Failure is a new and unpleasant sensation at Old Trafford after a two-decade spell of unparalleled success. But it will be positive for Manchester United in the long run.
Fans born after 1992, for whom not winning a trophy was the stuff of myth recalled by their forefathers, need to experience disenchantment to know how good they have had it for so long.
Welcome to the world inhabited by the rest of us. It’s not as though United have bought the trademark for success or have any God-given right to it. It is simply a club that was led for over 26 years by the most successful British manager of all time.
Following Sir Alex Ferguson was always going to be a bum gig. Everyone knew that when David Moyes was chosen as his successor, not least Moyes himself.
Just as Ferguson was allowed time to find his feet when he first joined United from Aberdeen, finishing 11th (twice) and 13th before winning the title in only his seventh season in the job, so Moyes must be too.
It will be vital to know the measure of the man because it will be how he turns things around that is indicative of his quality as a manager of people and of impossibly high expectations.
This week’s victory in the Champions League against Olympiakos, hardly a European powerhouse and a side with glaring defensive frailties, probably leaves us none the wiser. But at least it shows that the current United team is capable of coming back from a near write-off situation.
Despite standing at an unfamiliar seventh in the Premier League table, well outside the Champions League qualification places for next year, United fans should get a wider perspective.
History is littered with successful people who failed spectacularly at the first attempt. Colonel Sanders, founder of KFC, famously had his fried chicken recipe rejected 1,009 times before a restaurant agreed to take it.
Walt Disney, a high school drop-out, was fired from his job as a cartoonist by a newspaper editor who said he “lacked imagination and had no good ideas”.
Sony would not exist as a multi-billion-dollar corporation if its Japanese founder, Masaru Ibuka, had thrown in the towel after his first product, a rice cooker, proved defective. The list goes on.
I’m not putting Moyes in the same league as some of the most enduring inventors and creators of the 20th century, and who knows if is he is the right man for the United job in the long run, but it is clearly too early – and too unfair – to judge.
Cut the guy a break – he’s not even been in the post a season yet and already the short-termists are calling for his head on a stake.
Imagine, too, if you were not only compared constantly to your ne’er-do- wrong predecessor but had him standing over your shoulder, casting implicit doubt over your ability to do the job in your own way.
Ferguson’s presence in the boardroom and the stands would be an inhibiting one for whoever was in the dugout. There needs to be more distance from the previous management if any meaningful restructure of the club is to happen.
Judging by the reaction of the crowd after the painful 3-0 defeat to Liverpool last weekend, the majority of United fans understand the need to be patient with the new manager.
Some left in disgust before the final whistle but many more, appreciating the bigger picture, stayed to passionately chant “20 times Man United”.
What a run that was but it could never go on forever. The cyclical nature of football means that the champions will have their day as the underdogs. What goes up must come down.
United supporters should relish it, especially as the stature of the club and its commercial strength means this spell in the doldrums is likely to be brief. There is nothing so bonding as shared misery.
It has been a long time since they have shared anything other than a feeling of certain victory. The trophies were starting to be taken for granted, not least because Ferguson made it look so easy to win them.
It created a false sense of invincibility, which is being chipped away this season with each goal United concede.
Maybe Moyes will get the sack soon as modern football increasingly demands instantaneous success but my point is that this is a rare opportunity for catharsis.
To value the highs, you have to plumb the depths – and United are nowhere near that, even if they do end up playing in the Europa League next season.
The fact remains that the vast majority of football fans follow clubs that will never win even a fraction of the silverware on display at Old Trafford.
This period of relative failure will only make their future successes taste all the sweeter.