EPL: Who is to blame for Manchester United’s current state?
Manchester United have managed to collect nine points this season from seven fixtures, their worst start in 30 years. United have struggled in recent years and the 2019/20 season has started off with no signs of an improving situation at Old Trafford. The Red Devils have failed to win away from home since February 2019 and have been beaten by Cardiff and Crystal Palace at Old Trafford, with a recent loss to West Ham intensifying skepticism of any quick revival. Recent string of poor results have cemented the fact that the club is in a poor state of affairs and even club legend, Ole Gunnar Solskjær who’s at the helm, seems to also be struggling to get the club in order.
Finding a manager to fill the shoes of Sir Alex Ferguson
Manchester United was once the exact opposite of what it is now, cup titles and English Premier League dominance were the norm. The Red Devils are a shadow of their former selves with big spending on players and no clear direction. No manager has been able to replicate the astronomic success of Alex Ferguson who retired having won 13 Premier League titles, five FA Cups, and two UEFA Champions League titles. Alex Ferguson’s record with Manchester United surpasses any other manager in the history of the English Premier League. Since his retirement, four managers have attempted to take the mantle and six years on, the struggle to find a manager to take the Reds to their former glory is ongoing. The different managers after Fergie, have fallen way short in of his legacy.
Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho; Who messed up less?
Manchester United with David Moyes at the helm were a disaster. They finished seventh in the league after having won it the previous year. The former Everton manager, had huge shoes to fill at Old Trafford coming in straight after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. The general feeling was that he was just not the right fit for the team and unsurprisingly he swiftly exited Old Trafford. Louis Van Gaal’s services were quickly enlisted to replace Moyes after an impressive World Cup with the Netherlands in 2014. The Dutch initiated a rebuilding stage by bringing in new players to the squad. The biggest fee he paid for a single player was £44 million on Anthony Martial and more players who did not live up to the hype when they were signed included Memphis Depay, Angel Di Maria and Marcos Rojo. LVG’s biggest achievement was winning the FA Cup with the club but finished outside the top four in fifth. His unpopularity with players for his managerial style and tactics made it impossible for him to stay longer at United.
Then in came Jose Mourinho. The Portuguese’s stint in Manchester was a period of hope for. He brought vision and star power and players to the club, including United most expensive player of all time, Paul Pogba. The “Special One” spent two years at Manchester United and led the club best post-Ferguson, when they finished in the top two for the first time in four seasons in the 2017/18 season. During the summer transfer window, he spent £140.9 million on Eric Bailly, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Romelu Lukaku, Paul Pogba as well as a free transfer of the majestic Zlatan Ibrahimovic.
During his time at Old Trafford, Mourinho won quite a number of trophies. The Community Shield, Europa League and the FA Cup. However, in the 2018/2019 season, they trailed 24 points behind champions City and struggled defensively. The tension between Paul Pogba and Mourinho soured and it had become clear that Mourinho was on his way out of Old Trafford.
Ed Woodard’s misplaced priorities
Ed Woodard is the executive vice president of the club and the key decision maker at Manchester United, the man who hires and fires managers. He has been blamed for making decisions that have set the club back years. When Mourinho wanted to find a centre back to replace Chris Smalling he needed the backing of Ed Woodard. If he had followed the instincts of Mourinho, someone whom he had hired and trusted to lead the team it could have been a different story for Manchester United under Mourinho in his second season with the club. Ed Woodard has spared no expense in rebuilding the team, investing large sums despite the unsuccessful campaigns and losing out on big payments by missing out on the UEFA Champions League. Salaries of Manchester United players like Paul Pogba and Alexis Sanchez who left to join Inter Milan on loan were the highest in the league. The downside of the exorbitant salaries is that some players like Sanchez who didn’t perform to the level that was expected, become more costly than they are actually worth. As the club continues to invest heavily into signing new players, a remedy that the club needs to finally bounce back, Ed Woodard has been in the process of attempting to overhaul the recruitment process and structure at the club. A top priority at the moment for the role of Sporting Director is Edwin van der Sar, who is the current CEO of Ajax. The Dutch club has been impressive in the past seasons and its leadership, the strategy is what Ed would like to see at Manchester United.
Hits and misses with signings
Man United have bought 29 players since Sir Alex Ferguson left. Some have been big assets to the club and the majority have failed to live up to their potential. One case is that of Alexis Sanchez who was signed by Mourinho, for a position that Anthony Martial had been excelling at. It was generally a bad idea that ended up costing the team a season without an effective left-wing player which Mourinho later realised and brought the Frenchman back into the picture.
If we look at players like Memphis Depay, he was not a good fit at Manchester United but has now become a star player in the French Ligue 1 with Lyon. Di Maria was also no good fit at the Red Devils and therefore lasted one year. Now at PSG, it is a different story. It is also understandable to blame van Gaal for failing to extract the potential from some of these players.
The first player signed when Mourinho came in was Eric Bailly, a defender who has been inconsistent from the onset. He is a player that is prone to injuries and on the field, is prone to risky last ditch tackles that gift opponents, penalties. Zlatan Ibrahimovic is about the most exciting player United has had in the last four seasons and he was a free transfer to the team. What Ibrahimovic brought to Man United with his sharp and fast thinking on the ball as well as efficiency in front of the goal. Fred, who had a massive £60 million price tag, on the other hand has failed to impress at Old Trafford. The Brazilian has made only 29 appearances in 15 months.
Ole Gunner Solskjaer has managed to get rid of players like Smalling who were perceived surplus to requirements but the move to get rid of Lukaku without a replacement, left a big gap in the attacking third that Rashford alone cannot fill and Daniel James although a highly talented player, he too is not on the level of the likes of Sergio Aguero and De Bruyne, a calibre of players that United need, to yet again compete with the best there is. Troubles with Paul Pogba who wanted to move to Real Madrid this summer have caused some uncertainty for Man United with the Frenchman ultimately saying wants out of Old Trafford. Pogba is a big part of Man United and the most valuable player on the pitch. The question of him staying or going seems to be a question of his star power and value he brings to the club but his desire to leave might lead to more headaches for Man United going forward.
Who really is to blame for the current state that Manchester find themselves in? The last six years have been a period characterized by an unclear strategy for the club, and players that have not flourished despite the impressive talents they brought to the club. The bulk of the blame must go to Ed Woodard for failing to support Jose Mourinho who had made steady progress to reviving the club’s title hopes. Mourinho despite his bad choices also made many good ones that brought the club some glory for winning a few titles. Some of the blame will also go on the different managers that bought in players that were too expensive for what they actually brought to the table.
It is commendable that OGS has also invested in young players that can help to actually rebuild the team with their talent and potential for a subsequent amount of time. Solskjaer has made some of the best acquisitions this season, signing Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Place, Harry Maguire and Daniel James. It is yet to be seen if the £80 million investment on the English centre-back was worth it or it is just another one of the wasted investments as we have seen so many times in the past. It’s still to be seen whether Ole could turn around the fortunes of Manchester in a way that is similar to what Jurgen Klopp did at Liverpool a few seasons ago and has now recently steered them to a UEFA Champions League title and are also currently favorites alongside Manchester City to win the league.
Let us know what position you think Man United will finish this season?