I remember I once came close to saying “Fergie Out”. In April 2008 after defensive tactics led to a dour 0-0 draw at the Camp Nou in the Champions League Semi Final first leg, Sir Alex followed it up by resting half the team for a potential title decider at Stamford Bridge. We were thoroughly outplayed and lost 2-1. After match I thought “If we lose to Barcelona on Tuesday, I may have to join the Fergie Out brigade”. Of course, I was made to look silly. I was angry, and I questioned the great man, and I still regret thinking that now.
Sir Alex has been largely at fault for what is fast becoming a dreadful season for us. Whichever way you look at it, the blame lies primarily on his shoulders. If it’s an achievement in itself only to be challenging for the title, then how did it come to this? Why hasn’t there been significant investment in players? We were champions of the world four years ago. And if we are good enough, then how have we let an 8 point lead slip, and why did we deploy such negative tactics at the Etihad?
This is a young team. There have been a lot parallels made between this one and then 1995/96 team. In the summer of 1995, when Sir Alex got rid of Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis and Mark Hughes I genuinely don’t think he expected to win the title the following season. I think he was willing to sacrifice that title in order to give the new generation a taste of the Premier League. That we won the Double that season is not just down to how good the youngsters were, but to the fact that they were surrounded by leaders such as Peter Schmeichel, Steve Bruce, Roy Keane and Eric Cantona. These young players don’t have that. Danny Welbeck, Chris Smalling, Tom Cleverley and Phil Jones all started the season well, but their form dipped massively, and there is no one on the pitch to lift them. Not even an Edwin Van der Sar in net. Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are experienced but they’re not leaders. This team is a leader away from having great potential.
“United don’t give away two goal leads at Old Trafford”, “United always come good in April-May”. These statements are true in the past, but they’re not given to us. We need the work at it and as well as talent need leaders on the pitch to ensure we don’t give away two goal leads. You have to protect it, the opposition, won’t just lie down.
It’s not Sir Alex’s fault that Nemanja Vidic got injured. It’s not Sir Alex’s fault that Phil Jones went from beating a world beater to liability in 90 minutes at home against Benfica. It’s not his fault that Patrice Evra is a shadow of his former self, but Sir Alex must get with the times. He must take the blame for not signing a world class central midfielder in the summer. If he wanted Wesley Sneijder he should have paid whatever for him. We will not be Champions of Europe playing Michael Carrick as our main central midfielder. He’s not good enough. When we didn’t sign Sneijder, I took that as a sign that Pogba and Morrison were ready for the first team. I was very wrong. We had seen our midfield demolished by Barcelona in the Champions League Final. While we all liked the idea of a home-grown talent becoming a midfield mainstay, did we really think Tom Cleverley was going to be the difference? He needs to select a target and pay whatever it takes to prise him away. Forget value in the market. If we need a player, we get him. If he’s going to make us Champions of Europe pay whatever is necessary.
I think Sir Alex was badly at fault last night. His inexplicable decision to leave Antonio Valencia, possibly our best player this season, out of the starting line-up in our biggest ever league game may haunt him forever. Seeing him confront Roberto Mancini on the sidelines confirmed that. I’ve never seen Sir Alex argue on the touchline before. He knew he’d got it wrong. However, he has earned the right to get things wrong. And United fans need to remember that. The joy you’ve felt down the years at seeing us win title after title, cup after cup. Dancing in the streets of Manchester, Rotterdam, Barcelona or Moscow are all down to one man. He’s made a very costly mistake, but I wouldn’t swap him for anyone. No matter what happens, just remember what happy memories Sir Alex has provided you with before you jump on the “Fergie Out” bandwagon. You don’t realise what an honour and a privilege it is supporting a Manchester United side managed by the greatest manager of all time.