The Changing Of The Guard: United Take Over Manchester’s Comic Role

Date: 7th August 2013 at 12:08 pm
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It wasn’t my proudest moment, but we all do things that we later feel embarrassed about, things that bring with them regret and a certain amount of soul-searching. I convinced myself at the time that it was no big deal. I had lots of leave left, it beat working, and it might be fun. To avoid further shame, I told my boss I had a urinary tract infection.

Yes, I once took the day off work for transfer deadline day.

In my defence (if there is one), it promised to be a roller-coaster day for us Manchester City fans. As usual, City had stumbled through the summer transfer period like an alcoholic locked in a Guinness factory and as the deadline approached there was a desperate need to strengthen a mind-bendingly average squad. So the optimist in me, the part of me that that saw good ahead despite what history had taught me, like a moth repeatedly flying towards a hot light bulb, thought that City had some big signings in the pipeline, and that in the nick of time my club’s movers and shakers would act decisively and seal some exciting deals.

Of course that’s not how it panned out, and even the late interest in a loan deal for Mido proved to be nothing more than speculation, thankfully. And that’s how it has always been for my traditionally poorly-run club. Even last season, City’s failure to capture primary targets led to a deadline day frenzy of action, the final signing not announced until after the deadline had passed, just like the time Benjani fell asleep in an airport (twice), delaying his official signing until the day after Jim White in the Sky Sports studio orgasmed at the sound of Big Ben’s 5pm chimes .

But times change, people change (except Jim, he’ll never change). The cycle of life has reached the summer of 2013, and something really weird is happening. Roles have been reversed, and I can’t get used to it all – the stumbling buffoon has moved on and taken up residence down the road.

It seems rather presumptuous to rubbish Manchester United’s dealings in the transfer market with three weeks of the window left. After all, the Daily Star is still peddling news of Ronaldo’s imminent arrival at Old Trafford (and you can rely on them) , Gareth Bale is regularly linked still despite the Real Madrid attraction, and now it’s the turn of Bayern Munich’s Bastian Schweinsteiger to be talked of as United’s first central-midfield signing of note since 2007. Those in the know will tell you that all these tedious stories are nothing more than a smokescreen before United announce their marquee signing. The only surprising development is that United’s increasing desperation has not led to another summer-long transfer saga involving Wesley Sneijder, who if you believe what you read in the newspapers has been signing for United since 2010.

You must presume that United have not bid for Cesc Fabregas without some encouraging noises from the Fabregas camp. But their willingness to go public with the pursuit relies on a successful outcome to maintain their pulling-power and reputation. Their openness about many of their summer dealings is mystifying, and at odds with everything that went before. You wonder if the in-house methods of Alex Ferguson, where nothing escaped into the public domain ( as down the road the paparazzi photographed City players fighting on the training ground) were against the wishes of United’s current owners, who are now reverting to their modus operandi, or if this new approach is led by David Moyes. Perhaps the openness was deliberate in order to flush out a response from Barcelona/Fabregas and get the ball rolling, but it doesn’t seem to have worked, though the deal is not dead just yet.

All the stories are mainly based on speculation of course, and Moyes cannot take too much of the blame. He is not responsible for signing players, for finalising deals, though he will of course have an input and the ability to talk direct with prospective signings, but this is probably not the start to his reign that he had envisaged. Alex Ferguson has left him with a nice little crisis regarding Wayne Rooney, a parting gift that almost suggests he wants his successor to fail, and even if some big signings are accomplished before September 2nd, the season is just 10 days away and there is no time to bed these players in before a difficult opening month of the season.  And as the Wayne Rooney saga drags on, United are left in limbo, not knowing for sure (despite their insistence that he is staying) if they have him as a striker next season, or instead have a pot of money to find someone else instead.

In addition to that, United have had to apologise to Everton over their conduct in pinching David Moyes, a deal seemingly sorted well before the end of the season, and this has had the knock-on effect of making Everton a possible no-go area for recruiting the likes of Baines or Fellaini. Or Leon Osman. Considering the stick Manchester City got for the way they replaced Mark Hughes with Roberto Mancini, I can only imagine that the whole of Fleet Street and future Sunday Supplement panels will be apoplectic with rage at this latest development.

And all the while, away from the theatre of base comedy that was Maine Road (for the record, I NEVER liked Stuart Hall), Manchester City have gone about their business efficiently and quietly, with a minimum of fuss. A new manager, four new signings and thirty million pounds a year off the wage bill. There may be more business to come, but the bulk of the activity has been finalised. Little fanfare, apart from the odd misguided comment on City splashing the cash again and how they’ve stuck two fingers up once more at the financial fair play rules.  How times change. And somewhere in Italy, a debonair, tousled-hair man in an Armani suit strolls through a vineyard, his jacket casually hanging off his shoulder, weeping gently at the injustice of why the club he once managed couldn’t have acted this decisively last summer. Or he’s at home counting all the money from his contract pay-off. One of the two.

So for United, what will that transfer deadline day hold? A last-gasp bid for Joey Barton, his delusions of grandeur probably enough to turn United down? Fellaini? A signing from left-field? Either way, United will still compete for the title as Moyes has inherited a squad that won the title last season at a canter, but the quiet fear from many United fans at Ferguson’s retirement and his rather underwhelming replacement has bubbled to the surface in recent weeks and there is a great deal of anxiety at what may lie ahead. This may soon be forgotten of course with just a couple of good performances, but if United do have an ace up their sleeve, they need to show their hand soon. If the commonly-held perception of chaos in their summer dealings is close to what has actually happened, then David Moyes will start his Manchester United career under more pressure than he could have feared. With Alex Ferguson’s retirement, perhaps the name of Manchester United alone is not enough to attract some of football’s biggest names. David Moyes will come out and say he is happy with his squad, it is good enough as it is, and there is a need to give youth a chance.
And apart from Paddy Crerand and Lou Macari, no one will believe him.

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