There are some things you can’t polish, as the saying goes, and this desperate and dismal Manchester United season is one of them.
Victory over Brentford in the final home game on Monday night could no more conceal the cracks that have developed over the past nine months, nor could it silence the dissenting voices in the stands.
There were further protests outside Old Trafford before kick-off and anti-Glazer chants could be heard moments after Bruno Fernandes, Cristiano Ronaldo and Raphael Varane scored the goals to ensure a comfortable victory.
Cristiano Ronaldo was the star of the show as Manchester United beat Brentford 3-0 in the Premier League on Monday
Ronaldo scored United’s second goal from the penalty spot after winning the kick by drawing a foul from Rico Henry
The 37-year-old striker sent the keeper the wrong way to score his 24th goal of the season in all competitions.
Ronaldo prepares to do his signature celebration after doubling the lead on the night shortly after the half-time break
Ronaldo, in particular, has been excellent here as he continues to mock those who question his true value to this club.
United were brilliant too. They looked like a team determined to fight back at Old Trafford on a night when a number of them were playing here in red for the last time.
Change is coming under new manager Erik ten Hag and not a moment too soon. The best-case scenario now is for United to equal the club’s lowest ever Premier League points tally by winning their two remaining games at Brighton and Crystal Palace and then qualifying for the Europa League. This is not what this great club represents. Big prizes have long escaped their grasp, if they were ever a realistic prospect in the first place.
These early season highs seem like an age ago now. Five goals in the first home game against Leeds, four next time against Newcastle. Ronaldo’s return and an enthusiastic welcome for his former Real Madrid team-mate Varane.
Visitors to Old Trafford for the final home game of a season that held so much promise were greeted by riot police at the gates and protesters gathering under leaden skies around the Holy Trinity statue paying their respects to Bobby Charlton, Denis Law and George Best. It was a depressing picture worthy of a miserable campaign.
Bruno Fernandes opened the scoring in the early stages when he met Anthony Elanga’s cross with a fine finish
Fernandes walks away in celebration after breaking the deadlock in United’s final home game of the season
The Portuguese midfielder celebrates in front of United fans after opening the scoring in the ninth minute
Only a few of them kept their promise to come out in the 73rd minute to protest against the club’s owners, but Old Trafford was only half full when the players embarked on a dodgy lap of honor at the end.
It gave some of them the chance to say goodbye, like Juan Mata who received his Premier League start to the season – even though caretaker manager Ralf Rangnick said there would be “no gifts” in his team selection – and did not disappoint.
Nemanja Matic and Edinson Cavani were also bidding farewell to Old Trafford, and they will by no means be alone.
How many of these players will be back when Ten Hag’s side begin a new chapter in August? It’s hard to predict, but the exodus could be in the double digits.
United supporters can only hope that the wave of Ronaldo as he heads into the tunnel means he will be one of them, but there is no guarantee he will want to stick around for another season like this one.
It says how much he has carried this team that the Portuguese star has now scored nine of United’s last 12 league goals, eight of them here at Old Trafford.
Raphael Varane (centre) meets Alex Telles’ corner to score United’s third goal of the game on Monday night
Varane celebrates after scoring his first goal for the Red Devils since joining the club in the summer
That makes 24 in total for the season. He had another scored by VAR in the first half last night because he was slightly offside before converting Mata’s cross.
In fact, Ronaldo was involved in just about every major move except the one that led to United’s ninth-minute opener.
It was launched by Diogo Dalot who swung a pass into the channel for Anthony Elanga to chase. The young Swede showed great acceleration to reach the ball before it went out, and hooked a cross back for Bruno Fernandes to hit home an emphatic volley.
Ronaldo had a worthy opponent in Christian Eriksen, however. If this was the perfect step for the Dane to show off his skills to other clubs – maybe even United – then he certainly rose to the occasion.
Eriksen was at the heart of all of Brentford’s best moments, and they could have easily been level at the interval had Bryan Mbeumo converted his opening pass and Ivan Toney hadn’t headed within inches of a lavish cross. He twice forced David de Gea into action from a distance.
The French defender is mobbed by his United team-mates after scoring his first goal of the season in the final home game
But it was one of those nights where Ronaldo was not going to be upstaged. United’s No.7 had a hopeful penalty appeal denied by referee Chris Kavanagh in the first half when he went down under Mads Roerslev’s challenge, but there was no doubt the second on the hour mark.
The initial pass once again came from Dalot. Ronaldo knocked Rico Henry off the ball and was fouled by the defender’s clumsy recovery challenge. Fernandes missed United’s final penalty at Arsenal, so Ronaldo stepped up and he didn’t miss.
Varane scored his first goal for United when he stole the third from Alex Telles’ corner on Pontuss Jansen’s knee in the 72nd minute.
By then, the farewells were in full swing. Matic and Mata off, Cavani and Phil Jones on.
Protests too. Green and gold smoke drifted onto the pitch as a few fans came out for the final 17 minutes. They didn’t miss much.
As Kavanagh blew the final whistle and the United players gathered with some trepidation for this round of appreciation, the club played “Glory, glory Man United”. Who were they trying to fool?
Ronaldo and Co have given their fans something to cheer about at the end of what has been a miserable campaign
Scroll down to see how it all went with Sportsmail’s live runner.