by Roy Dalley.
Insomnia might soon become the preferred option for many of those who have invested emotionally and financially in the Theatre of Dreams, Manchester.
It’s the place where one can buy a programme, a souvenir shirt, bedding, jewellery, DVD’s, cufflinks, toiletries and a wide variety of confectionaries before sitting down to watch a sprinkling of stars.
Forthcoming attractions include, at the greatest of expense, Argentine Angel Di Maria and England’s new captain Wayne Rooney, but look closer and you may notice the red velvet curtain is either threadbare or peppered by rather large holes. The footlights are dimmed now too many of the bulbs have either blown or been reduced to a flicker, and the stage seems too big for many of the supporting cast.
The dream now seems to focus only on the nightmares. Gone are vivid images of Best, Law and Charlton, Cantona, Beckham and Scholes, Busby and Ferguson, to be replaced by faceless blokes from backwaters like Swansea and Milton Keynes celebrating another waltz through United’s lines.
Di Maria’s arrival took the club’s expenditure to £200 million since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson little more than 15 months ago, yet it is doubtful the club will reach the standards set by their old Master of Ceremonies for a very long time.
Former defender Gary Neville reckons it could take two or three years to get back on top but others suspect it may be a good deal longer….
Cautionary tales abound. Some of us are ancient enough to remember the rise and fall of Leeds United, a sorry story that may yet plummet to even greater depths. Something similar, albeit swifter, befell Derby County and Nottingham Forest under the stewardship of Brian Clough. Many more will recall Ferguson famously toppling Liverpool from their perch nearly 25 years ago.
It already feels an awfully long time ago now that Ferguson walked onto the Old Trafford pitch to collect the club’s 20th league title while the stadium announcer bragged over the house p.a. about the trophy “returning to its rightful home.”
Many will argue Ferguson’s retirement was the catalyst for the club’s current fall from grace, yet the truth is United’s downward spiral began the moment the late Malcolm Glazer somehow managed to gain control of the club using little more than smoke and mirrors as collateral.
Profits were diverted away from the club to pay off extraordinary levels of debt incurred by the Glazer takeover. Not even Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure to Real Madrid for £80 million allowed Ferguson to rejuvenate his ageing and ailing squad. He hid behind corporate jargon such as there being “little value in the transfer market” while Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and even Arsenal stole a march on their old foe.
It now seems like false economy at best and foolish pride at worst, to such an extent that Di Maria’s arrival as the most expensive signing in the history of British football smacks of desperation. He’s a decent left-footer, of course, but how much better is he than Adnan Januzaj, perhaps the brightest young outfield prospect at the club..?
Will Di Maria’s presence stunt the progress of the Belgian international, or will manager Louis van Gaal be forced into abandoning his 3-5-2 formation in order to accommodate both in a 4-3-3? And if so where does that leave Juan Mata, another of United’s expensive signings..?
In any event, surely the £60 million it cost to secure Di Maria would have been more wisely invested in top quality central midfielders and defenders?
We will find out over the coming months and years. It is sure to be compulsive viewing, whether it be high art, serious drama or simply a comedy of errors.