Newspaper article International New York Times

When Adversity Strikes, United Crumples

Newspaper article International New York Times

When Adversity Strikes, United Crumples

Article excerpt

The English club's 2-0 loss to Olympiakos in the Champions League was another sign that United has changed this season, and not for the better.

Manchester United's slide into mediocrity was emphasized when it was humbled by the Athenian side Olympiakos.

An artful goal from Alejandro Dominguez, followed by a beautifully crafted score from 30 yards by Joel Campbell, sank United, 2-0, on Tuesday night in Greece. A wretched miscue from Robin van Persie that landed somewhere in the crowd was United's abject response.

The result asks more questions about the quality of England's Premier League, where money is no object and the Champions League appears to be a playground of embarrassing mishaps. For Manchester City to lose last week at home against Barcelona and for Arsenal to succumb to Bayern Munich is one thing. But the Greek champion outsmarted United tactically and was clearly the more motivated side.

It says much about the performance that Dominguez looked to be the finest player on the field throughout the contest. The 32-year- old Argentine's career meandered through the Argentine, Russian and Spanish leagues before he landed in Piraeus, Greece. Yet he ran at United and appeared to dazzle them with his footwork long before his improvised flick of a foot from 13 yards out brought the first goal.

The second scorer, Joel Campbell, is a 21-year-old Costa Rican winger looking for a home in the sport. He is under contract to Arsenal but has never played for the London team. Instead, Campbell has had almost as many moves as Dominguez, flitting like a butterfly in loan moves to France, Spain, and now Greece.

He wandered into a central striking role because Olympiakos had sold Kostas Mitroglou to Fulham and because Javier Saviola is injured. But Michel, the former Spanish international player who has found his niche as a coach in the Greek capital, persuaded Campbell and the rest that they could take United.

Michel saw the flaws of an English team far from settled after the departure last summer of its veteran manager, Alex Ferguson. The new man in charge, David Moyes, has spent half a season trying to find the "devil" in the so-called Red Devils of Manchester.

It almost seems as if there has been a personality transplant, a loss of self-confidence among star players, without their old mentor. So many of them failed, not just in Athens but throughout the months of the English season, that the only way United seems likely to qualify for next year's Champions League is to win the trophy this time around.

Moyes effectively told the players that. But he looked and sounded like a manager who does not know how to rouse them, how to guide or how to instill in them the devilment to go out and impose their qualities.

When Campbell struck the second goal on Tuesday, it was as if history was being turned on its head. …

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