The morning after doesn’t feel any better. If anything the feeling is even worse than last night, like a terrible hangover that will take some time to get rid of. Trouble is that, like all hangovers, some say it was utterly unexpected while some say that it had been coming for a long time.
Newspapers, TVs and fans have been busy analyzing the causes of United’s exit since the ref blew the final whistle last night and the conclusions will probably focus on the same topic that United fans have debated over and over for the last two seasons – an average squad capable of papering over the cracks, for those of you that have been on a 24 months holiday on Mars – but let’s leave that for another time.
Europa League. Thursday night. Manchester United. It just doesn’t sound right, does it?
There’s nothing wrong with being knocked out, United have been there before, but there’s a lot wrong with being knocked out if an easy task is turned into an uphill struggle because of presumptuousness, sloppiness, laziness and complacency.
Fans have been complaining about the lack of world class players in the team but, after all, this is the team that, only seven months ago, won a record-breaking 19th title and only capitulated against the all-conquering Barcelona in the Wembley final where, let’s not forget, the Catalans were held to a draw at half time.
Furthermore, three players joined the club in the summer, two bright prospects for the future in DeGea and Jones and a player of proven Premier League quality such as Ashley Young. While DeGea will take a while to fill Edwin Van der Sar’s gloves, Jones, albeit a rough diamond, has been playing like a veteran at times.
An unchanged – arguably improved – team can’t go from final contenders to first round flop purely because of a lack of world-class signings so the reasons must lie elsewhere.
Attitude is the first answer that springs to mind. After a blistering start to the campaign, United have been largely subdued, stumbling to draws in the Champions League and failing to put games to bed in the league, in a slump in form reminiscent of the one that derailed Chelsea’s campaign last season.
While United have drastically improved their away record in the league, such attitude isn’t good enough in Europe, as it allows sloppiness and carelessness to set in. Making the final three times in four years doesn’t guarantee an automatic spot in the last 16 and an unprofessional approach such as the one displayed in Europe this year is particularly costly with teams that consider playing at Old Trafford as the biggest game in their lives, hence the draws against Basel and Benfica as well as last night’s defeat.
Did United underestimate Benfica, Basel and Otelul Galati? Did they think they could coast through the group before clicking into gear in the last 16? Based on what we’ve seen since September, the answer is “yes and yes”.
Fans blasting Fergie – quite frankly asking for his resignations is nothing short of ludicrous, and the club doesn’t need this sort of people on board – and his management for the lack of a central midfielder, as right as they might be they seem to ignore that, with the current squad and a professional attitude, United should have been still too good for this group. Maybe they wouldn’t have gone on to win the trophy but, last year’s group was harder and United cruised through with a weaker squad. A change in attitude is, again, the explanation.
Getting knocked out in 2005-06 arguably was the wake-up call needed to blood a few new faces in on a more prominent role and the Carling Cup was the first step towards five trophy-laden years.
If an early exit was what the current squad, Fergie included, needed to take a good view at the situation and at possible measures to address it, all the better then. Long-term success is always preferable to short-term glory. Otherwise go and support City or Chelsea.
Some of the players have expressed their feelings last night and spoke of being “hurt” and “ashamed” – I’m looking at you, Rio and Pat – and that’s a positive. Now is up to Fergie to channel those emotions so that, come May, we can look back to this season as a successful one.
The Europa League might not be the most glamorous of trophies but we are in it, whether we like it or not, and Manchester United do not enter a competition without aiming to win it.
Defeats hurt, we’ve been here before and those “fans” that don’t like it – some social networks have been flooded with people blasting Sir Alex, too quickly forgetting what the man has achieved – are more than welcome to hop off the bus. Close the door on the way out.
For everybody else, let’s get our swagger back. Champions League or not, Manchester United FC don’t dwell on defeats. They come back stronger.