How could one man, correction genius, continually keep Manchester United at the pinnacle of the English game for so long? That is the question at the forefront of my mind on an increasingly frequent basis, given United’s fall from grace. Sir Alex Ferguson, a human water to wine creator, was not entirely bulletproof- in fact, it could be argued affording the legend to choose his successor, David ‘cut from the same cloth’ Moyes, was the start of United’s nosedive down an unforgivingly slippery slope.
Before I get to read the Riot Act for harping on about the Ferguson days or lectured on how football is cyclical, let me give you some perspective: I am 26 years old, have seen some incredible highs and been spoilt with countless trophies and the sight of ticker tape come May. I have not had to witness a United side suffer relegation at the hands of a former legend, a club having to literally rebuild after the Busby Babes or the, I’m reliably informed, dross served up under Sexton. Hardship for me has been watching Mourinho’s Chelsea threaten to dominate, a four-year trophy drought and the lack of identity in the post-Ferguson years. Hardly major hardship or an irreparable catastrophe, is it? Although many will say my age goes against me, I know full well when all is not hunky-dory within a football club. My football club. Our football club.
Finishing 19 points behind City last season, in a freak season, was accepted as progress based on Premier League law of points averages. Again, nothing utterly unpalatable. However, a return to previously familiar heights seems a million miles away.
READ MORE: Get out of My Club: Self-Righteous Mourinho & Show-Pony Pogba are embarrassing Man Utd and must go!
There is a key difference though, between then and now.
Even though Chelsea were taking all before they and United were playing catch up, there was a very clear vision and rebuild taking place. Ferguson was able to tolerate a few barren years as he knew his new empire was taking shape. Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo were developing into world-class players with their full potential not yet discovered. Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra were becoming more and more acclimatised to the rigours of the English game and became the best in their positions. An experienced core of Ferdinand, Scholes and Giggs were overseeing this period of change under a man with the ultimate master plan – to look down on all those before them.
In short, Manchester United had an identity, a vision, a belief.
Those three commodities are now in short supply and a virtual pipedream.
From the very top, the club is run by non-footballing men, content with lucrative sponsor deals totalling high double figures by count alone, let alone the serious money it generates. Content with a top-four finish and a reasonable run in Europe as this ties in with the Glazer business model. Woodward was an influential figure in helping the Glazers pile haemorrhaging levels of crippling debt on United’s shoulders and is now overseeing the footballing decisions. It truly beggars belief.
Woodward’s influence is so great that he left Javier Ribalta, a proven recruiter of quality players, with next to no choice but to leave United, after feeling unable to carry out his duties to their maximum. The interference is contextualised by Ribalta seemingly a, on paper at least, step down to move to Zenit St Petersburg. That problem will not simply disappear if and when the much-debated director of football role at United is brought in- the much more aptly named referenced Woodpecker will still be sticking his beak into who should be recruited.
Woodward gave Mourinho his backing when he put a new deal until 2020 on the table for the Portuguese to sign. Great, many thought, United may, at last, have some long overdue stability and the two will work in unison to reverse our slide. So why would you give a manager a new deal to subsequently not go and secure the targets he clearly wanted? There can be little doubting that United would be close to a sure thing had they secured the likes of Alderweireld, Perisic and Willian. Instead, we signed Victor Lindelof, who Mourinho made no secrets of his reservations on the player, who looks like a fish out of water at United.
Ferguson’s recruitment was commendable but not without its fair few failings but he surely would not have overseen such a scattergun approach as we are currently having to endure. Bargain bucket buys such as Darmian, Schneiderlin and Rojo have been mixed with obscenely inflated failures like di Maria, Memphis, Pogba and most recently Alexis Sanchez. There is merit in saying Mourinho has had to carry out major surgery to revamp the squad, but there are still players on the payroll who are frankly not good enough and have outstayed their welcome. Don’t look at me with that gurn, Phil Jones, you know I’m referring to you.
We bent over backwards to bring back Paul Pogba, a commercially driven deal which was two years in the offing. In doing so, we got back into bed with Mino Raiola, who has proven to be as equally toxic. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as far as agent and client are concerned. One of Ferguson’s most endearing and clinical qualities was his ability to recognise a bad egg and drive them as far away from the club as possible. He ditched the likes of Keane, Pogba and Tevez at the right times and replaced them with on the whole, excluding Michael Owen, with hungry players desperate to do well in the red jersey. Ferguson would have made Pogba stew over things and appreciate what it takes to play for United, rather than allow him cry to his agent. Such is Pogba’s commercial value and player power, you can only envisage one winner in this so-called power struggle. Clue, he’s not Portuguese.
Teams used to turn up at Old Trafford late, as they could not stomach the prospect of leaving their hotel rooms to face a fearsome United side. The fear factor has long been extinguished. We have been outplayed at Old Trafford by Leicester, Wolves and Derby. How the mighty have fallen. United lost to every promoted side away from home last season and have dropped six points from seven at Old Trafford against newly promoted teams under Mourinho. Is it the players, the manager, the crowd? Probably all three, but it seems Mourinho has no idea on who his best eleven players are to win football matches consistently. That leaves any club, let alone United, pissing into the wind before a ball has even been kicked in anger.
United has seemingly been the graveyard for attacking players in recent years and no sharp a decline is epitomised more than Alexis Sanchez. Wouldn’t you know it, another commercial, I mean Woodward signing. This is a genuine high-level performer, scorer of 47 and 80 goals in three seasons each for Barcelona and Arsenal respectively who has now not scored in six months and only three in his last twenty-three since a crucial equaliser in last season’s FA Cup semi-final. In the league, he is a whopping 831 minutes without a goal. By anyone’s standards, that is nowhere near good enough. He does not look a world class player at United and when you are paying megabucks in wages for a player, you want instant delivery and a recouping of those numbers. Big names, big players are struggling. When that happens, your team is on a hiding to nothing.
It is abundantly clear that Manchester United are a mess, the butt of all jokes and we open ourselves up to be laughing stocks one way or another.
The Manchester United I grew up and fell in love with is a distant memory. Their identity, vision and belief has gone up in smoke.
It truly is a sorry state of affairs. Eight points off the worst and most insufferable imaginable winners of the Premier League already and out of a cup competition. And it’s only September.
Reputations are on the line.
United need to get their s*** together or risk getting left behind.