MANCHESTER, England — One of the defining images of David Moyes’s disastrous reign as Manchester United manager was that of the television cameras panning to Sir Alex Ferguson in the directors’ box every time the team suffered another defeat or mishap. It got to the point that Moyes was relieved when his predecessor disappeared on a midseason cruise for a month because it spared them both yet another excruciating moment in the glare of the spotlight.
History is hard to bear at times, it can weigh heavily on those charged with repeating it, so the last thing a new man needs is to have the old guy watching over his shoulder.
Those bad old days came flashing back as Jose Mourinho’s United slogged out a dismal 0-0 Champions League draw at home to Valencia in front of the Old Trafford royalty of David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville and Nicky Butt — four members of the club’s famed Class of ’92. And just for good measure, Paul Scholes was sat in a studio in London throwing verbal grenades in Mourinho’s direction by claiming that the manager — it remains to be seen how it long it will be before he becomes “former manager” — was “embarrassing the club” because “his mouth is out of control.”
Mourinho has attempted to take on the Class of ’92 before, hitting out at Scholes and Neville, in particular, following their critical comments in the media. But it is a battle that the Portuguese can never win at United. He cannot take on the most decorated players in the club’s history for so many reasons, but the main one is that they embody the true spirit of Manchester United while he often appears to be its antithesis.
They are homegrown players who delivered a bucketload of trophies over almost 20 years by playing the bold, entertaining, attacking football that the United fans demand. Under Mourinho, United are not bold, they don’t attack very well and as for entertaining, watching paint dry is becoming a more attractive proposition than 90 minutes of Mourinho’s football.
Which is why the sight of Beckham, Giggs, Butt and Neville in the Old Trafford stands would have been another blow that Mourinho could have done without as his team continue to struggle.
This draw extended a winless run at home stretching back to the opening weekend of the Premier League season, so the Old Trafford regulars could be forgiven for pining for the days when Beckham and Co. would turn up and beat teams by four and five without breaking into a sweat. There are no Beckhams or Scholeses in Mourinho’s team. No Giggs attacking opponents, no Butt or Neville driving the team on with their commitment and passion.
One can only imagine what they thought as they watched this game. Neville was sat alone at the back of the stand, Giggs and Butt — United’s academy manager — sat together, while Beckham, intriguingly, was sat next to the wife of Ed Woodward, the club’s executive vice-chairman and the man who will decide Mourinho’s fate if this sorry run of results continues.
For many supporters, the dream scenario would be for the Class of ’92 to return to the club together: Giggs as manager, Neville in an executive role and Beckham sprinkling whatever stardust he wants across the globe.
Maybe the idea of a Class of ’92 coup is a fanciful one. Even with the help of the Singaporean businessman Peter Lim — the owner of Valencia and also the Class of ’92’s business partner at Salford City — raising the money required to even tempt the Glazer family into selling the club would be a hugely difficult task. United are valued in the region of £3 billion, so that would only be a starting point, even with the team performing as miserably as it is right now.
But while a Class of ’92 takeover is bordering on the realms of fantasy, fantasy is precisely what United lack under Mourinho, and it is what the supporters are desperate to experience. If there is no fantasy on the pitch, then why not dream about the greats of the past rescuing the club from its current state?
For now, the Class of ’92 can only be reminders of the past and a signpost to where United are going wrong.
Mourinho refused to respond to Scholes’s latest remarks after this game, insisting he was “not interested,” but perhaps the manager knows that he can never silence the Class of ’92, no matter how much success he brings to Old Trafford.
At the moment, success seems like a distant dream for Mourinho. Success at this stage would simply be keeping his job beyond the end of the season.
That is not what United are about, and it is certainly not what the fans were accustomed to when Beckham, Scholes, Giggs, Neville and Butt were collecting trophies on a regular basis. And their presence at Old Trafford on Tuesday was simply a reminder for everybody that United are nowhere near where they should be under Mourinho.