It is perhaps a sign of how far Manchester United have fallen that their official website features on Thursday an interview with Bryan Robson, who champions the importance of the much-maligned Europa League.
However, fellow United legend Eric Cantona is not prepared to start writing off his former club, insisting it will not take long for the Red Devils to become “great” once more under David Moyes.
Cantona, speaking after Tuesday’s 3-0 embarrassment at home to Manchester City, remains defiant that this is merely a transition period following the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson. Sky Sports provides the quotes:
Manchester United is one of the biggest clubs in the world. They have been at the highest level for 20 years, and I think they will come back very, very soon.
At every big club it is sometimes like this, but they have proved in the past they have the level to come back and I'm sure Manchester United will come back very soon.
I think he (Moyes) has a long-term project. At the moment it is not very good, but maybe next year it will be great and everybody will see. But I think he is strong enough to handle the pressure.
If Moyes is to dig himself out of the giant hole in which he finds himself, he will need the fans to retain belief and enthusiasm in what he is trying to achieve.
Football Funnys sums up his unwanted impact on United since taking charge:
David Moyes- record breaker!! pic.twitter.com/8n61wc8ann— Football Funnys (@FootballFunnys) March 27, 2014
United will not play Champions League football next term. Barring a mathematical miracle, or an even greater feat—beating Bayern Munich over two legs, they will either find themselves out of Europe next season or playing in the Europa League.
It’s hard to know which is preferable. Financially the club would still benefit from the lesser competition, but few teams excel amid the gruelling Europa League schedule, which often detracts from domestic matters due to the Thursday-Sunday game pattern.
United know it will be a hard sell—if they finish fifth or six this term—to get the fans excited for a secondary class of European football. Robson, though, did his best to promote it, quoted by United Review via the club’s official website:
In my opinion, people are completely wrong to dismiss the Europa League.
Maybe the Europa League is not as prestigious as the Champions League but it still has some of the best teams in Europe who have just missed out in their domestic leagues. As a former player, I think it would be a great achievement to win the Europa League.
United only need take a look at the recent struggles of Tottenham and Liverpool in Europa League competition to see it may block their long-term plans to return to the top of English football.
Liverpool finished seventh when involved in the competition last season but are now in the midst of a title challenge without it. Spurs, meanwhile, have suffered a frustrating campaign that has seen them riddled by injuries, losing their entire back-four for the recent Europa League trip to Benfica.
While United still have a chance—no matter how slim—of staying in the Champions League next term, the club must not start showing acceptance for the Europa League.
Cantona’s backing for the club and Moyes appears to be borne out of his admiration for a club that has shown its ability to fight its way out of tough spots on so many occasions. The 1999 Champions League final acts as a symbol of the club ethos.
What would be better for Man Utd?
However, such blinkered faith can blind individuals from what they are seeing in front of them. Right now, United are tactically inferior to clubs with far smaller budgets than them, and no signs of change are evident.
Liverpool's domination of the 1980s and '90s eventually gave way, first to the acceptance of a top-four finish being good enough, and then eventually to Europa League football.
United already have a manager in Moyes who appears to have lowered club expectations, admitting United "aspire" to play like Manchester City, per Sky Sports. They must not compound that by promoting the message that Europa League football is good enough for United in the future.