There’s a strong case to be made that Manchester United will never go away. Despite the club’s current plight across domestic competition, the financial structure and off-field operations simply make it near impossible for the club to fall away into relative obscurity in the manner other big-name English clubs have done in the past.
This country is obsessed with shifts in power, and largely those discussions are off the back of a half-season’s work. Sometimes, we jump the gun well before a campaign gets underway.
Was there an immediate sense after Liverpool won their last league title in 1990 that it would take the club over two decades and counting before they would lift the title again? No, because generally we don’t think like that, especially when it comes to club’s of that stature.
Liverpool’s lasting struggle to recapture – or capture – the Premier League title is based on a number of mistakes from within over the years and the growing might of others. Even Arsenal, who had dominated the late 90s and early-2000s alongside Manchester United couldn’t have foreseen this current barren run midway through Arsene Wenger’s initial years.
But where is the current swing in power from Manchester to Liverpool? What are we using as a measure?
If it’s simply down to a matter of six months struggle for one and the resurgence of the other, then we’re just as fickle as those who we regularly like to condemn. In those six months, Liverpool haven’t overtaken Manchester United’s league trophy count, nor have they qualified for the Champions League – a strong arrow in a team’s quiver of status in the modern game.
We like to look at history, especially when it concerns the falling of empires. From the underdog’s perspective, it’s a popular narrative. And yet history doesn’t always dictate what will come in the future. Are we assuming that United will crumble simply because others have? Where is the acknowledgement that clubs of that stature in the modern game simply can’t go away? Even if we dismiss the financial structure of club’s like Manchester United, what are the ramifications for Uefa and the Premier League if United fell away? We may look to Portsmouth, Leeds and Rangers in Scotland, but clubs like United do have a safety net; they’re of vital importance to the current makeup of the game.
But when analysing clubs like United, you have to look to the importance of individuals. The English clubs run on a slightly different model than that of those in Europe, though even on the continent, there’s a strong sense of the importance of particular, long-standing individuals.
Take Erick Thohir, who recently acquired Inter Milan. It was in the new owner’s best interest to keep Massimo Moratti on board, even in a low-key advisory role. There are things that can be learnt and traditions that need to be passed on from a family who have collectively owned Inter for over 30 years.
At United, Ferguson hasn’t disappeared. In fact, some are questioning his place as a regular at Manchester United games, both home and away. It would have been easy to mock David Moyes and his role as manager with Ferguson so close by, but for the benefit of the club, and not just as something that possibly though not conclusively undermines the new manager, keeping figures like Ferguson and Bobby Charlton around is of vital importance. If there is an external safety net keeping United from falling away into obscurity, those names form the internal safety net.
Then again, it should be said that every club holds their own fate in their hands. They’re as good or as bad as they want to be, within their means. Liverpool have made questionable decisions in the past, both as a club and on a smaller scale by managers. But the moving on of an individual isn’t enough to banish a club from the successes they once dined on so regularly. Multiple factors have to come into effect, each one like a domino increasing the probability of failure and steepening the climb to the top.
Manchester United need time. David Moyes needs time. The club may finish this season without a trophy, but that’s not really damning. Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, AC Milan, and many other giants of the European game have had to go without; Juventus, the most decorated club in Italy, were relegated not too long ago, and yet with a large number of smart moves, they’re back at the summit of Serie A.
It’s far, far too early to call any shift in power. Even if Liverpool were to win the Premier League title this season – an incredible ask despite their good season – United may still wrestle the title back next season. It would take a long-standing fall from United and a subsequent period of prosperity for such calls to hold water.