They say that football, like most things in life, is cyclical. Peaks and troughs await the best and worst of teams, and just how long each one lasts is up to those involved. By no means is either a high or low guaranteed to be forever, which for some teams can ultimately be good, or for those at the top, a disaster.
Just ask Liverpool. This is the team that was at one time the best in England and the best in Europe. Consistently, year in and year out, they competed with the best players and best managers the game had to offer. It must also be pointed out that this period of utter dominance in the 70s and 80s was followed by a period of footballing wilderness in the 90s, at which point another team took over as the dominant force in England (more on them in a bit).
Even in the 2000s, Liverpool maintained their dominance in the “Top Four” domestically and continued to be commanding on the European stage. Under Rafa Benitez alone, Liverpool made it to four European semi-finals in six seasons, along with two finals, winning one of them. Although there were always some setbacks, Liverpool looked a great side in Benitez’s penultimate season by finishing second in the Premier League, their best finish in a long time.
But alas, Liverpool still find themselves in the position they are in now. From finishing second place two seasons ago, to seventh place last season, to currently in the relegation zone. It’s a harsh reality to observe after five years of steady highs and rebuilding, but the crash has hit and hit hard. The team now flounders after three years spent under poor ownership and previous and current miss-management. While there’s no one person to blame, whether it be the owners, Benitez, or Hodgson, the club has slid from its position of grace and is struggling to cope.
Then there’s Manchester United. A team so dominate in the 90s and 2000s that they climbed from winning seven division titles before that period to winning 11 in the last 17 years. Oddly enough, they won their 18th league title two years ago, equaling Liverpool’s all-time record, the same year Liverpool finished second at the end of an excellent season. Both teams finished the 2008-2009 season on a high, with a visible momentum for the future.
Eighteen months later and United look a completely different side, while, like Liverpool, selling their best players off and not bringing in adequate replacements. You can look at the negative impact owners such as George Gillett and Tom Hicks have had at Liverpool and see a very similar impact the Glazers have had at United. While they appeared to improve for a time under the American family, they have found themselves faltering after some notable sales and a heavy increase in debt.
This season has no doubt started poorly for the runners-up. A succession of dropped points to teams like Fulham, Everton, Bolton, Sunderland, and West Brom have left them stewing in mediocrity. No longer are they the fearsome team from the Northeast that used to put teams to the sword, but rather a side with a geriatric core and a defense resembling a sieve.
It’s not necessarily a game of “Let’s Blame The Owners,” but the debt that United now find themselves in, despite their large gate receipts and continued appearances in Europe, has to be worrying. And even with the incredible haul of £80 million for Ronaldo, whom have they replaced the prolific player with? The team has failed to attract stars of that caliber and started to become a team of unimpressive ‘value’ players. The likes of Valencia, Javier Hernandez, Michael Owen, and Gabriel Obertan have yet to impress at Old Trafford, and most importantly, they’ve yet to impress the only star player left in Wayne Rooney.
It’s sad news for those that follow United to hear of Rooney’s apparent desire to leave the club, following in the footsteps of his former strike partners Ronaldo and Tevez. The situation may change, but he appears out the door to the nearest trophy winning side in blue.
As Ferguson and Rooney remain at odds, it’s the first time the public have been privy to chinks in the United armor. While it may seem unfathomable to United fans to be protesting outside a courtroom to oust their current owners and languishing in the drop zone in desperate need of a turnaround, that’s exactly what Liverpool fans thought a year ago.