Newest Review: ... him. On the back of frances world cup win in 1998, Barthez gained a reputation for flair and competency through his performances in denyi... more
From bad to worse
Member Name: thehud
Date: 29/11/01, updated on 29/11/01 (90 review reads)
Advantages: Very few now
Disadvantages: There to be shot at
For Manchester United, this entire season has been one faltering stumble after another. It started way back in pre season friendlies as Alex Ferguson started out with a new formation to accommodate his big money signings, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Juan Sebastian Veron. The match at Old Trafford against Celtic had nothing much on it but the Scottish champions simply overran United for most of the game.
Never mind, we thought, just an aberration, things will be alright once the real stuff starts. However, the Charity Shield clash with Liverpool was no better as an in form Michael Owen made the United defence look pedestrian and leaden footed. Then as the Premiership kicked off, United started with a simple looking task at home to promoted Fulham.
The fluid Luis Saha twice gave the Londoners a shock lead, before United finally managed to work their way back into the game and grind out a win. Now the fun would begin, we thought, but it never did.
There was the distraction of Jaap Stam's headline driving autobiography which prompted accusations from Fergie that the Dutchman had lost something and led to a high profile transfer to Lazio. Laurent Blanc was the replacement on a free transfer from Inter, but was obviously just a stop gap introduction and he could not stem the tide.
United continued to look astonishingly shaky at the back - even when they came back from 3-0 down to crush Tottenham in an astonishing turnaround in one of the games of the season, they had still been lacklustre and second rate for much of the game.
After a dreary defeat at Anfield, Fergie's programme notes derided the critics and promised that the Empire was not crumbling, but then we had the latest debacle in the big clash at Highbury against Arsenal.
All the headlines and gossip centred on the two bloopers suffered by Fabien Barthez, especially as they were just the latest in a series of high profile errors from the French keeper
. Bad as they were, however, they distracted the attention from the real problem as Barthez became the scapegoat for the demise. He had played well earlier, making several excellent saves, but ruined it in five minutes of second half madness.
One should remember, however, how limited United's whole performance had been throughout the game - they had seized an unmerited lead in their first attack through Paul Scholes, but the game had virtually passed them by.
It would suit the Old Trafford regime, however, if the attention centred on Barthez and his eccentric performance so as to mask the genuine malaise which has descended upon United. They are no longer the dominant force they were and the result of trying to find a formation to win the Champions League has been to invite sides to come onto them in Premiership matches, and their soft centre is not capable of soaking up the sort of pressure they have been facing.
When they'd had Stam and Schmeichel around they could weather this sort of storm, but they are now a brittle, uncohesive back four and a seemingly insane clown in the net who on his day can be excellent, but is having too many off days.
Fergie's face on Sunday at Highbury betrayed it all in a way that had not been evident at Anfield - then he looked drained and exhausted, now he looked positively livid and Barthez will doubtless feel the backlash. He wasn't helped, however, by a defence which lacked rigour and concentration. As the Frenchman screwed up his clearance, only Gary Neville was facing goalwards and they were all caught out when the ball bobbled to the edge of the area.
The old confidence and assurance that used to hang around Barthez like a bad smell has temporarily deserted him, however, along with his luck and things are unlikely to improve in the immediate future.
Last season, after becoming the most expensive goalkeeper in the world at £7.8m, he looked to have laid t
o rest the ghost of Schmeichel and put the goalkeeping nightmares of 1999-2000 behind United, but he has struggled for most of this year as United have leaked goals like a sieve. Inevitably, he will recover from his current depression - goalkeepers who are good enough to play for World and European Champions do not become also rans overnight, and Barthez is a class act most of the time. His style and insistence on taking risks means that he is always going to be a character and crowd pleaser, while giving his manager nightmares, and such an approach is too rare in the game these days.
Still, I think I'll join a million other non United fans in a nasty gloat over the despair of Barthez for the time being.