It was predictable that the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson would lead to a period of adjustment. On paper, David Moyes seemed to be a solid choice. A dour Scot in the mould of Sir Alex with a successful spell at Everton to inspire confidence.
The future seemed bright, but little did we know that it would end in tears within one season. It was also difficult to predict that seven years later Manchester United, the most prominent and richest team in the world, would still be waiting to win another Premiership.
The apparent problem since the retirement of Sir Alex is that he left behind an ageing and depleted squad who only managed to win the title in his last season due to some inspired management that allowed him to wring the very best out of a decidedly average team.
The heart of the defence featuring Vidic, Evra, and Ferdinand were all in their 30’s. Wayne Rooney was no longer the force that he was in his early days, and Giggs and Scholes were near the end.
For whatever reason, the majority of replacement players signed have not been effective. Moyes, Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have overall struggled to put inspiring teams together and have been met with limited success.
It is now 2020, and it seems a long time from the 2012-13 season and Manchester United’s last Premier League title. It was one last hurrah for Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United. It is hard not to feel that issues have been papered over in the years since.
Experienced MUFC managers since then have struggled to ascertain precisely how it has all gone wrong and, furthermore, how to make positive changes.
It is galling for any MUFC fan to stand back and watch Liverpool run away with the Premiership as well as being defending Champions League winners. It seems a long way back to the top for a team that has enjoyed as much success as Manchester United.
So What Has Gone Wrong for Manchester United?
It is not a simple issue to analyse. It is not a question of investment, as United have managed to spend almost a billion pounds on new recruits since Sir Alex’s retirement. There is a deeper underlying issue and whatever has been tried has led to more problems for Manchester United.
A poor return of a League Cup, FA Cup and a Europa League title in the past seven years is clearly not good enough for a team of Manchester United’s stature. When you add league finishes of seventh, fourth, fifth, sixth, second, sixth and another likely finish outside the top 4 this season, it is hard for the fans to head to Old Trafford with a sense of optimism.
It’s also difficult not to feel for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, a United legend that has been put into an almost impossible situation. His charisma and MUFC background gave the team a significant boost when he was appointed interim manager, but since he was installed as permanent boss, his record has been weak.
Some sections of the fanbase are quick to blame the current owners. The Glazier family are controversial, and while it is true that they have a high debt method of running the club, there is no denying they have backed all of the managers since Ferguson in the transfer market. So I don’t really agree it’s their fault.
Perhaps it’s true that they should have spent more freely and invested in the squad when Sir Alex was in charge, but that ended seven years ago.
The simplest explanation for what has gone wrong is that it is a combination of factors. Let’s take a look at some of them…
Have the Managers Since Sir Alex Been to Blame?
David Moyes was said to be handpicked as his successor by Sir Alex. He appeared to be a solid choice. He was dedicated, and many thought he would similarly grow into the job as did his predecessor.
He seemed ready to impress the fans by including various MUFC old boys such as Phil Neville and Ryan Giggs as part of his coaching set up.
Some might say that Moyes was quite hard done by. His record was not that bad compared to the current manager, and there is a persuasive argument that he should have been given more time.
People forget that it took Sir Alex four years to win his first trophy and seven years to win his first league title at MUFC. It is true that Moyes had an uninspiring spell in charge and was fired after only ten months, but the decks were stacked against him being able to have immediate success.
Ryan Giggs did a decent job in his four games in charge as interim manager to finish out the season with two wins, a draw and a loss. He would have been a popular choice to have continued as the boss, but the feeling that he needed to gain more experience first was correct. United needed a big name as their next manager.
Enter Louis Van Gaal. He was a champions League winner with Ajax and had won the domestic championships with both Barcelona and Bayern Munich, so he was vastly experienced and a winner.
His magic ran out as manager of Manchester United. He lasted just two seasons and won only one trophy – the FA Cup – in his final match in charge.
The only conclusion to make about the first two permanent managers post-Ferguson is that they were simply not good enough for success hungry MUFC. It may be unfair that they were expected to make an immediate impact, but that is the modern reality in the Premiership.
Next up came Jose Mourinho. Known as the “Special One,” Jose had enjoyed incredible success at Porto, Chelsea (twice), Inter Milan, and Real Madrid. He was unquestionably one of the top managers in the world, and it was well known that he had wanted the challenge of managing Manchester United ever since Ferguson retired.
Again, he had the support of Sir Alex, who had always privately viewed Jose as a potential manager of MUFC. He also got the backing of the board.
Mourinho spent 391.5 million pounds on players in his two and a half years in charge but often complained that this astronomical sum was not enough to seriously compete for titles.
Jose had a little success winning the League Cup and secondary Europa league in his first year in charge. In hindsight, finishing second to Manchester City in his second year in charge was his most significant achievement at Manchester United. His shaky team did well to do as well as they did.
There is speculation now that they may even be elevated to champions due to Manchester City’s issues with breaking financial fair play rules. That would certainly cause people to re-evaluate Jose’s time as boss of United.
As is often the way, things started to go awry in Jose’s third year in charge. An unhappy atmosphere was created, and Mourinho seemed to lose the dressing room. His reign petered out quite sadly.
With the level of spending, it is hard not to conclude that Jose Mourinho was a disappointment at MUFC and should have achieved more.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was brought in as caretaker boss in December 2018, and almost everyone expected him to be gone in a few months to be replaced by an experienced, more prominent name.
Ole surprised everyone by taking United on a great run which thrilled the fans. The new boss won his first eight matches in charge. From his first nineteen matches while interim manager, he amassed 14 wins and 2 draws from 19 games. He won more league points than any other Premiership manager during this period.
