They used to be so far ahead but now Manchester United find themselves so far behind. That is the crux of a season that has seen them stutter, stagger and slip further down a descending slope.
The impossibility of replacing Sir Alex Ferguson has become a reality previously dreaded. If the man had become an icon, his replacement has become the punching bag. It was always thought that the transition would be painful. It was however not thought that it would be this bad.
It exemplified itself on Manchester Derby day on Tuesday night. Manchester City arrived at Old Trafford with the confidence of an all-conquering beast. After 45 seconds, they had the ball in the back of the net and the contest of the game disappeared. So easy was the eventual 3-0 win that the question afterwards was why it was just the 3-0. City may very well have got more than a half-dozen. What was scary was that they did not even need to shift through the gears and raise their performance.
Dizzying heights of yesteryears have been replaced by valley-like nadirs. It almost seemed a role reversal. The Manchester United that used to just turn up at Old Trafford and win the game by virtue of their presence alone seemed to have transformed itself into Man City. Dominant without even trying and possessing the sort of players to strike fear into the opponents’s eyes.
If anything, Manchester United has been reduced into hoping for the best rather than expecting favourable results. For that, a lot of the blame has been placed on David Moyes. The man chosen by Sir Alex Ferguson to replace Sir Alex Ferguson is showing that he is in fact not Sir Alex Ferguson.
It means that he cannot win the League by a margin of 11 points while in charge of a squad that is more a mixed bag of average performers than outstanding quality. At the very least however, he was expected to maintain a top tier level of the bare minimum of 4th place. United however have found themselves dangling and lingering around 7th place. Their results this season point to that as their actual average.
And so the question now is what is the way forward. Will sticking with Moyes eventually prove fruitful? Or is it time to make a change? United somehow seemed to have tied themselves by offering the Scot a six year deal. Any move away from Moyes would prove expensive.
Then again, that may be a long term gain. Cut the costs early and save an already rocked ship from sinking further.
Because Man United have really sank, and the departure of Sir Alex now feels like the end of an era. The intimidating aura is gone, the champions atmosphere forgotten and the fighting spirit quelled. Adding onto that, the worry lines are forming on the manager’s face.
Every game seems to be an examination into his coaching style, every loss a blinking point towards those calling for his head. His demeanour conversely seems to lack any semblance of confidence and the words that he picks at press conferences are scrutinised and contextualised into further evidence of his lack of depth.
Maybe, the time has come when all parties should agree that he may leave. But even if that time has arrived, it seems illogical to let him go immediately. Already, United are too deep in the water for any significant change to affect their season. No manager would now inspire this team to a Champions League win over Bayern Munich with under a week to go, and it would take the most defying of accomplishments to guarantee a top four finish in the League under the circumstances.
Whatever is going on behind the scenes will only materialise in the future. But if it is deemed that Moyes is not the right man, then the club have until the summer to formulate and execute a succession plan. Because the longer that question remains unaddressed, the harder it will be for it to be answered when the time does demand it.
And if the answer is that Moyes does indeed remain and be afforded time, then the backing must be strong and convincing. Of late, the feeling has been that the once unthinkable suggestion of sacking Sir Alex’s chosen replacement was now being considered.
That the “Stand by the new manager” call which was once strong in utterance, is now fading into irrelevance. If indeed the club must stand by the manager, then that must come out strongly and affirmatively from within the club hierarchy.
However way things go, it should not be forgotten that in his farewell speech, Sir Alex also referred to the good times and the bad times. It was the bad times specifically that his speech was geared to address. To give hope to the dread that occupied the hearts that saw him depart.
Thus, no matter what decision may eventually be made of the Moyes situation, a club that has the 1958 Munich Air disaster as part of its identity is in the position which has formed the foundations of its illustrious history. Manchester United must find a way to rise again from the ashes.