Sir Alex Ferguson attended the Etihad on Sunday but did not attend Goodison Park on Saturday. Ferguson is too cowardly to speak out against the owners of Manchester United, where he still has a paying job and a row of seats in the directors’ box, and he has long recognized that deeds speak louder than words.
If schoolchildren in Manchester went to City one week and United the next, as they did in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s, they might have assumed they were watching a different sport. Anyone who has been exposed to watching United on a weekly basis will find City’s 2-2 draw with Liverpool as agonizing as Alex’s therapy in A Clockwork Orange.
City and Liverpool play at a breakneck tempo as if they are in slow motion. The football is fantastic, but the work ethic is equally impressive. Every player on those teams works hard every week to justify their starting spot.
It’s going to be a long six weeks for Manchester United fans. That is how long they have till the season concludes, and in addition to the Premier League schedule, they may have to deal with a City or Liverpool FA Cup and Champions League final participation.
United’s players aren’t up for a noon clash with relegation fodder. On Sunday, a cardboard sign was fastened to a pole outside Carrington. It said, ‘Embarrassing s—tbags.’ “If you’re not fit to wear the shirt, leave our club!!”
“My immediate instinct is they struggled with the expectation,” said Ralf Rangnick. Where do I even begin with that? At 0-0, Evertonians seemed resigned to their fate, looking to pick a brawl with Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Michael Keane. They certainly hadn’t been paying attention to United. Anthony Gordon scored in the 27th minute, virtually ending the game.
The Goodison noise may go so far that it generates ripples in Stanley Park’s lake, but it wasn’t that loud. Many United players were clearly shaken by the return of fans in October, and a tepid Goodison Park may as well have been the Ali Sami Yen Stadium.
The number of fully devoted players in the Manchester United squad does not exceed ten. At most, there are nine. The poorest Everton team in 20 years triumphed mostly due to more devoted players.
United does have a style of play – the surrender style, which is almost entirely devoid of intensity. Rangnick insisted on Friday that United had been ‘aggressive’ in training as if this was out of the ordinary. On matchday, it was usually missing.
“Even in the first 25 minutes, when we were in command, I wished we had been more proactive, more eager to win second balls and pin them back,” Rangnick remarked. “That was not done by us.”
Rangnick has only managed nine victories in 22 games. His legacy (if there is one) has always been about transfers rather than tactics, and he is as good an analyst as he is a manager. Given the circumstances, anyone could have guessed. Rangnick had managed 81 games in ten years when United assigned him the responsibility of rescuing fourth place.
The current occupiers are a team who terminated its manager early this season as well. Tottenham’s appointment was permanent and of the highest caliber. Under Antonio Conte, United would not have gotten away with a dormant winter window, and the additions of Dejan Kulusevski and Rodrigo Bentancur could be pivotal.
Whatever worries United had about Conte, it is not by chance that they are gazing up at him in the table. If something can go wrong at United, it will go wrong.
The locker room was too frail and broken for an interim appointment, and United effectively canceled the season before Santa got caught in the chimney.
Saturday was roughly three years after the biblical 4-0 hammering at the same venue on Easter Sunday. “The fundamental ingredients in team performance are running, drive, and fitness,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remarked that day. “It needs to mean more if you want to play for this club.” “I want my team to be the most hardworking in the league.” United continues to struggle in all five areas.
“The comments and shouts in our end were reminiscent of those from April 2019,” one United fan commented on social media. “I’m sick of them,” said another in the Bullen Stand. They’re sick to f——-g death of them. And RR has to leave tomorrow.” In over 30 years of watching United, this is by far the worst period of my life, and by far the worst period of my career covering them.
Rangnick, under the garb of an objective troubleshooter, could still be crucial. If United hasn’t killed the romantic in Erik ten Hag and he’s still willing to risk his reputation, he’ll have to be willing to pierce the inflated air of entitlement that some players have built. The next manager who enters the Carrington dressing room must consider if they have the character to deal with the egomaniacs in a group of serial underachievers.
Perhaps the next manager is already corrupted. Darren Fletcher, the technical director who is also a member of the coaching team, has gladly soothed these egos. A colleague who spoke with Fletcher on the eve of last season noted that his tone toward United had softened when he got his foot on the ladder, and he has risen a long way up it since.
Fletcher must leave the Carrington training grounds and return to the directors’ box, where John Murtough sat on Saturday. Before suggesting Steve Bruce as a temporary substitute for Solskjaer, Peter Schmeichel was cozying up to Richard Arnold.
Ferguson was not to be found.