Worst-case scenario looms

Posted by Mark Payne

There has been a marked change in the tone of conversations over the past week. Instead of Manchester United facing a season in transition, the reality is that the club’s current predicament is now being ranked on a scale of catastrophes, there is no more sugarcoating left to do. The bleak picture is clear. And now the players have started leaking disquiet from the dressing room too. Perhaps it is time people started to take note. Unfortunately, the worst-case scenario is coming into view.

The nature of the "questions" that were so strategically leaked to the press Wednesday night were the side’s ability to finish in the top four of the league table. It is a legitimate concern and nobody can expect players such as Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie to be satisfied with the Europa League and a decent run in the Capital One Cup next year. The idea that transfer targets such as Cesc Fabregas and Daniele de Rossi would either is laughable.

However, it is not only a legitimate question, it is an increasingly likely outcome. United look appropriately placed at seventh in the current league table and, if their performances since Christmas suggest anything, they could deserve to go lower.

The following scenario then becomes possible. The club finishes outside the Champions League places and are unable to attract the best signings. In addition, United lose their best players because they want to play at the top. It is a grim possibility.

Nemanja Vidic’s agent has this week intimated that he will be leaving this summer. Rooney is refusing to sign a new contract and van Persie looks ready to storm out every time he is seen. Without those players and the European Cup, where are the mighty Manchester United? The answer is bleak; weaker than Newcastle, Everton, Liverpool and furlongs behind Arsenal, Manchester City and Chelsea.

While most people accept that the best transfers are not usually made in January, United have no choice but to act decisively and with noticeable muscle. Marouane Fellaini, David Moyes’ sole signing so far, is already talked of in the same breath as Juan Veron or Eric Djemba-Djemba.

The fans have been patient and shown great support to the incumbent manager. But the club stands on the verge of catastrophe. This recent run of defeats has left the pride of a great institution hemorrhaging.

Manchester United's away support has been fantastic because it always is. However, already in the stands people are starting to reminisce about the escapades of the travelling support enjoyed during the '70s. In particular, the season United spent in Division Two is being referenced more and more by some of the older crowd. They know what it is like to grit their teeth and follow the team.

It is too early and too drastic to talk of relegation, but it is that period in the '70s to which the match-going fans are harking back to. This is a time to dig in as a Manchester United supporter. The process of going to matches has always been about more than the results, but now more than ever it needs to be so.

Moyes is garnering great credit for spending so much time going around Europe scouting new players. However, if they do not arrive, this will be interpreted differently. It could be seen as running away rather than dealing with the problems at home. Considering the leaks beginning to come out of the training ground, perhaps he should be spending more time with the players.

One of Fergie's great skills was his ability to delegate. Moyes might benefit from trusting his scouts and, indeed, the scouting system that was already in place.

Everybody is certain that Moyes is a good guy doing the best he can. Everybody wants to support him. Equally, everybody is certain that United will not retain the title. Champions League qualification hangs in the balance and the club's place at Europe’s top table is being cleared away.

Defeat against Swansea this weekend would be seismic. Old Trafford awaits.

Mark Payne is the author of “Fergie’s Last Stand,” now available in paperback.

Follow him on Twitter @MarkJPayne.

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