Win percentages are very fashionable these days. Louis van Gaal's tenure has been marked by many things, but notable amongst them has been a feverish focus on whether his percentage is, at any given moment, above or below that of his dismissed predecessor David Moyes. At the moment it sits just below, incidentally, and if you want to put money on that situation changing, then the best of luck to you.
But life isn't all about Louis van Gaal's inadequacies. As of last night, and for at least a couple more weeks, FC Midtjylland became the eighth member of a very exclusive club: teams that have a 100% win record against Manchester United. Well, sort of the eighth. Possibly the seventh. It's a little complicated.
You see, back in 1886, Newton Heath Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Football Club — the forebears of Manchester United as we know and love them today — entered the first round of the FA Cup. Though Newton Heath had been around since 1878, this was their first competitive match, and a crowd of 2,000 watched them draw 2-2 against Fleetwood Rovers. A perfectly respectable result ... except that where the club felt that a draw should mean a replay, the officials decided that half an hour of extra time should settle the tie. Newton Heath refused, and after what we can only assume was a fairly heated argument, forfeited the game, and never met Fleetwood Rovers again.
Manchester United: ruining the FA Cup since 1886.
The other defeats are more traditional, in that they involve one side scoring more goals than the other. Four years later, Newton Heath, this time in the qualifying rounds of the FA Cup, played their only game to date (and, you'd imagine, ever) against Bootle Reserves. They lost 1-0.
After this, the competitions and the opposition settled down a bit, and the next member of the 100% Club — it'll catch on, probably — don't come around until August 1999. In May, United had poked two late goals past Bayern Munich to win the Champions League and, as a result, didn't just get the big-eared trophy. They also won the right to face UEFA Cup winners Lazio in the European Super Cup. And for a preseason friendly with aspirations it was a pretty engaging affair: blood, fouls, and a wonderful Lazio side managed by Sven-Goran Eriksson and featuring, among others, Juan Sebastian Veron, Alessandro Nesta and Roberto Mancini. Marcelo Salas volleyed home the only goal of the game, though Raimond van der Gouw, in nets for United, could probably have done better.
A year later, Manchester United skipped the FA Cup and — to much wailing and gnashing of teeth back home — flew to Brazil to compete in the inaugural Club World Championship. It was not a successful adventure. First they needed an 88th minute equaliser to draw 1-1 with Mexican champions Necaxa, and then eventual winners Vasco da Gama joined the 100% Club by sticking three past England's finest. The attacking trident of Romario, Edmundo and Gary Neville was just too damn strong.
Incidentally, if "What do Vasco da Gama and Southend United have in common?" ever comes up in a pub quiz, you'll be sorted. In the early stages of 2006-07 Carling Cup, Alex Ferguson took a curiosity of a United team to the Essex coast: Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney started; so did Tomas Kuszczak and David Jones. But they were denied by at one end by Freddie Eastwood, who whapped a lovely free kick past United's goalkeeper, and Darryl Flahavan at the other, who made a clutch of excellent saves to keep Ronaldo and co. at bay.
Ferguson's last addition to the 100% Club — see, it's catching on — came in 2008, back in the European Super Cup, this time against Zeni St-Petersburg. First future Fulham legend Pavel Pogrebnyak nutted home a corner from close range, then Danny sliced his way through United's defence and doubled the Russians' lead. United pulled one back through Nemanja Vidic and had the ball in the net again, though sadly for Paul Scholes, the referee was able to tell the difference between his head, which was about a foot and a half below the ball, and his hand, which had just punched it in. Out came a second yellow, and off he went.
Which brings us almost up to date. David Moyes didn't get the chance to invite anybody else into the club, but Louis van Gaal has welcomed two new members: FC Midtjylland last night, and MK Dons last season, who scored four unanswered goals with embarrassing ease. In years to come, scholars of Manchester United humiliations will be torn on which of the two results was more amusing. Was it the Danes, who hadn't played a game in two months, or the Dons, who were two leagues below? Or, just possibly, will it end up being neither? After all, Manchester United head to lowly Shrewsbury Town this coming Monday, and have never yet had the pleasure.
For completion's sake, there are eight other teams that United have played and never beaten, though they have at least managed to hold them to a draw on one or more occasions. They are: Atletico Madrid (drawn 1, lost 1), Estudiantes (drawn 1, lost 1), Monaco (drawn 2), Necaxa (drawn 1), Rotor Volgograd (drawn 2), Torpedo Moscow (drawn 2), Villareal (drawn 4!) and Widzew Lodz (drawn 2).