After finishing 2018-19 with a 6th place league finish and defeat at home to Cardiff on the final day of the season, Manchester United are seemingly floundering once again – despite the Solskjaer’s medium-lived honeymoon phase. Sport writer Rhodri Evans takes a diagnostic look at the club.
Everything seems to be crumbling for Manchester United at the moment, both on and off the pitch. After a second successive year without a trophy the fourth manager since Sir Alex, it seems, has again failed to make the most of a squad with some undoubted quality.
Recently, hiring a Technical Director – a role similar to Liverpool’s infamous ‘transfer committee’ (remember them!?) – has been one of the key issues for ‘England’s Biggest Club’ to address, in order to challenge for titles in the future. However, with many, including United legend Paul Scholes, stating that the problems are on the pitch rather than off it, what is the area of priority for the Red Devils this summer and how can they rectify their recurring problems?
Everything seems to be crumbling for Manchester United at the moment, both on and off the pitch.
If United decide to hire a Director of Football, the question turns to the type of person who is going to fill the role. There are those that offer a more symbolic way of doing things – often an ex-player, who is more of a yes-man – or those who work closely with the manager to sign those who fit into the club’s philosophy.
The two most successful clubs this season (by some way) are United’s two biggest rivals: Manchester City and Liverpool. Both clubs have clear playing styles, whose Directors of Football who understand that signing those who fit into their managers’ values is key to building a squad capable of challenging for trophies.
However, even Liverpool and City approach this model in different ways.
Liverpool and technical director Michael Edwards, for example, identify two or three key players that would vastly improve their team and pay a top price for them. Virgil Van Dijk and Alisson Becker are the most obvious examples, but the likes of Fabinho, Naby Keita and Roberto Firmino also fit this model.
Likewise, Manchester City and Txiki Begiristain are equally as specific in terms of quality but perhaps focus more on the mentality of the players they sign, with Guardiola favouring those who are flexible and willing to learn new methods. This generally makes for younger signings, most notably Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva, and John Stones, but also Gabriel Jesus, Leroy Sane and even Oleksandr Zinchenko. This is one reason Riyad Mahrez has struggled: despite his brilliance, he is quite one-dimensional and single-minded as a footballer, showcasing traits that Guardiola does not want in his dressing room.
For Manchester United, the likes of Rio Ferdinand, Gary Neville and even Eric Cantona are the names being thrown into the Technical Director rumour mill. But perhaps in opting for more symbolic figures, United are simply fuelling the nostalgic fire that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has started with his various references to 1999, a visit to the old training ground ‘The Cliff’, and even refusing to park in the manager’s space, saying that “it’s still the gaffer’s [Ferguson’s] place.”
The two most successful clubs this season (by some way) are United’s two biggest rivals: Manchester City and Liverpool.
For the club, however, the most pressing problem is on the pitch. Apart from perhaps Jesse Lingard and Marcus Rashford, there is not a player at the club who the fans would not be disappointed to see leave. Assuming, of course, that they receive market value for them, not many would begrudge receiving around £50-100million each for the sales of Paul Pogba, David De Gea and Romelu Lukaku.
The also-rans of the squad would obviously go for considerably less, but the biggest issue comes with the likes of Alexis Sanchez, Fred, and Lukaku, none of whom have performed well enough to justify their wages. On top of this, they all have at least 4 years left on their contracts, making them very expensive mistakes.
Things have seemed unclear at Old Trafford for a while now, with a lot of money spent and not much to show from the last five seasons. They’ve tried every type of manager going. The chosen one: David Moyes. The philosopher: Louis Van Gaal. The serial winner: Jose Mourinho. The legend: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (and Ryan Giggs). It is difficult to know where to go next for United. Solskjaer was an undoubtedly popular choice when given the job as caretaker, but once the permanent job was bestowed on him, the results on the pitch reverted to the how they performed under Mourinho – performance which was once again not good enough for a place in the top 4.
They’ve tried every type of manager going.
There is much to be done if Manchester United want to be in contention for major trophies again, or at the very least competing with their rivals. A Technical Director – given its effectiveness at City and Liverpool – should be a priority, yet whether United will employ one anytime soon is doubtful. And while Solskjaer will probably be in the job come August, even that seems unlikely when considering their recent form. But one thing is for certain: there is a lot of work to done if Manchester United want to stay the most decorated club in England.