Moments before Alex Ferguson left Old Trafford for the final time as a coach, he issued a defiant message to the Manchester United fans who were so used to hanging on his every word.
“I’d like to remind you,” Ferguson said as he stood inside the centre circle, getting lightly coated with raindrops, “that when we had bad times here, the club stood by me. All my staff stood by me. The players stood by me.
“Your job now is to stand by our new manager.”
That was eight months ago. United had just beaten Swansea 2-1 with a late winner by Rio Ferdinand in so-called “Fergie Time” and the team had already romped to a 20th English league title, enhancing Ferguson’s status as the greatest British manager of all time after more than 26 trophy-laden years at United.
How ironic, then, that Swansea was back at Old Trafford on Sunday, administering a fourth loss in United’s last six home matches to usher the creaking hosts further into decline under Ferguson’s successor, David Moyes.
Swansea won 2-1, its winning goal coming in the final minute, by which time Ferdinand had hobbled off injured. The contrast to that day in May when United lifted the Premier League trophy on Ferguson’s Old Trafford farewell was acute.
The natives are getting restless. The atmosphere at Old Trafford is soporific. The smattering of boos greeting the final whistle of each home defeat there have been five already this season in all competitions is small but growing in number.
United fans are undoubtedly prepared to give Moyes time. They are a knowledgeable bunch, clearly understanding that replacing Ferguson is nigh impossible, but they expect better than what they are getting at present.
For the first time, local and national press are calling it a crisis, an empire in decline. United is seventh in the Premier League, 11 points behind leader Arsenal and five points adrift of the fourth and final Champions League place that just so happens to be occupied by Liverpool United’s biggest rival.