Normally, the description would be both unflattering and inexact but on this occasion Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez and Wayne Rooney were as much as anything culture vultures. They simply picked clean the tragicomic bones of the club whose duty to fulfil a fixture at this place of all places, on this weekend of all weekends, was not so much a contractual obligation as a biblical judgement.
The man obliged to front up the moral and professional shanty town of Newcastle United, caretaker manager Nigel Pearson, spoke with impeccable prudence, and some dignity, as befitted a fine, committed old pro of a central defender, but even he could not avoid a shudder – and a fleeting stab at diagnosis.
It came with his muted suggestion that it was possible to go back nearly 20 years to find some of the origins of a result that perfectly defined the gulf between a team of rich talent and abundant belief and another who had been given only the nightmare vision of an unending abyss.
Pearson recalled that in his days as a Sheffield Wednesday player he had read headlines that United manager Sir Alex Ferguson was just two bad results away from losing his job.
Since then, of course, Newcastle have disposed of a total of eight managers – one more than United have used in their entire post-war history. After this ritual slaughter, the man who held the United job most briefly – albeit on virtually impossible terms – Wilf McGuinness, was asked if he was interested in the Tyneside vacancy. There wasn't a lot of mirth in his eyes when he said no because McGuinness, like Pearson, is a football man and there is not much fun in Newcastle's crude travesty of professional policy dressed up as some on-going drama of the game.
It is not drama. It is a shameful recycling of incompetence, an absolute failure to understand that when you appoint a manager you should have a rough idea of what you want from him, whether he is capable of producing it and, if the first two requirements are met, he should have sufficient time to get at least some of the beginnings of the job done.
Now in the wake of the misadventure of Sam Allardyce – the rationale for which will surely always be obscure even by Tyneside standards – and Harry Redknapp's decision to stay at Portsmouth, the talk is of a Keegan-Shearer axis.
Such romanticism would have seemed far-fetched if Newcastle had managed to cling on to some of the parity they had somehow managed to achieve in a goalless first half here, but with each United goal it became increasingly absurd. Mark Hughes and David Moyes are the floated alternatives and, if anyone at St James' Park cares to attempt any kind of analysis of what happened at Old Trafford, the buoyancy of the cases for proven, hard-headed operators like the managers of Blackburn and Everton surely becomes strong enough to launch an aircraft carrier.
Allardyce had £27m and five months to make Newcastle look like a viable football team and, if you cannot blame him directly for what happened this weekend, you can say that the team he bequeathed to the agonised Pearson appeared to lack both long and short-term memory of how it is you produce a coherent performance.
Certainly, advancing the name of Keegan as a reprised messiah seemed particularly bizarre as Alan Smith passed on the captain's armband after being sent off for disputing too passionately the legality of United's sixth goal. Keegan's first regime was brilliant in engendering hope, but presumably the current Newcastle directors, and owner Mike Ashley, have forgotten precisely where it foundered. It was in a failure to organise a defence to top-flight standards.
So many years on, the disease has not been been treated. Shay Given remains a fine example of goalkeeping nerve, and Steven Taylor is a defender who is apparently capable of absorbing any amount of discouragement, but if the effective scavenging of United's most menacing triumvirate since Best, Law and Charlton did not begin until the 49th minute, it was through no lack of encouragement.
By the end Ronaldo's hat-trick, Tevez's brace and the sweet drive of Rio Ferdinand, from an exquisitely chipped pass by Rooney, had indeed spoken of separate football cultures. As Arsenal faltered, United had produced fresh and crushing evidence that they have the means to apply maximum pressure on the run-in. When Ferguson was asked if Ronaldo could march on beyond his 22 goals and dwarf his achievements of last season, when he was most critics' idea of player of the year, he has rarely been so emphatic. "Why not?" he exclaimed.
It was true that at times Ronaldo's facility was little short of outrageous. A combination of first touch and at times unassailable power made him a nightmare to mark and when you consider that Rooney might have scored three in the first 20 minutes the plight of Newcastle probably needs little more elaboration.
Far better teams coming from considerably less insane places would surely have perished under the weight of such virtuosity and you could only pity Pearson, the man who is required, for a few days or weeks, to rock the troubled cradle. How could it be worse? Perhaps only if he was asked to watch an endless rerun of Roman Polanski's Rosemary's Baby.
Goals: Ronaldo (49) 1-0; Tevez (55) 2-0; Ronaldo (70) 3-0; Ferdinand (85) 4-0; Ronaldo (88) 5-0; Tevez (90) 6-0.
Manchester United (4-4-2): Van der Sar; O'Shea, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra (Simpson, 67); Ronaldo, Carrick, Anderson (Fletcher, 72), Giggs (Nani, 72); Tevez, Rooney. Substitutes not used: Kuszczak (gk), Park.
Newcastle (4-5-1): Given; Carr, Cacapa, Taylor, Enrique; Milner (Viduka, 64), Butt, N'Zogbia, Smith, Duff; Owen (Rozehnal, 82). Substitutes not used: Harper (gk), Emre, LuaLua.
Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).
Booked: Manchester United Rooney; Newcastle United Duff.
Sent off: Smith (90).
Man of the match: Ronaldo.
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