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FA Carling Premiership, 16/10/99
Manchester United
The best team in Europe
By Matt Rowson

If you've come for an assassination of Manchester United you've come to the wrong place.

United are the best team in Europe. Full stop. They have just won an unprecedented treble of Premiership, Champions League, and F.A.Cup, which was achieved with an exciting team bursting with home-produced players. United are consistently the highest scoring team in the Premiership, have a fantastic stadium, support which stretches across continents and a successful marketing operation to boot. Any petty criticism of this fine institution would have to be put down to jealousy... we'd all like to be where they are.

What a load of bollocks.

This is of course the very point that the handbag United fan in every office in this country is unable to contemplate. They have chosen to support Manchester United for reasons so far removed from our reasons for following Watford that the possibility that every other club's fans do not aspire to this role model seems incomprehensible. Which is very far from the truth. The rampant commercial exploitation that is the Premiership has already reared its ugly head in our face this season, and nowhere is it more in evidence than at Old Trafford. We like supporting a football club, not some international behemoth.

We'd also like to feel that anything that Watford achieve will be achieved on the pitch. Not by blackmailing our way past inconveniently low-revenue high-risk Cup Rounds only to pull out of the tournament anyway. Not by helping force a Champions League structure that sets a third-place English team on a par with the Ukrainian Champions (just in case we have a dodgy season at home). Not by advocating the added safety net of a second Champions League group stage... and then bleating about how many games we have to play. Not by waving the Superleague flag at convenient moments, like a spoilt child threatening to run away with its ball.

What really grates is the all-encompassing sycophancy, such as that dished out in unbelievable portions by United's official Website, which leads so many United supporters to staunchly defend anything that United might try and pull. "So United have pulled out of the Premiership and the Champions League and will be playing games against invited sides only, behind closed doors and screened exclusively by MUTV? Makes sound business sense to me!".

(It should be noted, of course, that United have "proper" supporters as well as the ilk described above. The author would like to apologise to them unreservedly, and exempt them from this and any future tarnishing. Their names are Bob and Greg and they live in Salford - sorry chaps.)

The official Website's survey, with 16,000+ respondents so far, proclaims that United will win both the Premiership and the Champions League again this season. This option received 60% of the votes. (The Worthington Cup, you'll notice, isn't mentioned, which is more irritating if anything. My preferred option, "Worthington Cup only", straggles on 0.7%.) Elsewhere you can find a fawning account of the most recent addition to United's hectic schedule, a testimonial for that worthiest and most hard up of causes Alex Ferguson. "An unbelievable evening for an unbelievable man", apparently. Oh, please.

There are signs, however, that United's dominance last season is not to be repeated this time around - suggestions which stretch back further than the humiliation at Stamford Bridge (NB: you can still get your vote in for United's man-of-the-match on the official site, Stat-fans). United's last league victory was four games ago, and that a scarcely deserved win at Anfield.

United's rearguard has a particularly beleaguered look about it at the moment, suffering from long-term injuries to Brown, Johnsen, May, and Gary Neville. In addition, the departure of Schmeichel, which always looked likely to cause tremors, has caused a huge problem. The hilarious 4.4m Massimo Taibi, whose howlers to date have been well documented, chose to defend his performances as "a good start" on the official site, whilst suggesting that he still needs to come to terms with the concentration required in the English game. Pretty basic requirement in a keeper, I'd have thought.

The midfield will also be lacking against the Hornets with an injury to Keane and the suspension of Butt weakening the spine of the side. Paul Scholes can always be guaranteed to get stuck in, off course, and was by all accounts fortunate not to follow Butt off the pitch at Stamford Bridge. Ryan Giggs, in addition, may be fit to return after hamstring trouble.

Up front, GT's mate Dwight Yorke and rock-star and part-time striker Andy Cole form a much-lauded partnership, with the Barcelona goalscorers Solskjaer and Sheringham waiting in the wings.

Despite injuries and relative loss of form, United will be expected to beat the Hornets at a canter. Which, of course, is just the way we like it. As the saying (sort of) goes....

Manchester United. An institution.

But who wants to be in an institution?