Seen from Merseyside or even Munich, it might appear churlish to criticise a club that qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League with two matches remaining. This may have been Manchester United's first European defeat at Old Trafford in four years and their first in the group stages since losing to Deportivo La Coruña in 2001 but the consequences were only embarrassment.
Nevertheless, this was an opportunity for some young footballers to prove their worth to their manager and it was a chance they largely squandered. On this evidence, tomorrow does not belong to them.
Only in the last few minutes when the ageless Rustu Recber made two fabulous reaction saves and Patrice Evra was denied a blatant penalty did the usual relentless United reveal itself and by then Old Trafford had long since begun to empty.
Sir Alex Ferguson has been embarrassed by Turkish opposition before. In the autumn of 1996 United, in the midst of a run that saw them lose 5-0 at Newcastle and 6-3 at Southampton, were beaten 1-0 by Fenerbahce, the first time the club had ever lost at Old Trafford in a European competition. Ferguson returned home to Cheshire to find his wife, Cathy, waiting on the doorstep, singing: "Fergie, Fergie for the sack". Rustu played in that game, too.
Of all the young players the Manchester United manager employed, none would have been under fiercer scrutiny than Ben Foster. The England keeper had not appeared at Old Trafford in nearly two months since the desperate 2-2 draw with Sunderland in which United played as badly as they occasionally did here.
To have been beaten from 25 yards in front of the Stretford End would have led to more questions about the true ability of a man Ferguson insists is the best English goalkeeper the Premier League has to offer. However, his manager pointed out that Rodrigo Tello's shot would have landed about a foot to Foster's right had it not taken what he called a "wicked" deflection off Rafael da Silva. In the event, it almost brushed the tips of Foster's gloves before crashing into the corner of the net.
Ferguson was more agitated by the refusal of the French referee, Stephane Lannoy, to award a penalty when Ibrahim Kas bundled Evra over four minutes from the end and by Turkish time-wasting. "We were denied a clear penalty against CSKA Moscow in the last game when Darren Fletcher was brought down," he said. "If we can't get stonewall penalties like these, then the game is in trouble."
Nevertheless, despite their ease of qualification, United have not swaggered into the knockout stages and have fallen behind in each of their three matches at Old Trafford, a venue where they have not been beaten in Europe since Hernan Crespo's goal past Roy Carroll – a goalkeeper who never convinced at the club – gave Milan a 1-0 win in February 2005. Had Michael Fink not guided his shot just past Foster's post, the contest might have been out of reach by the interval.
Ferguson responded by arguing that had he fielded his first-choice team against CSKA and Besiktas, two failures to force victory at Old Trafford would have concerned him. "The most important thing this defeat underlined was that you need a bit of composure," he said. "The young players were anxious which is understandable in a way and not the worst fault in the world to have."
Nevertheless, although United fielded what was essentially a reserve team, on form this would have been a massacre foretold. The most famous phrase associated with United and Turkey is the "Welcome to Hell" banner that greeted Ferguson's side when they arrived to face Galatasaray in 1993.
For Besiktas flights to England have carried their own glimpse of Purgatory. They conceded six at Leeds nine years ago and eight at Liverpool, while Rustu's last visit to Old Trafford, with Fenerbahce, finished with him picking the ball out of his net half a dozen times. To make matters worse, Wolfsburg's defeat in Moscow before kick-off meant that Besiktas' chances of making even the Europa League were minimal. There are, however, no scripts in sport.
It was not a matter of young footballers freezing in front of a near full house. Gary Neville's crossing that had been a feature of their dramatic revival against CSKA Moscow, which they seldom threatened to repeat, was now directionless, while Nemanja Vidic's distribution appeared almost wilfully sloppy. In attack it was no better as Gabriel Obertan squandered one glaring opportunity to score with a drive into Rustu's legs, while Darron Gibson's shooting before the interval became ever more erratic. Old Trafford saw the future last night and sometimes it didn't work.
Manchester United (4-4-2) Foster; Neville, Vidic, Brown, R Da Silva (Evra, 73); Obertan, Gibson (Carrick, 73), Anderson, Park (Owen, 69); Macheda, Welbeck. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (g), Nani, Scholes, Fletcher.
Besiktas (4-2-3-1) Rustu Recber; Kas, Ferrari, Toraman (Guven, 67), Uzulmez; Fink, Ernst; Dag, Tello (Inceman, 75), Koybasi; Bobo (Karadeniz, 84). Substitutes not used: Celikay (g), Tabata, Simsek, Zengin.
Referee: S Lannoy (France).
Results so far: Besiktas 0 Man Utd 1, Wolfsburg 3 CSKA 1; Man Utd 2 Wolfsburg 1, CSKA 2 Besiktas 1; CSKA 0 Man Utd 1, Wolfsburg 0 Besiktas 0; Man Utd 3 CSKA 3, Besiktas 0 Wolfsburg 3; Man Utd 0 Besiktas 1, CSKA 2 Wolfsburg 1.
Remaining fixtures: Tues 8 Dec: Besiktas v CSKA, Wolfsburg v Manchester United.
CSKA Moscow 2 Wolfsburg 1 The Russian side came from behind to beat Wolfsburg and move level with the German champions to keep their qualification hopes alive. Obafemi Martins set up Edin Dzeko to put Wolfsburg ahead, before goals in the second half from Tomas Necid and the impressive Mikos Krasic turned the game around.Reuse content