For Better or for Worse

by Sam Rider

Thursday, March 5th, 2009

Two down, three to go.

That is the way everyone appears to be looking at it. As hard as Sir Alex (Ferguson) and Sir Bobby (Charlton) try to tell everyone otherwise, to lower expectation and spare the players from the pressure, even they must realise that Manchester United are on the brink of an unprecedented clean sweep of five trophies: a quintuple.

So as United fans dare to dream of going two steps further than a decade previously, when the unprecedented treble was clinched by Giggs and Scholes and co, what must every other observer make of all the hype and hooplah? I can only guess it goes like this: Will it ruin the game as a contest? Will every tournament be a foregone conclusion? Will there ever be space for any other team in the headlines than that damn Man United!?!

First thing, it would be wise to remember other sports that have experienced periods of domination that looked like they would never falter.

Recently in tennis, Roger Federer was knocked off his pedestal by the arising of a worthy challenger, Rafael Nadal. The Aussie cricket team has also recently met its match against South Africa. Tiger Wood’s tenure on the greens of world golf has been interrupted lately by injury and it is yet to be seen whether he will regain his unbeatable mantle. And the similarities are striking in Micheal Schumacher’s almost faultless displays in the red of the Ferrari Formula 1 car. His era of domination has come and gone due to rule change and retirement. This could affect United when Ferguson decides enough is enough or this ‘six and five rule’ levels the playing field.

When the individuals are considered, you can only stand back and appreciate the performances of the veterans Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes. The flying Welshman proved the match winner at Upton Park and scored the first penalty at Wembley the day before the eighteenth anniversary of his debut. The little ginger Salford-born Scholes, not to be outdone, smashed in a trademark strike against Fulham and completed 120 minutes in the Carling cup final success. This is truly a golden era in Manchester United’s history, on par with that of Busby’s babes in the 1960s.

This era of success is reminiscent of Liverpool under Bill Shankly and Bob Paisley. Equally, Sky Sports have recently run the rule over Everton’s era of domestic success in the eighties. Nottingham Forest can look back fondly on their success at home and abroad under Brian Clough and even Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal can look upon three Premierships and four FA cups from 1997 – 2004 with pride.
But as far as this golden era is concerned for the Red Devils, which could be capped by the capture of all five trophies, are we witnessing just a temporary period or a sustained spell of success and domination? Is the succession of golden generations within different teams shifting from decade to decade a thing of the past with all the money in the game these days? And for one example, will the ‘Big Four’ remain unbroken?

On the contrary, I feel the possibility of injections of vast sums of money will mean even more flexibility and immediate change than ever before; especially at a time of such financial instability. Such maneuverability is being witnessed in the league from position 7 – 20 this season with the constant jockeying for position. Look at Tottenham, Newcastle and Manchester City’s scattered positions over the last few seasons.

In Man City’s case, they are finding a reputation cannot just be garnered by money alone. You need strong foundations of success to breed more success. Not many great players will be lured to the Eastlands with the uncertainty that they could just as likely end up in a relegation dog fight or the Championship as they could be competing for Europe.

Perhaps the Premiership is now more fragile and unpredictable than ever. Perhaps in United’s case, the end of Sir Alex’s tenure will bring up a period of uncertainty and floundering in form that will see players will come and go. For now at least, if United go on to win the other three trophies currently gleaming just beyond the clutches of Fergie, will that cement a period of world domination from the Red Devils or will it prove to be the peak in their proud history?

The luck could change and the success could be washed away from the tide of another emerging team. Dare I say it, maybe even the prodigies of Villa Park could stake a claim in a few seasons time. Then in a generation’s time, TVs could be showing re-runs of “Twenty Years of dominance around the Millennium as Ferguson’s Magic inspires Manchester United” while the team is actually languishing in League One mid-table. It could happen – ask any Forest fan that was there during Cloughie’s reign. Ask any Leeds United supporter who witnessed Don Revie’s Whites dominance in the 60s and 70s; or more recently any fan sitting in the Leeds end of Valencia’s Mestalla Stadium in the semi-final of the 2001 Champions League.

