Trying to explain yet another setback, a despondent but determined David Moyes wouldn’t take the bait.
Manchester United’s 3-1 loss at Chelsea on Sunday _ the team’s seventh of the Premier League season _ left the defending champions 14 points behind leader Arsenal.
”Some people might call it a crisis,” one reporter said to Moyes after the match at Stamford Bridge.
”Who?” the United manager snapped back.
”Me,” the reporter responded.
”It’s not the performance that’s expected,” Moyes answered. ”That’s correct.”
The reporter tried again: ”Is it a crisis?”
Moyes: ”No. That’s your word, not my word.”
Just like predecessor Alex Ferguson, Moyes wasn’t biting. But the league standings look troubling enough _ by United’s standards _ without Moyes adding to the sense of uncertainty with pessimistic sound bites.
Especially when the current United manager could point out that he inherited a squad in need of strengthening, particularly in midfield.
Especially when investors will be watching closely at a business whose share price has slumped from a high of $19.34 after Ferguson delivered the 20th English title to $15.20 at Friday’s close. Trading on Wall Street was closed Monday for Martin Luther King Day.
A further fall in fortunes could wipe hundreds of millions of dollars off the value of the club, which is controlled by the Glazer family, and hamper attempts to cut the debt that was last recorded at 361 million pounds (around $593 million).
It’s too early to say whether United’s slump is a blip or if the Old Trafford empire is crumbling, just as Liverpool went into decline after dominating in the 1970s or 1980s.
Off the field, United remains a commercial juggernaut, projecting that it will rake in about 420 million pounds ($690 million) in 2013-14.
The budgets, however, are based on United finishing at least third in the league, and reaching the quarterfinals of the Champions League and the domestic cups.
The FA Cup has already been crossed off the list after a third round exit. Now, for once, the second-tier League Cup has taken on a greater significance. United must wipe out a 2-1 deficit against Sunderland at Old Trafford on Wednesday to reach the League Cup final.
But Manchester City, a team which is second in the league, is likely to be the other finalist given its 6-0 lead over West Ham heading into Tuesday’s second leg.
Collecting the League Cup, however comforting for Moyes as a first piece of significant silverware, is not central to the club’s revenue stream.
The Champions League is, having made almost $50 million from last season’s run to the round of 16. There are two ways to remain among Europe’s elite: win the competition of finish in the Premier League’s top four.
Olympiakos awaits in the round of 16, a less daunting prospect than the one facing City against Barcelona, but the lack of depth in the United squad makes a fourth European title seem unlikely.
That would leave United relying on a top-four domestic finish, which is not beyond Moyes’ reach if strikers Wayne Rooney and Robin van Persie return from injury.
The Red Devils might be seventh, but only six points separate them from Liverpool in fourth with 48 points to play for.
Although Chelsea was restricted to few chances on Sunday and United enjoyed some lively spells, the visitors weren’t clinical up front and conceded from two set pieces and a deflection.
”I feel like it’s the story of our season,” said United captain Nemanja Vidic, who was sent off in stoppage time. ”It’s just small things. Small details this season are making big differences and changing games.”
Could Moyes, under contract until 2019, be the Glazers’ fall guy if United falls short?
It happened last month at another Glazer-owned team, the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
”The results … have not lived up to our standards and we believe the time has come to find a new direction,” Bryan Glazer said then.
At Old Trafford, though, they preach stability and continuity after Ferguson’s 26-year reign. But there is uncertainty as United emerges from such a distinguished _ and unprecedented _ period of success.
For now there is harmony in the stands, with fans hoping the final few days of the January transfer window sees the Glazers dip into cash reserves that were last recorded to exceed 83 million pounds ($136 million).
”This is a project I know that I’m going to improve as it goes along,” Moyes said.