To say last week was damaging for Manchester United would be a compliment.
A 0-0 draw away at AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League saw the Red Devils fail to record a single shot on target. It was followed up by an arguably even more disappointing display at St James Park, as Solskjaer’s side succumbed to a Matty Longstaff strike that condemned them to 12th position in the table, only two points above the relegation zone. Where United go now and what steps they take next are questions many have been asking, and the decisions made in the next few months could shape the club for years to come.
The result on Sunday was devastating to everyone involved with Manchester United. The club’s troubles away from home have been well document in recent months but many saw a trip to Newcastle as the perfect way to right those wrongs as the North East side were languishing in 19th place prior to kick-off. Things did not go to plan however, United once again failed to turn up and looked void of real quality and creativity throughout the side but especially in the final third.
David De Gea stated after the match in an interview with Sky Sports:
“I think a lot of things need to improve. They were the better team today. I don’t know what to say, really. Just keep trying, keep fighting, keep improving every day. It’s a hard moment for us, a difficult moment, but we are United and we need to keep fighting.”
When asked if it was the worst period since leaving Atletico Madrid to join the club back in 2011 the keeper replied:
“Yeah. Probably the worst time, most difficult time, since I’ve been here. I don’t know what is happening. Come on, we cannot score even one goal in two games. Sorry to the fans.”
Some fans have lost patience with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, as not only have the results been below par, the performances have as well. You can’t blame the fans for their anger towards the Norwegian but whether he deserves the brunt of their displeasure is up for debate.
Former United great Gary Neville told Sky Sports that he believes the majority of the fault lies elsewhere:
“The quality is not right, the depth of their squad is not good enough and they have taken a step back. Their recruitment has been woeful for many years and they’ve been all over the place in terms of different styles of managers who are bringing in players. They now need to fix the style, fix a way of recruiting and go and get the players. They got three in the summer of the right type, they’ve done OK so far, but they need another five or six.”
It is widely accepted that United need certain additions to their squad before they can get anywhere near competing at the top of the table again. Letting Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez go in the summer without replacements appears to have been a gamble that hasn’t paid off.
The ex-full-back added,“The board need to hold their nerve. They’re responsible for this with poor recruitment, poor selection of managers, going with them and then pulling off them. They’ve also gone for different styles of managers, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer now taking the club in a completely different direction. Manchester United are now getting the pain they deserve for poor decisions at board level and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer needs to make sure that the clean-up job he’s doing, which needs to be done for the mess that’s gone before him, that he gets the opportunity to spend the money the others have had to spend.”
Solskjaer deserves time as he inherited a side that was ageing and lacking quality, consequently needed totally rebuilding. Ole is less than half-way through the rebuilding job and results are suffering as a result. The problem is, is that the performances have been so inept that a large portion of the supporters are losing confidence in the current project. This will also translate through to potential future signings. Who would want to sign for United if they finish outside of the European places and are appearing to be on a downward trajectory? If the club fail to finish inside the top six, which looks very likely at this moment in time, then it may be near impossible for Solskjaer to finish the clean-up job he started just ten months ago.
A lot of anger has also been directed at the club’s owners and the board, specifically Ed Woodward. Many fans echo Neville’s opinions expressed above and are also fed up with the Glazers syphoning money out of the club and failing to reinvest adequately.
Manchester United still operate without a Director of Football or a Sporting Director. Chief Executive Ed Woodward is not a footballing man, and although he may be responsible for the club achieving a record turnover, every fan would trade that for success on the pitch.
In a recent interview with Sky Sports, Lille Sporting Director Luis Campos, formerly of Monaco, said:
“In my opinion, everybody needs a sporting director because the coach needs time to prepare for the next match and the super ego of the players too, so he needs people with sensibility. If a coach is alone it’s more difficult now. A sporting director is very, very important. Of course, I believe I could help Manchester United, but I respect the politics of the club. It’s very prestigious, very, very prestigious, but in modern football you need a sporting director. If you have a sporting director, you have this sensibility.”
At Monaco Campos oversaw the principality side wrestle the title away from Paris Saint-Germain, nurturing young talent such as Fabinho, Thomas Lemar and Kylian Mbappe before selling them on for astronomical profits. Recruiting someone like him should be the first step in changing the culture and dynamics in how United is run. Constantly sacking the manager, bringing in someone new with a different style and a different player preference may produce results in the short-term, as Solskjaer’s immediate impact proved, but long term the club is likely to suffer.
The foundations to build a title winning side need to be in place for anyone to succeed at the helm and currently they are not there. Anyone in the Old Trafford dugout is destined to fail. The attitude of the owners need to change, there needs to be a Director of Football appointed, Ed Woodward needs to be sacked or at least have no say on footballing matters, and a clear structure and identity for the club needs to be decided at board level before any manager can have long term success.
Solskjaer may not be the man to lead United back to their former glory, he may not be a tactical genius, but he is certainly not United’s biggest problem currently.