Decline and fall

By Tony Attwood

Oh how the media love to ignore the big question.  It doesn’t matter whether it is something unbelievably important such as the mass abuse of vulnerable children in Rotherham or something trivial (and yes I mean that by comparison) such as football, there is either an ineptitude or a conspiracy which leads to virtually all the media ignoring the big questions.

In Rotherham, let me explain briefly by way of explanation if you live outside the UK, a report has been released which says political and police leadership let gang rape and trafficking of children go unchecked for the past 16 years.  The local  council and the police knew about the crimes of sexual exploitation of 1400 children and did nothing other than to cover it up.  In fact covering up seems to have been their main use of the money given to them by people in the UK who pay their taxes.

Of course I know, this is not a social or political blog, and I am not about to make it so, although I have felt like it since hearing this news last night as I was driving home.

But no I shall take my anger elsewhere, but make one point.  The point is that there is a question here: was there some terrible conspiracy just going on in this one Yorkshire town, or does this problem with pedophiles, the police and our local councils exist all over Britain?  And if just Rotherham, why Rotherham?  

I have not heard that question asked this morning, or seen it asked in the newspapers.  And I can’t understand why because it seems to me rather important.

Moving to football amidst this awful news seems crass, but football is what Untold is here for – and in particular covering football stories that are, as the name suggests, “Untold”.  And the story today has a remarkable similarity to the fundamental issue of unasked questions in the real world.

Louis van Gaal has said that he was not surprised or shocked after his team lost 4-0 to a MK Dons – a third division side – last night.  The Man U team, less you think it was all unknown youth players like Mr Wenger used to put out,  included David de Gea, Jonny Evans, Shinji Kagawa, Anderson, Javier Hernández and Danny Welbeck.

Meanwhile Manchester United have spent just under £214m on eight players since the start of last year.  Four have yet to play and the rest have made under 40 starts between them.

And my question – trivial compared with thoughts about child abuse – but still a question – is how did Man U get into this state just 15 months after winning the league?  Why have they fallen so far so fast?

It is an interesting question, because it surely relates to every team at the top.  When their period of dominance ends do they fall a little off the pace and recover, or collapse down the league?

After the Unbeaten Season and subsequent Cup win, Arsenal, as we know, slipped back, not having enough money to compete with Chelsea, Man U and Man C.  But when we talk of slipping back we talk of going from two Doubles and the Unbeaten season, to being third and fourth – thus staying in the Champs League.  A slip, but not a total dropping out of the top zone.

The Man U side slipped to 7th, 15 points behind Arsenal, last season and this year have gone out of the League Cup at the first time of asking (they were excused round one and entered at round two), 4-0 to a third division team.  One year after winning the league.  And now they don’t seem to be able to mount a quick recovery.  Asking why it happened so fast and is so hard to recover from seems pertinent – but doesn’t seem to be a topic in the media.  (Although actually when I checked the Independent’s web site this morning at around 7am they weren’t even reporting the result of the Man U game.)

Certainly there is not a lack of money there so it is not that.  Certainly they had a manager who looked unsteady last season, and that could be part of it.  But normally when you have a major change at the top, you have advisers and people to guide the new boss.  If they did, they were fairly inepts too.

Louis van Gaal’s view is simple: “I am here to build a new team, and a new team is not built in one month,” but that still doesn’t answer the question – why does he have to build a whole new team?  I’m sure eventually Man U will get themselves out of trouble and won’t sink back into the second division as they did in the 1970s, but I want to know why they have sunk so far, and how come Arsenal managed to hold on.

So was it all just a matter of transfers?   Certainly people like Jamie Carragher, now saying his stuff on Sky, like to reduce everything to transfers, and naturally he takes the AAA with him in this.   The current fashion (which JC as he is now styled likes to promote) is to talk about the “spine” of the team, as if somehow if you get a brilliant keeper, central defender, playmaker and centre forward, the rest of it just happens.   Which cuts out the relevant of players like Ramsey or Walcott.  But JC believes the spine of Arsenal’s team is too weak, so that’s that.  End of story.

