continuedMost, if not all, of us here have taken some degree of satisfaction at watching what is going on over at Manchester this summer, with Malcom Glazer threatening to turn the Old Trafford frnachise into some sort of football Burger King (many of us would argue that Martin Edwards already achieved this in the mid 1990s).
Man UTD dominated the 1990s - we cannot deny that - and they got off to a fairly good start in the noughties as well, winning the league in 2000, 2001 and 2003 and winning the FA Cup in 2004.
However, in the past two seasons they have finished third in the league and since winning the big one in 1999, they haven't exactly set Europe alight either.
Arsenal have definitely passed them out in football terms - despite Man UTD beating them handsomely home and away in the league last year - and with the dawn of the new Abramovich/Kenyon/Mourinho Chelski era, not only are Chelsea now a far better football team than Man UTD, with a bigger squad and simply better players, Chelski can also dominate Man UTD (and the rest of us) in the money stakes.
Man UTD had the comfort of knowing in the 1990s that if they slipped, even slightly, they could go out and spend lavishly to restore them to top spot. In 1998 Arsenal won the league and cup double, so Man UTD went out and spent Â£25million on Yorke, Stam and Blomquist.
This season they have gone out and bought Van Der Saar and Park Juing. Park is not a bad player, but he's not exactly the kind of signing where people sit back and take notice. Had Birmingham signed him you might have thought "not a bad buy there" but really, not exactly a huge arrival that will signal a statement of intent for next season.
On top of that, Ferguson goes out and buys Edwin Van Der Saar. A decent goalkeeper, but at 34, he is nothing more than a sticky plaster over a wound festering ever since Peter Schmeichel retired.
Man UTD will probably buy one or two more Parks and Van der Saars this summer, but talk of Michael Owens, Robinhos and Gattusos are wide of the mark.
Man UTD are no longer the dominant, all powerful Goliath they were 5 or 6 years ago. We can all see that. But is the problem at that club more severe and advanced than that?
The way I see it, the club are flogging the dead horse of Keane, Gary Neville, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes season after season after season. Forget Ronaldo, RVN and Rooney: those guys are the spine of the team, its character and personality. They were all great players, and are still capable of going on a 15 game sequence of splendid form that will make all of England sit up and take notice. But they cannot keep going forever. Roy Keane had a good season last year, but he's going into his mid 30s now and I have a feeling that next summer he will surprise everybody by retiring. Paul Scholes is a marvelous player - such skill and vision - but I detect that his motor is beginning to wane and I'm beginning to question whether his hunger is still there. He is entering his 30s and probably has a few seasons left yet, but not as the Championship winning midfielder we all feared a few years ago.
And what about Giggs? Tremendous player on his day, with immaculate dribbling skills and a dangerous intellugence in and about the box, but Giggs only seems to have 10 good days a season now, before injury and mixed form kicks in. Again, like Scholes, he strikes me as a fella who should probably be in the colours of a Deportivo la Coruna or Valencia now, playing skillful but relaxed football in a sunny clime rather than have Ben Thatcher and Robbie Savage kick lumps out of him on a November Saturday afternoon.
Where are the new players to replace these Man UTD greats? Park looks a handy winger, but to me he's a poor man's Marc Overmars than a 25 year old Ryan Giggs. What about Scholes? UTD have Darren Fletcher in their ranks but nobody else. Fletcher is a useful player but Scholes' replacement? Not a chance.
UTD have struggled a lot since Schmeichel went, but what happens when the real power behind UTD's success in the 1990s - Roy Keane - goes? Ferguson is looking at Guttoso who has some of Keane's lung busting ability to cover the ground and tackle everything that moves, but has none of Keane's ability to retain possession and the old Keane's capability of powering into the opposition box. In any event, I think Gattuso is out of UTD's range. So is Essien, a very good player, but again, no Keane. Ferguson is talking about converting Alan Smith into a defensive midfielder.....Fergie, don't make me laugh.
That brings me nicely on to the big man himself, Sir Alex. The guy is a legend, no doubt about that, but he is no Shanks, Paisley or Clough. With all of the riches of the world at his disposal and a golden team of Beckham, Scholes, Giggs and Keane, he could only win one European trophy. Cloughie, with a regional team and small budget, won two, two at a time when Liverpool were dominating. Paisley would have shown Ferguson a thing or two of how to make hay when the sun shone.
But enough of that, we cannot deny that Ferguson was a great domestic manager. However, I feel he is beginning to lose the Midas touch........I'm a bit reluctant to say he has lost it already. UTD players look disinterested in the early stages of each season, often culminating in an embarassing away defeat to lowly side in October, before Ferguson getting the hair drier out and they go off on a great three month run. The thing is, its happening every season now, and I'm beginning to wonder that they are allowed to go soft over the summer.
What is more, Ferguson is beginning to change his methods, not a good thing to be doing at this late stage in your career. He built his great sides on a mixture of modest players (Butt, Neville, Bruce and Irwin) with great attitude and commitment with more skillful players (Giggs and Scholes) that knew no other way to play football but to give it everything and attack, attack, attack. Fergie would pick a 4-4-2 side with wingers and try and blast the oppositon.....a tactic that often worked.
Since 2001, however, the guy has decided to change things. He no longer has complete faith in 4-4-2, and tried to use Veron in a strange Christmas three formation. Last season he mucked about with a defensive 4-4-1-1 formation against AC Milan: and got roundly beaten.
He has also lost his knack in the transfer market......if he ever had a knack in the first place. People that were around in the 1980s will remember the amount of rubbish Ferguson bought when he first took charge. He got it mostly right in the 1990s, but now he is reverting to type.
Eric Djemba Djemba, Kleberson, Diego Forlan, Luis Saha, Liam Miller, David Bellion and Ricardo have all been relatively recent signings, and all have failed miserably. Its true that a few have worked out like Ronaldo and Heinze, but in the Glazer era, with Chelski ruling the money roost, Ferguson can no longer afford to blow his wad on rubbish, no more than the rest of us can.
But the thing is, if Man UTD want to get back to the top of the Premiership and make a real go of it in Europe, they need to spend money. Van der Saar is not the long term answer in goal. He will do a job next season, but really, by signing him, Ferguson is passing the problem on to his successor. Gary Neville has a few years ahead of him yet, but will need replacing eventually. Their defense is in reasonable shape, despite the over rated Ferdinand, but therein lies another potential problem. In Rio, they have a Big Time Charlie who will put Beckham in the shade, and he's fussing over a new contract, looking for more than Â£120,000 a week! They have two choices: sell him, but only get around Â£20million of their Â£33million expenditure on him, or pay him what he wants: and risk the other players wanting the same.