Sleeping giant? More like in a coma

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Defeat this week to Atletico Madrid means United have now gone five years without winning a trophy. AFP Photo

Paul Kennedy

There’s no hiding from the fact that Manchester United is still one of, if not the biggest football clubs in the world.

So to see them drop out of the Champions League with a whimper this week was really a sad day for football fans everywhere, myself included.

United were once a tour de force in English and European football, and the day they get back to where they belong can’t come quick enough. Football needs Manchester United firing on all cylinders.

Wait, what? Nah… I’m only joking!

Watching United fall further and further behind into a distant shadow of their former selves is quite simply a beautiful thing.

So beautiful, I actually wished I lived in India, Indonesia or Nigeria, so I could gloat to my heart’s content in the places where the most United fans live. (Google it, it’s true. The UK is 10th on the list of countries with the most United fans).

With their season ending in March, and now only fourth place to play for, means United have gone five years without winning a trophy. The last time that happened was 1977-82.

Their newish manager, Ralf Rangnick, was lauded before he arrived as the man ready to turn their fortunes around. I’d argue they’ve gotten worse, not better, than they were before.

Their second-half performance against Atletico Madrid was gutless, clueless and an awful lot less than the standards seen at Old Trafford in days (years) gone by.

But I believe the problems are far bigger than many predict.

After the game on Tuesday, Marcus Rashford got into a verbal spat with his own supporters, Atletico manager Diego Simeone was pelted with missiles thrown from a small section of home fans as he left the pitch, and this is now 10 years that United have failed to get past the last 16 in the Champion’s League.

They are imploding, and I don’t really see any way back for a very long time.

But also this week I noticed something else that made me think. United’s Old Trafford stadium was once one of, if not the greatest grounds in Europe.

I’ve been there many, many times, and it really was a sight to behold. A great atmosphere was generated inside such an imposing, spectacular ground. Today, rather like the team, it’s falling to bits.

United this week discussed ideas to revamp their iconic, but fading, stadium. One proposal was to completely demolish it and rebuild.

If there were to do that, or indeed extend their existing South Stand, it won’t come cheap. Tottenham’s new stadium, the newest in the Premier League, cost somewhere in the ballpark of $1.3 billion.

Everton FC are also in the process of a complete rebuild, that has a price tag of around $600 million and when complete its capacity will be 23,000 less than Old Trafford currently holds.

A new stadium would cost United probably more than $1 billion, and if they are to spend that, where would the money come from to rebuild the team?

And who would be the person tasked with that job?

Mauricio Pochettino and Erik ten Hag have both been linked, but it’s important to point out, they too both failed to get past the Champions League last 16 this year with PSG and Ajax, respectively.

Worrying times ahead for United, both on and off the pitch.

I’ve been in that position myself, when Liverpool struggled in United’s shadow for decades and I used to joke that we were just a sleeping giant waiting to be woken up.

United aren’t sleeping, they are in a coma, on life support, and I’m can’t see how and when they will ever be brought back to life. VNS

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