“A team in transition or a club in decline? Brick by brick, the fall of the United empire gathers pace.”

Nov 2nd 2005

“Sir Alex Ferguson has been let down and he has been let down disgracefully by players who earn vast amounts of money and who should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves. The cracks are so wide that not even a manager with Ferguson’s motivational skills can paper over them. If Fergie can arrest this shocking and alarming slump it will rank with anything he’s achieved in all his years at the club.”

Nov 4th 2005

“The media’s disapproval is something Ferguson has long been able to discount but yesterday Hugh McIlvanney, the man who worked with him on his autobiography and who counts as one of his oldest friends, said in the most eloquent and elegant terms that the task of rebuilding Manchester United was now beyond Ferguson’s strength and he should seek a dignified exit in the summer.”

Dec 12th 2005

“The Glazer family has owned Manchester United for around fourteen months now, and finally the reality of that purchase is starting to be felt by even the most optimistic of the ‘wait-and-see’ fans.

But 2006/7 is barely three weeks away and transition is now being replaced by decline.

As we approach the end of the third transfer window of the Glazer reign, it is clear that the club is being squeezed so hard that decline is now inevitable.

With Liverpool spending £20m and Chelsea another £50m, Manchester United have actually become nett sellers. A team that so obviously needs two high quality central midfielders has spent the summer not buying anyone. To my knowledge only one bid has been made all summer – around £10m for Michael Carrick – with United spending more energy in trying to flog Ruud van Nistelrooy than in trying to buy in anyone.

United stand on the cusp of the season likely to lose their serial top scorer – without replacing him – and without a midfield to dominate anyone but the relegation candidates. Looking dispassionately at the midfield only Ronaldo is international or world class – the rest are solid Premiership quality players, but hardly world beating. Chelsea can choose from Essien, Makelele, Robben, Lampard, Ballack, Wright-Phillips, Mikel and Cole – any three of which could stroll into the United midfield.

Last summer two small purchases (van der Sar, Park) were offset by similar sales (Neville, Kleberson); in January the gaping defensive holes were iffily plugged with Vidic and Evra costing around £12m.

At a time when United need completely rebuild the midfield, Ferguson is expected to fund it from sales. Can anyone seriously expect Ferguson to compete with Chelsea or Liverpool on that basis?

Most Premiership clubs spend millions and even tens of millions oper season (Chelsea are an exception); while United stroll everyone else is sprinting – extrapolate this for a couple of seasons and Manchester United will be in mid-table.

As Ferguson’s hands are tied in the transfer market it may be unfair, but expect the ‘Fergie out’ chants to start ringing round the stadium as soon as he has celebrated twenty years in charge.”

July 26th 2006

“If United want to muster more of a challenge to Chelsea next season, the last person – after Wayne Rooney – that they should be selling is van Nistelrooy. Selling him would be a huge step backwards and a massive blow to the club. Does Ferguson seriously expect anyone else to believe that the injury-prone Louis Saha is a better bet next season than a goal machine like van Nistelrooy. If he does, then his judgement is waning faster than everybody thought.” Holt also said “Ferguson thinks there is no need to buy a new forward when he rids himself of Ruud van Nistelrooy. The theory is that he will be OK with Wayne Rooney, Louis Saha, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Alan Smith and Giuseppe Rossi. Which is fine, apart from the fact that Rooney’s got a dodgy temperament, Saha’s injury prone, Solskjaer’s played seven league games in the past three years, Smith has never been a natural goalscorer and Rossi’s not ready.”

Summer 2006 – Oliver Holt