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THE plight of Dwight – Yorke, that is – at Old Trafford, so far this season, is something that dozens of top class footballers can sympathize with.

Since displaying some patchy form during the first few games, back in August, things just have not gone perfectly for the 29-year old from Canaan. To date, Yorke has appeared in 14 out of 22 Premier League matches , featuring only eight times in the starting line-up. Of the twelve matches in which he has played in other competitions, he has been content to start on the bench on five occasions. The situation has not been helped by the fact that Yorke has scored a grand total of six goals so far this season: meaning that he is a very long way off from the 29 strikes he contributed to 'United's treble triumph, two years ago.

With Yorke forced to cool his heels in the dug out and with Andy Cole out injured, two other strikers have been relishing the opportunity given to them: Teddy Sheringham, an England international who has started 14 out of his 17 league matches and who has scored 17 goals for ‘United so far this season and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (37 caps for Norway) who has ten league strikes. The sight of Yorke standing next to the fourth official, waiting to come on as a sub, will continue just as long as both players stay healthy and in-form.

Back in the day, during the 1992-93 season to be exact, Italian club AC Milan raised a lot of eyebrows, courtesy of the lavish spending of media magnate owner Silvio Berlusconi. Going into that year Milan were already the number one club side in Europe and featured a bevy of start talent, including three great Dutchmen: Ruud Gullit, Marco Van Basten and Frank Rijkaard. Then, the Italian Federation decided to relax its three foreign player per team restriction and this paved the way for the arrival of Yugoslavian play maker Dejan Savicevic, Croatian Zvonomir Boban and Jean-Pierre Papin, the Frenchman who was, perhaps, the second best striker in Europe at the time - behind Van Basten. To top it all off, Berlusconi then threw a (then) world-record sum of 13 million pounds in the direction of Torino for the services of midfielder Gianluigi Lentini.

Critics were angered by the fact that Van Basten and Papin had to battle for the starting positions up front, along with Italian internationals Marco Simone, Daniele Massaro and Aldo Serena. Meanwhile, apart from Gullit, Rijkaard, Lentini, Boban and Savicevic, the Milan midfield featured players such as Roberto Donadoni, Fernando De Napoli, Demetrio Albertini, Stefano Eranio and Alberigo Evani - all of whom were playing for Italy at the time. Not surprisingly, the likes of Papin, Boban and Savicevic were left out of the slate of 16 for league games on several occasions, forced to watch from the stands.

Little did the critics know that the situation was about to get worse. Not only did the Bosman ruling of December 1995 shoot down transfer fees for players at the end of their contracts (creating the era of free agency in football) but also outlawed restrictions on players from EU-member countries. Hence clubs could get top class players from other teams for nothing and also sign as many players from Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain etc. as they liked.

Today, the rosters of top clubs are loaded with proven performers, a lot of whom are established players for their countries and who would virtually walk into the starting line-up of any lower division side. This is why the likes of Dwight find themselves in unenviable situations when they pick up an injury or hit a bad spot of form. Because once they lose their place in the top eleven it is difficult to get back in, especially when an opportunity is given to another top-class player.

It is not an enjoyable sight but it's the reality of the game. Playing in the top football leagues in Europe is the equivalent of playing in the NBA. This is where one proves himself on a consistent basis, with the atmosphere of competitiveness extending all the way to the dressing room. A coach at an established club has up to 25 players on his roster to choose from. At the end of the day, the priority will go to those who are fit enough to last a series of high-intensity matches. There is no room for sentiment and top class footballers are now only as good as their last game.

This is the predicament that Yorke is in right now. He has to wait for either Sheringham or Solskjaer to fail and then (maybe) the uncompromising Ferguson will nod in his direction once again. It's a tough scenario for Yorke, one which the prospect of playing ten World Cup qualifiers for Trinidad and Tobago, over the next ten months, will not improve.