All Things Must Pass

24 Oct

Let’s put things into perspective. If you were offered a doubling in your wage by a rival employer, wouldn’t you take even the briefest of moments to seriously consider just how much such a proposal could improve your life before responding in the affirmative? Wayne Rooney’s perceived disloyalty to the Manchester United cause has been dissected with a voracious level of intensity over the past week and the never-ending observation that the modern footballer is devoid of integrity and intelligence has been levelled, rightly or wrongly, towards the wayward striker.

But let’s be clear. Rooney was not angling for a move away from his boyhood club (which was and still remains an issue for many an Evertonian). He is the product of a deprived upbringing and understandably would look to taking as much from his chosen profession while he still has the capacity and talent to do so. It may not have been executed with any kind of eloquence or sophistication but nevertheless, his posturing was understandable if he was to secure the best deal on offer to him. Rooney was critical of his current employers’ aspirations and ambitions and by so outwardly showing his concern, we were party to one of the most extraordinary press conferences seen for many a year. And with it, we perhaps began to the see the final chapter of one of football’s most dominant empires begin its opening exchanges.

Sir Alex Ferguson is not usually a man who shows his emotions readily. By dealing with issues behind the closed doors of Old Trafford throughout his tenure, he has retained an aura of authority and his decisions have been acted out with a ruthlessness which has never been open to discussion and questioning by the assembled ranks of the press corps. He was decisive in rooting out the drinking culture that had permeated the side when he took over in 1986 and players deemed either surplus to requirements or disruptive have been summarily dealt with without any pandering to sentimentality or commonly-held opinion. He may maintain that no one person is bigger than a football club but Ferguson is omniscient in Manchester. By so openly showing his disappointment and befuddlement at Rooney’s decision, we finally saw Ferguson bow to the pressures of the market and the power of the agents to dictate team policy. Received wisdom suggests that Sir Alex played out a diplomatic masterclass by portraying himself as the ‘wronged father’ opening his door for the prodigal to return but there’s another interpretation which needs closer examination: Manchester United’s spiralling debt.

If Rooney had followed through on his threat, where would United stand in the rapidly evolving and changing pecking order of the Premier League? Devoid of the only truly creative talent at their disposal, they would be forced to carry on with a squad of veterans, hard-working professionals and youth players who, if we are to be truly honest, do not measure up to the class of ’97. It’s highly unlikely that O’ Shea’s is the top selling replica shirt at the club shop. Nor is it likely that Nani, Park or Fletcher would truly strike fear into opponents’ hearts. Fans pay to watch stars and those stars are few and far between. United have been blessed with their fair few over the years but minus Rooney, who in their squad would truly be capable of stepping up to that mantle?

Ferguson was probably leant on to make such statement at his press conference because by losing such a prized asset, the Glazer family would be left with a ‘franchise’ that has no marquee name to keep the casual fan interested when the other side of Manchester is currently beginning to resemble a fantasy team with Real Madridesque pretentions. It’s very hard to believe that the famously unforgiving old Scot would be quite so willing to offer the olive branch if United’s long-term dominance was not finally being held up to so much scrutiny by so many pretenders. And because of this, we saw him compromised for perhaps the first time ever in his illustrious career.

This calls into question the very nature of selling a footballing institution to people who clearly were unable to afford it in the first place. When repayments begin to dictate contract negotiations, team stability and a manager’s modus operandi, the authorities that allow such a situation to have come about in the first place need to held to account in some way. We have seen just how damaging this state of financial jeopardy can be in the case of Liverpool, Portsmouth and Leeds and if this practice is not tempered soon, we genuinely run the risk of losing a club which has been the lifeblood of a community for over a hundred years. People may rightly question the ethics and morality of clubs such as Chelsea and Manchester City being owned by plutocrats but at least they are economically solvent. The Glazers and their ilk, have been granted ownership on the never-never and that in the end, is what is truly unforgivable.

