Football: Shocked United aim to go shopping for English produce: Manchester's finest build for future after defeat by Turks leaves them with only domestic distractions. Joe Lovejoy reports

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The Independent Online
MILAN wannabees that they are, Manchester United will react to their latest disappointment in Europe by throwing money at the problem, in the blinkered belief that the chequebook holds the answer to the English malaise.

Elimination from the European Cup by unfancied Galatasaray has done nothing for United's stock, either in the City or abroad, but their unmatched support is a continuing source of strength which will keep them ploughing the same rapacious furrow. If at first you don't succeed, buy, buy and buy again.

During Wednesday's retreat from Istanbul, after a goalless draw which was inadequate in every sense, Martin Edwards, the chief executive, said funds would be made available to improve a team already 11 points clear at the top of the Premiership.

The aim, of course, is not to strengthen what threatens to become a domestic monopoly but to emulate Sir Matt Busby's immortals of 1968 and win the most glittering prize of all.

To that end, the money will be put up with one proviso. The new men should be English, not foreigners who become an embarrassment when Uefa's restrictive quota has to be met. On this week's evidence, the likelihood must be that they will go for Les Ferdinand, or possibly Andy Cole, as a long-term replacement for Mark Hughes, who can no longer be considered an automatic selection after his surprising omission against the Turks.

There was speculation, too, that the footloose Eric Cantona might soon be on his bicyclette again after an ineffectual, petulant performance which saw him sent off for abusing the referee at the final whistle, then involved in a scuffle with riot police when he left the pitch.

Cantona's reluctance to accept the result and return promptly to the dressing-room appeared to irritate the constable in question, who helped him on his way a mite too roughly in the eyes of some of the other United players. When Bryan Robson moved in to intervene, a riot shield caught his hand, necessitating two stitches, and Paul Parker also picked up a bruise or two, allegedly from another policeman.

It was an unpleasant, unnecessary incident, but the formal protest United are considering would not alter the result. Galatasaray can hardly be held responsible for the strong-arm tactics of the riot police, and a replay is out of the question. If action is taken against the Turkish club, it will take the form of a token fine.

Alex Ferguson, to his credit, made no attempt to use the incident to mask a disappointing display. The United manager had said an unexpectedly early exit would be the players' 'own bloody fault' after slipping from 2-0 to 3-3 at Old Trafford, but he must share the blame - if only for dropping Hughes.

To dispense with his centre-forward for a match which had to be won was folly bordering on perversity. Apart from his goals - six so far this season - the ebullient Welshman is adept at bringing the best out of others, and Cantona, Ryan Giggs and Lee Sharpe were all strangely inert without the catalyst he provides, with his canny, back- to-goal link work.

Leaving out Hughes was definitely a mistake. Ditto the perserverance with Robson, who is beginning to look like an encumbrance two months short of his 36th birthday.

It was not that the old warrior played badly (there were many worse than him), more that his presence in central midfield ousts Paul Ince and Roy Keane from their natural domain. Ince, in particular, is far more effective when he is the main man in and around the centre- circle, and it is time he had the job on a permanent basis.

With Hughes leading the line and Ince at the team's fulcrum, United must surely have done better. All the if onlys, though, are no more than obfuscation.

The plain truth is that Galatasaray were the better side over the two games. Humbled by little Norway in the World Cup and now by Turkey at club level, English football is losing ground at an alarming rate of knots.

Good old Norwich City are a marvellous exception - probably because Mike Walker, with his sweeper system and measured passing game, has done more than anyone to blend the best, up-to-date ideas from Europe with the yeoman strength of the traditional British game. Look and learn is his motto, and that must be the progressive way. Not spend, spend, spend.

European aftermath, page 38

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