I would not expect anyone to feel sympathy for Manchester United fans but there by the grace of God go us all.
They are owned by the Glazers, who have picked up the best part of £100m this summer, for selling off five per cent of their 95 per cent ownership and they have since indicated that, if United do not qualify for the Champions League this season, there is likely to be a fire sale of their top players.
Nice to know your club is owned by people who put sport first.
Yet beyond the ownership we have the management, the fans and the press.
For the past four months the national sports pages have been fascinated with the “revolution” going on at Old Trafford, sparked by the appointment of Louis Van Gaal. We were informed he had a “war chest” and anyone in football with a little bit of nous knew he would need every penny. Indeed if he had taken the trouble to watch videos of United’s games over the previous two seasons, he would have known precisely why he needed to spend.
Naturally the very active Flying Dutchman was busy with the World Cup in Holland but he gave the thumbs up to two signings that his predecessor, David Moyes, had set up, plus a 17-year-old keeper loaned back to his Serbian home club. So United, well off the pace last season, entered the campaign on Saturday, effectively having signed two new players – the quietest transfer activity of any Premier League club.
I know a Manchester United season-ticket holder who I talk to every year when on holiday at a Spanish resort. She asked if I knew which players the new United boss would sign. I wrote down a list of all the players touted in the newspapers since Van Gaal’s appointment and I suggested she keep the 21-strong list and we would reflect on the accuracy of the claims on the beach in 2015. She was a bit baffled as most of them appeared to comprise left-over tiles at the end of a Scrabble game: Lukasz Piszczek etc.
I am sure most of it is random speculation: the whim of some journalists or agents planting a story to try and gain momentum for their clients. There are even a couple of websites – News Now and Caught Offside – which will provide the low-down on your club’s latest transfer aspirations, culled, it seems, from every possible printed source.
I was fascinated to read United were going to seal a bid for Player A within two days. Then I looked at the source of the story. On one occasion it was the Bath Evening Chronicle and the next, the Scunthorpe Telegraph – obviously publications with their fingers on the Old Trafford pulse.
Mind you, football clubs are just as contrary. United’s Ed Woodward headed home from the US saying “watch this space” with regards to transfer targets he was working on while manager LVG was in USA saying he wanted to assess his squad before even considering new signings.
I thought early August should be interesting because Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea have already invested during the close season, and I do not believe United were just two players short and a switch to 3-5-2 from qualifying for Europe last season. They have considerable leeway to make up on the others based on last season and, in the summer, they have fallen further behind.
Of course I am not dismissing Van Gaal’s ability to produce unexpected quality from an unlikely squad. We saw a classic example of Sir Alex Ferguson doing just that, romping home to the last title before his retirement, with the poorest squad United have had in years.
It was one of Fergie’s greatest achievements but I notice his revised biography is going to include a reference to the David Moyes saga. I hope Fergie is going to admit he saddled his successor with an unbalanced, fading and often mediocre squad and, while reports that LVG is going to unload up to ten players at Old Trafford may well have been an exaggeration, it said much when the ten-man list being touted round included almost all Fergie’s more recent signings.
And so we came to the start of the season and United kicked off against Swansea, part of their so-called “easy start” to the campaign and came unstuck.
In 90 puerile, sterile minutes, United demonstrated why they finished fifth and why the press, for all their faults, imagined back in May, that Van Gaal must have a sizeable war chest to invest.
“We need new players,” he announced, 24 hours into the new season, and then claimed he had long been aware of the fact.
Admittedly, not being in the Champions League is a problem, but we are talking about one of the biggest clubs and managerial names in the world. Why, with just 13 days to go, were we reading United are going on a £153m spending spree?
It smacks of panic, misjudgement or lack of planning and thinking and, of course prices will rise. A growing number of United fans suspect, judging by the websites, perhaps chief executive Woodward is not up to the job of wheeling and dealing, unless it is with a commercial organisation falling over themselves to sponsor Van Persie’s underpants.
The latest touted names to join a world brand include a defender with a quick temper and marking problems and another who is unsure how he will cope in the physical stakes of the Premier League. A third has problems recovering from a knee injury. You couldn’t make it up.
How can such a big club make such a pig’s ear of a silk purse? If it can happen to them...
This comment was first published in the Watford Observer on Friday, prior to the signing of Angel Di Maria and United's Capital One Cup exit at MK Dons.