This was clearly enough to persuade the Manchester United hierarchy that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer represented the future of MUFC. He was appointed full-time manager in March 2019.
It did seem that Ole had found a way to crack the problem of whatever was holding United back. Unfortunately, for him, there has been a downturn in fortunes since his full-time position was confirmed and MUFC have only averaged 1.53 points per game since his permanent appointment.
The MUFC board are still publicly backing Solskjaer. Still, the general feeling in the press is that his time could be numbered, and Mauricio Pochettino is known to have many supporters to replace Ole as manager.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer certainly has a huge challenge ahead, and there is a persuasive argument to give him time to build his squad in his own image.
How many times can Manchester United blame the manager for the failure to get results and start again with someone new?
Have the New Players Signed Since 2013 Been as Bad as They Seem?
Manchester United have always been a massive club and, like their competitors, they like to make statement signings. The amount spent on signings and salaries since the departure of Ferguson is astronomical if you consider the return they have received.
There has been a real lack of success during the past seven years for such an outlay. Again, it is hard to see where they have gone wrong. Who would have believed that players such as Alexis Sanchez or Paul Pogba would perform so unimpressively when you consider the success they had at their previous clubs.
Sanchez is the perfect example of how transfers have gone wrong. He was a huge success at Arsenal, and at times he appeared to be leading a one-man team. At United, he managed a paltry five goals from forth-five matches and was quickly farmed out to Inter Milan on loan with a massive subsidy going towards paying his wages.
Pogba has suffered a similar fate. He was immense at Juventus and looked a genuine world-class talent. He progress has stagnated since his return to United, and he has appeared disinterested at times. Now the word is that he is desperate to return to Juve.
There has been a stream of other immense talents signed by United who has underperformed. Players such as Angel di Maria, Ander Herrera, and even the mighty Bastian Schweinsteiger came and went with little fanfare and significant financial losses.
They have averaged over thirty million pounds per signing in transfer fees alone with little to show for it. It is hard to pinpoint any recent transfer which has been an unqualified success. The club will have to pray for the future success of recent signings Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes as they desperately need to find inspiration from somewhere.
Manchester United clearly has to go through a period of analysing why so many top players are underperforming in a MUFC shirt.
What is the Current State of Affairs, and What Can Be Done to Turn Things Around Soon?
As I write this, Manchester United stand in ninth place in the Premier League table, a staggering 41 points behind leaders Liverpool. Think about that for a minute, after 25 games played, they are that far behind their great rivals.
It is a terrible state of affairs for a club who are used to as much success as Manchester United. The 2-2 draw at home to lowly Aston Villa last November demonstrated their pitiful state. Toothless and timid could describe that performance.
I believe that the fans don’t know who to blame at the moment, and I don’t blame them. Ole is a much loved United hero, but there are inevitable rumblings about his lack of experience and tactical awareness.
The Glazers have always been unpopular owners of United. They have been blamed for the high debt business model they use to run MUFC and the lack of investment during Sir Alex’s later years that lead to him leaving behind an old and depleted team when he retired.
However, recent years have seen them invest massively in the transfer market, so aside from selling up, it is difficult to see what else they can do to satisfy United’s fanbase.
Ed Woodward, who is effectively the Chief Executive at Old Trafford and in charge of football operations, gets a lot of blame and abuse. There are a significant amount of United supporters calling for his ouster. Feelings are running so high that a group of supporters recently attacked his house with fireworks. Clearly, emotions are close to boiling over.
There have been plans mentioned to appoint a new Director of Football. Perhaps this would be a reason for optimism if it actually happened. I could see an experienced character, in the mould of Michael Edwards at Liverpool, making a positive change and improving the complex MUFC transfer system.
They need to find a way to give the manager (whoever it is next season) a little space to concentrate on coaching the team to greater success. A new Director of Football seems to be a sensible path to take.
Are Manchester United’s Days as a Financial Powerhouse Coming to an End?
Manchester United seem to have turned into some giant corporate monster. They need to find a way to make football the priority again. Simply stated, they need to win again. How long can the fans tolerate looking up to rivals such as Manchester City and Liverpool?
For many years, Manchester United was ranked the biggest and richest team in the world, but the last seven years have seen them drop behind Real Madrid and Barcelona in the rankings. While they are still a financial powerhouse that can fund any transfer, and pay enough to tempt all of the top managers in the world, they are a falling giant.
Years of being in and out of the Champions League and failing to mount a serious title challenge are taking their toll. However, their fanatical worldwide support will soon see them back on top if they can fix matters on the pitch.
Closing Thoughts On the Future of Manchester United
There was a rumour before he retired that Sir Alex’s first choice replacement would be Carlo Ancelotti. It could be that pursuing the experienced Italian would have been an excellent choice. He certainly has made an impressive start at Everton, and he might have had the right blend of experience and character to have built a successful Manchester United team.
Whether United decide to stick with Ole for next season or turn to someone like Pochettino or former Juventus boss Max Allegri, it is hard to see anything other than a challenging road ahead.
Whichever path they choose, I believe they need to give the manager a chance to build his own team and give him time to make a concrete foundation before going on to once again challenge for major honours.
I expect Ole Gunnar Solskejaer to make way for a more prominent name at the end of the season, and the rebuilding process will begin all over again.
It is safe to say that things are terrible at Manchester United and worse than at any time since the days of Ron Atkinson. It is a tough time to be a Manchester United supporter.