The scary red machine

They All Think Its Over

It’s all over for Manchester United apparently. Well if you believe the vultures that are surrouding Old Trafford, in the shape of opposition fans, the media, and indeed their very own loyal prawn sandwich-loving fans.

With the sale of Jaap Stam leaving a hole the size of the channel tunnel in the Man U defence, a relatively poor league record after nearly a third of the season, two considerable defeats in the Champions League First Stage, and a routing at Arsenal in the League Cup, many people have come to the obvious conclusion – the Red Machine is at the end of it’s cycle of success.

I hate to break it to people, but it ain’t so, sadly.

The End of Ferguson

He has ruled for so long with his iron fists. Failure to comply with the red-faced one meant only one thing — you’re outta here. Paul McGrath, Norman Whiteside, Paul Ince, Andrei Kanchelskis, Massimo Taibi, Mark Bosnich, and most recently, Jaap Stam, have all been shipped out for various reasons. The one recurring theme to all these departures is that there was no room at the club for both Ferguson and player.

But now the iron fists are more like papier-mache hands as Ferguson gets ready to clear his desk. It seems the fear factor is no longer there. Indeed, Sir Alex (knighted for services to good timekeeping) seems to have gone soft in his final season, tolerating outrageously poor performances from his goalkeeper and defence while persisting with a troubled 4-4-1-1 formation which sees Paul Scholes try to play the Cantona/Sheringham play-making role that he clearly is not equipped to do.

Spend spend spend

His massive outlay on Ruud Van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron did not raise any criticism which was rather surprising. After all United were finally spending the sort of money that could allow them to compete with the big guns in Europe. Van Nistelrooy was £19m, but no doubt a very capable striker (if not world class), and far better than the mediocre £20m pair of Yorke and Cole.

Veron is recognised as one of Europe’s finest and the thought of him lining up with Keane, Giggs and Beckham served to make Britain’s finest midfield, even finer.

But so far things have backfired. Van Nistelrooy has played well but maybe not bagging the return of goals that Ferguson has needed, while Veron has had his moments in a strangely ineffective midfield. Some are saying that Veron has unsettled the midfield, the Asprilla Effect as it became known in 1996. Kevin Keegan’s Newcastle were running away with the championship before he introduced £7m genius Tino Asprilla. Despite being utterly brilliant, the team lost it’s shape and their lead was eroded, and eventually eliminated.

Unbeatable or unbalancing?

David Beckham is a national hero after his fairytale goal saved England from World Cup embarrassment against Greece, and ensured an appaearance in Japan/Korea next year. But despite the adulation, there are huge question marks being raised against the tireless midfielder and how much he is really achieving at club level.

If Beckham’s brief is to cover every blade of grass and wear his heart on his sleeve, then he does that. But there is a feeling that he needs to stop running around like a headless chicken and concentrate on fitting into the team and doing his job. For some reason, Ferguson is not coming down on Beckham.

Defenceless

Alan Hansen once said ‘be strong at the back and you’ve got a chance’. Not sure what he was referring to, but if we take it in a football context then you have to agree. Since the infamous Arsenal quintet of Dixon/Adams/Seaman/Keown/Winterburn began to disintegrate, the team have struggled and indeed have not won a trophy in 3 seasons.

Ferguson has faced similar problems at United. His multi-trophy winning back-line of Neville/Bruce/Schmeichil/Pallister/Irwin has almost completely crumbled and despite trying numerous goalkeepers and centre-backs, he has been unable to build a steady defence since. The problems with this have been offset by their incredible attacking ability but it no doubts grates Ferguson that he can’t rebuild the solid last-line again.

So now I am saying the Red Machine is finished?

Legacy

No. Ferguson is finished, but his legacy will live on to be successful in the near future. The total domination of the last decade may be finished but league titles and good European runs are still well within their grasp.

A new foreign manager will be able to build a better defence, the talented midfield will be re-organised (possibly without Beckham if he meets a manager who dictates to him more than he wishes to listen) and once the deadwood striking duo of Yorkie and Coley are shipped out, Van Nistlerooy will get a world-class partner to cause havoc in future seasons.

So ABUers can enjoy the rest of this season, but beware. The right man next year will bring the phoenix back from the flames.

And finally…

Anyone thinking of visting Korea next year for the World Cup may not be able to enjoy the wonderful cuisine of, eh, dog. FIFA have asked the government to stop the cruel 5,000 year old tradition of snacking on fresh dog…how thoughtful of them.

And I can now exclusively reveal that Korea was not the number one choice for WC2002. Five other locations were chosen, and rejected, because certain civil traditions and institutions were not to FIFAs liking. Here is a list:

1. Australia – “Sorry guys, but if you are not going to stop showing those bloody soap operas over here, then you can forget about the World Cup. And no, Summer Bay are not allowed enter a team.”

2. Ireland – “Look, we’re not saying that Irish people can’t drink during the World Cup, but just cut it down to six nights a week.”

3. Isle of Man – “Oh, so the cats are just born with no tails? A likely story.”

4. China – “That’s right, if you knock down the wall, you can have the world cup.”

5. US-Russia (joint bid) – “Ok the winner gets 3,000 warheads from each of you.”

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