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Manchester United's loss continues their cycle of failure

Losing the way Manchester United did to West Ham on Tuesday just typified their fall from grace.

Julian Finney/Getty Images

Manchester United had a chance to crack the top four on Tuesday. A win over West Ham would have seen them pass Manchester City and they likely would have held onto that spot on the final day of the season. They had the three points in hand with a 2-1 lead late in the match -- and then they frittered it away, handing West Ham the win and throwing away any real chance they had of ending the season with a celebration.

And that's become all too typical of Manchester United over the last few years.

It wasn't all that long ago that the Red Devils were an all-conquering force in England. A constantly victorious presence in the upper echelon of the game, a reliable team you always knew that would be around, always be a factor. Sir Alex Ferguson had crafted them into a juggernaut, and even on their "down" years, they competed, they won and they made you take notice.

Then Ferguson retired, and it all fell apart.

Oh, things had been heading in the wrong direction for some years, but Ferguson had kept things held together through sheer force of will. David Moyes lacked that same will and character, though, and Manchester United lost their way so thoroughly that they went from perennial success to a failure almost overnight.

It wasn't solely Moyes' fault, of course. Years of poor team construction coming down from higher levels cost United dearly, but that does not change the fact that Manchester United didn't just become less successful than before -- they became a team for which failure, for which not living up to expectations has become the standard, where only success was acceptable before.

Their match against West Ham on Tuesday was a microcosm of that transformation, especially as it's taken form under Louis van Gaal. A rough start, in the form of the early goal given up to Diafra Sakho, is followed up by a promising recovery, shown by the Anthony Martial brace that saw Manchester United take an early lead. That parallels their last two seasons, with an off-kilter start followed up by a run in the middle of the campaign that promises the world and a return to glory.

Then came the fall. Two late goals, both poorly defended, saw all that promise turn to ashes, just like things fell apart late in their two seasons under van Gaal. Both times, a brighter finish was possible -- both times, they fell short.

Failure. That's what it is. By the executives, by the coaching staff, by the players. From top to bottom, from squad construction to the way it was led to the performance on the pitch, Manchester United have gone from a dominant, all-conquering force to a failure.

This isn't to say that they can't get back to that now-former glory. Manchester still have the name power to draw the kinds of personnel at all levels to help move things in the right direction again, and the financial resources to speed the process along. Handled properly, Manchester United can become the king of kings in world football again.

But only if they can end their current cycle of failure.