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United slides down

Daily Mail
Friday, February 28, 2014

MANCHESTER United have fallen off their perch. And they're dropping like a stone towards mediocrity.

That is the undeniable fact that has been hammered home relentlessly during the past six months.

Whether we are talking about the events of Wednesday night at Olympiakos or before the startled eyes of the faithful at Old Trafford, the evidence is there for all to see.

Out of the title race, out of the FA Cup, out of the League Cup, out of the top four and now in desperate need of an improbable recovery in the Champions League.

On what we have all seen so far this season, who would bet upon them turning the tables?

The Manchester United of seasons past, maybe. The Manchester United of Sir Alex Ferguson.

The snarling face of Roy Keane, the passion of Gary Neville, the understated brilliance of Paul Scholes, the delivery of David Beckham. And behind it all, the aggression and defiance of Peter Schmeichel.

Only those characters are no more. David Moyes is being haunted by those ghosts of the past.

There is no snarling, there is no brilliance, there is certainly no delivery. Win at all costs?

No, what passed before Moyes's eyes in the Greek port city was his worst nightmare.

There was more passion shown on the sidelines by Roy Keane on television than there was on the pitch.

If we start with the manager, we have to ask: has he become utterly incapable overnight? Of course not.

Here was a man who overachieved at Everton, understanding what it took to keep the club fighting it out with the big boys in the top half.

But the one aspect of the managerial job that Moyes does not yet possess at Old Trafford is the fear factor.

How many times was Ferguson prepared to stand toe-to-toe in the dressing room and slug it out with his players?

That fear factor, the fear of losing your place, the fear of not playing for one of the world's biggest clubs, the fear of being told you are not wanted....

It looks like it doesn't matter to half of them.

Do you know what? It doesn't any more. Protected by grotesque contracts, the lack of desire was startling.

The only two who can escape criticism from Wednesday night's display were Nemanja Vidic and Wayne Rooney.

One has just signed a mammoth new pay deal. The other one is off at the end of the season. I thought Vidic was magnificent.

But the remainder of it is sub-standard. There is an ageing spine to the team.

Rio Ferdinand. Gone. Chris Smalling. Not good enough. Ditto the entire back four. And Tom Cleverley.

Not Manchester United standard. You can include Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia in that bracket, too.

While I can sit here and say that they aren't good enough, that doesn't excuse the lack of desire.

Where was it? Where was that team of winners?

Let's face it, Moyes may have inherited a poor situation, not helped by the fact that David Gill, a steady hand on the tiller, departed at the same time as Ferguson.

But he could at least instill some pride in the shirt.

This is, though, a situation that has been coming. The writing has been on the wall for a while.

Yes, people point to the title race last season. But let's look at the state United's rivals were in.

Chelsea suffered a hangover from the Champions League. Their own end of an era. Arsenal weren't anywhere near as strong as they are this year. And they look like they will fall short — again.

And it appears there was a player backlash against Roberto Mancini that did for him at Manchester City.

How would Manchester United's class of 2012-13 get on this season? Hmm. Better, but not winning the crown by a country mile, that's for sure.

The true state of the club was laid bare when Athletic Bilbao outclassed them in the Europa League a couple of seasons ago. That really should have set the alarm bells ringing.

And how many players - apart from the front two - would other top-five Premier League teams take?

That's the level we're talking about. And Chelsea have just offloaded one they deem surplus to United.

What's worse is that there isn't anyone else any better to come in. Sergio Aguero/David Silva isn't standing injured on the sidelines.

There are untold reasons United are struggling.

But the fact of the matter is the players aren't good enough. The past manager may or may not have known it. The current one most certainly does.

What is most chilling is that this situation mirrors the one that Graeme Souness found himself in when he took over at Liverpool 23 years ago.

A golden generation had passed. The Scot had to rip it up and start again. And the fall-out was painful.

The rest of football now scents blood. The way they did when Anfield lost its aura. That's why teams such as West Brom, Swansea and Everton have emerged from Old Trafford with what has been, until this season, once-in-a-lifetime victories.

Souness never really managed to find the right cocktail to replace a generation of giants.

Moyes finds himself lagging behind Arsenal, Manchester City, Chelsea and, yes, Liverpool.

On a European front, Bayern Munich, PSG, Monaco and Borussia Dortmund and the two Spanish giants would not fear this current United set-up.

Moyes needs giants. Giant characters. Giant players. It's going to cost. But what's the alternative? More mediocrity?

Manchester United need to sign some top-quality players.

Because, at the moment, apart from in one or two cases, they're not of the quality the champions have come to expect.

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