Alec Swann - The previous best are the best no longer

Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.

Northamptonshire Telegraph's sports writers Jon Dunham, Jim Lyon and Alec Swann.

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In May last year, Manchester United became the Premier League champions for the umpteenth time under Sir Alex Ferguson.

Last August, England got the better of Australia in the Ashes to clinch a third consecutive series victory.

Two sporting teams maintaining their status near the top of their respective trees, yet but a few short months later and both have plumbed to scarcely believable depths.

I say scarcely believable because you could have got excellent odds from nearly all bookmakers on United’s season being all but over by now and England reaching the final week of their tour down under having failed to register a single win in any international contest.

Slumps in form happen, even to the very best, but these two have been akin to watching a car crash happen in exceedingly slow motion.

No swift blow to the proverbial head here, just death by a thousand cuts to the point where each slice becomes significantly more painful than the last.

And there are other noticeable similarities with regards to personnel, those in charge and the apparent denial that is emanating from both camps.

Both United and England started the current season and the recently concluded Ashes with a thought that their squads were up to the required standard.

Not really much of a surprise given that their respective title defences were beginning so soon after the original triumphs but proven to be badly flawed.

And although David Moyes was new to his job and Andy Flower fully entrenched in his, both have made decisions - an inactive summer in the transfer market and misguided tour selections - taken in good faith obviously, but way wide of the mark.

That leaves the messages coming out of both Old Trafford and from Australia, revealing in one sense, that of men and players knowing they are under real pressure, and unrevealing in another in that nobody is really saying anything of note.

One thing is very clear and that is both organisations are in need of nothing less than a serious overhaul.

United are fielding players who are barely fit to ply their trade at such a club - Tom Cleverly and Phil Jones anybody? - and England somehow muddled into choosing the likes of Boyd Rankin and Chris Tremlett who shouldn’t have been anywhere near the squad let alone getting a game.

The one difference, though, is that while United have millions of pounds and a very attractive name to pull in top class talent, England will do well to emulate the success of recent years with little world class talent waiting in the wings to replace those who have fallen by the wayside.

One thing is clear and that is some level-headed and pragmatic decisions need to be taken if the current downward trends are to be halted before they become highly damaging.

To call for the manager’s heads is too easy a road to go down, not that it stops the majority, but you have to wonder how far those at the very top can be pushed before the axe comes out.

Because, while there may not quite yet be a sense of change coming, to fall so far so quickly exaggerates the emotions of those deciding whether or not the P45 is dished out.

United and England got to the top on the back of sound tactics and good players to carry out their roles in order to fulfil those plans.

For one reason or another, both have drifted from such an approach and they are being made to pay with interest.