Anfield Disgrace Was A Fitting Footnote For The Worst Post-War Manchester United Team

There used to be an attraction at Walt Disney World called ‘The Great Movie Ride’.

Four carts bound together, each holding around twenty people, would be driven around a track by a host who would talk about the movies. During the ride you would lurch from one dangerous moment of trepidation to another.

At one point the host would say, ‘At least it can’t get any woise’ (Brooklyn for worse) – and then you’d turn the corner and they would say ‘it’s woise’.

That has been Manchester United’s season; 4-0 at Anfield is not quite as bad as 5-0 to the same team at Old Trafford but we’re really splitting hairs in that regard. This time what felt just as bad was the anticipation that it was going to happen exactly as it did.

Is there relief to be found in the predictable?

Is there catharsis to be found in Harry Maguire’s hapless role in the critical stages of the game, coming hours after he defended his own form this season with more resolution than he has showed on the pitch?

Personally, I don’t think so.

Maguire is Manchester United captain and I still want him to play well. It is obvious that he is not of the sufficient quality to feature in a United defence that will challenge for major honours because the last three years have told us this. It is not good to see him caught hopelessly out of position at the cost of his team.

That’s not a criticism, it’s just a reality. There’s no shame in not being good enough for Manchester United.

But.

There was shame to be found in some blue shirts at Anfield last night.

There have been poor performances by players and teams in Manchester United history, many of them this season, but the nine-minute effort – for want of a much more appropriate phrase – by Paul Pogba, considering all of the circumstances and the venue, may well go down as the most appalling contribution in a United shirt of all-time.

It all contributes to the now increasingly-accepted theory we floated on our podcast a few weeks ago – is this the worst post-war United team?

Liverpool are a fantastic team. It sticks in the throat to praise them and the crowd but what else can one do when Anfield of all places showed more respect to our club than the players wearing the shirt?

Is there a masochistic catharsis to be found in these bottom-of-the-barrel all-time-low performances and results?

It’s the majority of a squad that saw off one of the game’s most decorated managers and then an inexperienced club legend; a squad that has been happy to hide behind the criticism of those managers who were both, at different points, accused of being the reason the club were underachieving in second when the reality is now clear – it was the contribution of those managers that probably overachieved to get there.

With no hiding place and a responsibility to step up, the players have not.

They have played dreadfully and have not liked the reaction to it. Instead of trying to prove themselves there have been excuses, rumours of finger pointing and the shifting of accountability, and personal defences where you couldn’t think they were conceivable.

So you seek solace in the idea it can’t be worse, even though each passing performance gives us cause to question that.

It can’t be worse – but United have to rely on a veteran great to get a win over the worst team in the league at home after deciding they were giving up at 2-0 up! Shameful.

It can’t be worse than 5-0 at home against your biggest historical rivals – but somehow here we are wondering if expecting last night and experiencing it is actually worse. How is that possible from a group of footballers at any club?

Last night the last remaining vestige we could hope for is that there was some historical pride – disregard the earlier result, disregard the laughable donkey race for the top four, all that remained was the historical prestige of this rivalry.

United fought for a generation to claw back a seemingly unassailable target of league titles and not only matched it but surpassed it and became the most successful club in the country. It is a profile from which the current players have benefited and taken full advantage of.

The last opportunity to show some respect, for all that has gone before them, was to show some fight for all that was provided for them.

The humiliation belongs to them. Not to the club and not to the support. It belongs to the squad and to the ownership who have facilitated underachievement and the flagrant and constant nauseating championing of mediocrity.

The good news is that there’s only a month or so of these players putting us through it. They and we will be put out of our misery.

This past six months has seen possibly the biggest run of disgraceful performances from any team in Premier League history.

It has been a welcome relief to hear David De Gea speak with a blunt honesty about our awful performances. It is manna from heaven to hear the manager, interim or not, concede we need at least ten new players. What a damning indictment for this squad.

That seems like an indication of Rangnick’s frustration; which, in turn, casts some doubt on how likely he is to remain in employment by the club moving forward. But finally someone from the right position to be able to call it out has done so – maybe there has been some benefit to having an interim manager after all.

Prospective new players will be looking at it with some trepidation but with some consolation that even a modicum of effort will be a significant improvement compared to what supporters have been subjected to. At least we know that with Jim Lawlor and Marcel Bout having left the club, the scouting system will be significantly updated; let’s hope that there is a careful consideration with an emphasis on character of players instead of just ability.

Standards have to be raised and that is going to be the message ringing in the ears of any new arrivals this summer. This could theoretically help with the everyday privilege of playing for United and the weekly standard that is just different from any club. Yesterday was another reminder of that.

If these new players know that work-rate and pride to be there is the bare minimum expected from them – and how can they not? – then half of a battle is won.

And, in some ways, although it feels unpalatable now, it is better all around that the players received a hammering like they did yesterday in the manner in which it was received; a further footnote in their abysmal contribution this season, and no room for any excuse by anyone foolishly inclined to feel they might try.

Wayne Barton

Wayne is a writer and producer. His numerous books on Manchester United include the family-authorised biography of Jimmy Murphy. He wrote and produced the BT Sport films 'Too Good To Go Down' in 2018, and 'True Genius', in 2021, both adapted from his books of the same name. In 2015 he was described by the Independent as the 'leading writer on Manchester United' and former club chairman Martin Edwards has described him as 'the pre-eminent writer on the club'.

Leave a Reply

Previous Story

Things can only get better for Manchester United

Next Story

Exclusive : United Legend Hill Shares 'Heartbreak' Of 'Utter Chaos' At Old Trafford

Latest from Columnists

Stand By Ten Hag

Two wins, three losses, negative goal difference, and 13th in the league. That was the state