It seems rather poignant that Sir Alex Ferguson’s legacy at Old Trafford can be summed up by one of his most definitive quips to the media: Manchester United would one day knock Liverpool “off their fucking perch”. With hindsight, it is hard to quite capture how absurd such a claim would have sounded back in 2002/3, at a point where a faltering United side looked frail and Ferguson was coming under scrutiny. Not as absurd, however, as those amongst the footballing community who would have predicted the stark contrast in the two club’s over the past nine months.
Manchester United, who in 2012 were Forbes’ richest club in the world for an eighth consecutive year, have been unable to match their financial success with success on the field. Once at the top of league tables, Man United now face a place in the Europa League – and even this is not a certainty. The manner of their season, stumbling from one crisis to the next, has been cast in sharp relief by Liverpool’s transformation. They currently sit top, almost guaranteed a Champions League place, and with a manager who is unlikely to draw as much comment and ridicule.
You could well be led to believe that, in a single summer, Ferguson’s good work of over two decades evaporated overnight, and that Liverpool suddenly morphed back into the dominant side of old. Yet as hapless as David Moyes has been, and as improved as Liverpool have been, this version of the story is far too dismissive of Liverpool’s gradual progress, and far too complimentary toward the state of Manchester United before Ferguson departed the scene.
The shameless decline of Liverpool seemingly poked fun at their former glory days, all the way down to the ultimate lows of a painful 2010/11 season, with the embarrassment of relegation spoken of as a serious possibility. So much so that money was unwisely thrown around with such wild abandon that a mouth watering £35 million was spent on ‘big lump’ Andy Carroll alone. Since that ultimate low, however, they have been building. Rather than a splurge of cash upon top level recruits, younger prodigies have been sought. With the team already possessing the envious talents of Luis Suarez and their talismanic leader, Steven Gerard, this was not a complete redo, but rather a lick of paint around the edges.
But one must not forget that the now extensively lauded Brendan Rogers found himself in such muddy waters as Mr Moyes in the not too distant past. With one solitary season of top level experience, compared to Moyes’ ten, it seemed a ‘no-brainer’ to select the Scot over any of the other candidates. But with the men at the top tightening the purse strings, one feels this was always going to be a difficult task. Liverpool, on the other hand, threw their trust towards a younger collection of talent, in the hope that their high spending would garner big reward.
By contrast, since 2011, United have been slowly unravelling. That year, they won the title convincingly, all the while making it to the Champions League final. This was to be the last great season Ferguson would muster out of his final incarnation of a United team. In 2012, it is easy to forget that they were 8 points clear in April before conspiring to do the very un-Ferguson like nicety of blowing said lead in 4 games flat. This was coupled with going out at the group stage of the Champions League, their only wins coming against that European powerhouse, Oțelul Galați.
Thus, it seems little wonder that with his twilight years approaching, for the 2013 season, Ferguson seemed to be pulling all punches, willfully splashing the cash on the likes of Robin Van Persie, in the hope of a successful finale.However, with an ageing squad in dire need of some new life, this victory now seems somewhat bitter sweet. And with promising youngsters such as Nick Powell, and even Paul ‘The Octopus’ Pogba being cast away, it appeared very much like Ferguson refused to look beyond one more precious Premier League, and the effects of which are now all too clear.
Ferguson got to leave on a high, but Moyes was left with a side that had been built to last one more year. Undoubtedly, he could have done better, but the inertia Ferguson allowed to settle around the club made the united job a poisoned chalice for whomever took it this season. But, with £40 million being splurged on two attacking midfielders, in a team not bereft of attacking talent, one has to question Moyes’ short term tactics.
Liverpool’s rise and United’s fall suggests more problems than solutions at Old Trafford. With an ageing squad, the loss of their distinguished Emperor, and short term gain prioritised over their long term future. The recent banner at Anfield, labelling Rodgers ‘the carefully chosen one’, fits perfectly into the Liverpool narrative of the past three years, of slowly pushing forward and developing. Ferguson, as great a manager as he was, lost sight of his former beliefs, in pursuit of a glorious retirement, and to raise that perch his team now sit atop a little higher. As a result, however, United now face a rebuilding process on an unprecedented scale.