Ed Woodward gets plenty of criticism (and some of it richly deserved), but Nick Miller describes a numbers man pushed into the Old Trafford limelight. It's not easy...
It's been a long time in the making, that Southampton Philosophy. And in one summer, it's all been ripped asunder. Has it been replaced by another or the same old?
There's an excellent comedian from Manchester who, if you don't know, you should seek out. He's called Michael J Dolan, he's extremely funny and has, shall we say, a certain view on the world. That could be summed up by the title of his show last year, which was 'Nothing Will Ever Be Alright Again, Ever.' It's the second 'ever' that really makes it.
While access to Dolan's audience figures in Brazil are, at the time of writing, not available, that might sum up the prevalent mood among the nation's football fans, which in a country like Brazil is pretty much everyone.
When was the last time you saw fans of a team bawling their eyes out some 60 minutes before the end of a game? This was the worst defeat in the history of Brazilian football, worse even than the 1950 defeat to Uruguay about which you will no doubt have read plenty in the last few weeks, a trauma where there was supposed to be healing.
That defeat was so damaging largely because it was born from such hubris, the pre-game assumption that Brazil would easily beat theoretically inferior opponents smashed like someone taking a lump hammer to a Ming vase. So confident were they that a victory song was written before the game. It was never played.
This time was supposed to be about redemption, about healing the scar that five subsequent wins apparently hadn't been able to. Realists might have known that this was an inferior team with only a couple of players worthy of comparison to the past, but this was Brazil, in Brazil. They had to win, right? Right? What on earth would happen if they didn't?
It might have been OK if Germany had simply won 2-1 in a close-fought encounter, where Brazil defied the absence of Thiago Silva and Neymar to take a more talented team right to the edge. There would have at least been a bit of dignity in defeat, a little morsel to hold onto, even an excuse to be made that they nearly did it, and if their two best players had been available, it could all have been so different.
But not with this. Not with a loss so phenomenally shambolic, so without any redeeming features whatsoever, with no positives to take. The best you can say about the 14 players involved is that they stayed until the end, resisting the urge, as the fifth, sixth or seventh goals went in, to just rip off their kits and meander, dazed, down the tunnel and out into the Belo Horizonte streets, wondering what would become of them next.
Wondering what will become of them is a legitimate question for many members of this squad. South American football expert Tim Vickery took a break from saying weird things on TV to quote Zizinho, who played in that 1950 game, in his column for the BBC Website:
"I played for 19 years," he wrote on the first page of his autobiography. "I won a few titles and yet, together with the other players in that campaign, I'm remembered as a loser."
No matter what the players involved on Tuesday night do for the rest of their careers, they will always be the men who lost 7-1 in a World Cup semi-final, in their own country. Much like Monica Lewinsky, who could go on to set a marathon world record, cure the common cold and persuade U2 to never release another record, but will always be the woman who besoiled her dress on government property and found an unconventional use for a cigar. This is something that is going to be impossible to shake.
Of course, this could be turned into a positive. There are problems in the organisation of Brazilian football that are clear and might be fixed, such is the shock of this calamity. Indeed, it might even change the way Brazil play football.
The 1982 team is of course usually regarded as the best team never to win the World Cup, but many think that failure was the last time Brazil truly played like 'Brazil', that they actually conformed to the old Jogo Bonito stereotype, and everything since then has been a pale and to varying degrees stodgy imitation of what they believe Brazilian football to be. This was a pragmatic choice, a switch to a more conservative style after their free attacking nature was taken apart by Italy, a nation apparently determined not to be beaten like that again.
It seems that every team since then has been derided as more joyless than the last, more out of touch with the traditional view of the Selecao, but perhaps this defeat, with a pale and stodgy team, might convince Brazil that the flair has to return. Of course, they can't just produce a Zico or Socrates from nowhere, but at least the attitude might be changed by such a catastrophe.
This was worse than 1950 because it didn't so much create a wound as rip open a scar and pour acid in it. It was a bit like a surgeon attempting to correct a botched nose-job, slipping with the scalpel and implausibly chopping off their patient's legs.
The World Cup that was supposed to make things better has only made them much, much worse. For Brazil, it will certainly feel like nothing will ever be alright again, ever.
Nick Miller - Follow him on Twitter
Will any Brazilian parent ever name their child "Fred" again? I could see it earning similar status as the first name "Adolph" in Germany (or anywhere, come to think of it).- bleublancrouge