For me like everything about Carragher, it is too simplistic a vision.  “The spine comes up short,” was his summary of Arsenal in a big interview with Matt Lawton in the Mail.  So what does this mean for Man U.  Did they suddenly lose their spine?  Or did they lose everything?

My own view, for what it is worth, is that clubs either go through gentle movements – a set of wave motions over a period of years – or they make some catastrophic misjudgements and either collapse completely or have to go mad with spending as they try to get back up the ladder.

For me, the reason for Man U’s rapid decline was that they put everything they could – and took every gamble possible – to win the league 15 months ago.  And we have to admit it worked.

But it worked at an incredible cost.  Players were pushed along to jump the final hurdle, without any thought of what came next.  Using the Liverpool model of honesty, RVP was brought in with a clear promise that Sir Alex Ferguson was not about to resign.  RVP was given a long term contract on a high salary, despite his injury history and age and after one year the manager resigned, and admitted he lied about it.

And that was done because all Sir F wanted was his final trophy.  He knew he was going to resign, and he just pushed everything into that final farewell, without leaving the club with some wonderful up and coming players and younger players who could move sweetly into the first team in the coming years.

He also seemed to think that Moyes was the right man for the job – and that again might be worth questioning.   But in essence, Man U are in deep trouble now because they threw everything into that one season, had their share of luck, and won the title.  But didn’t have anything backed up behind that season to take them forward.

And in passing that gives me another thought.  Was the price paid for the championship in 2013 worth it?  If anyone had said, “Take the trophy now, and next year you won’t even qualify for Europe, and the season after will look pretty dodgy too” would all the Man U fans have taken the championship?  Probably, because short termism is everything.

So, as for why Man U are in trouble just now, I think the answer is that they didn’t really prepare for last season, and now the problems are unravelling even further.

In this regard we might remember the AAA’s tedious attacks on Ramsey when he was playing out wide, which they justified because he wasn’t getting it right now, today, this moment.  The notion of preparing for the future is not part of their, or indeed newspaper’s thinking.

So why has Man U fallen back so far?  Because they didn’t look and plan forwards far enough.  But as for whether my country is rife with wholesale child abuse, or whether all the child abusers gathered themselves together in Rotherham, whether all police forces and children’s services are corrupt in Britain, or whether just in Rotherham, I don’t know.

But I would like someone to start trying to find the answer.


If you are a member of AISA living in the UK you should now have received your copy of “Arsenal After Chapman”.  I think it does throw some new light onto what happened during that era – but then I would, since I wrote it.

If you have your copy, I hope you enjoy it.  If not, you can get a copy either by joining AISA or by purchasing this, and any of the four previous volumes in the series.  Details are here

44 Replies to “Decline and fall”

  1. There is only one person responsible for the shambles that is utd’s youth development programme, and and purchase of such poor players with someone else’s money.

    That person should hand back his knighthood.

    Recovery from this state of affairs will probably take more than 9 years.

    Do Arsenal fans have any sympathy?

    This one certainly does not.

  2. Hunting Paedophiles is easy if they are high profile celebrities, priests or prep school teachers. Much, much harder to begin the search if there is a sense that it is an endemic problem and that vast swathes of the country are unfit to adequately bring up and protect their children.

    Finding the reasons for United’s demise is a lot more simple: follow the money.

  3. The Man U problem in my opinion is simple.

    Even in the last Ferguson years they were pretty terrible, they just won on the fear factor of their reputation with lesser teams already beaten before they took to the pitch.

    Under Moyes the fear factor evaporated and the mid table teams were thinking ‘hang on, we can beat this lot’. As veggie is fast finding out, the fear factor – like trust – once lost is hard to regain.

