Manchester United‘s current malaise is a popular topic of discussion that continues to fascinate.
Has a club of such prestige ever declined as sharply as the Red Devils have under new manager David Moyes?
The reasons behind the downturn have been well documented. There was too much change in the backroom staff over the summer. Moyes’ tactics have failed to bring the best out of his players. The club failed to invest enough in either of the transfer windows. Too many of the experienced players are past their best and need to be replaced.
Or simply put, Moyes isn’t up to the job.
The list could go on.
The Scot’s claim that his side can go on to lift the Champions League after a dramatic turnaround against Olympiakos is admirable but unlikely. The draw has not been kind to them, pitting them against favourites Bayern Munich.
Success in Europe would be the only means by which this current campaign could be labelled as anything other than a catastrophe for the reigning Premier League Champions.
With Sir Alex Ferguson at the helm in an incredible managerial reign spanning four decades, United became the dominant English side in the Premier League in a manner that is unlikely ever to be replicated.
Since the inception of the format in 1992, the Red Devils have lifted a staggering thirteen titles and consistently challenged for the crown on almost every other occasion.
Only last season, Ferguson’s final United side set a Premier League record in winning twenty five of their opening thirty fixtures en route to sealing the club’s 20th top division success.
A renewed look at the club’s sustained spell of dominance under Ferguson only serves to emphasise the scale of the decline under Moyes this season.
Realistic hopes of retaining the title had evaporated as early as November. The prospect of securing a top four finish, something that wasn’t even considered an achievement under Ferguson, faded rapidly with each passing month.
Possibly the best comparison in this country for a similar downturn is the infamous meltdown of Leeds United. Semi-Finalists in the Champions League in 2001, the 5th place finish in 2002 failed to secure the revenue that the club needed to survive.
A fire sale of players followed in an effort to balance the books. Leeds fell from 5th to 15th in one season and by 2008, the club was plying their trade in the third tier of English football.
But is this decline truly comparable to United’s this season?
A financial meltdown drove events at Elland Road and as much as Leeds fans will hate to admit it, even at their height they simply did not possess the reputation of their rivals from across the Pennines.
Moyes cannot point to any financial impediments as an excuse for the Red Devil’s rapid decline this season, unlike Rangers, who were relegated into the Scottish Third Division in 2012 after the original club were declared bust.
Obviously in footballing terms, the Glaswegians decline more than matches United’s current plight. But financial circumstances again serves as the explanation.
In 2006, Juventus were relegated to Serie B for the first time in the club’s history after being found guilty of match-fixing.
Once more though, extenuating circumstances exempt this example from really making a suitable parallel.
After winning Ligue 1 in 2012, Montpellier’s ninth place finish the following year almost mirrors United’s current predicament perfectly.
But the French club do not boast a similar reputation and were actually shock winners of the title, having finished a lowly 14th just the season before.
Consequently, it hardly stands as a valid parallel considering the Red Devils’ record under Ferguson.
Perhaps one of the best comparisons in modern times would be Barcelona’s failure to finish above fourth place in La Liga from 2001 to 2003. Considering the Catalans’ dominance in recent years, such a barren period for the club seems implausible.
But even with the likes of Rivaldo and Patrick Kluivert at the club, Barcelona failed to pose a credible challenge to the title for three consecutive seasons.
This serves as a more suitable comparison but the Catalan example simply cannot match the pace of United’s decline under Moyes.
The Red Devils have gone from runaway record-breaking champions to merely competing for a Europa League spot in less than twelve months.
Obviously there has been a massive amount of backroom upheaval, but this is largely the same group of players that triumphed under Ferguson in 2013.
Has football ever witnessed the footballing decline of such a prestigious club in such a short space of time before?
Any other comparisons from further afield are welcome. But they are unlikely to match either the scale or pace of United’s decline under Moyes this season.