United famine may

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - Sport - - SOCCER -

THE sound­track for Manch­ester United sup­port­ers will fol­low a fa­mil­iar theme at An­field this af­ter­noon. They will sing lustily about “Steve Ger­rard” and how he slipped on his “f ***** ’ a**e” and “gave it to Demba Ba” and ask rhetor­i­cally if you have ever seen the for­mer Liver­pool cap­tain win the league and, of course, they will bel­low “20 times” on re­peat.

And, if the op­por­tu­nity arises and they end Liver­pool’s un­beaten start to the cam­paign, they might poke fun at the 50,000 home fans who are again gid­dily start­ing to won­der if this could, fi­nally, be the sea­son they end their 28-year wait for the cham­pi­onship.

But away from the caul­dron and the need to keep up ap­pear­ances, there will be United fans who have talked qui­etly among them­selves about what would have been un­think­able not too long ago — the prospect of a Liver­pool-style ti­tle drought of their own.

Louis van Gaal claimed in Jan­uary 2016 that United were “too big, too good and or­gan­ised” to go through what Liver­pool have done but, al­most three years on and with the post-Alex Fer­gu­son era rot thick­en­ing, it seemed telling that the Dutch­man’s suc­ces­sor at Old Traf­ford, Jose Mour­inho, opted to side­step that same ques­tion only the other week. “I don’t know what hap­pened in Liver­pool,” Mour­inho said. “I just know the num­bers but I don’t know why.”

There are cer­tainly some of a Liver­pool per­sua­sion who will look at how the first six years of life af­ter Fer­gu­son are pan­ning out at United and draw par­al­lels to what hap­pened at their club once Kenny Dal­glish quit in Fe­bru­ary 1991, nine months af­ter de­liv­er­ing their 18th — and last — league ti­tle.

United, of course, do not need to look down the East Lancs road to recog­nise the dif­fi­cul­ties in­cum­bent in re­plac­ing a spe­cial, se­rial win­ner from Scot­land.

Af­ter Matt Busby stepped down in 1969 af­ter 24 years at the helm, United went 26 years with­out win­ning the ti­tle again be­fore Fer­gu­son came along and shaped the club to his own will over the next 27.

But Liver­pool’s woes in the wake of Dal­glish’s de­par­ture pro­vide a more modern con­text and a re­minder of how quickly things can un­ravel when your ri­vals have a very clear plan and you are left floun­der­ing, stuck in a time warp, un­sure how best to fill a huge void and given to in­creas­ingly des­per­ate, er­ratic mea­sures — scat­ter­gun spend­ing in the trans­fer mar­ket among them.

The likes of United, Arse­nal, Leeds and Black­burn in the early 1990s were to Liver­pool what clubs such as Manch­ester City, Liver­pool, Tot­ten­ham and Chelsea have now be­come to United, and once a posse of pro­gres­sive clubs gain a head start, they can be hard to rein in.

One of the main counter-ar­gu­ments to the no­tion of a ti­tle-starved fu­ture at Old Traf­ford is the club’s sheer wealth — they have the big­gest turnover of any English club — but if the past five-anda-half sea­sons have proved any­thing, it is that money counts for a lot less than it should strat­egy.

Equally, it can be easy to over­look that when cash is be­ing haem­or­rhaged on a dys­func­tional first team, other ar­eas of the busi­ness can start to suf­fer in time. One need only walk around Old Traf­ford to ap­pre­ci­ate one of the great citadels of Euro­pean foot­ball is in need of an ur­gent, ex­pen­sive makeover, and the best academy play­ers no longer re­side at United but City, Chelsea and com­pany.

At the height of their suc­cess, Liver­pool failed to max­imise their com­mer­cial po­ten­tial in the way United would achieve to dizzy­ing ef­fect. But that did with­out a care­fully crafted not mean they did not spend lav­ishly, and there is more than a whiff of United’s re­cent reck­less­ness in the mar­ket to the way Liver­pool splashed the cash so blindly in the years af­ter Dal­glish left, in stark con­trast to the suc­cess­ful, joined-up think­ing of their ri­vals.

Are the likes of Mor­gan Sch­nei­der­lin, Mem­phis De­pay, Mar­cos Rojo, Da­ley Blind and Mat­teo Darmian greatly dis­tin­guish­able from, among oth­ers, Paul Ste­wart, Nigel Clough, Neil Rud­dock, Ju­lian Dicks and John Scales, just some of those in whom Liver­pool’s fu­ture was mis­guid­edly in­vested?

Then again, is it un­re­al­is­tic to ex­pect any­thing other than a marked down­turn in cases where one man (Busby, Fer­gu­son), or a suc­ces­sion of men so closely aligned (Bill Shankly, Bob Pais­ley, Joe Fa­gan, Dal­glish), pre­side over ex­tra­or­di­nary pe­ri­ods of suc­cess? No other post-war clubs in Eng­land have ex­pe­ri­enced the sort of 20-year pe­ri­ods of dom­i­nance en­joyed by United and Liver­pool and had to con­tend with the fall­out once that dom­i­nance ends.

Graeme Souness has likened the job he faced suc­ceed­ing Dal­glish to the one David Moyes took on re­plac­ing Fer­gu­son in 2013 and hav­ing to “tell play­ers — in some cases leg­ends — that their time is

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