  4. On the fall of Man U, I always found it hard to believe that almost every team that Utd played throughout the last decade or so was so good that they struck fear into opponents and dominate them all day. Yes in Premier League they did manage to in some case with Smaller teams allowing meekly surrendering. they managed to win titles purely by spirit and not skill. If you compile a list of great European teams like Barcelona of Guardiola /Rijkaard era, Real Madrid during Galactico era, Arsenal during invincible era, A C Milan of the 90’s and under Ancelotti, more recently Bayern Munich and Juventus, these teams streamrolled past the rest in their respective leagues and dominated Europe for quite some time ofcourse barring Arsenal and Juventus. it is really hard not to imagine that a mediocre man U team could achieve so much in the last 25 years alone with pure spirit that Ferguson managed to instill in them. I for one, was always waiting for this to happen to them since i felt it was a bubble waiting to burst big time. Yes its true that in his quest to overhaul Liverpool , Ferguson put everything in his last season to reach 20 titles although he couldn’t beat their 5 European titles and called it time. I am sure that had man U not lost the title two seasons ago on goal difference he would have stepped down then. Now he has left Man u with no team for the future forcing the new manager to re-build almost half the team and massive expectations from past glories.

  5. The Rotherham situation appears to have resulted from a detailed plan unleashed by the abusers over a number of years – with those in authority, who’s duty it was to safeguard the vulnerable and innocent, either incompetent, covering up or possibly participating in the scandal. Something somewhere is dreadfully wrong.

    I would be surprised if there was not another Rotherham waiting to be discovered.

    The Manures in their last two or three seasons under the F person were not good enough to win the title – but they were propped up by the benevolence of the PGMO(L). That prop seems to have gone with the departure of the F person and the Manures have found a level closer to their deserved position.

  6. It is fun to watch them squirm, of course it is, but it wont last. There PL and Media admirers wont allow there demise to go unchecked.

    And where the PL and Media go you can rest assured the PGMOL will follow.

    I fully expect phantom penalties and Fergie time to return in a vengeance, and sooner rather than later.

  7. Re your first paragraph Tony.
    It’s the Emperor’s New Clothes again where everybody is afraid to mention what is blindingly obvious for fear of being ridiculed.
    It’s happened at Rotherham ( Prof. Alexis jay’s report said as much ) and now that one of English football’s icons has been reduced to an average side the media are finding it difficult to adjust.

  8. Glad you mentioned the PGMOL, bjt.

    As Untold’s analysis over the years confirms, Man Utd under Ferguson seemed to have unequal power in relation to the refs.

    The 50th match would never have been won by Man U if not for the help of the referee, who went on to become the man in charge of the PGMOL.

  9. Agree with Gunner T; the fear factor has gone.
    And also; SAF’s selfishness, trying to get that final titel for himself, left a team in shambles.

  10. Success without a successor can only be a disaster. Man U had it coming. They were living a lie for a few years before the knight in shining armour took his last ‘trophy’ and rode off into the sun. He, with a lot of help from the ever inventive British media, and the PGMOL have kept the club feeling better tha n they really were. Now the high is over leaving a massive head ache and very messy underwear. It’s time for a reality check. They need to learn the old-fashioned virtue of patience, honesty and foresight ( future based on youth development). Many of the trophies they claimed actually should have been for other clubs- Arsenal for example. They have stuffed themselves with other peoples rations for long. Now it is their time to starve.

  11. To every Man U fan, a place among the top-four in the EPL never looked better. Pure and undiluted joy is watching them squirm trying to explain the inexplicable. Now Arsenal’s sustained stay in the top four without a trophy suddenly doesn’t look that bad.

  12. Every manager throws all he can to win the league. Sir Alex was the most feared man in the league and so his team.

    Common factors to the Rotherham case seem to me there are secret hands capable to manipulate visible faults ,dirty and make it look nice and shiny.

  13. All very interesting, not sure Utd getting the favours they once did…….a lot of refs and other managers and players for some reason felt they owed Fergie, Scudamore said their success is a requirement for the brand. So what has happened?

    As for Rotherham…..think it was the south yorks police again? Think they have been in trouble with cover ups before…..just cannot remember what!!!!!

  14. The most disturbing revalations have nothing to with the emperors new clothes or fear of ridicule but with the clothes that the victims submitted to the police, the officials (bold, underline), disappearing as evidence

  15. Can’t see what the fuss is all about Man Utd’s steady demise.
    After all, they’ve been relegated before and it could well happen again.
    They have no divine right to success, although Ferguson seemed to think so.

