Everyone likes a conspiracy theory so how about this one to start the New Year.
Imagine the scene, David Moyes convenes a meeting of all his training, coaching and backroom staff and announces that unless they – Manchester United Football Club – achieve qualification for the Champions League next season everyone in the room, without exception, will be looking for a new job in May.
He asks what can be done and the room goes silent until one bright spark at the rear pipes up with “Finish in the top Four!”
Moyes scowls quietly. “Look what happened to Spurs two years ago – they finished fourth and still didn´t get into the Champions League”
“Finish third then?” the guy at the back says – somewhat sheepishly, knowing full well they have no chance of that happening.
“No,” roars Moyes doing his unconvincing best to impersonate old Red Nose “with Arsenal, Chelsea and City all playing the way they are, there is no way we can catch them even if we win every game against everyone else.”
He calms down slightly, pausing for effect, not realising that all of the above named are the only English teams able to pip United in the Champions league.
“We have to win the Champions League itself – even if it means putting out a weaker team in the Premiership, even if it means losing every other damn game we play this season. We have 18 games to go in the League, only 7 in the Champions League. If we have to wrap Robin and Wayne in cotton wall for weekend after weekend and just let them play on a Tuesday or Wednesday then that is what we will have to do.”
“Get me the list of European referees!” Moyes shouts, pulling out a big cheque book as he starts to fill in names and numbers.
The room again becomes silent as everyone lets the words sink in. Surely he cannot be serious, they are all thinking, surely he cannot be contemplating throwing in the towel in the Premiership and prioritise the Champions League to the exclusion of all else.
But this is exactly the case. Following defeat last weekend Manchester United´s only realistic hope of getting qualification for next season´s Champions League is to win it this season.
And that will scare the living daylights out of all Spurs, Everton and Liverpool fans everywhere. Even if we finish fourth we are not guaranteed a place in the competition. Even if any of them win the FACup they are only allocated a spot in the Europa League.
No longer do we need to concentrate on finishing fourth – we need third. No use looking at the Europa League either, as the recent rule change allowing automatic entry of the winner into the Champions League does not take effect until 2015 – next season.
Okay it isn´t much of a conspiracy theory, but stranger things have happened.