There was a time when people thought that the Earth was at the centre of our universe, orbited by all the other objects. Even when this was disproved by Copernicus and Galileo, it was some time before anyone paid attention - entrenched beliefs are hard to shift. But eventually, it became impossible for people to query what they could see with their own telescopically-enhanced eyes, and theory became fact.
So when United, first against Chelsea and then Bayern Munich, supplied incontrovertible evidence that zest and pace are essential components of any cohesive football team, it was fair to assume that even stubborn old geocentric Fergie would accept what he once knew, but of course he did not. Though in the press conference prior to the Blackburn game we were warned of his likely selection, there remained the hope that it was yet another lie, but sadly it was not; the oldies were back, and unsurprisingly, they soiled themselves.
Still, at least Fletcher will be well refreshed for his summer holiday and O’Shea closer to what passes for match-fitness in time for his. Meanwhile Rafael - so outstanding in Europe - was once again left out, enabling the return of Gary Neville and the ball flipped aimlessly around the corner. It’s not even as though his youthfulness gives him the monopoly on stupidity, Neville’s needless handball ceding the free kick from which Munich scored their first-leg equaliser, but he was recalled nonetheless, no doubt on account of his “experience”. Or in other words, Fergie was worried about Blackburn. Yes, Blackburn.
Blackburn really is a horrible place, cold even when it’s warm, dark even when it’s light. Walking towards the ground, a carload of fat goths in football shirts momentarily distracted from the team selection, but 20 minutes later we’d all remembered again, watching Nani and Macheda perform the worst shooting practice in living memory whilst Berbatov wandered around artistically, understandably reticent to bother himself with such piffling trifles.
At least this time he was given a striking partner, though very much the wrong one. For now at least, Macheda’s limited all-round game makes him no more than a handy sub; stationing him on the shoulder of the last man to use the pace he doesn’t have was never likely to work, and the ball wasn’t in the box enough for him to exploit his knack for finding space.
Thus what ensued was a dull half, United dominating possession but with less edge than a velvet-covered circle. Fortunately events were livened up by a midget in a Blackburn away shirt, posturing in front of the United end for reasons best known to himself. And the thrills continued through the break, during which we enjoyed Blackburn’s goal of the season competition, the shortlist comprised largely of tap-ins, headers and scuffs.
The second 45 brought little improvement. It did, however, provide a vehicle for Sam Allardyce to prove once and for all that he can coach more than the traditional English stereotype - not only are his team remarkably well-schooled in the art of time wasting, but his ball boys too, continental sophisticates all. And how unfeasibly apt that a personality of such divine magnitude and humility be sponsored by a company called Zeus, the man himself no doubt flattered by the association.
As the half sputtered on, it became increasingly obvious that no one was going to score, the flow broken both by the concession of needless free kicks and fools in the away end hilariously hanging on to the ball after yet another crap shot. Chasing a game, even on the occasions that the required goals don’t arrive, you expect United to make it look like they might, but bereft of ideas and enthusiasm, the anticipated onslaught never materialised.
A sizeable contingent of United’s following seemed to blame this stolidity on Berbatov, though he stood out as the first half’s sole piece of sweetcorn before succumbing to his surroundings in the second. As with Tevez last season, it’s been painful watching Fergie slowly eviscerate his confidence, and if there was a chance of getting in a replacement anywhere near as good, then it’d probably be time to let him flourish elsewhere.
Again, the absence of Rooney didn’t help; if Cantona was the footballing equivalent of Lebowski’s rug that tied the room together, then Rooney is the room itself, without whom furniture is irrelevant. This is the direct consequence of a squad replete with complementary players, men able to facilitate but not instigate, the lack of individual inspiration leading to dropped points when the collective underperforms.
Thus the players were reduced to appealing for imaginary penalties, the support waiting for the inevitable and depressing defiance of “we’ll never die”. At least we’re almost out of our misery, though the lameness with which the title has been surrendered will annoy for evermore.
For this the fault lies mainly with Fergie, making nowhere near the best use of the squad afforded - or not afforded him , and reduced to desperately and transparently challenge to Bolton to prove they’re not “an easy game”. And now that’s failed, we’re relying on flaky Tottenham and plain useless Liverpool to help us out, on the basis that United can be relied upon to also help themselves, which of course they cannot.
So it was that by late Sunday afternoon, United’s official website bore the headline: “Boss rues poor decisions”. “I should jolly well think so,” is a broad and less profane approximation of what I thought, but it turned out that Fergie was criticising his players, rather than admitting culpability for the errors that have made such a mess of everything. The earth may be at the centre of our universe, but for Fergie there’ll only ever be one thing at the centre of his.