  16. It is not smoke & mirrors. News International were the parent that ‘allowed’ News of The World to breach public decency and hack into mobile phones. Yet only part of that organisation was punished. The money grabbing bar steward still has blood on his hands. It was he and Maggie that started a corrupt process that facilitated political control of Police. Police who stood between workers from the mines and ‘freedom to fornicate’. Rotherham is not the only corrupt fallout.

    The PGMOL have enjoyed a similar joy ride as have several ‘agents’ on the backs of football. When football fans sing about rent boys, it may not be far from the truth.

  17. Thanks Tony for a very interesting and thought provoking post.

    On your point regarding Rotherham I did hear one television comment last night which said that following the very similar case in Rochdale (across the Pennines in the other ‘Roses’ county) which led to a successful prosecution the Government asked all local authorities to review their position and the reporter then cited five or six local authorities including not only Rochdale and Rotherham but also Oxford (so it is not just gritty cities up north) who had uncovered a major problem.

    This leads to a very worrying question of how many other authorities have simply not woken up yet and whether we still only have the tip of a very nasty iceberg showing. However of even greater concern from the same report was the suggestion that this problem was in each case related to Pakistani men and had not been tackled because of PC concerns which does not surprise me however wrong and inexcusable that is. I fear this is an issue like terrorism and Moslems where we have to gain the support of the minority community and tackle the crime and perpetrators very vigorously.

    On your footballing comment re MU I felt strongly even when they won the league at a canter 15 months ago that they had a very poor midfield of work horses with little or no footballing class. Like others I feel the AF factor and particularly the way it translated referees into a twelfth man together with an intimidatingly noisy support gave the noble knight all he wanted to win number 20 and quit while he was ahead and so leave all the mess behind him for others to deal with.

    Much what I would have expected.

  18. I find myself going much closer to the way Alex and Mandy Dodd are thinking; with Fergie gone, many things inside the club have changed but more importantly the way the influences (which/who had an indirect/direct affect on the direction and success of the club) he had toward hierarchy outside the club FA/Refs Association comes to mind)!!

  19. should read: ‘…toward hierarchy outside the club (FA/Refs Association comes to mind)!!’

  20. Apo Armani, I once attended a function where a fairly well known ex ref was present……he said …off the record….that many of the refs were counting the days until Fergie retired and they could just get on with their jobs in peace and freedom. Not saying I agree with him, some seem to have replaced Utd with other north west clubs in their fealty ,but maybe adds to the opinion held by some they made sure Fergie got his twenty, knowing that would be it, the refs embarrassed themselves for him in his final year, as did others.

  21. I was hoping ‘the chosen, later turned rejected one’-Moyes , could build a decent Manure team in 4 years but instant gratification overruled that. So LvG is not a magician after all. If they won’t be patient with him to ‘build’ his team, I’m afraid the chel$ki hire and fire managerial virus would infect manure for some time.

    And why have players with Arsenal DNA (Fabianski, Mannone and Afobe)been manure’s undoing in their last three matches? LOL 🙂

    Bring on Besiktas tonight!

  22. Wenger is in serious danger of becoming a laughing stock yet again in the transfer window, I know that Giroud’s injury has thrown up the possible need for another striker but it’s other positions that really worry me, he let Vermaelen go so We are drastically short for centre backs and he still hasn’t bothered addressing the position of a defensive midfielder. Without a solid spine to the team AND adequate replacements for injuries which We have so many of, Arsenal WILL NOT win either the premier league or the CL and would need an element of fortune to take a domestic cup. It wouldn’t be so worrying if he wasn’t so inept with tactics, the Everton game was another classic example, other managers needn’t be concerned about a change in formation because he pretty much does the same thing every game, one up front and leaves the pace on the bench until We are behind. Get the cheque book out Wenger and sign Cavani and Rabiot and look for another CB now that the Greek has been bought by another club.

  23. United dilemma is simple. They sold key players for almost zero pounds and bought in over 72milllon worth of players.

  24. It seems the consensus on here is that it’s all over for United.

    I hope you’re right, and there certainly is a lot of logic to what you say but I think you could be being a bit premature.

