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Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Manchester United... What IF?

This article is the type of unique, thought provoking content that appears in every issue of Red News, and first appeared in RN176, you can see for yourself each month by subbing at

It can be both enjoyable and infuriating wondering ‘what if...?’ to a particular moment in time or incident involving United. As Paulo249 on the RN Forum put it: 'What if Bergkamp scores the penalty in the FAC semi? What if Vieira doesn't gift Giggsy the ball? What if Andy Cole's goal vs Spurs bounces over? What if Giggs doesn't scuff his shot into Teddy's path? What if Jancker's overhead kick bounces in off the post and not out? What if Terry doesn't slip? What if Ballack/Lampard smash it an inch lower?’. brennan countered: ‘Ifs and buts, what if we did get that winner at West Ham that day? Would we have then gone on to beat Everton? Or Scholes didn't miss in the pen shoot out, or Scholes goal did stand against Porto? Thought we played well in Leverkusen too and could have won and how much did we lose the league by last year? Was Drogba offside at Old Trafford? And what if we weren't in debt. You trying to tell me we aint had no bad luck over the years? I think it evens itself out for us don't you?’

That luck evening itself out or not, the great ‘what ifs’ might just be quantifiable, and here new RN writer Paul Ring wonders aloud...

What If the takeover had not happened?
Take your pick. The most profitable club in the world would have remained so. Instead of incurring Switzerland’s GDP as debt. Ticket prices might have retained some semblance of normality. A transfer strategy based on age profiles and sell on value would not have been implemented. Fergie wouldn’t say “no value” every transfer window as international midfielders are juggling balls at the Bernebéau for a pittance. Andersred would be some Scandinavian striker we might be in for. Green and Gold would bring back memories of Giggs scoring at Bramall Lane and Sparky kicking nuts.
Glazernomics would never have entered the red lexicon. We wouldn’t sigh and stare sadly at the sky sports news ticker on deadline day. A Bond issue would be the latest spy movie or a slightly dubious magazine. The business section of the newspaper would be restored to its rightful place beneath the breakfast. The ACS might be the name of some firm from London and not something that treats your credit card as an ATM. That blood boiling anger that lodged in the pit of your stomach when it happened would be a mere memory from a nightmare.
USA chants would be used by people from the USA. Swag sellers in Manchester would probably have gone under with the lack of Norwich trade. Red and Red would stay United. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers business wouldn’t be ours. Middle of the season jaunts to the Middle East with our skirts up may or may not have happened.
Fergie would be the Coolmore Mafia’s consigliere. David Beckham would miss a photo op. David Gill would be heralded as the lone voice in the darkness as his first book entitled “Debt is the road to ruin” is released. Man City wouldn’t win a trophy.
Announcements to the press would be for team affairs, not what winery in Chile has become an official partner. Red e-mail accounts would not be spammed by desperate attempts to sell tickets for the vital home tie against Crawley Town.
Some of that ten million paid out to the Glazer family for “management and administration” fees might have paid for an international midfielder to juggle the ball at Old Trafford.
Operating profits of 100 million that amount to a loss of 83 million would be an problem in a textbook for a P.H.D economics student. No one would care what PIK stood for. The Red Knights and their utopian vision of supporter ownership but with private investment, would be deemed a possibly unworkable plan as Fergie advises J.P and co to buy a couple of more shares.
There would be bitter complaints around Europe as under UEFA’s new fair play awards United are far and away the richest club in the world. Having left Newcastle, Michael Owen states he could do a job for United, who try and hide their derision as David Villa is showcased to the press.
United would win three league titles, one European cup, three league cups and a World Club Cup.

