Crisis at Old Trafford

Alarm bells are ringing at Old Trafford as Manchester United struggle to maintain their former glory, says Ashley Knott.

The dismissive nature of Sir Alex Ferguson's comments with regards to talk of the "end of an era" does not deceive anyone.
This is, without doubt, a troublesome time for Manchester United, supposedly the biggest club in England, and possibly the world.

Out of the championship race and out of Europe before the quarter final, a massive blow to Ferguson, who was gearing his whole season towards the prestigious crown.

Boy didn't the man look gutted! For the first time in many years Fergie appeared genuinely rattled by what occurred against Porto in the 90th minute at Old Trafford, even admitting his own shock.

Why the shock? He has bought very average players, of whom none are anywhere near their peaks, sold world class players, including the dreaded DB words which are banned at Old Trafford, and stuck with the class of 92 who simply no longer have the drive and hunger of Arsenal and Chelsea.

Put all that in the mixer and they were fortunate to even be on the same pitch as Porto, a modest side who outplayed United in their own back yard.

I never thought this would happen but, nobody is scared of Old Trafford any longer.

You don't see the routs that everyone had grown accustomed to. United do not roll teams over like they used to.

Opposition used to be defeated before they even stepped foot on the coach.

A simple reason for this shift in mood, is the pure lack of world class players, and equally, world class reputations.

Juan Sebastien Veron, David Beckham and Fabien Barthez were, and still are, mammoth names in world football, arguably for different reasons.

When opposition teams lined up against United before a European encounter, they were looking and thinking "bloody hell!"

Then we have the Porto game at Old Trafford. Porto players must have thought it was happy hour, (or hour and a half).

They walked down the line and shook hands with United players they probably have never seen before.

The likes of Darren Fletcher, who appeared to be a replacement for the England captain? I don't think so.

Eric Djemba Djemba, an equal replacement for the suspended captain Roy Keane? I have my doubts.

I grant they may be good players, just as Phil Neville, and Wes Brown are good players, the list goes on.

But they simply do not strike fear into opponents, a distinctly important ingredient, which all top class sides have, one which United appear to have lost.

Only three players appear to have both the respect and fear of their opponents.

The Dutchman, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs.

Yet only one of them is currently performing, the England man Scholes.

United desperately need to beat Arsenal in the FA Cup, to have any chance of silverware.

How ironic that the trophy third on the list of priorities, has become United's main concern.

Now is the time for Ferguson to further enhance his managerial reputation.

Another season without either the Premiership or the Champions League, would see the downfall of arguably the greatest manager in the club's history.

Manchester United are in trouble, and Fergie knows it.