    Anyone who reads my posts will know I believe passionately that the media, and the pressures it can bring to bear, are bar far and away the biggest influence, outside of the money, as to who wins the PL.

    Manchester Utd are a cash cow for the PL and the media alike, and they will be extremely reluctant to see it disappear. But the thing that may make there demise easier to bear is if they decide to throw ALL there eggs in the Liverpool basket.

    One other thing. Once utd get there full squad together they will still be a force. For the title? Probably not. For top for? probably.

    I think those seeing a mid table collapse are letting there heart rule there head a bit I’m afraid, but I do hope you are right.

  25. @Sean
    Take it easy mate, we have reliable players who can step in attack and defence. All the NOT this and NOT that will take away your enjoyment of the game. Support the team.

  26. Great analysis Tony! Thanks for that.

    I generally agree that SAF made sure he wins the title in his last season and the hell with everything else. Of course, the refs helped them (BJT), and of course, lower teams pulled down their pants and waited to be fucked (Gunner T), but you also need to consider they won the league by a huge margin which cannot be all attirubted to those things. And my guess is that a lot of players (well, maybe not RVP and his inner child) knew, or at least felt, that this is some sort of a swansong and gave it all. Players clearly too old to play at that level for another year.

    Another point to consider (which also relates to one of Tony’s points): clubs’ circles of life. Usually, extremly successful football clubs, who win back-to-back championships and other trophies, keep the success on for a period of 3-4 years. Clubs, that when you watch them, you say – “WOW! They play amazing football!” – only for the next year to play lukewarm football. The only exception I can think of is Barca who had 9 years, but then again, it was 2 different teams – the Ronaldinho-Deco-Eto team, and the Xavi-Messi-Iniesta team (with 2 different managers).

    I think that the reason for that is that athletes get their competitive and figurative stomachs full. They lose the hunger, the apetite, the desire – and just don’t put enough effort. So for all those venerable players to pull that last championship – meant getting stuffed, getting full, satisfied, and absoultely in a “I don’t give a fuck” state of mind.

    And last but not least – paying respect, even to your enemy. SAF was, and probably is, a horrible cunt. But, he was a great sports manager, which I consider in the very, very top.

    @ Jambug – I disagree my friend. The media USED to love them BECAUSE they were “winners”; the refs gave them those phantom penalties due to the same reasons (together with Fergie time); everybody celebrated their “brand”, and all this other public-masturbatory bullshit.

    It’s all over now. They are simply too shit to be helped by the refs, and WAY too shit to be celebrated by the media. There will be attempts, but my conclusion is actually opposite to yours: after a brief period of Van Gaalism – maybe 2 months – they will be the biggest outlet for media vitriol. And together with that, you’ll see the refs getting it right against them. Hey – would you believe Ashley Young gettinga yellow card for cheating in SAF’s time?

    And my personal feeling after zipping thru last night’s champions league qualifiers and the MK Dons thrashing, was that I can’t really bring myself to gloat over ManU. It’s not Spurs, who will always be little shitty bastards. If Spurs fall to 14th place, I’ll still gloat. But ManU, man… I’m used to them being the bad guys. When the bad guys suck so badly, it distorts the world’s balance. Darth Vader can’t be a pussy. The Joker can’t be a pussy. I hope you guys understand what I mean…

  27. “Darth Vader can’t be a pussy. The Joker can’t be a pussy. I hope you guys understand what I mean…”

    I do… but with the Joker certainly, once Batman had dealt with him, there was a new big bad to deal with. If you ever watched Stargate SG1, every season was the same. Occasionally a big bad would come back and be a big bad again, but it moved on.

    In this case now Man City and Chelsea are vying to be the big bads in our world.

  28. TommieGun

    I hope you are right and I agreed that the evidence is there for all to see that currently they are not getting the favours they used to.

    For what it’s worth this is my take.

    Currently the media are in a bit of a quandary. Last year they threw everything behind Liverpool and frankly Liverpool let them down and blew it.

    At the moment it seems they are prepared to forgive and forget. They refuse to acknowledge Liverpool’s failings and instead still hail last season as a success, despite winning nothing.

