It was John Cleese, in Clockwise, who said: "I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand." Manchester United fans would beg to differ. Usually, the best thing about pre-season is the hope: reality's incisors have yet to pierce the gums of optimism, and fans can live off the balmy, often barmy belief that this is their year. For supporters of most of the other 91 English clubs, that's the mood right now. For United fans? Forget it. After three seasons of papering over the cracks, it seems most United fans are awaiting the moment that the fault lines tracing a veiny path across Old Trafford are exposed.
Almost everything about the club reeks of disarray. Owned by the Glazers, who push buttons from a remote hideaway like Dr Evil; run by a manager who shreds his legacy at every turn; almost exclusively represented by the inadequate (Darren Fletcher) and the odious (Rio Ferdinand); unable to close a deal for West Brom's reserve keeper, never mind the new Roy Keane. The signing of Michael Carrick, a Pirlo when a Gattuso was needed, is a band aid for a bullet wound, and a ludicrously expensive one at that.
If anything, it's a surprise that United have bought anyone at all. This summer, they have been like a pathetic drunk lumbering across a dancefloor at 1.45am, trying to get off with everything that moves. No matter how many people they move in for - and if reports are to be believed, United have made offers for dozens of players - nobody wants to go near them. And the one person who surely would, Damien Duff, was allowed to slip into the arms of Newcastle for less than United paid for Patrice Evra. You couldn't make it up. You don't have to.