The Premier League champions have has a season to forget under new manager David Moyes so far with captain Nemanja Vidic conceding the Red Devils are out of the title race.
Already the nightmare of missing out on a the top four is in danger of becoming a reality.
United are six points off Liverpool in fourth place at present and, with a good run of results could still qualify for next season’s Champions League – whilst the club’s chief executive has insisted the club are not reliant on qualification for Europe’s elite competition, the impact of not qualifying could have longer lasting effects.
Financially, the champions are not dependent upon the Champions League in the way that clubs like current leaders Arsenal are and have been for over a decade but, as the Sky Sports pundits discussed following the defeat at Chelsea, the champions’ capability of attracting the continent’s top players would undoubtedly be in jeopardy without access to the top competition.
We have seen the struggles faced by Liverpool in recent years – most notably last summer with Luis Suarez – when a such a big club with a huge history of success does not compete in the Champions League and, synonymously, in Tottenham’s sale of Gareth Bale to Real Madrid in the summer.
Keeping hold of players already at the club – the world class starts like Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and prospects like Adnan Januzaj – is one thing but attracting players of that stature will undoubtedly be the biggest problem for David Moyes if United don’t make the top four this term.
As I’ve outlined previously this month, finding players of the right quality in January is cumbersome enough for the top clubs, but especially for United in their current vein of form, at a time of transition under the new manager, and the feeling of uncertainty emanating from Old Trafford at present. That is not going to improve if United don’t make the top four.
So where do they go from there, if that is what the season culminates in? There is no point in despair, the club will have to rebuild under David Moyes – the boss will need to bring in, for example, younger players with something to prove and build a squad and team that develops into stars, rather than bringing ready-made stars through the door at Old Trafford.
That is not a worst-case scenario, in fact, it may well be the best thing to relieve the pressure on Moyes and set a precedent that follows for generations to come.
After all, that is what his predecessor Sir Alex Ferguson built his success on in the late 1980s and into the ‘90s: rebirth, rebuilding, reinvention and regeneration.
image: © andyjakeman