    Respectfully…. ofcourse ! ;)

  12. Tommy says:

    @Repeatof99

    Well if you think a net spend over the last 5 years of 27mill a year is good enough then ok then and that includes 80million we recouped from Ronaldo and in that summer the replacements were Valencia 15mil and Owen on a free, Yea Bayern are probably a bad example they dont pay hugh wages compared to other clubs

    @Fletch

    Was not having a go mate, but I think defenders have to go before another is brought in like Vida and Rio are off in the summer so at least 1 other will join Evans, Smalling and Jones in the summer,

  13. GC says:

    “the genious of José Mourinho”!?? Surely you mean Scholes’ wrongly disallowed goal and Tim Howard’s baffling ineptitude

  14. Tommy says:

    @Repeat of 99

    Since the 00/01 season Barca have spent 383 460 000 million euro. NET (£315,708,764.89) , between 2004 – 13 Uniteds net spend is £123,400,000, Liverpools is £168,800,000 in that same period so since the Glazer takeover liverpool have had a bigger net spend, not taking into account 2014

  15. RepeatOf99 says:

    @Fletch

    No arguments there.
    I think with either a fit CB or even more so a good MF, we would have won it in 2011/12.
    But I blame injuries and bad luck more than SAF.

    @Tommy

    All I am saying is that clearly that level of net spending has not hindered the progress and success of either Bayern or Barca either.
    And to be fair, it hasn’t hurt us either! We have been tremendously successful. There is no reason that we shouldn’t continue to be…..

    and if this dip in form and shocking performances don’t improve, it won’t be because we are only one of the top spending teams in Europe, instead of the top one.

  16. Tommy says:

    @Repeat of 99

    It is true we could have worse owners and I do believe they have not had to spend as much because of the manager we had working miracles but I do think that we will see spending never seen before at OT in the summer fingers crossed because we need a hell of a lot of players, The thing is take Bayern Munich, they have a fairly youngish team so they just have to add 1 or 2 players every summer, so I see a load of players brought in this summerand then we can have a young settled side and do what the great sides do and just make a tweek here and their every summer

  17. RepeatOf99 says:

    @Tommy

    in the last 10 years we have outspent Liverpool by 7m.

    This in a decade when we have regularly been champions, and with a much better starting point and squad.

    But even if your numbers were true, this makes my case. They have not been able to get consistently into the top 4, and we have been winning the league more years than not (spending 45m less in 10 years).

    And in the one year that we seem to have spent over 80m, we flop! It’s not the money that has led to this.

  18. RepeatOf99 says:

    @ Tommy

    Amen to that!

    =)

  19. Tommy says:

    @Repeatof99

    I got my figures for United and liverpools spending from an article put on here last year after winning the title, he was saying united have never bought the title and heres why and had the statistics so if they are wrong blame Scott not me the messenger haha

  20. Mark Reid says:

    Europa games today serious yawners stands half empty,if we end up here the only positive is Geting the young lads European experience it’s not ideal but what are you gonna do.

  21. Tommy says:

    @repeatof99

    Barca do the same buy when they need to now they have a settled side, Take the summer they got rid of a faily ageing forward Villa and replaced him with Neymar who everyone seemed to be after, rumours are Xavi will join MLS after world cup so they will probably spend a lot of money on a top midfilder (Probably one United want as well haha)

    @Mark Reid

    I think its next year that their bringing in automatic entries to the champions leaguer for Europa league winners, so you will see more teams going for it next year

  22. Tommy says:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/0/football/22640095

    Their you go Mark, I bet Spurs dont put weekend team out next year

  23. RepeatOf99 says:

    @Tommy

    for the record, I got my figures here:

    http://www.transferleague.co.uk

    But maybe Scott has a more accurate source.

    (I have to agree with you about this topic too – should be changed to 5 most disappointing premiership seasons)

  24. Gazzer says:

    I can’t believe we are still talking about Fergie leaving a fucked up team.
    They won the league last year in a canter.
    A whole squad of players don’t just suddenly get that bad that quickly.
    Do you think that we’d be 7th with Fergie in charge?