But returning to my first point, if Manchester United won the quintuple, it makes sense not to get carried away. United fans must count their lucky stars to be witnessing the true greats of their time doing themselves justice and securing silverware to go with their abilities, but not take any of it for granted. Likewise, rival fans must remember that this kind of run will be broken eventually. Just like when Blackburn’s Santa Cruz ended the Premiership clean sheets record barely two weeks ago; these runs invariably end sooner rather than later.

I just hope that it’s later, and preferably after Fergie has got his fingers on those other three pots first.

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  • Stevie

    considering they have been dominating English football for the last 15 years it’s can only be seen a bad thing. This team look like being at the top for another 15 years. Although this may all change if Sir Alex stands down and lets Roy Keane muck it all up!

    LIverpool will never win the league under Rafa and Chelsea are way to hot and and cold.

    As for Arsenal the youngsters are not as good as Wenger thinks they are, and that’s coming from a An Arsenal fan!

  • Darren

    who cares about United anymore? It’s now the big 1!!

    Manchester City are set to make a £100m summer move for Barcelona forward Lionel Messi. City owner Sulaiman Al Fahim is a huge fan of Argentine football and has not been put off by missing out on AC Milan’s Kaka. (The Sun)

    Matt Quinn, you’re dreams are coming true!!

  • Matt Quinn

    I would love it, love it if they managed to pull that off.

    I’d be tempted to support City too. (joking of course)

    Villa are tiring. Its depressing to watch. Its gone badly since Heskey arrived!!

  • Darren

    Every team has a bad run, it’s inevitable, you had an excellent run with lots and lots of luck, West Ham away, Wigan away etc….

    The squad inst good enough for the top 4. Agbolahour is so so over rated. It only takes 3 or 3 players to have a dip in form and the whole team suffer. Plus I think teams have worked out how to play against you now. Play a little bit deeper

  • Matt Quinn

    We had an excellent run but had an even amount of luck. For instance- we should have absolutely spanked you lot. Most one sided game ive seen.
    If you look at Man Utd, Liverpool and Chelsea- they’ve had a lot of late goals recently- but no-one calls them luck!

    I agree that weve been found out though. We need a playmaker who can pick a pass. Our only tactic is get it out to the wings and swing a cross in. We need an Arteta type player.

  • Sam

    United are a team built on success – and quite literally in financial terms.

    Glazer’s dollars have still left a debt that they are slowly clawing back. The sponsor AIG has just experienced the worst financial loss in the world (as i understand it) that will make David Gill sweat a little bit more under his shirt and tie. But all the expenditure made like expanding the stadium, paying bigger wages, and luring the world’s young talent to Old Trafford, is made on the assumption that winning all these trophies will pay for themselves – yet what happens when it all goes a bit wrong and the luck escapes us. This debt could jump up on us, a la Leeds, and the bubble will well and truly burst.

    A bit more optimism and ambition from the Premiership rivals would not hurt.

  • Darren

    I thought Petrov was yr play maker? He’s playing well at the moment.

    I am, Chelsea are well lucky. Late goals against Wigan and 2 against Stoke, with out them we’d both be much closer

    If Arsenal would have kept Pires, Viera & co then I’m sure we would be up there too, players NEVER seem to leave United. They have the perfect blend of youth and experience, players want to be part of the set up, no other team can offer that I’m afraid.

    When the Glaziers took over a few idiots revolted and went to support a two bob Sunday League team, since then United have won the league twice, CL and the Carling Cup. I bet those same idiots are now queuing up to see United with a plate of words and a knife and fork!!

  • Sam

    Eat their words – Like what you did there.

  • Darren

    Alan Partridge, Knowing You Know Me, series 2. Moribund!

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