The Last Word: 'Basil Fawlty' Ferguson has lost the plot

Rooney punt smacked of desperation while Tevez and Ronaldo have not been replaced, so where do United, their manager and US owners go from here?
Click to follow
The Independent Football

Typical Germans. By the time the manager of Manchester United was venting his frustration to Gabriel Clarke in the Old Trafford tunnel on Wednesday, they were probably making plans to lay down their beach towels on the sun loungers at Madrid's best hotels in readiness for the Champions' League final in the Spanish capital on 22 May. That would have been typical Teutonic efficiency. The towels were doubtless already in place for the formality of the semi-final trip to Lyon. Together with orders for bratwurst, sauerkraut and Beck's, naturally.

Yes, those typical Germans: the ones who surrounded Nicola Rizzoli, the Italian who refereed the second leg against Bayern Munich, baying for a second yellow card and a sending-off for Rafael da Silva. Typical Germans like... well, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Bavarian born and bred, but the principal hustlers happened to be Franck Ribéry (born Boulogne-sur-Mer, 42 French caps) and Mark van Bommel (born Maasbracht, 54 Dutch caps). Ivica Olic (born Davor, 68 Croatian caps) also chipped in with his two pfennigs-worth.

Perhaps in the circumstances we shouldn't mention the score – a 3-2 victory to United, a 4-4 away-goals defeat for the English champions on aggregate – but the Bayern team who overcame Sir Alex Ferguson's side were coached by a Dutchman, captained by a Dutchman and featured two more Dutchmen, a Belgian, an Argentinian, a Frenchman, two Croats and a Turk. Furthermore, according to their coach, a native Amsterdammer, "the Germans" were inspired by the spirit of the 44th President of the United States. "At half-time I gave a speech, 'Yes we can,' like Obama," Louis van Gaal confided. When they got back to their dressing room after the final whistle, maybe they were all singing "We are the world" in harmonic unison.

Perhaps it was understandable that Sir Alex came over all Basil Fawlty in the immediate aftermath. His team had just suffered a mighty blow, their biggest blow of the season. In the final analysis at the Theatre of Broken Dreams on Wednesday night, though, it was difficult not to conclude that Sir Alex had lost touch with the plot.

Admittedly, after seven minutes, with his side 2-0 up and 3-2 to the good on aggregate, he was looking like something of a football genius. Ditto after 41 minutes, when Nani made it 3-0. He might even have got away with the backfiring gamble of putting Wayne Rooney in the front line had his side managed to hold out until half-time with their 4-2 overall advantage intact.

As it was, with United's totemic striker – fast-tracked from the injured list to the starting XI – already stricken again, the odds were subjected to a sea-change shift when Olic nicked his vital goal before the interval. By the final whistle, the teenaged Rafael having rightly departed, and Arjen Robben having struck the decisive scoring blow, Sir Alex's big punt on Rooney was left looking about as smart as the lumping of the mortgage on a 250-1 first-fence faller at Aintree.

Rooney's selection in United's starting line-up, eight days after he had left the Allianz Arena on crutches, and a day after his manager had dismissed his chances of even making the bench, lifted the spirits of the home crowd. But right from the etching of his name on to the home teamsheet, the ploy had the same smack of desperation as Ron Greenwood's pinning of faith in the patched-up Kevin Keegan at the 1982 World Cup.

True, Rooney did have a touch in the opening two goals, but by the 20th minute he was reduced to a limping extra in the proceedings – not quite as lifeless as Charlton Heston's El Cid, strapped up and sent out on his horse to scare off the Moors, but nothing like his dynamic, 3D normal self.

Maybe the sight of Franz Beckenbauer among the visiting party had settled Sir Alex's mind. In his days as an imperious captain and sweeper for club and country, Bayern's honorary president played with his dislocated right arm in a sling in West Germany's World Cup semi-final against Italy in 1970. But then Helmut Schön, the West Germany coach, had no option but to strap up Der Kaiser. He had already used his two allocated substitutes.

Sir Alex was asked before kick-off whether he was taking a risk playing Rooney. "No, there's no risk," he said "It's a soft-tissue injury, not ligament damage. That allows us to play him without a real worry about a recurrence." Reality proved otherwise.

There were other questions of judgement left hanging in the Mancunian air as United went out. Chief among them was: why had the European champions of 2008, the beaten finalists of 2009, been left with such a dearth of striking options when it came to the business end of this season's competition? Why, after two seasons at Old Trafford, had Dimitar Berbatov not come up to £30.75m scratch? What had happened to the £80m gleaned from the sale of Cristiano Ronaldo?

Then there is the $64m question for Manchester United, their manager and their American owners. Precisely where do they go from here? Beyond chasing another Premier League title, that is.

Have your say

Do you agree or disagree with Simon Turnbull? Email your thoughts about any article in The Independent on Sunday's sport section to the editor