Much has been made about Manchester United’s indifferent start to the new campaign but they have just tied down key man David de Gea to a new long-term contract, a move some fans feel is the most recent positive change around Old Trafford.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer promised big changes last season after his sides humbling defeat to Everton at Goodison Park ended his near perfect start as United boss. The Norwegian promised his side would be “the hardest working team in the league” after the 4-0 thrashing handing out by Marco Silva’s men.
That would have been the minimum requirement for many United fans who have now suffered for seven long years since Sir Alex Fergusons departure. Ole and his players have been criticised in some quarters for the poor results since the aforementioned Everton game, but club legend Gary Neville recently claimed on Monday Night Football that the evolution under the former Manchester United super sub is more important than the league finish.
Many fans were far from satisfied with the clubs summer transfer window, feeling the board under spent and failed to replace big names who left, especially up-front and in midfield. However, patience is key when tackling such a big problem and Neville believes the Red Devils need time, “they are going to have to have three or four good transfer windows.” United’s highest finish since Ferguson retired is 2nd under Mourinho, but they were still 19 points behind champions Manchester City and that season was something of an anomaly as they have been more used to finishing around 4th or 5th. Walking into the Old Trafford dugout and turning them into title contenders overnight was never an option.
Solskjaer has been fairly ruthless with his clearout, even if some fans would have liked more deadwood to depart. Nevertheless, Neville feels that “Man Utd this season would be stronger with Herrera, Fellaini and Lukaku, but in the long term, they won’t be because those players will never get Man Utd where they need to be.” Sometimes you have to take a step backwards in order to go forwards. The short term gain of keeping such players would not have outweighed the long term benefits of allowing the likes of McTominay, Greenwood and Dan James to have their chance. “I think being on the right track this season is more important that fifth, fourth or third. People have to start liking the team again” said Neville.
United fans have had to endure painstaking football under Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho which was a far cry from the cut throat, high energy, entertaining spectacle they were used to for so many years under their legendary Scottish manager. If Solskjaer can get the fans on board with his more attacking approach, faith in the youth and his obvious eye for Manchester United calibre players, the lack of results might be able to be swept under the carpet long enough for him to make the necessary changes.
Jurgen Klopp had four barren years at Anfield whilst he developed a world-class side, ultimately winning the Champions League and now looking like title favourites. Solskjaer will be hoping for similar time and trust as he looks to return United to the top of the tree.
David de Gea’s new contract, which keeps him at the club until 2023, with the option of a further year, is yet another indicator of the positive steps Ole is making. All good teams are built on solid foundations and with the Spaniards future settled along with the signings of Wan-Bissaka and Maguire, many fans will feel the back five could be there to stay for years to come. There may still be question marks over Luke Shaw defensively, but as Maguire’s partnership with him and Lindelof grows, there’s hope that they can become a solid unit.
Sometimes a team’s best signing can be to keep their best players and Solskjaer might feel that is true of this new deal for the 28 year-old shot stopper. The Old Trafford boss has trimmed the squad of players such as Sanchez, Smalling and Darmian who the supporters had lost faith in and all three of United’s new additions have made a big impression already. When asked in a recent interview with Gary Lineker, Marcus Rashford stated that the current gaffer has “a plan, not just for this season or the next game against Southampton, it’s a plan for years.” That is arguably the biggest change that Solksjaer has made as the transition from buying short term solutions in players that were almost over the hill, to investing in young British players and putting faith in the academy is something the club had yearned for a long time.
Solskjaer may need to appease the board and fans by taking advantage of Arsenal and Chelsea’s inconsistency by finishing in the top four this campaign, but the progress he is making should not be overlooked. The trimming of the squad, quality additions, faith in the youth, De Gea’s new contract and the attacking style should all buy him time to see out the good work he has started, even if it is at the expense of more embarrassing results such as the home loss to Palace. Managers rarely get time in football, but Uniteds biggest rivals just down the road are the perfect example of what can be achieved if the right man is afforded it.