    No, we acquired subpar players for too long. Smalling is a prime example – sure, he’s fine, but he’s just not that great. And so on down the line from Buttner to Young. We did it on the cheap and fergie was able to paper it over.

    So now he’s gone, it’s suddenly his fault?

  25. RepeatOf99 says:

    @Gazzer

    More importantly, do people think we would be 7th with Mourinho or Pep or Klopp or Ancelotti or Capello or Hiddink in charge?

    We have signed some subpar players, as you correctly say. But we didn’t pay subpar prices for them.

  26. m09538061 says:

    Off Topic.
    Duncan Edwards died 56 years ago today.R.I.P.
    ‘Europe was never meant to be for someone as good as he’

  27. The_red_devils says:

    @Repeat of 99…. i think the main problem of glazer’s take over has been the debt that they put in the club. Around £300 million has taken out of club and spent on interest, bank fees etc. If glazers had buyed club without debt, we could have spend those money on players

  28. Blacksocks says:

    RIP Big Dunc, the likes of you will never be seen again.

    We could talk all day about what the Glazers have done for the club, but the fact remains, they have taken more out of the club than they have put in. How such a takeover is even allowed I can’t begin to comprehend. Unfortuantely that is what we have for owners and there’s very little we can do about it.

    As for the article, ridiculous really – I may only be 36 but we have be seriously spoiled for many years now. For those of you that don’t remember Big Ron (despite a couple of FA Cups) was always playing catch up to the then might Liverpool. I know many MU haters are hoping we decline and we may well be about to enter a lean period. Competing with the likes of Chelski and Shitty will not be an easy task.

  29. Mark Reid says:

    @Tommy nice one that’ll make it more interesting.

  30. WilliamAR says:

    Off topic, who do you guys think would be the best option and why?

    Tony Kroos ( at least 40 – 50 million )

    Arturo Vidal ( swap deal with juventus, Nani + 20 million)

    Alex Song ( 15 to 20 million )

    William Carvalho ( 25 – 30 million )

    Discuss :-)

  31. The_red_devils says:

    WilliamAR… Vidal, exactly the type of player we need in our midfield, physically strong, technically good, scores, creates, good in tackle… 20 million+nani would be a bargain buy in my opinion. Kroos would also be great buy.

  32. Blacksocks says:

    Kroos would be superb but I fully expect him to get a new bumper contract.

    Vidal I believe has also signed a new contract so unlikely we can get him either.

    Song would be ok but I do believe there are better alternatives.

    Carvalho is the one for me. I’ve heard nothing but great reports about the league. He’s featured in every league game this season, now capped by Portugal too. By all accounts, as good as if not better than Pogba. That said I bet Barca or City sign him :(

  33. Tommy says:

    @WilliamAR

    Carvalho without a doubt mate, A complete midfilder, can tackle, pass, has great awareness, a proper athlete, I compared him to a young essien but with more strings to his bow, some people say hes like Viera, He has 37.5million buy out clause and Moyes has had scouts watch Sporting 12 times this season apprently so their is clearly some interest in one of their players

  34. WilliamAR says:

    Yeah got to agree with you guys on Carvalho, hes quality. Thought i would add song to that list as theres reported intetest and hes played with 2 very good passing teams and is a decent tackler. 15 million would be a steal. Kroos would be worth every penny at 40+ million. He tore arsenal apart the other day and i dont think i’ve seen many bad games from the guy.

  35. Tommy says:

    @WilliamAR

    Not denying Songs ability but I have heard his attitude is questionable, apparently Wenger counldnt wait to get rid because apparently comes in to training when he feels like it, loves the party lifestyle etc, could also be why Barca rarely use him, If true hes not the player we would want

  36. WilliamAR says:

    Tommy

    Yeah if that’s true I certainly wouldnt want him. Carvalho on the other hand looks like a marvelous player. When i first heard about our intetest in him i’ve watched a few games online and think he could very well be the next viera. He has great composure and grest tecnique. He’s strong and quick too.

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