But we’ve been here before, haven’t we? People being handed ‘free money’ by credit card companies and banks, egged on by a government which chose to turn a blind eye, with the misconceived notion that repayments will come at a later stage. When the money runs out, surprise, surprise, who’s left to pick up the pieces of a busted society? Who will pick up the pieces after the Glazers have run United into the ground remains to be seen but it can only be hoped that the bloated greed with which we have all become repulsed by will be replaced with a collective responsibility that is in the hands of people who truly have the club’s interests at heart.

All empires have their demise. These falls usually occur after years of complacency and sated appetites that are superceded by powers hungrier and more willing to step up to the challenge of conquest. After twenty years of unprecedented success, Manchester United’s dominance may not have been scuppered by an old general’s desire to succeed but by the greed of a few bankrupt businessmen and the ignorance of a young soldier. “Et tu, Wayne?” might well have been Sir Alex’s resigned response last Tuesday.

Further Reading: Reality Cheque – Dispatch: 12th September

2 Responses to “All Things Must Pass”

  1. twistedpeanuthunter October 24, 2010 at 19:49 #

    Empires rise and fall but I don’t think this is the start of a decline in Utds fortune.

    Sir Alex has built enough teams to know what he is looking for and I think he has one more team left in him.

    To be honest it wouldn’t surprise me me if this great drama has all been perpetuated by Sir Alex himself in a bid to galvanize support for more investment in the team. There has been an uneasy truce in his relationship with the owners recently but he must have been watching City splashing the cash with green eyes.

    With his ‘mind game mentality’ and his Machiavellian outlook it would not be beyond the imagination to think that Sir Alex made a great play by force the issue and dictating events so that their most popular player to comes out and says they need more investment in the team. Low and behold the papers are full of potential Utd targets this Sunday and he gets to keep his star player who also gets a huge payrise.

    If this is the case then this was perhaps the best ‘mind game’ Sir Alex has ever been involved in.

  2. Steve HUghes October 25, 2010 at 15:41 #

    Good piece. It was indeed a strange press conference and Fergie almost looked vulnerable and shellshocked. However I must agree with twistedpeanuthunter on this one. Whether the entire saga was dreamt up by the wily Scotsman we’ll never know. However I cannot see this incident being a catalyst for or a symbol of the fall of the Man United empire. Ever since Blackburn lifted the trophy in 1995 have critics, pundits and most fans of any team other than United been looking for chinks in the armour and cracks in the seams. In fact the Red Devils have been written off as “past it” in virtually every year they have failed to win the title. The current side (minus Ronaldo) are virtually the same team who lifted the Premier League three times in a row and the Champions League to boot. If it wasn’t for Rooney’s untimely injury last year (which knocked the momentum out of the side) then a fourth straight title was on the cards. This all in a time that was supposed to be Chelsea’s era. Having done the hard part in 2005 and landed their first title, the Blues were then supposed to dominate and get stronger. However United bounced back and won the next three. True, this period coincided with the rise and rise of the Portuguese winker. Ronaldo goes, United don’t win the league, and once again the critics pounce. True if United had lost Rooney it would be a hammer blow. However, a title-winning side one man doesn’t make. United’s relentless success has been down to the team ethic, and I fail to see a great deal of change in that. True, O’Shea will not sell the most shirts in the club shop. However Hernandez might. Park and Fletcher are not creative geniuses but neither were Keane and Nicky Butt. Their hard work paved the way for the creative stars. Nani doesn’t strike fear in the hearts of the opposition? Three Premier League goals and a Champions League wonder-strike and it’s only October. Ronaldo had two or three indifferent seasons before he came to the fore. Nani, one could argue, is almost a like-for-like replacement. Whether the financial predicament the club finds itself in comes to topple the Empire remains to be seen, and any Man United fan who says they’re not worrying about it is either ignorant or a liar. Equally, any United supporter who says he wishes Rooney was shown the door is also lying. But anyone who thinks United are on the slide should look at the league table, particularly the column that records how many teams have beaten them. They should also look at the figures from previous seasons and see how many wobbly starts the Old Trafford boys have had. Or listen to Alan Hansen’s famous “kids” rant from yesteryear. Not convinced? Wait until May……

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