The Desperate State Of Manchester United

Wayne Rooney's outburst after Esteban Cambiasso's equalizer on Sunday might be my favorite Manchester United moment of the past decade. The Red Devils led Leicester City by scores of 2-0 and 3-1. When the Foxes made it 3-3 with the help of some shoddy United defending, Rooney was fed up. He tore into his team so vigorously that his surgically repaired thinning hair suddenly looked thin again. Captains are expected to lead, but rarely do we see them as animated as the Red Devils' new skipper.

The best part? Rooney was at fault for the goal. His wayward clearance landed at the feet of Dean Hammond, whose shot caromed off some legs and eventually found its way to Cambiasso.

Nothing screams desperation quite like a screaming, delusional captain. In the halcyon days of Sir Alex Ferguson, desperation used to carry a positive connotation — fans called it Fergie Time. It meant that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was entering the game to score a late winner. It meant that Peter Schmeichel vacated his net to grab an equalizer on the other side of the pitch. It meant that United was here, yet again, to steal the Premier League.

And now? Desperation is firing a new manager in his first year on the job and replacing that man with a megalomaniac. Desperation is spending nearly $250 million in the transfer window in an effort to make sure the ignominy of an seventh-place finish doesn't happen again, only to see the club get out to 1-2-2 start in the league. Desperation is realizing you're one point clear of relegation and eight behind leaders Chelsea. Desperation is sending a flyover plane with the message "Come Home" to Madrid to try and woo Cristiano Ronaldo back to Manchester.
He's heard the rumors, too. He already chose Madrid over Manchester. Why would he go back? Who would?

I briefly discussed on Monday the merits of manager Louis van Gaal's, or really anyone's, genius. Please read if you haven't, but basically the argument is this: Through his behavior prior to and during his United tenure as well as the splurge on his players, van Gaal has assumed all responsibility for the club's performance.

Last Sunday, the Red Devils failed to defend against a newly promoted side and suffered a 5-3 loss. Van Gaal looked stumped on the bench. Top assistant Ryan Giggs, a Fergie minion, could only hide his face in shame. The announcers remarked that the two sported the same expressions that we saw a year ago in the brief David Moyes era. Who knew that a team needed competent defenders to win in England?

The only good thing about the result — and good is a strong word here as well as a relative one — is that the blown two-goal leads fade all memories of the more embarrassing 4-0 defeat to MK Dons, a League One team, in the Capital One Cup.

It's all been so satisfying to watch for the United detractor. For so long, the Red Devils were like a lovechild of the New York Yankees and Duke basketball (never mind that Manchester United dates back to 1878). The club's successes justified its arrogance in the minds of its fans. “Glory, glory Man United,” they sing. “We're the famous Man United, and we're on our way to Wembley.” Giggs is Derek Jeter. Paul Scholes is Christian Laettner. George Best and Eric Cantona are Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson, two subversives whose talent outweighed their dissidence. Their anti-hero status endeared them to all fans. We can look past the Red Devils logo.

Now, the club is on the brink of becoming a laughingstock. Phil Neville, a former United defender, said this week that he believes van Gaal must spend $163 million more in the next transfer window to shore up the defense. Throwing money at the problem, adding kindling to the fire, call it what you want. Van Gaal has justified our sadistic pleasure in a way that Moyes never could. Watching Moyes fail was like witnessing someone give a presentation in college that he was hilariously ill-prepared for. You chuckled at his anxiety, but you understood that it could easily be you on that stage.

There is no such pity for van Gaal. At the end of October, United will start a four-game stretch that sees them play Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal. Don McLean once sang, “Fire is the devil's only friend.” With the Red Devils going down in flames, I suppose we'll find out.

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