Manchester United supporters will be relieved to see the arrival of the international break, after their torrid start to the 2019-20 Premier League season.
Despite still being recognised as one of the biggest names in world football, the Red Devils sit just two points above the relegation zone, after only eight games played. A poor defeat away from home at Newcastle last weekend has only added to the growing fear of the supporters, who have begun to point fingers at those within the clubs hierarchy who may be responsible for this humiliating run of form. Clearly something needs to be done to get the club firing again, at what is still an early stage of the campaign – but where do the big problems lie?
It’s the 7th of October 2012, nearly seven years to the date of last weekend’s loss. Manchester United line up at St James’ Park against the same opponent, but what is notably different about them during this previous encounter? Sir Alex Ferguson is sitting in the dugout. The squad is striking fear into the opposition long before a ball has even been kicked. They have Rooney, Van Persie, and Hernandez leading the line. Scholes, Ferdinand, and Giggs are still in and around the first team. The list goes on, proving that it was virtually a different club in comparison to the Manchester United we know today. That summer Ferguson departed Manchester, triggering a gradual downwards spiral that has brought us forward seven years – to the chaos that we see at Old Trafford today. It is a well known fact that the club still hasn’t recovered from the loss of potentially the greatest manager of all time, and that to this day they are still struggling to replace him. It was always going to be difficult taking the reins post-Ferguson, and filling the boots of someone who delivered untold amounts of silverware to the city of Manchester, with every manager since struggling to bring a sense of stability with them to the club.
There have been trophies since the loss of Sir Alex, albeit in a much smaller quantity than before, but the likes of Louis Van-Gaal and Jose Mourinho had still struggled with other issues and been sacked – despite winning honours. Louis Van-Gaal was always going to be a temporary appointment to steady the ship after the somewhat forgettable tenure of David Moyes, but at certain points Mourinho’s time at the club was nothing short of calamitous. The controversial Portugese manager struggled with officials behind the scenes at the club and never had a chance to make his own mark on the squad, even though he was the best appointment post-Ferguson. Although he brought the club its highest position in the Premier League table since 2013, a disastrous start to the 2018 season culminated in his immediate dismissal, leaving many wondering if it was even physically possible to reinstall glory into United at all. Since then the arrival of former Norweigan forward Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in 2018 boosted morale, and his good start had many thinking things would change – but he too seems to have fallen down the same slippery slope. A failure to close out games, and an agonising stubbornness when selecting the matchday squads has found the Red Devils in their appalling current state, with many of the United faithful demanding the sacking of their current manager. This disarray shows that United have struggled to replace the winning mentality of Sir Alex Ferguson, and the way that he ran the club. His successors each implemented many contrasting philosophies, management techniques, and playing styles during their respective tenures – and so far none of them have worked. This makes the lack of a Sporting Director at Old Trafford even more alarming, and is a hole that needs to be filled if the club are to make any smart future decisions regarding appointments. However the only candidates on the table so far have been the inexperienced former players Darren Fletcher and Rio Ferdinand, with the club crying out for the introduction of someone who has carried out this position before. Until this happens, the influx of contrasting opinions mean that they will continue to bring in the wrong people in regards to both staff and players. If Solskjaer is to be sacked – and I personally believe that he will be, United must learn from mistakes of the past, and bring in a capable manager that will have some kind of an input at the club. Will anybody ever live up to Sir Alex Ferguson? You might have to wait a few years for that to happen…
Another huge issue at Manchester United is the worrying lack of goals, and what could potentially happen if an end is not put to the current drought. United’s lack of a prolific number nine is apparent, and is costing them a host of points that they simply should not be dropping. Due to this, it has made first-choice striker Marcus Rashford one of the biggest victims of the sides recent fall from grace. With only three goals to his name this season (two of them being penalties), he clearly is not the right man to be leading a Manchester United front line that managed only one shot on target at Newcastle last weekend. Furthermore, Rashford is still only 21 years of age, which leads many to think that the responsibility of supplying goals for such a big club is just too much for him at the minute. Goals win you games, winning games eases the pressure on the manager, it’s a simple fact that would provide a solution to some short term problems at Manchester United. The talent is obvious for the eye to see, but is he ready to take on such a monumental task? The answer is no, but they have no other options avaliable. Anthony Martial only turns up in a select few games, meanwhile Romelu Lukaku was shipped off to Inter Milan in the summer window, despite being a striker who could provide a high goal tally each year. An honourable mention also goes out to Alexis Sanchez, a high profile £350,000 signing who barely even made a contribution during his time in Manchester, before being sent out on loan during the summer. Marcus Rashford has had no choice but to step up to the task at hand, which is made increasingly difficult by the stubborn manager’s refusal to alter a system that clearly is working for nobody. This sees the struggling Rashford line up alongside an incredibly below-par Jesse Lingard, who has failed to score a goal in the top flight since December 2018. It is hard for anybody to predict where the goals will actually come from this year, as without anybody registering a sizeable tally of strikes throughout the season, a top six finish would be questionable. Will Rashford find his form, or will United look elsewhere during the January window? It all hangs in the balance in regards to the goal supply at Old Trafford.
Amidst all of the ongoing chaos at Manchester United, there has been one major issue that has been stagnating behind the scenes for a very long time. This lies with the way that the club is currently being run, with many fans believing that it is the reason for the current crop of poor players in the squad, and the insufficient members staff working within the club. This makes vice-chairman Ed Woodward public enemy number one in the eyes of the disgruntled United supporters, who feel that the main focus of the club should be on getting results on the pitch – not on their financial success away from it. This stance has even been taken by former United defender Gary Neville, who sensationally claimed that Woodward is not fit to control the transfer policy, and that his former employers had “gone backwards”. Whilst it could be argued that putting the entirety of the blame at the hands of the board is unfair, it is true that the transfers that have been made in recent years were not suitable for a club of Manchester United’s stature. The likes of Alexis Sanchez and Fred have proved to be a waste of the clubs resources, which could have contributed towards more suitable targets in the respective windows. This has been coupled with concerns over players struggling to step up to the plate each week, or simply just not wanting to be at the club. Ander Herrera and Romelu Lukaku were arguably two of the better performers within the side, but it was disgracefully apparent how little they wanted to be at the club towards the end of their tenures. It is common knowledge that a club such as Manchester United needs players to give even more than 100% whilst wearing the shirt, and not look out of place representing a footballing establishment of such magnitude. It is the failure of the board to bring these players in, or the naivety to let them go without adequate replacements being found, that has caused the giants to stumble and fall.
What the future may hold for Manchester United is unclear. Whilst such a gargantuan club is practically guaranteed to find a way back to their perch at some point, there seems to be a period of mediocrity engulfing the Red half of Manchester. The days of fearing a trip to Old Trafford seem a lifetime ago, as other Premier League clubs move like bandits to snatch up the silverware that is no longer in United’s grasp. It is clear that the pack needs to be reshuffled amongst the Old Trafford hierarchy, with restructuring and replacements desperately needed if the club is to gather any momentum in the near future. Until the issues surrounding the board, managers, and also the squad are resolved – it may be a very long time before it is United’s turn once more to dominate English football.
By Kieran Green.