Going Through the Motions- Is Fergie Going Soft?
Manchester United as a club is currently going through the motions. And we all know what is produced when a body ‘goes through motions’…
As we all knew they would, the well-documented finance issues at the club are now having a very tangible effect on the performances on the pitch. People might point at the current league table and suggest there is little cause for concern. But if consideration is given to the actual level of performance it indicates something else. We’re teetering on the edge of decline and something needs to be done now to halt the slide. The gravitational pull of mid-table obscurity is strong and hard to resist once the trend has been set. Ask a Liverpool fan.
Whatever Fergie and Gill claim publically, the tightening purse strings have denied us the opportunity to make the changes clearly needed. The gaping hole in the centre of our midfield would be visible to my partially-sighted grandmother, looking through a telescope from the moon. Fergie is one of the best managers in the history of the game. A glaringly obvious lack of quality in the centre of the pitch is not something that is likely to have just passed him by. He just can’t do anything about it. Or is it that he just feels obliged not to, out of loyalty to a couple of his most trusted lieutenants? Has Fergie simply got a bit softer with age?
During his tenure, he’s never been slow to act when players have passed their ‘use by’ date. He’s pulled the curtain down on plenty of fans favourites, long before the fans or the players themselves would have considered fair or sensible. He’d barely got through the door before Mcgrath and Whiteside were sent packing. Ince, Hughes, Becks, Stam, Ruud, Keano and plenty of others were ushered to the exit when still seemingly having plenty to offer to the cause. During his stewardship, the players have known that sentiment counted for little. It didn’t matter what you’d helped him achieve in the past – if you weren’t performing in the present you’d be moved along and replaced by someone that could. History counted for little, the future was always his main focus.
But something has changed. Scholsey retired at the end of 10/11, and whilst sad, we all accepted he’d probably done his time. And with players like Morrison and Pogba waiting in the wings we had reason to be confident that the future remained relatively rosy. But then Scholsey decided he’d made a mistake, asked to come back and was welcomed with open arms. Would the Fergie of old have made such a short-sighted decision? It can’t be denied that in the second half of last season, Scholes was, for the most part excellent. But his reintroduction could only ever be looked at as an emergency stop-gap. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but it has to be acknowledged now that bringing him back, hastened Paul Pogba’s departure. The development of a burgeoning talent, hindered by the desperate desire to cling to a player well into the twilight of his own career. We paid a heavy price for a few more months of Scholsey by losing someone that might have been integral to our future. A decision completely at odds with the manager’s own previously held philosophy of giving youth a chance.
Scholes isn’t the only old-timer being afforded more patience than performances suggest he warrants either. There is an even more stark example in the form of Ryan Giggs. Unfortunately, time waits for no man, and as much as Giggsy is trying desperately to cling on to ‘old father’s’ coat-tails, I’m afraid he’s pulling away at an alarming rate. Ryan Giggs is a true Manchester United legend. But his presence in the team is becoming a hindrance and it makes for uncomfortable viewing. I get no pleasure from hurling abuse at yet another miss-placed Giggs pass, but it’s an alarmingly regular occurrence now. Please stop now Ryan. If Fergie isn’t able to say it, do the right thing and make the decision yourself. Let us all remember the genius flying down the wing, not the has-been trudging through midfield.
The manager appears to have lost all objectivity where these two players are concerned. But they aren’t the only ones to have benefitted from an apparent mellowing. There was a time, in the not too distant past, that our players would have been simply too scared to perform as they have been doing collectively in recent times. There’s no way the Fergie that arrived in England with the intention of ‘knocking Liverpool off their perch’ would have tolerated the level of performance we’re getting sadly accustomed to. It was a happier time, a more successful time. And that’s not a coincidence.
Player power undoubtedly makes managing more difficult now than it was 10 years ago. And having a significantly smaller transfer budget than those you are competing against only adds to the problems. Perhaps Sir Alex is mindful that he can no longer afford to upset the players, when replacing them can’t be done as simply as it could previously? I give Fergie massive credit for maintaining a challenge when the odds are increasingly stacked against us. But I do wonder if he’s actually making things harder for himself with some of his decisions. Has the fuse gone in the oft-mentioned hairdryer? Because I can’t believe we’d have witnessed the kind of performance we did at Norwich and several other times this season, if it was still in full working order. I yearn for a time when players lived in fear of it. And those that weren’t of continued use in the search for trophies were moved along.
Fergie needs to rediscover the ability to instil fear in the players. It’s a significant part of his managerial armoury, and I fear we’ll continue to struggle in its absence.
Written by @thistimesurely.