Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Man U's superhero cape has a big tear

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It isn't merely the sixth-place position in the Premier League standings that has ramped up hysteria in and around Old Trafford. Nor is it the domestic cup defeats or a 2-0 loss to Olympiacos that threatens to cut short their Champions League campaign.

Naturally, an accumulation of failures both on the pitch and in the transfer market was always going to be cause for concern at a club like Manchester United, but with each successive shortcoming what is being increasingly risked is something far bigger, and considerably more definitive, than seven month's worth of poor results.

At stake is nothing less than United's sense of exceptionalism -- a mentality born out of the tragedy of the Munich Air Disaster, enhanced by Sir Matt Busby's rebuilding of the squad and fostered by the long and illustrious tenure of Sir Alex Ferguson, who turned the club into a powerhouse just as the Premier League was becoming the most lucrative division in world football.

For decades United fans, and indeed observers and neutrals, bought into the notion of exceptional status, and many of the club's most loyal followers embraced that status as a right.

But it never was -- United's dominance was, like anything else, the consequence of competent guidance and compounding events -- and that reality is becoming apparent as David Moyes, in his first season as Ferguson's successor, struggles to carry on the legacy and even the exceptionalist mindset itself.

It's an impossible task, and it appears the Glazer family that owns the club is aware of that.

Despite midweek reports in England that Moyes had only 12 matches to save his job, follow-up revelations surmised the 50-year-old would be given the chance to put his newly installed, state-of-the-art recruitment setup to work in the summer with upwards of £200 million at his disposal.

Moyes will still have five years left on his contract when the 2014-15 campaign kicks off, and no doubt the Glazers would prefer to see him not only fulfill it, but agree to an extension upon its conclusion.

Ferguson's shadow looms large, after all, and what better way for the club to emerge from it than to enjoy a lengthy, successful era under new leadership.

That Ferguson was an anomaly in modern football hasn't quite sunk in yet, and in that United may have been caught out as careless.

If Premier League rivals Chelsea have proved anything since their 2003 acquisition by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich, it's that managerial stability has little, if any, correlation to winning trophies over an extended period.

Over the past decade the Blues have won three titles, four FA Cups, two league cups, the Champions League and the Europa League.

United, by comparison, has claimed five titles, one FA Cup, three league cups and the Champions League.

That's one fewer trophy than the London outfit, and while Ferguson was in charge for all 10 successes at Old Trafford there were 10 managerial changes while Chelsea added 11 trophies to their Stamford Bridge cabinet.

The sudden and comprehensive fall-off United have experienced since winning a record-extending 20th title last spring has a lot to do with the fact that Moyes, the former Everton boss, was never the best candidate to take the Red Devils into a brave new world of volatility.

The six-year contract he received was proof that United remain beholden to the myth of their own exceptionalism, that he can somehow replicate the tenures of Busby and Ferguson is simply given the time to do so.

But that's not how football works these days, which is why, at present, football isn't working for Manchester United.

 

Spot kicks

-- Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain are thought to be among 76 clubs that have failed to meet UEFA's Financial Fair Play standards. But given the astronomical growth of their revenues (an asterisk in the UEFA regulations), both clubs will almost certainly get a pass from European football's governing body.

jerradpeters@gmail.com Twitter @JerradPeters

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition March 1, 2014 C8

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