Manchester United’s Champions League destiny for next season may now be in their own hands, but Eamon Dunphy sees little cause for celebration at the Theatre of Dreams.
The Red Devils’ hopes of a top-four finish received a boost at the weekend when they edged out Norwich on a 1-0 scoreline at Carrow Road on Saturday afternoon. Manchester City, who currently occupy fourth spot in the Barclays Premier League table, were held to a 2-2 draw by Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium a day later, meaning United now just trail their nearest rivals by just two points but with a game in hand.
However, the RTÉ analyst, who was an apprentice at Old Trafford but failed to make it to the first team, believes United’s chance to snatch a Champion League place can’t paper over some major cracks at the club.
“It’s a sign of how bad the league is and also how great the goalkeeper David de Gea is,” Dunphy opined on 2fm’s Game On.
“He’s saved them week after week. He’s been their player of the year for the last three years. They beat Norwich 1-0 but they were very, very poor.
“If they qualify for the Champions League you have to acknowledge the achievement, but they’re a hopeless team.”
Analysing the flaws in the current side, the former Republic of Ireland international added: “They don’t play with any panache. They don’t play with any conviction, which is the big thing you’d associate with Manchester United teams - style - they pass the ball, that’s the way Manchester United have always been in their tradition.
“They’re going nowhere”
“But they did have a period where they dropped to what is now the Championship - the Second Division as it was then - and the club went to a low ebb. I think they’re heading in that direction, but it’s been a very confusing season if you want to draw conclusions s from where teams are finishing.
“Manchester United spent more on agents’ fees last summer - £10m - than Leicester spent on players.
“They’re going nowhere.”
Dunphy remains sceptical of manager Louis van Gaal’s ability to lead United back to their best and ridiculed the Dutchman for what could be regarded as egotism.
“He said last week that he was a great coach and that there was no doubt about that. I think he’s slightly bonkers,” Dunphy said.
“He is deluded.
“He has won things in the past, but if that was the way you kept the score, all the has-beens would be out in their glory.”
A trip to high-flying West Ham beckons on Tuesday night, and while Dunphy isn’t convinced United will do the business in east London, the former Millwall stalwart has even greater concerns over Manchester City’s attitude, comparing Manuel Pellegrini’s men to an ungenuine racehorse.
“They’ve got to beat West Ham or get something at West Ham tomorrow night,” Dunphy said. It’s their last game ever at Upton Park. That will be a task. They won there in the Cup.
“I still think they might find a way of losing it, but then if Manchester City were a horse, it’d be wearing a hood and a visor!”
"You can’t celebrate mediocrity - that’s the road to hell"
Looking ahead to next season, Dunphy does not foresee a changing of the guard, despite Leicester’s heroics this season. However, he did paint a picture of a dystopian footballing landscape, where the beautiful game could struggle to live up to its moniker.
“I think what you might see is a game with very few great players, ie players who can be game-changers with their talent.
“You’re going to go back to the 80s and the 90s when teams who grafted and worked and didn’t give goals away come to the fore.”
Expanding on the point, Dunphy added: “What we do when we’re doing this show, and what I try to do when I’m working for RTÉ on the Champions League, is call it as you see it.
“You want to celebrate teams and players but you can’t celebrate mediocrity - that’s the road to hell.
“What we’re seeing at the moment is the end of soccer as a sport in my opinion - the beginning of the end - where there are no players that thrill you.”