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Why United Need A Plan To Avoid Another Depressing Transititon

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Any old football fan will know that 1968 was the year that Sir Matt Busby managed the team that won the European Cup at Wembley beating Benfica 4-1 with Bobby Charlton and George Best scoring in a game that will forever live in my memory.

I was an altar boy at a Catholic Church and Wednesday’s were altar boy practice which I ducked to watch United. The next Wednesday I was publically fired for choosing United over the Church, a decision that has since proved to be a very good one as United have gone on to greatness while the Catholic Church…….well let’s not go there !

In 1969 I remember being at the European Cup semi-final second leg at Old Trafford when we beat AC Milan 1-0 but went out on aggregate 2-1, and we scored, the ball crossed the line and wasn’t given, right there at the Scoreboard End, I saw it.

After winning the League in 1967 United won the European Cup in 1968 but finished 11th in the table, the squad not capable of playing on two fronts and with a transition from the greatest players we had ever seen, including Dennis Law, George Best, Bobby Charlton and strong team players like Pat Crerand, Nobby Stiles, Alex Stepney and David Sadler.

That year saw the transition from Busby to Wilf McGuiness and the inability to replace the manager, and the players with a team of the calibre to maintain a place at the top saw the decline of Manchester United.

Today we are in that 1969 position, with a 70 year old manager and the end of the ‘Fergie’s Fledgling’ era upon us. The United team and manager need to transition to a new future but history is not in our favour if 1969 is anything to go by.

I can clearly remember the decline and the return of Busby failed to halt the slide down the table leading to relegation in 1974. Six years after the greatest triumph in our history we were relegated.

In those six years, Best was there, in and out of the team but still at Manchester United. We released Law to Manchester City after years of suffering from his decline as a player, and we spend fortunes on players who were not in the calibre of the greats but who played many games for United.

I list a few that I remember and the names tells the story of those times: John Fitzpatrick, Steve James, Alex Forsyth, Gerry Daly, Stewart Houston, Jimmy Nichol – these players played hundreds of games for Manchester United but most in bad teams as our mid-table decline between 1969-71 led to relegation fights in 1972/73 and eventually City put us out of our misery in ‘74.

Players came and tried to revive the Club alone, Lou Macari, Bryan Robson etc but it was a 26 year period of failure to win a title and only 1993 brought the revival we all see today.

In those years after the Busby Babes and their mentor left the Club it was a sad place, I went every week to watch us battle for victory, grinding out wins or taking defeat on the chin.

Yes the fans packed Old Trafford when we were relegated, and dragged the team back into the First Division but it wasn’t pretty, and it was far from the football i watched in the 1960’s.

We changed manager a lot, we couldn’t replace Busby and the new managers brought new ideas and new players, new hope which faded quickly but came like a rush when the Board lost faith and patience. Tommy Docherty, Dave Sexton, Ron Atkinson and even Frank O’Farrell came and went, all were lauded in and booed out.

 So what can we learn from the great OT depression of 1969-1974?

1) We know players fade, and they fade fast when they fade. They don’t come back; decline is a one way street.

2) We know that Manchester United never die, never give in, play a style that 4-3 is better than 1-0 and we love wingers. Find a Manager that fits that style, and stick with him. David Moyes or Jose Mourinho – you tell me which you’d prefer

3) The year we were relegated Leeds United won the League, the next year Derby County won the League; it’s not just big teams that can fall from grace. It’s a fact that success and failure comes in cycles but the question is how deep the troughs are because we know how high the peaks are.

4) The current team is in a transition, we need a plan.

Manchester United are important to me, I know that things are changing but it is vital that the team continue to play the right way, that fading players are identified and released and replaced, and that the cost of failure is considered in comparison to the cost of success.

If that final point is not clear it means this: when we fail to qualify from the Champions League Group Stage because we failed to see that we need midfielders in midfield then we lose at least as much as a top class midfielder would have cost. That is false economy; it’s a road to ruin and a route to depression.

Frankly, quite how George Best drank more than me in 1969-74 is a mystery because watching that decline gave me far more reason to drink that him.

My liver says that a regular celebration is better for me than daily drinking for football depression-related reasons and so for the sake of my liver, please learns from the past Manchester United and please, please give the kids a chance and replace those that aren’t good enough as soon as it’s obvious.

I am sorry Darren Gibson, Federico Macheda, Jonny Evans, Anderson, Mame Diouf and Dimitar Berbatov but you just aren’t good enough.

I’d also remind Patrice Evra, Ashley Young, Wayne Rooney and Rio Ferdinand that the holy trinity of Best, Law, Charlton all faded too, and its only a question of when.

These cycles of life are important to note and experience is about learning from them and not repeating the same old mistakes. To err is human, to err twice is stupid. Let’s not be stupid.

By Steve Burrows CBE @ifollowsteve