Wednesday, May 2, 2012
ESPNsoccernet: May 15, 2:47 PM UK
United cannot paper over the cracks
John Brewin, Senior Editor
When viewed through 20-20 hindsight, Sir Alex Ferguson's February suggestion that "I don't feel we're that far away from them" in reference to Barcelona and Real Madrid looks ever more ill-conceived. Fresh evidence suggests that Manchester United are not even close to Manchester City.
Even allowing for the fact that neither Spanish giant is in this season's Champions League final and that Barcelona are soon to be without Pep Guardiola, United look as short of competing with the continent's elite as they have been since their early forays into that same competition.
They cannot now even boast of civic supremacy. The blue kid is in town and here to stay. The humiliation of a 6-1 home defeat was compounded by a return fixture in which Ferguson's team could not land a blow, or even a shot on goal for that matter. United are heading for their first trophyless season since 2004-05.
The promise of early season has been lost. Think back to the Community Shield and the Nani goal against City that resulted from a Barcelona-esque passing move, with Tom Cleverley supplying the assist. A thrilling comeback from 2-0 down from a team with an average age of 22 had those at Old Trafford cherishing a bright future.
Seven months on, that flourish, let alone an 8-2 defeat of Arsenal, looks leagues away. The quick-passing movements that Ferguson sponged from Barca were not in evidence at Eastlands as a midfield trio with a combined age of 105 ailed amidst City's athleticism, while Park Ji-Sung's three lungs wheezed on the wings. City were bigger, stronger and far more creative. Cleverley's season has been wrecked through injury while the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones have stalled in their development. When the only replacement for Paul Scholes is none other than Paul Scholes, accusations of desperation can be levelled with some security.
United's approach on Monday reflected that conservatism dawns even on a lifelong socialist. Ferguson the attack dog had become a defensive reactionary. And he was not even facing a renaissance man in Roberto Mancini, a product of the realpolitik pragmatism of Italian football.
City are not a team to sprinkle glitter on the Premier League. This is a team to grind through the gears. Just as Roman Abramovich has found, the lavishing of billions does not guarantee sexy football, merely footballing success. It will do for now for City's Abu Dhabi paymasters.
Meanwhile, United will finish potless, with attacking traditions betrayed. Ferguson's ability to paper over the cracks amid the restrictions of a club run on a debt model looks to have failed him at last. Defeat in the Champions League final last season had Ferguson admitting that perhaps his greatest challenge yet was to oust Guardiola's Barcelona. As a Manchester United fan said post-match on Monday, the emotions during the City game were similar to those he felt a year ago in being left "hoping the best team doesn't win". The same now goes for Ferguson.
The news that UEFA will allow suspended John Terry to lift the Champions League trophy should his Chelsea team-mates be victorious over Bayern Munich should be a non-issue. Terry himself should put the story to bed. His stupidity in the Camp Nou almost cost Chelsea their final place. A pathetic and soon discredited initial excuse that his kneeing of Alexis Sanchez was not intentional would be cause for most to step back into the shadows in embarrassment.
Terry may be the king of compartmentalising and rationalising but he need only look to Roy Keane's dignity in taking a backseat during Manchester United's celebrations in 1999 in the Camp Nou. Keane himself has suggested that he is glad that the rules have changed to allow Terry his moment but he did not complain at the time, even though his plight was more Ramires than Terry - scoring and inspiring his team to the final despite knowing he would be unable to play.
And Terry has further reason to step back since Frank Lampard is as worthy a recipient of the trophy as he. When he retires, Lampard can perhaps consider himself the greatest of all Chelsea players, ahead of the fabled likes of Osgood and Zola, and especially if victory is secured in Munich to cap a decade of high-grade consistency and big-game performances. Terry should exhibit a hitherto unseen selflessness in allowing his friend to deservedly take the limelight.
The appointment of Roy Hodgson is the conclusion of a saga that took rather longer than it should have done. The Football Association cast a restrictive veil of secrecy over its machinations when Hodgson would probably have walked from West Bromwich to Wembley to take up his new post. The selection of a coach who has done his best work in taking clubs to mid-table may serve as final acceptance that England are a mid-ranking football nation.
The people's champion, Harry Redknapp, will remain at Tottenham Hotspur and we can expect a clamour for him whenever things go wrong for Roy, as they undoubtedly will. The retention of Redknapp may inspire mixed feelings among Spurs followers. His team is in danger of missing out on a stated target of Champions League qualification, for which much else has been abandoned, including a Europa League campaign treated with disdain.
Perhaps Daniel Levy would not have minded collecting a release clause for Redknapp said to be as high as £15 million from the FA and then being able to cash in one or two crown jewels to fund the tenure of a new manager - David Moyes, say. England may have Roy, but how long will Spurs have Harry?
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