Whatever happed to our enviable ability to muster every last ounce of energy, to face a foe with bravery and conviction, to wear the shirt with dignity and to make the fans proud to be a Manchester United supporter? Not arrogant, just better.
As European come-backs go, the game against Liverpool on Thursday was a damp squib. Van Gaal can say what he likes in his increasingly bizarre press conferences. He lauded our hapless team in truly Moyesian fashion, saying he was proud of the way they played. What?!
Van Gaal’s tactics are becoming a humourless joke. Can you imagine Sir Alex, having to chase three goals in a second half, with the fans doing their bit by keeping the atmosphere electric with song and jest, swapping two defenders for two more defenders then replacing a defensive midfielder with another defensive midfielder who had played twenty minutes in the last three months?
Of Rojo, Van Gaal said he was looking tired. Where was his adrenaline, his fearless drive to regain a foothold in the game? Why was Varela substituted? Because, in the last seconds of the first half, he was burnt by Coutinho with a wonderful chip that left De Gea embarrassed? The keeper left his line, and will likely be leaving Manchester on the earliest flight to Madrid when the season finishes.
When trickery was needed and Martial and Rashford needed help, did he bring on Depay? No, he brought on Schweinsteiger to replace Carrick, our silent captain with as much fire in his belly as a shot of Sambuca. Think of past come-backs, and how even in the direst of circumstances, it was our captains that pulled the team up by the scruff of its neck, and dragged them over the finish line.
I remember being at Old Trafford in 1984, 2-0 down against Barcelona from the first leg in a quarter final of the European Cup Winners Cup. We were given little hope against the Catalans, maybe without MSN, but boasting the not inconsiderable talents of Diego Maradona and Bernd Schuster. Bryan Robson, AKA Captain Courageous, scored two, and Frankie Stapleton made it three in the closing stages. Job done!
One of the most famous comebacks was the 1999 Champions League win against Juventus in the semi-finals. At 1-0 down in the first leg at Old Trafford, with seconds to spare, Giggs made it 1-1. With Juventus enjoying the advantage of an away goal, Filippo Inzaghi ensured United were 2-0 down within 11 minutes in Turin, 3-1 on aggregate. The captain that night was one of the best – Roy Keane. He began the comeback with one of the sweetest glancing headers from a corner you’ll ever see. The fabulous duo of Cole and Yorke capped off a wondrous comeback to make it 4-3 on aggregate and it was “full steam ahead Barcelona!” This against a team that included Zidane, Davids, Deschamps and Inzaghi.
Without doubt, United’s ultimate comeback was in Barcelona itself, that night late in May in 1999. Bayern had scored within six minutes with a wicked deflection, and United spent most of the match being bombarded by Bayern, with only the posts and the mighty Peter Schmeichel keeping them out. In the final minutes, what does Ferguson do? Take off two strikers and add a fresh pair of forwards in Solskjær and Sheringham. The rest is history… football, bloody hell!
These comebacks were all against teams that had some of the best and most talented squads in Europe. Yet this week we only had to take on Liverpool at Old Trafford and restore the advantage. Paul Scholes, who now talks more than the twenty odd years he was at Old Trafford combined, suggested that 2-0 was an easy turnaround. Maybe for his United, but not Van Gaal’s insipid, heartless and weak-willed team.
This week, I watched Bayern Munich, 2-4 down against Juventus at the Allianz, who ended up producing four goal comeback, beginning in the last fifteen minutes, through to an extra time, winning 6-4 on aggregate. Look who their manager is, and look where he will be next season!
So what next for United? As Roy Keane argued in his review of the Liverpool game, our players are “shrinking” under the pressure. Shrinking is a good way of putting how sharp our decline in the past three years has been, and if the rot is not stopped soon, we could be in for a desolate few years.