It was only a few short weeks back, but the events in between have made it seem like it was an eternity ago. Eight points clear and facing into what should have been six easily attainable points against Wigan and Everton, my perpetual doomlordery came to the fore and my mind drifted - as it too often does - to the misery of United's ownership. It's been a curious few years; with amassed glory in hand, it's peculiar noting that what is achieved is done so not as a result of an admirable ownership model, but in spite of a cancerous one. Casting a lasting shadow over every triumph, the siphoning Floridians' 2005 take-over emplaced enormous debt on a club that was once one of the healthiest in the world. While Manchester City, run by a bored billionaire, edge closer to a league title and a summer of more spending, United are footing towards a pre-season of uncertainty. Already the nauseatingly predictable lines of 'no value' and finding it difficult to replace Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs are being intoned by Ferguson. United supporters are no longer expecting big name signings because the last few years have taught them well. The majority of reds will purport to dislike the Glazers but many will struggle to tell you why. Concerns centre on the failure to splash millions on stars, while few contemplate the club's fractured support and the sad pricing out of hardcore reds.
Intrigued by where the desires of most reds fell, I asked via Twitter how many, in a hypothetical situation, would abandon the securing of a 20th league title if it meant the owners left in the summer. My intentions were solely focused on intrigue: how many, I wondered, would cast aside short-term glory for long-term health. Most, pleasingly, admitted with some pain that they would forfeit this title - even to that lot - if it meant United were propped more efficiently for future charges. They would withstand momentary pain if the possibility of long-term pleasure could potentially be secured. Others said no, not this year - not with it being City. Not wanting to indulge in the terminal boredom of cyber-warfare, I noted their position and moved on.
One, however, recoiled in instant indignation and, be it through inebriation, mental disturbance or just plain idiocy, felt triggering a torrent of abuse my way was justified for the audacity of putting forward a hypothetical situation. I was, it was soon to be declared, not a 'true red,' 'scum' and a particularly harsh word that rhymes smoothly with 'punt.' Not one to entertain misguided fruit-loops, I merely stated my reasons for my particular stance and suggested he took his to a corner and play safely with them. Since then, however, as United's galling capitulation has led them to sure runners-up, he keeps coming back. Dealing with delusional types is no great strain, but the wider issues stemming from his outrage are curious. Unable to contend with the prospect of United temporarily bereft of success, there are many who would choose immediate glory and carry on rather than mend something that will continue to break. This, to me, is worse than losing out on a league title
Since the 2005 acquisition of United by the Glazer family, much - but ultimately not enough - has been made of the effect their running of the club has had over its fortunes. The great irony, of course, is that despite the landing of enormous door-darkening debt, the 7 year period since their arrival has largely been a successful one. Whilst all reds rightly welcome success, the unfortunate reality is that the garnering of trophies into the club appeases the majority who will as a result care little about what is happening elsewhere. Following United's defeats at Wigan and City, and the crushingly poor collapse at home to Everton, much was again made of 'Glazernomics' - as if the absurdity of their actions only becomes important when the fear of on-field failure looms.
While a vocal minority remain stringent in their opposition towards United's parasitic owners, the heads of the vast majority are stirred only when the pursuit of glory is compromised. Those too deflated by the grotesque pilfering of profit have boycotted, ensuring that, while the enormity of United's fickle support renders their positions ultimately futile, their principles lie firmly intact. Most, even those vehement in their ire towards the owners, simply could not walk away. Many others just do not care enough - or won't, at least, until success dries up. Sustained success has ensured many have remained quiet. The delusion that if the exterior is enamouring, the interior must be fine has damaged all possibility of making the owner's positions uncomfortable.
Coupled with glory, the sight of Sir Alex Ferguson extolling praise for the club's 'brilliant' owners does little to offer hope that the support's heads may sway in the right direction. Drawn in by his unbridled genius, there are many out there who will take his words with a trust that is as saddening as it is naive. Ferguson may well purport that his American bosses have been 'excellent' for the club, but a quick scan of the yearly books since their takeover reduce his words to empty lies. Yearly now Ferguson has proffered some other lame excuse as to why United have failed to spend on the areas in most need. Just this weekend, he lamented the state of the market, finger pointed towards City's heaped money-bags. The message is simple: we cannot compete. Yet, United continue, unlike 99% of clubs around Europe, to make an enormous yearly profit. The problem is that, rather than invest large sums into a labouring squad, huge money is drawn outwards to service debt. Supporters may weep over the gargantuan funds on hand at Eastlands, but the reality is simple: a debt-free United would make enough money per year to compete with any of the top European clubs. No amount of spoofing can deny this.
