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United’s blip could turn into something far greater if they don’t capture fourth place this season.

Growing up as a young child in the UK in the ’80s, one constant in life was that Maggie Thatcher was in charge and ruled with an iron fist.

Manchester United at a crossroadsFor a younger generation of fans it has been a similar tale, Sir Alex Ferguson’s United seeing off all comers and utterly dominating since the Premiership inception.

Offering yet more symmetry, David Moyes did a fine impression of John Major in attempting the impossible by following Fergie. United did not even qualify for Europe last season.

It was however a blip we were assured. A £150m Summer spending spree (with Juan Mata being added the previous January) and the arrival of a heavyweight manager in Louis van Gaal would see the Red Devils head back toward the summit.

The names were impressive, Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao as well as exciting young talents such as Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw.

Now on many levels, United’s season is as expected. They are in a Champions League slot whilst not good enough to challenge for the title, this was a transitional season after all.

But two things are quite striking when looking at the Old Trafford outfit now. The first thing is that the long term planning has entirely departed the scene. A prime example being the sale of Danny Welbeck for £16m paying for a single season of the entirely underwhelming Falcao.

Now it’s safe to say that Welbeck didn’t pull up any trees at United but was the type that Ferguson held on to for some time even if ultimately they moved on such as a Nicky Butt or a Phil Neville. He understood the need for the squad to have a certain identity and character.

That identity of the club has entirely changed and most importantly so has the aura which has gone. Van Gaal we were told would re-assert that swagger, Old Trafford would become a fortress once more. Monday’s FA Cup capitulation in that respect was highly telling.

Over the past two decades, United have held the wood over Arsenal, no question.

There have been blips but the thrashings when they have come have been handed out by United and the bulk of the silverware sits in Manchester.

Arsenal’s character has been called into question many times and that is why Monday’s result – United’s last chance of silverware – is so representative of the wider issue. People no longer fear United.

United’s decline can of course be traced back to a race horse named ‘Rock of Gibraltar’. It was Ferguson’s courtroom row with major shareholders Magnier and McManus that ultimately led to the arrival of the Glazers.

On the face of it the Glazers have done OK for United but the outflows of money are massive. United were no longer shopping in Harrods for players. (We can attribute this Summer’s spree to them simply protecting their asset and who can blame them).

Ferguson’s sheer force of will coupled to brilliant man management ensured the trophies kept coming. He married the talents of a younger Ronaldo and Rooney with the axis of Edwin van der Sar, Vidic and Ferdinand which he then allied that to the remainder of the old guard.

United’s squads however bore no resemblance in terms of quality to previous vintages and had Arsenal not had to finance the Emirates, the Reds could have already been empty handed for some time.

At this point it is worth considering the team that United supplanted back in the 90’s and who are the team most likely to replace the Reds in the top four this season, Liverpool.

In the pre United era, it would have been almost absurd for a football fan to imagine the Anfield outfit going over twenty years without a league title. But the end of their own ‘boot room’ era in many ways parallels the end of the Ferguson era.

Football is of course a different game nowadays. United’s revenues are extraordinary, they almost more than anyone (given commercial, stadium and Premiership TV revenue) are equipped to deal with missing out on Champions League money.

But the interesting part is it does close the gap to the other clubs if United miss out again. Arsenal’s match day revenue out strips United. Given Arsenal’s London location and what looks like Champions League participation again, are they now a more attractive destination for players?

Since dropping out of the top four, Liverpool have suffered from that lost income coupled with limited match day revenue from an antiquated and small stadium.

Liverpool remain a huge draw and United will of course remain so.

It may also be that United will finish in the top four and the prospect of Champions League football, Louis van Gaal and the fact that it is Manchester United will ensure that the very top players still come and United will kick on again rendering this piece moot.

There is already a plethora of talk regarding transfers and the Reds’ continued rebuilding this Summer. Gareth Bale is rumoured to be coming to Old Trafford yet would he swap the Bernabeu to return to a club only challenging for a Champions League spot? That was why he left Spurs.

Real have of course been able to cherry pick the very top players and whilst David de Gea would command a great fee, entire defences are built on keepers such as he and the dangers of selling one star player to rebuild squads have been shown amply by Spurs and Liverpool in the past two seasons.

The rebuilding required by United could also be substantial. Rooney’s wages render him ‘untransferable’ and have we seen the best of him? Probably.

Likewise it seems apparent we have seen the best of Van Persie and Falcao, most of the defence is not fit for purpose and United badly need one or maybe two top class additions in central midfield.

None of that will come cheap and these players are even harder to source if you are not going to be hearing the Champions League theme tune on a Tuesday or a Wednesday night.

By not finishing in the top four for a second season, it means that the blip is possibly something more and in opening up the Champions League revenue to other teams, United’s dominant financial position can be challenged or at least bridged by the others.

It seems unthinkable that United could fade from anything other than perennial title challengers and football is very different from the early 90’s, the big teams are more dominant than ever.

But as a young football fan watching Beardsley, Rush, Barnes et all in their pomp, I couldn’t imagine Liverpool fading either. It’s certainly at least worth a thought.

Originally published at voomfootball.wordpress.com

Post written by Steven McBain
for Voom Football, Blog: Voom Football, Twitter: @Voomfootball

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