IF OLE GUNNAR SOLSKJAER is lucky, Joel and Avram Glazer might have missed the fact that Manchester United have just chucked in the title towel.
United’s absent owners are probably too busy celebrating the success of their Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Sunday’s Super Bowl to really notice what is happening on the other side of the Atlantic.
But news of Solskjaer conceding the Premier League crown with more than a third of the season still to play will not remain under the radar for long.
Particularly when it is United’s bitter rivals who have been handed a free ride to their third league championship in four years.
United were just two points behind Manchester City when Solskjaer declared on Saturday evening: “We’re not talking about winning titles. That’s more what the media are saying.
“We shouldn’t even be considered as title-chasers.”
He didn’t explain why a team with Britain’s most-expensive player in £89million Paul Pogba, a £200m back four — and the world’s highest-paid keeper should not be expected to challenge for the top honours.
But Ole is clearly getting his excuses in early for another year of Old Trafford underachievement.
So maybe it isn’t surprising that United’s players are so quick to settle for being the best of the rest, when the manager’s aspirations are so low.
The problem for United is that Bruno Fernandes — their one truly world-class player — clearly isn’t interested in second place.
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He thought that he was signing for the biggest club in the world when he joined them from Sporting Lisbon in January last year.
But he is now rapidly realising that United’s ambitions don’t match his own — and is already starting to show his frustration.
Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Everton summed United up to a tee, as all their excellent attacking play was undone by shambolic defending.
Two of the visitors’ goals were directly down to goalkeeper David De Gea, who has been anything but world-class since signing that mammoth £375,000-a-week contract 18 months ago.
When Solskjaer was a United player, Peter Schmeichel wouldn’t think twice about taking out anyone who came within five yards of his goal.
But De Gea is a rather timid soul, who appears to be far more concerned about injuring himself than any potential damage he might inflict on an opponent.
Not that all United’s shortcomings can be laid at the keeper’s door.
The central-defensive pairing of Harry Maguire and Victor Lindelof are slow and cumbersome and the midfield nearly always contains at least one journeyman.
They have scored more (49) than any other team in the Premier League and conceded more (30) than anyone else in the top half.
So it doesn’t exactly take a genius to work out where they have been going wrong.
Even with all their flaws, United are still on course to finish with 75 points, which would be a reasonable improvement on last season’s 66.
The trouble is, it still won’t be enough to get them anywhere close to the noisy neighbours.
It was only three years ago that United finished runners-up to City by a distant 19 points and within six months Jose Mourinho had been sacked.
They have not mounted a serious title challenge since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
And that is unlikely to change any time soon with the cautious Solskjaer in charge.
REFS CAN’T KICK TV HABIT
Mike Dean already made history as the first ref to issue 3,000 yellow cards — and first to send off 100 Premier League players.
Now he has set another landmark by becoming the first to have two red cards rescinded in a week.
VAR was meant to cut out obvious refereeing errors but even with the help of TV technology, Dean still gets it wrong.
In fact, the moment he is urged to review an incident, you just know he is itching to reach for a card.
Although no one in their right mind can claim that justifies the subsequent death threats from moron fans.
As Mark Halsey pointed out in yesterday’s paper, the standard of refereeing in the top flight has rarely been lower.
Aston Villa boss Dean Smith was fined and banned for a sarcastic comment to Jon Moss, and six days later the Premier League changed the interpretation of the offside law which had prompted the outburst.
Nuno Espirito Santo still won’t back down from calling for Lee Mason to be banned from officiating Wolves games.
And on Sunday Kevin Friend couldn’t award a blatant penalty, until VAR told him Chelsea’s Timo Werner had been wiped out by keeper Aaron Ramsdale.
I know that Covid has turned us into a nation of armchair supporters — but no one told us that the refs would also become telly addicts.
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