Thursday, December 08, 2005

Champions League Crashout: The Aftermath

I managed to catch only the second half last night, and by that time Benfica were already in the lead.

And let me tell you, watching it hurt so damn much. Much like how Zhe Bin felt his balls had been squeezed, I (though I have no physical balls) felt this constant sharp, stabbing pain in my chest.

Much more than the result, much more than the humiliation of the loss, much more than poor passing and possession, what shocked me the most was the fact that for the first time in ten years of being one of Europe's powerhouses, Man Utd have failed to make it through the group stage, and worse, don't even have the UEFA Cup to look forward to, which could at least have provided them with a European trophy and prize money.

The most important question at this juncture is: What effect will this have on the team in the long run? We'll think of a few possible ramifications.

1) Sir Alex goes.

This is, of course, the most widely-touted. Two hours after the match and the vultures were already circling, ready to pick the bones. However, I doubt it will happen, because the Glazers are not Abramovich. They don't have much interest in football (or so it seems), they haven't sunk a lot of their OWN money into the club and spent millions on good players, they aren't watching every match, so they won't expect Sir Alex to produce results so quickly after the boardroom upheaval.

Furthermore, we as fans expect a lot from the club, but in our expectations we forget that Sir Alex is the man who made the club into a European and domestic force. He is the man that helped the club win their second European club. After 19 successful years at the club, one failed season should not be enough reason to sack him.

2) No money no honey

The exit from Europe means a loss of up to 15 million pounds. Add that to Vodafone pulling out as shirt sponsor, a deal rumoured to be worth about 22 million pounds, the Glazers having taken out 800 million pounds in loans to buy the club, and the fact that Real Madrid have recently overtaken Man Utd as the richest club in the world (a spot Man Utd occupied for 9 years), it's easy to cry "Financial crisis!"

Yes, I can really see how being the second richest club in the world behind Real Madrid translates to a financial crisis.

Furthermore, this will not affect transfer budgets, at least for this and next season, since clubs usually have transfer budgets meant for the next one or two years set aside in reserves i.e. it's all been calculated and planned beforehand. However, there is no denying that the money, if Man Utd had progressed this season, might have meant a slightly more generous transfer and wage budget. Time can only tell what this might mean.

But again I stress: The loss of 15 million pounds to a club like, say, Charlton or Sunderland might be enough cause to drape their stadiums in black. To the second richest club in the world, it's probably just a blip in their finances.

3) Defensive midfielder needed

God, yes. Alan Smith's a great guy, he's hardworking, obedient (try telling any other striker with an ego that he's got to stop scoring goals and help out in defence and see what he says), is hugely loyal to the club despite his Yorkshire roots, been performing relatively well, but... he is not a natural holding midfielder. Naturally aggressive? Yes he is. But that doesn't translate to naturally defensive.

We need a proper holding midfielder, someone who can dictate the midfield, someone who wins balls, who breaks up opponents' passing, who charges up and down the pitch from box to box and supports the attack as well. (I am thinking longingly of our Roy in his prime and casting covetous looks at Claude Makalele now.)

Sir Alex has stated that he will definitely bring in reinforcements in January or in the summer and he has the cash for that, despite the loss of European revenue, so splash the cash! Bring in Gennaro Gattuso! Bring in Aldo Duscher if you want so he can break more people's metatarsals! Another hard-tackling, hardworking Argentine would be good anyway (a la Gabriel Heinze); just don't bring in another Argentine playmaker (a la Juan Sebastian Veron)!

But anyway, how many good players would want to join a team that is not challenging in Europe this season and be willing to wait till next season for a fresh bite at the apple?

4) Man Utd wins the EPL because that's all they have

Yes, the team can concentrate fully on the domestic league now that they have no European football to think about. They can take advantage of a less congested fixture calendar in comparison to the other close title challengers. The players will be so fired up by the loss of European football that they'll be determined to win the Premier League.

But is that really so easy? There have been times Arsenal likewise were dumped out of the Champions' League and still lost the title back in England to Man Utd. And a lot of this depends on the attitude of the players. How eager are they to make up for this loss? How determined are they to reestablish domestic dominance?

