If there is consolation to the Manchester United defeat at the hands of FC Basel hastening their exit from the Champions League group stage, it should be said that ill luck prevailed because of a team marred by injury—not by a first team not up to par.
When I logged onto Manchester United’s official website for the pre-match report, I learned that Javier Hernandez would be missing as he struggled to get fit. The energetic Hernandez rarely leaves the pitch without a goal, but the report reassured supporters that they had a fit Danny Welbeck who, incidentally, didn’t start.
Dimitar Berbatov was ruled out as well, but Wayne Rooney would play, although he had a critical hearing the next day. We were also reassured that the appeal concerning his Euro 2012 3-match ban would mean nothing in respect to his performance.
I quickly noted that if his lackluster World Cup performance was any indication on how he handled private affairs in transit, then perhaps Sir Alex was speaking prematurely.
The Nemanja Vidic injury I believe was crucial to their loss, too. It wasn’t so much his absence as what the team was left with. Jonny Evans was not the manager’s first choice for a reason and Rio Ferdinand seemed to be on another planet throughout the course of the game.
This is the first time United had bowed out of the group stage in only six years, not sixty. In short, despite the media hype over their loss and tales from critics writing them off, it’s not the end of the world.
To prove it they beat the Wolves 4-1 on Saturday. Rooney’s Champions League gaffes were restored by two goals and Nani finally got rewarded for that fateful night, with the goals he was jipped out of in the Champions League despite a spectacular act.
This is not to say that during the Champions League FC Basel was well-beneath Manchester United or to debase Basel’s performance—they played superbly—but they gave Manchester United the challenge the Red Devils have received over the seasons from their Premier League counterparts.
Therefore, had Manchester United been up to par, they would have delivered on the pitch with ease and walked off with a place in the knockout phase.
Again we are faced with the “shocking defeat” arrogance indicative of teams like Manchester United and Barcelona—clubs that we love to hate. Or—in my personal case—clubs we hate to love.
I covered the match and I was rooting for Manchester United, but sitting in the press box surrounded by Basel fans made it onerous not to feel the exuberance of each magnificent move FC Basel made. Especially by Basel’s lightening quick midfielder Xherdan Shaqiri and Alexander Frei.
I sat back to coolly see where this game was taking me. All along I was convinced Manchester United would exhibit the resilience indicatory of accruing silverware and come back to life.
Unfortunately, time was the English side’s plight and suddenly I’m watching Sir Alex sullenly exit the pitch in discomfiture. It was heartbreaking. Not heartbreaking for him or heartbreaking for me, but heartbreaking for the excellence that an eye-catching team like Manchester United stands for and what it meant to exit early under the conditions they exited under.
I detest to watch an inveterate club sink, so I convinced myself Manchester United weren’t sinking. After all, Manchester City, their nemesis in the Premier League, capsized too.
The next move would be to put the loss aside and concentrate on winning the Premier League, and—right—the Europa League, too. Another solution for United is to recruit, recruit, recruit. If you can’t beat 'em, join 'em or, in this case, have them join you.
Rumor had surfaced that Manchester United is looking to sign the young Kosovo born Shaqiri, which would depend on whether he’d rather stay at Basel and be a big fish in a small pond or become a guppy in an ocean.
Enough of the clichés.
When injured players threaten to dominate a club’s standing, it only makes sense to invest in a stronger bench.