Sir Alex Ferguson unwittingly mastered one of the oldest tricks in show business when he departed Manchester United at the end of his 26th season running the club: always leave them wanting more. What should be Rio Ferdinand's final desperate act in a United jersey was to leave Manchester City wanting four. How did this come to pass (or not, as he struggled to do the basics right on Tuesday night) for poor, lumbering Rio?
Ferdinand's performance in the chastening 3-0 loss to Manuel Pellegrini's slick side is an emblem of a greater truth among this decaying United team: too many of their players are too slow, some are too old, some are not good enough and some just lack the basic technique to cope with life in such lofty environs. Most are simply passengers on a sinking ship. Moyes is the captain of a vessel shipping water.
The old cliches about the Titantic and moving deck chairs spring to mind. Like the meaning of life and how Andre Villas-Boas continues to land gainful employment as a football coach with protruding European clubs like Zenit St Petersburg, one of the greatest mysteries of Premier League folklore will wonder how this United side managed to win the big prize by 11 points in 2013?
Fergie must indeed have been a miracle worker. Scripture suggests it wasn't possible. He turned whisky into wine by somehow cajoling United to give him a golden handshake. This is the same squad who were around at the same juncture last season.
David Moyes' side are 18 points behind Chelsea in seventh place. This would not be considered a good season if he was managing Everton, where he expected to and did put up a sterner challenge against sides like City. Certainly in one-off occasions.
Meanwhile, in what must be close to a watershed moment in a United shirt, Ferdinand did not possess the minerals to properly mark Edin Dzeko, who scored twice, but could have helped himself to plenty more alongside his vastly superior companions.
Yaya Toure added the third goal, but all of City’s players, especially David Silva - who contrasted starkly what he can offer against his fellow Spaniard Juan Mata - and Fernandinho, enjoyed the freedom and comfort of Old Trafford. Just like Liverpool had fraternised with some 10 days earlier.
The central defender Chris Smalling is injured, but his conduct hints at the wider farce. So much for common sense. He has apparently been disciplined after being out on the town until the early hours last Friday. He was caught singing: "We're Man United - we'll do what we want". Except they won't. They can't.
"You're the worst f****** champions, we've ever seen," from the gloating City fans was more like it. Ferdinand looked as compos mentis as Smalling's big night on the tiles against City's fast-moving raids.
This should be it for Ferdinand. He had started just four of the past 21 games, and should not have been exposed to such a frantic evening. Not only has his pace gone as a central defender, but he is not even falling back on any sense of certainty in reading the game. This wasn’t so much the last stand, as the last post.
As Fergie’s pal Sean Connery said in The Untouchables, you don’t bring a knife to a gun fight. Ferdinand looked unarmed last night, his sense of timing as wobbly as his marking.
When he scored in United's 2-1 win over Swansea in the final home game of last season, that was the perfect time for his own swansong. Instead, he has hung about too long, and is stinking the place out with his move to a soft seat as a television pundit probably about to be confirmed when his old partner in crime Nemanja Vidic heads off to Inter during the close season.
A man purchased for £30 million from Leeds United as the world's most expensive defender in 2002 has been reduced to a pile of rubble in 2014.
He is no longer fit for purpose, but he will be joined by others. Maroune Fellaini, Patrice Evra, Tom Cleverley, Shinji Kagawa and Javier Hernandez should all be cleaning out their lockers this summer if the supposed £100 million recruitment drive takes effect. Even that sum may not be enough to carry out the remedial work required.
You can make an argument for others to be going. Only David de Gea and Wayne Rooney look worthy of a United shirt. Robin van Persie's injuries and attitude place a question mark over his suitability.
Fellaini is a plodding imposter. He should have been red carded for a wretched elbow on the face of Pablo Zabaleta in the first half. On such nights, he cuts a shambolic figure. His hairstyle used to make him a cult hero. Now it singles him out as a man who has clearly lost faith in his own ability.
Wilfried Zaha - who was not party to this defeat but should be moved on - Fellaini and Juan Mata were purchased for a total of £82m, but have not scored a goal for United this season.
Moyes must shoulder the blame alongside the board of directors and chief executive Ed Woodward for failing to plan ahead last summer. If United are not a sacking club, the manager deserves to survive until the summer. He should be given the chance to rectify matters.
The glory hunters who are finding United's descent into apparent oblivion unacceptable enough to berate Fergie in the directors box should remember that football is not all about winning. Teams go through down times. They are poor fans, and sore losers if Fergie has been singled out.
Moyes' problem is not who to clear out, but who is worth investing more time in? It looks like more bodies will be departing than staying.
The Scot does not seem to know what his best side is. Because nobody comes up to the mark. He reached for Antonio Valencia early on after his decision to flood the midfield was not working before telling him to sit back down.
When he finally appeared on 66 minutes, the damage had been done.
If Moyes decides to retire Ferdinand now, it should be regarded as a football mercy killing. He should not be exposed to men such as Bayern Munich's Arjen Robben and Franck Ribery next month.
Moyes might need a swift half or two of Fergie's cough medicine before United face Munich in the Champions League quarter-finals. That could be a real turkey shoot if Pep Guardiola washes up in Manchester with his blunderbuss.
After the debacles against Liverpool and City, Bayern's arrival could be a sobering evening for all concerned, but especially a side who are just beginning their death rattle.
A side who once were English champions, but will soon be wheezing ghosts. Unless a miracle occurs against Bayern Munich, this blooming season can't finish quickly enough for United.
- Sports & Recreation
- Rio Ferdinand
- Manchester United
- Manchester City