Taking advantage of congested fixture calendars against Chelsea isn't that easy as well, seeing as how Chelsea can play Team A in Europe and then Team B in England and still be able to win in both places, with their strength in depth and strength in quality. Furthermore, they have Michael Essien, who can help to tackle opponents dangerously and put them out on the sidelines for a while - or even better, put them out of football forever. And they have "Energizer bunny" Frank Lampard, who's played goodness only knows how many consecutive games and is still going strong, and can even find time in the middle to produce a son with his girlfriend.

The FA Cup and Carling Cup are likelier alternatives for this season's trophy cupboard. Obviously, there's still a good chance at the Premier League, but these 2 other domestic competitions, if the players move their butts, should be sealed and in the bag by May next year.

It was a disgraceful and disappointing result, but if it could be made up for by a domestic treble I wouldn't really mind so much. After all, there's always next season... and the next... and the next...


At 2:09 AM, December 09, 2005, Blogger Andy said...

Firstly, I agree with u.

But I have to say Man U should have won it last night.
I was behind Man U all the way, even though I was a Chelsea fan.

The first Goal caught Benfica unaware even though scholes was really lucky the bounce ended up inside of the goal line.

But to commit 2 defensive errors after taking the lead is not the man u we know.
It all boils down to the players not concentraing in the match.

In big European matches, 1 goal leads are never enough.

Especially when 15 million bucks are at stake.

Well, I just hope that its a blessing in disguise for Man U.
So that they can concentrate on the EPL and FA Cup.

At 1:03 PM, December 09, 2005, Blogger JayWalk said...

As at now, it seems that the League Cup is ManUtd surest piece of silverware this season courtesy of Charlton's elimination of Chelsea.

A ManUtd vs Arsenal final for the mickey mouse club would be an interesting match to watch but only if Arsenal gives a damn about the tournament.

Haiz..... sad story man....

At 7:28 AM, December 10, 2005, Blogger Zhe Bin said...

I couldn't agree with you more on point 3. Of course Alan Smith is good on his days. But he's not meant for the job really. In fact I pity him. Alex shouldn't have converted him. But I guess with Rooney and Saha coming back, and Keane leaving, that seemed the wisest thing to do.

I'd have loved to have Thomas Graveson. He's an English fighter. And technically he's better than Keane (right now). Italian players seriously cannot perform outside the Serie A, that's why Gattuso is not my most wanted. But we've seen the likes of Vialli and Zola so I shouldn't cast my doubt early I guess.

Well, after a good night's sleep after that match, I thought and convinced myself that the current Man Utd squad is young. Really young. And that this is all for the making of another great era. Let's be patient.

At 10:09 PM, December 10, 2005, Blogger longsi said...

Yes, I can really see how being the second richest club in the world behind Real Madrid translates to a financial crisis.

It's not so much that they are the second richest club therefore they are not in a financial crisis. The rather massive loan that the Glazers have taken in order to finance the purchase of Manchester United PLC has crippled the club's transfer budget. There is a lot of speculation as to whether the Glazers will be able to pay back the loan, and if they don't, what happens? Another consequence is that it's unlikely they'll be able to shell out 30 million quid for a Wayne Rooney or Rio Ferdinand again, at least not for the foreseeable future.

We need a proper holding midfielder, someone who can dictate the midfield, someone who wins balls, who breaks up opponents' passing, who charges up and down the pitch from box to box and supports the attack as well. (I am thinking longingly of our Roy in his prime and casting covetous looks at Claude Makalele now.)

Roy Keane's (previous) role at Manchester United was more like the one Michael Essien does for Chelsea now. Claude Makelele does not dictate the midfield nor does he charge up and down the field and support the attack. That job is left to Essien and Lampard. Makelele's role is almost completely defensive and it doesn't even involve the blood and thunder that Keane's role did.

At 10:33 PM, December 10, 2005, Blogger Merenwen said...

longsi: Wow, thanks for dissecting every last word I typed and pointing out every last "mistake" I made. I'm sure I didn't know what exactly I was talking about or what I was trying to say.


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