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PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 August, 2014, 9:59pm
UPDATED : Friday, 22 August, 2014, 11:37pm

United must stop the rot and remove dead wood or sink

Like a fearsome ship of the line, constant maintenance of a team is required - and the Reds are looking less than seaworthy

BIO

Peter Simpson is a China-UK based journalist and the SCMP’s former Beijing 2008 Olympics news editor. He has covered major international news and sporting events, most recently the London 2012 Olympics and Euro 2012 in Poland and Ukraine. Peter is a Premier League season ticket holder at newly promoted Southampton FC.
 

Entertaining kids during the school summer holidays became slightly easier with the start of the EPL last weekend but there is still the weekday voids to fill until the new term starts.

So in store for one young Saints fan and his father was a rare drive eastwards along the coast to Portsmouth and a visit aboard the Royal Navy's flagship and former command of Lord Nelson, HMS Victory.

Inspecting the decks of a 104-gun, 249-year-old wooden, floating imperial death machine in arch rival Pompey is perhaps the last place an adult Saint would find himself musing on the misfortunes of Manchester United.

But on learning the first planks of HMS Victory were laid down in 1759, one's mind drifted north up the M6.

United could learn much from HMS Victory's history about how to cut out the dead wood and preserve the fear factor to ensure glory marches on and on

An inquiry was made about how much of the timber that make up this magnificent ship is original, and parallels with sorry Old Trafford were drawn.

"Very little of the ship is original," came the reply. "The lower gun deck still has some original planking but she has been restored many times during conservation projects over the centuries."

What exists today is nothing more than a copy of copies of the original, an existential replica if you will; new planks here, replica masts there, fresh timber and rigging all over, replacing the old for new whenever rot is spotted by its eagle-eyed custodians.

What is original however is the same invincible presence, that which put fear into the French and the Spanish fleets in the 19th century.

She still bristles with her original might and confidence, as if capable of slipping her moorings and conquering all-comers in home waters, across the English Channel and beyond.

United could learn much from HMS Victory's history about how to cut out the dead wood and preserve the fear factor to ensure glory marches on and on.

Having finished seventh last season and with their worst start to an EPL campaign in history recorded last week, the 20-time champions have clearly skimped on conservation in the last 18 months.

The squad is a creaking, lumbering tug and is shipping respect by the jolly-boat load.

Almost £76 million (HK$976 million) was spent on England fullback Luke Shaw, Spanish midfielder Ander Herrera and Argentinian defender Marcos Rojo. A new manager, Louis van Gaal, has replaced the out-of-depth David Moyes.

But they will not be enough to make the club title challengers this season.

Granted, nine first team players including Robin van Persie were out of contention during the home defeat to Swansea.

But as that sluggish, uninspired performance showed, United are bringing up the rear behind a fleet of nuclear-powered destroyers - big-spending Arsenal, Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea.

Van Gaal might well be a master tactician, but winning the league is not just about cunningly deploying second-rate guns. You have to invest hugely in the latest available hi-tech weaponry.

The problem facing the club however, is that players who would have previously beaten a path to its door now seek commissions elsewhere because the prospect of domestic and European honours is no longer a given in a United shirt.

It was reported this week that Bayern Munich star and German World Cup winner Thomas Muller turned down a big-money move this summer.

And many are asking why the club did not pursue former Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas when he left Barcelona, and instead allowed Jose Mourinho to scoop up a proven game-changer.

A lack of transparency makes it difficult to determine who should take the blame for the deplorable conservation of greatness and respect.

Van Gaal is said to be growing increasingly frustrated with his superiors about the lack of movement in the transfer window, which closes at the end of the month.

The club's executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, has insisted "we're not afraid of spending significant amounts of money in the transfer market". But he has consistently failed to do so.

Impatient Reds fans are fuming at the lack of investment and the return to the days of "Green and Gold" protests loom, such are the mutinous feelings toward owners, the Glazer family.

The rarely seen Americans have been quietly cashing in their shares after saddling their debt on the club, while ignoring the needs of both the management team and its loyal supporters.

If there are not significant buys in the next week to stop the rot, the board and United's owners should be prepared to make like the deckmen of yore aboard HMS Victory - and prepare to repel all boarders.

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