Nostalgia abounds, but United must focus on the present

Posted by Mark Payne

The release of Sir Alex Ferguson's book this morning attracted more journalists than the moon landing. It did nothing to help the sheen of averageness clouding Manchester United's performances since he stepped down from the position of manager. Meanwhile at Old Trafford, the team is preparing for a Champions League game that it sorely needs to win.

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"We hope they don't enjoy it too much," said David Moyes.

He wasn't talking about the potential readers of Ferguson's tome, but Real Sociedad and their match against England's champions. The sense has grown that, over the past few weeks, an away fixture at Old Trafford is something for opponents to look forward to, a game from which they can profit.

United have taken only one point from the last six at home in the league, which is not the kind of form that wins titles.

"You cannot rule Man United out today," said Arsene Wenger at the weekend. "It is too early," he added. But most fans are assuming this year the battle is for third, or fourth.

Nobody associated with England's most successful club is thrilled about Manchester United's form in the Premier League or general level of consistency this season. Wednesday night's game against Real Sociedad at Old Trafford provides a welcome distraction for the reality that a successful title defence is probably out of the question.

Despite finishing fourth in La Liga last season, "a tremendous achievement," Moyes noted, Real Sociedad have managed to make an even more ham-fisted start to their season than United. Additionally, the club seems to have little ambition or expectation of making the knockout rounds. The occasion that a fixture at Old Trafford provides may spur them into action, though.

Ferguson's book will put fuel into a few fires and is as outspoken as the man himself. As the great and the good take their copies home for a feverish read and the comments are clipped into headlines, the FA, Wayne Rooney and a host of others sit and await their fate. Fergie always wanted the last word, and it looks like he will be getting it.

In actual fact, the publication of this book merely confirms that Sir Alex is in the past. The names that have jumped up today, David Beckham, Roy Keane and Ruud van Nistelrooy, are all a part of Manchester United's history. The present lies, as it always does, in the next game of football.

That match is in the Champions League and will see United field an in-form Rooney and the great hope that is Adnan Januzaj. United fans have been spoiled over the years, from Billy Meredith to George Best, via Lee Sharpe and Andrei Kanchelskis, that the team has always contained decent wingers. Here is another to bring the fans to their feet.

In recent weeks, large portions of United's play have been met by disdain, ennui and even contempt. When Januzaj takes the ball, he looks like he will make something happen. It is a quality all of the best players have. There is every chance he can find a way to link with Rooney and Robin van Persie that will delight the crowd. It hasn't quite happened yet though.

"We have to look at ourselves and raise our game," said Jonny Evans in the pre-match news conference. With Rio Ferdinand and Nemaja Vidic both injured, and possibly past it, the northern Irishman will need to assume responsibility at the back. The defence has been fairly shambolic of late, and a good performance from the back four would provide something for the rest of the team to build on.

The alternative is to spend the rest of the season wallowing in nostalgia. Manchester United's history is full of glory and heroics, but it contains plenty of grinding out wins on cold Wednesday nights in Manchester too.

The release of Ferguson's latest book provides an opportunity to reflect on a star-spangled past. But it is in the present that the team and its fortunes reside. And it is only in victory that it will find the solution to its problems.

Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkJPayne.

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