It’s not often we find ourselves feeling empathy with Manchester United supporters but after watching their lifeless surrender to El-Toon in the Carabao Cup it was impossible not to draw a few parallels with our own miserable plight.
They, of course, are in a different stratosphere when it comes to history, expectation, fanbase, and finances, but, equally, as the Sky cameras panned around Old Trafford in the closing stages of the game, that depressing mix of empty seats and glum faces was all too familiar.
They too are a club in crisis – one that is also now suffering the effects of many years of off-field mismanagement and underfunding, albeit their particular brand of underfunding has tended to have been confined to infrastructural things, like a stadium in desperate need of renovation and fixing.
Our infrastructural issues are not completely dissimilar – certainly, the River End is looking more than a little tired and in need of a spruce-up – but our greater need is for an expanded stadium that will, in theory, enable us to garner more revenue through ticket sales.
(I say in theory because, right now, we’re not even close to selling all the seats we have available – but you get my gist).
Only time will tell if the Attanasio-led Norfolk Group has plans to expand Carrow Road, and when I say time, that will be in at least three years and could be in as many as seven (you know what I’m saying … let’s not go there right now).
United’s problem in terms of their stadium has been, according to Gary Neville, based around the Glazers’ intransigence in making any changes, renovations, or additions to Old Trafford. They have, we’re told, a giant stadium that’s crumbling and has, among other things, holes in the roof.
But what United fans, unlike ourselves, cannot complain about is their spending in the transfer market under their US ownership, after breaking the £2billion barrier according to Kieran Maguire from The Price of Football.
Sums like those are beyond the comprehension of most normal clubs, especially those who espouse the joys of self-funding, but there are parallels with us around how well that money has been spent.
You could argue that there is even more need to acquire value-for-money when your pot, like ours, is minuscule and that when you have the capability of spending £2billion then you can afford gambling on what turn out to be a few duds, but the principle is the same – the need to spend the money you have wisely.
Both clubs are guilty of doing precisely the opposite.
And then there’s the coaching, which in both cases has ultimately suffered from what is or isn’t happening off the pitch.
I suppose you could argue that with City having a sporting director and United still operating without one, we’re ahead on that particular curve but both clubs are suffering badly from having board and management structures that are both dysfunctional and unfit for purpose.
Success on the pitch can cover a multitude of sins, including behind-the-scenes chaos, but as we are learning on a daily basis from the ongoing Covid inquiry, eventually those failings will be exposed as things at the sharp end start to unravel.
United, City and our government are all now paying the price of more than a decade of mismanagement – some of it inadvertent, some of it the result of bad luck, and some of it down to sheer incompetence.
(It’s okay… the government analogy ends there).
While Erik ten Hag arguably has more credits in the bank than David Wagner – United won some silverware last season and also a place in the Champions League – both are now displaying that worrying characteristic of being unable to explain the reasons behind a series of stinking performances.
For Wagner, there appears no obvious route out of this current hole, while for ten Hag the route to redemption closes with every defeat, even though he is merely the latest in a long line of managers who have suffered at the hands of the aforementioned owners and structural deficiencies.
What both clubs have in common is that any success on the pitch comes in spite of the ownership and off-field management, not because of it.
But both also appear to have owners who are reluctant to relinquish control, albeit for very different reasons.
While Delia and Michael’s white-knuckled grip on Norwich City comes from a place of them believing only they are truly capable of owning our football club, the Glazers have taken down the ‘for sale’ signs at United because they didn’t receive what they deemed to be an acceptable offer.
The upshot, however, is the same.
Two clubs with owners who have maxed out and who appear incapable of taking them further; two clubs desperate for off-field reform that will enable them to break out of their current malaise; and two clubs with managers who appear close to the end of the road but who are carrying the can for problems way beyond their control.
I don’t, however, feel a single grain of sympathy for those United fans who, over the years, have taken great delight in reminding us of our lowly place in the footballing hierarchy, but I do feel terribly sorry for those around me clad in the yellow and green of City.
The phrase ‘we deserve better’ is rather too easily thrown around and smacks of the entitlement for which we mock others, but what we don’t deserve is the contempt in which we are held by some of our decision-makers in a Glazer-style.
Perhaps that can be the first thing to change when change eventually comes.