We live in a society that craves the here and now more than ever. Due to the progress of the internet and technology as a whole, pretty much everything is at the reach of a button and it gets to you in quite short time. This has influenced people, especially young ones, to think heavily in the here and now. And why shouldn’t they when society basically pushes you in that direction?
This is something that naturally translates to football. Now more than ever, short term thinking reigns supreme, especially when it comes to the big teams and their fans. You have to win now, you have to win all trophies and you throw everything at the kitchen sink in order to do so. Playing style, financial stability, identity… all of that becomes secondary when you’re praying at the altar of trophies.
Now, I’m not saying that short term thinking is inherently bad and there are lots of positive examples of it in football, but when you’re a big football club and you have been going through a bad period of results for a few seasons, the temptation for a quick fix can be quite notorious. And that can be a dangerous trap to fall in.
Inter Milan is the most recent example of the ups and downs of short term thinking and Manchester United, especially their supporters, should see the Italian side’s current state of affairs as a warning sign.
Much like United, Inter Milan is a big football club that has gone through some really bad times and some really negative ownership in the last decade. Much like United, they failed to maintain their standards as a top club and they spent a lot of years without winning trophies, without regularly qualifying to the Champions League and often enduring very uneven squads that of course reflected on the pitch.
So in 2019, the owners of the Italian side, the Chinese Suning Holdings Group, decided to go all in and bet on short term planning through the hiring of manager Antonio Conte, who is known for giving results here and know. And after the hiring of the former Chelsea and Juventus manager, in came the likes of Romelu Lukaku, Ashley Young, Alexis Sanchez, Christian Eriksen, Matteo Darmian, Nicolo Barella, Arturo Vidal, Achraf Hakimi, among many others, in a two years period to win the coveted Scudetto after a decade of not winning it.
The results are there to see: Conte’s Inter Milan finished second in his first season and failed to win the Europa League final against Sevilla in 2020, and in 2021 they won the league with some level of comfort. They were the best side in Serie A by some distance and Inter fans were rightfully celebrating that their team was back on top.
Fast forward a couple of months to the present day and Antonio Conte, the manager that built this title-winning squad, has left due to differences with the board, Achraf Hakimi, one of the best players in Serie A last season, has left for PSG, Ashley Young left for Aston Villa and Romelu Lukaku, the team’s top scorer and their star player, is set to sign for Chelsea for a record fee due to the club needing the money.
Add to the club’s financial problems that they have to sell players like Arturo Vidal or Alexis Sanchez, who they can’t keep because of their wages, and Lautaro Martinez, one of their best players, is in the market if any club is willing to pay the €80 million that the Italian side has demanded. Their financial crisis is such that they haven’t paid Manchester United and Real Madrid for the transfers of Lukaku and Hakimi, respectively.
So Inter won the Scudetto, but at what cost?
This is the plight of short term thinking, and this is something that a certain section of United supporters, who don’t believe in things like a process or squad building, should take into account. Yes, it’s frustrating to support a big team and not winning trophies, but you shouldn’t sacrifice financial stability and the long term future of the institution for a quick fix.
The Inter board played all their cards in winning short term with Conte and it worked, but now they have to deal with the consequences of their actions. They invested heavily in a lot of players for the former Chelsea manager and did likewise with the wages, compromising the club’s financial structure in a post-pandemic world–and now they are naturally struggling and need to sell their best players, like they did with Hakimi and like they are doing with Lukaku.
Add to that the variables of having a lot of veteran players in an ageing squad and Inter are set for a very demanding rebuilt that could ironically prove to be quite difficult for their short term results in the coming season, if new manager Simone Inzaghi doesn’t right the ship.
This is something that Ole Gunnar Solskjær has been working on to avoid with his own United side: to balance the wage structure, to have the right mix of young and seasoned talent and building a side that can win consistently, even if it means sacrificing a bit of the present. And one common criticism that us supporters of the Norwegian’s regime get is that we’re “praising mediocrity and lacking standards”.
I beg to differ: I think short term thinking on a big club is lacking standards.
It’s not enough to win one league title at a club like Manchester United or Inter Milan, for that matter, since you’re expected to do so every single year. To do that you need to build a squad that can consistently do it on a yearly basis. I can understand short term thinking on clubs like Brighton or Hellas Verona: if they have a chance at winning the title, I can understand them compromising their futures a bit because it means doing something historical for both institutions. But at clubs like United or Inter, winning a league title is expected and is something that is demanded year in, year out.
United already tried the short term thinking approach with Jose Mourinho and while it brought some trophies to Old Trafford (and he deserves credit for them), the reality is that it wasn’t good enough and it caused a lot of problems in terms of the squad United had, the wage structure, the environment between the players and the coaching staff and a playing style that never really connected with the supporters. It was short term gain for long term pain, which reached its dreadful zenith in the last weeks of Mourinho’s tenure by late 2018.
I can understand the temptation of instant gratification as it is a common theme in modern society. But it’s not enough to just win now as a big club–you have to do it consistently. Solskjær clearly understood that since his first transfer window in the summer of 2019 and has been slowly building a team that is a lot more stable than any other United squad post-Sir Alex Ferguson. Can he also deliver trophies to back his own long term planning? That’s something he has to prove this season.
But at the end of the day, people may say that Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho won trophies for the club, but no genuine fan would change the current structure for what United had back in those years. No one would trade the football that the team is playing these days to what they were doing with the Dutchman or the Portuguese.
The players are better, the academy is once again thriving (which can help at long term for the club), the board is slowly adding football people and the football is the best that the club has seen since 2013. The trophies are missing, but United are no longer a directionless ship in the oceans of fate.
Inter Milan is the latest example that short term thinking might seem good at first, but the price you have to pay long term could prove to be quite costly. They made their own bed and now they have to endure another rebuild in just two years after hiring Antonio Conte.
When it comes to United, they took the long road, but it might prove to be the most logical and fruitful path as time goes by. Short term thinking might reign supreme in modern day football, but it doesn’t need to define every club as an example of success.
Solskjær’s United might prove that in the coming years.