As a result of a failed campaign - one where each trophy has been surrendered without much of a fight - those looking for someone to blame will now turn their heads towards the Glazers. Already a slew of figures are being brought to the fore. Net spends and interest payments, wasted funds and comparisons to other big-hitters - concern has been rolled out because celebration has been cancelled. Autopsying the detrimental effects of the Glazer regime is always an enlightening, if sobering, experience and should be welcomed at all times. But for any real difference to be made, United's support needs to be as repulsed by its owners in success as it is in defeat. Many now squirm at the rise of the green and gold campaign that temporarily trained sight on the owners, but it did what it was meant to do: raise awareness. That such an exercise had to be forced before the eyes of the majority is a damning indictment in itself and proved that anger is merely a temporary emotion that can be curbed by winning. The sad reality is that while many proclaim to care, most do not care enough.
The reasons rolled out by those who are blasé when it comes to contemplating the lasting effects of the Glazers are predictable and offer little hope. Some will say football lost Its soul long ago and the road to ruin is something we all must get used to. Others will state that the politics should be left to the suits and the game should be left to the man in the street. Accusations of idealism are levelled towards those denouncing what is fundamentally wrong with the game.
The irony, of course, is that those who moan loudest are those who care the least about things that truly matter. The supporter who'll highlight the death of football will curse the silence of stadiums. The supporter who'll suggest shying away from politics will have no issue lamenting price increases, or bemoan a lack of signings, or the illimitable PR waffle issued by all clubs. Attempting to make a difference is only idealistic because not enough people are willing to try. As a result, the game falls further into disrepair in many circles because the only ones who can make a real difference, the supporters, choose not to.
Hypothetical situations may appear superfluous to many, but they're a valuable way of gauging attitudes. Now that City's claws are all but set on the league title, the prospect of losing out to the bitter enemy is a hard one to bear. I understood those who said they'd find it immensely difficult to surrender a title to those who they grew up to abhor. One supporter said he would, begrudgingly, let it loose if United's health was sustained long-term - for two simple reasons: he loved United more than he hated City and he loved United more than he loved success. I sided with the option of surrendering a title not because I devalue the euphoria of success, or because I don't despise City - and what they are doing - as much as the next red. I was merely willing to let go of one title to ensure future strides towards future titles were not crippled like they have been. United's success throughout the Glazer period is a testament to the genius of Ferguson. Even as runners up this season, with an admirable points total, no one can say United have been convincing. Nor have they been for quite some.
Those too entangled in football's tribalism and too obsessed with moments on the pitch will stress that eradicating the enemy, in this instance City, is the most important thing. The real enemy, however, is surely those who are compromising our chances of keeping up with the scoundrels across town. The real enemy are those draining the club of the funds that could be used, oh I don't know, on improving quality to keep up with those who are improving all the time. The most vocal abuse should be directed towards the leeches who have put absolutely nothing in and taken huge sums out. Whether in a stage of success or distress, anyone who really loves the club and the prospect of its future - not just the immediate present - should want the Glazer family out. We only hear their name now because the expected May billowing of 'Champions' has evaded us in recent weeks.
Some will claim that putting forward such a hypothetical situation, given it's an impossibility, is only divisive and smacks of trying to come across as a 'top red.' If so, fine - though being accused of division by those seemingly unaware of the larger impacts of the Glazer ownership is a slight bit ironic. The reality is that the question was merely an attempt to gauge opinion - to see how many, with seemingly one hand on a title at the time, would let go if it meant future pushes towards glory were made without an overhanging cloud. Craving a title, particularly given the alternative is sickening, is nothing to be ashamed of. But totally ignoring the damage waged against the club by its parasitic owners is.
The ultimate goal of the question was to see how many would substitute short-term glory for long-term health - health that would, of course, oversee even more fulfilment in years to come. Everyone is entitled to their side of their argument. Ultimately, given that nothing happened when it really should, reality dictates that nothing will happen now. The thought, nay the terror, of not winning trophies is seemingly too much for too many to change. Or maybe they will change, if prolonged success - as it very well may - evades them for an extended period. One wonders if they'd go back and say yes then.
Follow Mark Kelleher on Twitter: www.twitter.com/herzogschild