Why Man United need top four more than City
United need Champions League more than City because they don't have Pep and limitless cash
MAN UTD v BOURNEMOUTH
(Tomorrow, 10pm, Singtel TV Ch 105 & StarHub TV Ch 230)
The words haunt Manchester United followers.
They scream from the annals of English football, a sober warning from history for future leaders to follow.
Liverpool. 1990. The end of an empire.
Old Trafford acolytes will of course reject the comparisons. They won't be associated with dead dynasties.
United have nothing in common with them.
And in some respects, that's true.
United's current plight is more perilous than anything Liverpool faced in 1990.
The Reds were toppled and eventually replaced with Sir Alex Ferguson's bravehearts.
But, when the Red Devils fell, they were replaced by Manchester City, and then Chelsea and now Leicester City.
Title challengers once faced a single rival or the odd new billionaire on the block. Now they are surrounded.
Like armies of ants, trophy hunters carry outsized sacks of cash on their backs and scurry in every direction.
After 1990, Liverpool never lifted the title again. United could suffer the same fate, if they fail to qualify for the Champions League.
The frantic dash for the top four between United and Manchester City represents so much more than a seat at Europe's top table.
It's about clambering aboard the last carriage of a runaway train or risk being left behind for good.
Under Ferguson, United never finished outside the top four after 1991.
By tomorrow night, it could be twice in three seasons.
That's not a blip, but a steady, perceptible decline, a journey familiar only to the men on Merseyside.
Man City could just about survive a fifth-placed finish. Should they succumb to Swansea, then a decidedly dour campaign gets the outcome it deserves and ageing players will be put out to pasture.
But they still have Pep Guardiola to come, dropping cheques like a demented confetti thrower at a wedding. His name, along with unlimited zeroes, could temper the disappointment of a season without Champions League football.
City can absorb the European shortfall, particularly if the overriding emphasis is on Guardiola making use of his Spanish and German contacts to win back the title.
Despite far too many limp performances, City's franchise just about remains on an upward trajectory.
But United's graph resembles a descending staircase.
Just two titles in the last seven years and none in the last three, their slow return from the summit is a series of plateaus and dips.
Nothing alarming, nothing too obvious, but most of the points on the graph are heading in the wrong direction nonetheless.
Elite footballers can do the maths. One year without Champions League football can be a freak occurrence. Two is a pattern.
In pre-season, United found themselves in the position that City are in now.
A brand name, a brand manager and a brand new chequebook were in place and ready to welcome the shiniest stars.
But all three are tarnished now.
United's boardroom has blundered on so many occasions it's hard not to picture transfer negotiations looking like a street party on Sesame Street.
Louis van Gaal's overpriced purchases were mostly poor and his selections even worse. There wasn't a square peg he couldn't squeeze into a round hole.
With or without the Dutchman, United's road to recovery appears littered with obstacles, particularly if they can't use the bulldozing Champions League to help clear the way.
Internally, Wayne Rooney and Michael Carrick represent the last of the old guard as United, like Kenny Dalglish's Liverpool of 1990, struggle with empire renewal.
Apart from Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial, there is scant evidence to suggest the other younger players can handle the transition.
But the external factors are of greater concern.
After 1990, the Reds faced a final flourish from George Graham's Arsenal and the slow and steady rise of Ferguson's United and yet still failed to replicate past glories.
But the EPL has witnessed three different title winners in the last three seasons and there is every chance that a fourth may rise next year.
City, Chelsea and Leicester will join Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and even West Ham in shaking their booty at the most attractive footballers.
Everyone's got a platinum credit card now, but only four can offer the promise of Champions League silver.
Like an incompetent greengrocer, United are short on carrots. Their only hope is to beat Bournemouth and pray for a miracle at Swansea.
If they finish fifth, the failure could reverberate around Old Trafford for years to come.
Some will still insist that United are too big to fail. Their name is too prestigious and their global brand just about bulletproof.
It's certainly a familiar argument. In 1990, they said the same about Liverpool.
ON THE UP
$$$ Cash to buy players + Pep Guardiola’s Genius
ON THE WANE
Wayne Rooney’s Decline
Rivals like Man City, Chelsea, Leicester, Tottenham, Arsenal, Liverpool and West Ham have cash to splash
No EPL league titles in the last three years.
No Champions League for the second time in three seasons (if they fail to finish fourth this season)
- Arsenal v Aston Villa
- Chelsea v Leicester
- Everton v Norwich
- Newcastle v Tottenham
- Southampton v Crystal Palace
- Stoke v West Ham
- Swansea v Man City
- Watford v Sunderland
- West Brom v Liverpool
End of the road for LVG?
Louis van Gaal's name was conspicuous by its absence as investors and executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward sidestepped the subject of the Manchester United manager's position.
United announced their third quarter financial results yesterday which showed they were on course to become the first British club to earn more than half a billion pounds in a single year.
The club announced record revenues for the quarter of £123.4 million ($243m), up 29.9 per cent on the same quarter last year, with commercial, broadcasting and matchday revenues all increasing.
However, things on the field remain shaky as a topsy-turvy season comes to a close, with United facing an uphill battle to secure Champions League football next season.
While they have the FA Cup final to look forward to against Crystal Palace on May 21, missing out on the top four will only increase the pressure on van Gaal (above), especially with Jose Mourinho edging closer to a return to management.
Speculation that the Dutchman could soon be leaving Old Trafford was fuelled yesterday, when he was not mentioned in the statement from Woodward confirming the third-quarter results or the conference call with investors which followed.
The nine-minute question-and-answer session did not once touch on van Gaal, nor did Woodward mention the United boss during his opening remarks.
"This Premier League season has demonstrated once again why this league is the most compelling competition for sports fans all over the world," Woodward said.
"As we look back on our season, I am delighted by the emergence of our young players.
"In the last two seasons alone, some 15 players from our Under-21s squad have appeared 130 times in our first team.
"Marcus Rashford made an immediate impact, scoring goals on his debut in Europe and then two more on his League debut against Arsenal.
"Three of our regular first-team players - Rashford, (Jesse) Lingard, (Cameron) Borthwick-Jackson - are locally-born academy players, who have been with the club since they were eight years old."
Woodward was keen to point to the success of their young players, saying the new structure of that part of the club "signals significant enhanced investment in the vital areas of our academy and support team".
There was no mention of the man who gave United's young players that chance, but the executive vice-chairman made United's desire to win silverware clear.
When asked about capital expenditure on players, Woodward said: "I think there have been two effects in recent years. There has been a continued inflation in player transfers, given the increase in money flowing around the industry.
"But also the second, perhaps greater, effect is the re-tooling that we've been undertaking in terms of the squad.
"You know as a club, we will always invest in the squad to the extent that we feel we need to so that we're challenging for titles. But I think this sustained level is probably relatively high compared to what is needed." - PA Sport.