    But I think if last years implosion, and this years average start, turn out to be more than just a ‘hiccup’ I see the media reverting to there tried and trusted cash cow and again start to throw there considerable influence behind Manchester Utd once again.

    You mark my words, if it turns out Liverpool have done a Spurs and blown there windfall, we will see the return of the phantom penalties and Fergie time in no time.

  29. @ esxste – yeah, for sure there are NEW bad guys; but it does not mean that the old bad guy can suddenly become a pussy.

    Just sayin.

  30. LVG states the obvious, rebuilding the ramshackle squad left over by the Don* will take years regardless of whether it’s Moysie or LVGs in charge of the club. We know. Or rather, we knew looking at Slurgus’s last swindle, sorry title, that the squad were very poor once you took Riley & Webb (didn’t they look lovely together last night?) out of the team. Not. A . Surprise. Especially now the two CB veterens have moved on. They won that title with a midfield of just Carrick (ignored by England!), at this moment they have no midfield and no defence.

    Q: why were the knowledgable and Expert AAA oracles so insistent on not using the word “re-build” after the F Word left? Why did they attack the manager when any manager old or new at the club would have had to struggle and rebuild the team? Many long term critics of the club exposed themselves at this time with such opportunistic attacks on the club they aid they support.

    *Q2: was the reference to the former Utd manager as the “Don” by a former Stoke/Utd player of no quality who is now a, yes you guessed it, now a plundit just an odd form of affection to use on sports broadcaster that is not called MUTV or was it an inadvertent slip of the tongue?

  31. The 24/7 football hacks have more interest in reporting what the agents have to say then they have in what fans want to hear.

    £45M on two LBs! We all like Di Maria but we also all know he’s worth about the same as Alexis! It’s a shambles.

    People choose to forget that Sah Slurgus handed over £18M to Special Agent Mendes for Anderson many years ago, when that would have got you a top top player. Anderson whose attempted clearance just before the second MK Don goal was chested in was the highlight of the game apart from Afobe’s goals.

    AWs gambles have come and gone (at no great loss) during the rebuilding period, or at any point during his tenure. No Veron’s on his CV, though I’m sure he’d have had some joy with the player. Somehow AW was smart enough not to buy too many new players in one window, whilst picking up bargains with friendlies thrown in to reduce the fees for good players who have done well when fit like Podolski (he’s only ever been a squad player, a very good one). Must’ve have used that old black magic trick: common sense.

  32. Thanks Tony, a sensitive and intelligent article shadowed by utterly disgusting crimes that the victims in Rotherham will probably never get over. Ray from N. is quite right, and the cost is great as we can see, but at what long term price?
    I feel that many of the AAA or the people at Le Grove could do with reading this article and get a sense of perspective, although perhaps its not possible.
    Thanks again to you and Walter for countering the negative voices at our club by running this site, and to all the people that post regularly and with intelligence here.

  33. The so called conspiracy theories (now becoming theorems) have highlighted this issue in high government places and social security for children organisations for years now, and the mainstream media ignored it. It seems to be a world wide “organised” problem.

    I have also been waiting for that pseudo team, manu to crash, and i hope they take a very long time getting back to the top.
    The pundits ignores the bad defeats, not realising that by not talking about it makes it stand out more.

    I would not really care much about that if they would just leave Arsenal alone.

    Come on lads, win tonight and set our home on fire(NOT LITERAL).

  34. @Will you are damn right,infact i do believe that of all the premier league trophies manure bought sory won only 4 in fergus era where right.

  35. Sorry for joining the party late, for me the reason for utd’s demise is simple; refs. Even if Ferguson had invested so much into that final push there’s absolutely no reason why the same players would now finish 7th the following season. The same side remained intact when Moyes took over, and it’s not like they lost any of their key players. The refs handed it to him, I think RvP in his whole Arsenal career, had not taken as many penalties as he did in his first year at utd. That says it all.

    Of course lack of youth development is also contributing, but given they signed players worth over £200m in two years they really should be doing better.

  36. An interesting piece however I am yet to be convinced that this is the end of ManU. I would like it to be but I think that it is far too early to write them off despite their embarrassment against Milton Keynes.

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