Last updated : 04 April 2004 By Editor

The Germans have a word for it - Schadenfreude - a delight at the failings of others. It is for Manchester United an occupational hazard, this season the most difficult for them since the inception of the Premiership. Grinning and bearing is not a strength they would wish to develop.

When United come to town, however, they bring huge revenue with them. Clubs enjoy their best gates - Wimbledon even used to give over three-quarters of Selhurst Park to visiting fans and bank the lifeline money with glee - and exploit other opportunities.

Often, there are shirts and balls in the dressing room to be signed, ready for auction later. Afterwards, players ritually abused are expected politely to spend time signing autographs for those who have been abusing them.

Little is seen or heard, nationally at least, of the personal appearances Ferguson and his players make, the time he accords other managers, the merchandise they donate.

No wonder Sir Alex speaks of such a thing as a 'Manchester United player'. It is not just about ability, but a mental fortitude to withstand the hypocritical attitudes towards them. Eric Cantona was found wanting just the once; David Beckham came through with flying colours.

United are having a turning-point season, there can be no doubt. The possibility of takeovers, Sir Alex's Rock Of Gibraltar dispute and Rio Ferdinand's ban have all given the impression of a club in turmoil. Beckham's absence and the arrival of new blood with potential rather than immediate impact have also left them off the pace.

They must be doing something right, however, as their financial figures show. As for on the field, I suspect Sir Alex is not much enjoying the public grinning and bearing - as occasional, understandable, lapses into sourness testify. He may dislike the culture of envy, but I suspect that next season he will work towards and happily take it being back where it belongs: eating at someone else.