rooneyThe recriminations following Manchester United's stunning Champions League exit at the hands of Basel will be savage, long and hard. How do you begin to explain a result that, by United's standards, is inexplicable?
United don't lose at Basel, and if they do it is because they have already sewn up qualification. The team that reached the final the previous season doesn't lose in the group stage - last night was the first time this has occurred in the Champions League.
And most of all, United just don't capitulate in a remarkably easy group that includes Benfica, Basel and Otelul Galati. Yet, somehow, they have. Somehow they only managed to secure wins against the Romanians during a lamentable group stage exit that is arguably even more glaring than that of 2005.
This has been a Champions League campaign of stunning ineptitude, rank mediocrity, that just doesn't happen to United. Yet it has, and now blame must be quickly apportioned.
The first, and most obvious target of criticism is the players who have cheapened the United shirt. They of course are responsible for what happens on the pitch, and what has happened on the pitch has been simply inexcusable.
In particular, home draws against Basel and Benfica were unnecessarily sloppy. At the start of the season we heard so much about United's brilliant new crop of young stars, but in Europe they have been exposed badly.
On duty for ITV last night, Roy Keane reprised the Play the Pundit role that got him kicked out of Old Trafford when pointing the finger at some of Fergie's latest fledglings, or Fergie's Flops as Early Doors shall now be referring to them.
"People have talked about the young players," Keane said. "You've had Jones, Smalling and Young coming in, everybody 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.' I think their best player [tonight] was Ryan Giggs and that sums it up. He's 38, so you can't be depending on him. United got what they deserved."
Such a blunt assessment drew a withering reaction from Ferguson when it was put to him in his post-match press conference.
"I don't know why you are bringing this up," Fergie said. "Roy has had an opportunity to prove himself as a manager and it's a hard job. We have enough good young players to see us through. That is the part of football you have to deal with. These young players will have to cope with it and get on with it in their careers."
The fact it was Keane making the criticism was instructive in itself; how United pine for a player of his calibre and character in midfield. Instead it was left to Phil Jones, Ryan Giggs and Park Ji-Sung to patrol the centre of the park. All decent players in their own way, but certainly no Keane.
In truth, ED would point out that the United midfield has been distinctly average for some time now.
After all, Ferguson basically won his 19th title by default as Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal failed to mount proper challenges. That success masked glaring inadequacies, inadequacies that were exposed in the Champions League final defeat to Barcelona at Wembley.
And during a summer in which Ferguson promised to try and catch Barcelona, the club's remedy was to promote Tom Cleverley. A fine young player, no doubt, and injury has prevented us from seeing his true worth, but a gamble. A decidedly cheap gamble compared to Wesley Sneijder, who was pursued but eventually went unsigned.
Herein lies the root of United's issues: the debilitating influence of the Glazer family's ownership of the club, which through a leveraged buyout ensured United were plunged into huge debt, all for the 'honour' of seeing the name changed above the door.
Yes, revenues have increased, but servicing that debt has artificially reduced United's spending power for no good reason.
Given their stature in the world game, United should be spending on a par with Barcelona and Real Madrid. Glazernomics have ensured that is not the case. Would Barca or Madrid have allowed the summer to pass without a high-class midfielder to have been signed? No, they would have paid up for Sneijder.
United should be a club capable of purchasing a player for £80 million, not relying on the sale of Ronaldo to keep them in the black. They should be a club capable of paying £50m for a professional benchwarmer, or £28 million for an unstable yet brilliant young Italian striker. Instead it is their rivals doing just that.
None of this directly excuses the failure of those players currently present to negotiate their way through the easiest of groups, nor Ferguson's rank failure for allowing it to happen, but it underpins the slide into mediocrity that this club has been experiencing over the past few years.
In fact, they have slid firmly into the humiliation of Thursday night football. ED suspects that on a bleak night for the English game, there were no happier individuals than the executives at Channel 5, who saw the network become a trending topic on Twitter, as well as being plastered over the back page of The Sun. Even if the name of the channel was used in a pejorative sense, all publicity is of course good publicity.
Well, nearly all anyway. There is no way to put a good spin on Patrice Evra's comment that "it is embarrassing to be in the Europa League. Some players dream of playing for United in any competition and you have to respect that, but the way I feel now, it is Champions League or nothing."
But such is the reality United find themselves trapped in, due to their own failings and the constrictions placed on the budget from above. Last night, the chickens came home to roost. In a big way.
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QUOTE OF THE DAY: "It was unbelievable. The manager would look at a player, tear him to shreds, then move on to the next one. For example, he turned to Didier Drogba and told him, 'You're a fraction of the player you were last season'. Then he turned to the next player and laid into him. Everyone was stunned, they'd never seen him like this and had never been treated like this before. The manager told Anelka he wasn't welcome anywhere. He was banned from training with the first team, banned from using the training facilities if the first-team squad were using them - and told he would be training with the reserves from now on. Then AVB turned to Alex and said 'And the same applies to you'." - A Chelsea 'insider' tells The Sun how Andre Villas-Boas went to war with his Chelsea squad last week.
FOREIGN VIEW: "I am the first person to take responsibility but we were in a very difficult group and we had a lot of problems in the dressing room. If we learn something from this then competing in the Champions League will have been worthwhile." - Dinamo Zagreb coach Krunoslav Jurcic, now sacked, desperately scrabbles around for positives after going 1-0 up at home Lyon and losing 7-1 in a game that has certainly raised eyebrows across Europe.
COMING UP: We publish our Champions League team of the week, as well as deciding who or what is hot or not in Europe's finest club competition, while at lunch Glenn Hoddle talks us through his sporting heroes.
There is no Europa League football this week so the Manchester clubs won't have their noses rubbed in it immediately, but we have plenty of extra content throughout the day with our Tactical Brain pulling out an interesting point from the weekend, Eurospot focusing on Euro 2012 and The Fantasist bringing us his latest fantasy injury report ahead of the weekend.