United suddenly finds more time for the Premier League
Updated: 2011-12-09 08:07
Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson walks off the pitch after losing 2-1 against FC Basel on Wednesday, a defeat that sent his club out of the Champions League. [Photo/Agencies]
No early Christmas present for Sir Alex as Man U crashes out
BASEL, Switzerland - Just as in 2005, when Manchester United was last dispatched from the Champions League before Christmas, Sir Alex Ferguson will face calls to overhaul his team.
Six years ago to the day, in December of that year, Benfica was the harbinger of United's doom and Lisbon's fabled Estadio da Luz the setting.
The scoreline was the same on Wednesday evening - a 2-1 defeat - but the lowly opposition, Basel, and the unhallowed venue, the raucous St Jakob Park, made the disappointment even harder to swallow.
Six years ago, the United team that fell at the first hurdle contained, in Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo, the genesis of the side that would return United to the summit of the European game in the years that followed.
Rooney remains from that team, but there are no clear-cut indications his present-day teammates will be able to rise to the challenge in the same way United did when it last went out in the group phase.
Former United captain Roy Keane was the first to sound the alarm on Wednesday evening.
"I think it reflects what United have done, in truth," he told ITV with trademark frankness. "They haven't scored enough goals and they haven't beaten Basel or Benfica.
"People have talked about the young players - you've had (Phil) Jones, (Chris) Smalling, and (Ashley) Young coming in, everybody is building them up, but they've got a lot to do.
"It's a reality check for some. I'd be getting hold of some of those lads, saying 'You'd better buck up your ideas'. United got what they deserved tonight."
Keane's remarks drew a withering response from former mentor Ferguson, who subtly suggested the Irishman's own managerial shortcomings did not put him in an ideal place to comment.
Nevertheless, as United's players sloped back to the team bus at St Jakob Park, ignoring waiting media, they will have been steeling themselves for the backlash that inevitably accompanies each misstep made by their club.
Critics will be quick to point to the absence of a creative central midfielder in United's ranks, and Ferguson could have been forgiven for casting an envious eye at Basel's bustling Xherdan Shaqiri as he made raid after raid into United territory on Wednesday.
United's fans had hoped for a major signing in that position over the summer, with deals mooted for Tottenham's Luka Modric and Inter Milan playmaker Wesley Sneijder, but neither came to fruition.
Instead, the Old Trafford faithful formed a quick attachment to 22-year-old Tom Cleverley, promoted to the first team after loan spells at Leicester, Watford and Wigan, only to disappear from the side due to injury.
In Cleverley's absence, Rooney is the only player capable of driving United forward in the center of the pitch, but he is also the team's most capable marksman and - as Wednesday's performance demonstrated - he cannot do both at once.