What if Alan Shearer signed for United?
This is a two-era question. The first of course, goes back to the summer of 1992. Alan Shearer is the bright young thing of English football. Manchester United and Blackburn Rovers confirm their interest in signing him. For reasons passing understanding Shearer chooses Blackburn. What if he hadn’t? Fire up the Delorean reds, and lets imagine the dour-faced one signed.
There would have been goals. There is no disputing that. Say what you like about Shearer, he found the back of the net at will despite playing for some poor sides. United were suffering a goal drought of biblical proportions in the early part of the 92/93 season. Shearer would have undoubtedly eased that but he would not have been the answer. Fergie wrote in Managing My Life that had he signed him it is unlikely that he would have signed The Answer in Eric.
There is the doomsday scenario that was avoided. There is a Simpson’s episode where Homer gets transported back in time through his malfunctioning toaster. By merely squashing a fly, and transporting back he ensures that all humankind is enslaved to Ned Flanders. Shearer at United instead of Cantona would look roughly like that. Imagine a press conference with dear Alan giving monosyllabic answers while Eric creates art at Leeds. Then take a deep breath and drink a drink a drink…
There was a second chance to sign Shearer of course. After his superb Euro ‘96 it was widely believed that he was going to finally don a red shirt. But due to love or stupidity he chose his local club Newcastle and spent the rest of his days as an onlooker while the silverware was handed out.
It is difficult to say just what would have happened had he made the move then. The only thing that can be said with certainty is that he would have won a medal or two. But would Ole Solskjaer have gotten the chances he did had Shearer been in the team? The 96/97 season is perhaps the most overlooked of the Ferguson title wins. Sandwiched between the fledgling’s double and the incredible treble, it is remembered as the passing of one legend in the King and the birth of another in the baby faced assassin.
It is not fanciful to assume Solskjaer’s career at Old Trafford may have come to an abrupt end had we signed Shearer. He was almost out the door without him in ‘99. Would Dwight Yorke have been signed? The whole dynamic of the team that was responsible for the impossible would have changed.
So give thanks to Alan Shearer the next time he is droning on Match of the Day. Even thinking of him now all you are left with is goals sure, but also that bland celebration. One arm-up, running away. I’ll take the guy with his collar up and chest out thanks, and while I am at it I’ll take that kid sliding on his knees at the Camp Nou. Fate can be so cruel but my god it can also be so kind.

What if Terry Venables took the United job, not Fergie?
Scoff as you may but “El Tel” was a man in demand back in 1986. He had led Barcelona to the Spanish league and would lead them into a European Cup final, that they lost having missed every one of their penalties in the shootout with Steaua Bucharest.
So no real difference there, Fergie’s United have been (Moscow aside) rubbish at shootouts. It could certainly be argued that short-term success could have come under Venables. Perhaps Saint Lineker would have joined and maybe the presence of trendy Terry would have persuaded Paul Gascoigne to ignore London and make proper use of his talent.
So it may have been sweet but it would definitely have been short, and we would miss out on the greatest period possible of supporting the shirts. It is difficult when thinking Manchester United not to think Sir Alex Ferguson. Indeed it is hard to even conjure an image of another man prowling the Old Trafford touchline, but lets try.
There may or may not have been the worse goatee in the world. In that silly Sun advert that was airing a while back Tel accompanied ‘Arry and Big Cas in black in white mouthing something and trying to sound like an authority on the game. Man United managers should not have a goatee. Benitez and Venables are the only two I can think of that have one and that’s a strong enough barometer for me.
Press conferences would be cliché filled nonsense. The phrase “Venables gets out the hairdryer” would merely mean he is drying his hair. Mind games would no longer feature. He would play with three centre-backs. Tapping his watch would mean he is late for an appointment, possibly goatee related.
He would smirk in that uncontrollably smarmy way when something goes right and do the same if something went wrong. He would leave after two years having won an FA Cup and supervised another slump down through the table. Martin Edwards would rush to phone that Scottish bloke that is doing well. He would have taken the Arsenal job.
United would appoint another flavour of the month manager, possibly Howard Kendall or someone like that and nothing much would change. Arsenal would dominate the next twenty years of English football. Arsene Wenger would be made Japanese prime minister having outgrown the Grampus Eight job and wowed the Japanese political landscape with his grasp of other languages.
We may have stumbled across someone who could have won us a league title but it would have been a fleeting success. The greatest asset Ferguson has is his ability to destroy and rebuilt great football teams. There is not a manger today who has done it with such success and with such regularity.
The day is coming though reds, forget what if? What will we do when he’s gone?

by Paul Ring
twitter @Paul__Ring

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