Man United are in the worst shape they’ve been in since the David Moyes era less than a year after finalizing their football structure.
‘Broken and rotten from top to bottom’ read the banner in the Manchester United away end. That was back in January, and there has been no evidence to dispute that scathing summary of the Villa Park game. United’s club motto should be something like this, no matter how it’s spelled out in Latin.
Even if Manchester United were to scout another 804 right-backs, spend an additional £80 million on a central defender, and spend £40 million on another Ajax academy graduate, they would still be no closer to rivals Manchester City.
As much as the team’s inconsistencies, United’s structure needs to be reworked. With no post-Ferguson championships and a finish outside the top four, this is legitimately the worst season, one filled with humiliations.
United are the only football club that is required to consistently state that their primary goal is to win silverware. Football director John Murtough said last week that “consistency is key” as the team aims for a top-four finish this season. Although this is not Manchester United’s ultimate goal, “everyone at the club is focused on challenging for top trophies,” I want to stress.
Sir Alex Ferguson sat in the directors’ box at the Etihad Stadium and watched Manchester City lose their second derby in four months. Ferguson will not be completely exonerated as long as the Glazer family’s hands are still in the cash register. In 2005, he was a benefactor and a friend to many people.
An official at the club was more concerned with protecting Joel Glazer than with protecting Ole Gunnar Solskjaer following the annihilation at the hands of Liverpool in October. Since April 2019, landlord Glazer hasn’t been to a United game.
The Glazer family’s corrosive influence is too great to ignore at this point. Since 2005, there has been no concrete evidence of a takeover, and no interested parties are looking north to Manchester United.
In Ferguson’s case, it’s clear that a figurehead can thrive in the shadow of divisive owners. For a much shorter time frame, so was Jose Mourinho. As a result, the Red Devils have maintained a strong presence in the transfer market, regularly outbidding City.
A rung below the Glazers is the new CEO Arnold, an old friend of Ed Woodward’s from university days and a rugby fanatic who, in last week’s investor call, literally put the company in front of the club. Arnold’s tone-deaf sound bites in the past have been an embarrassment, but no one is pretending that the chief executive of a football club has to have played the game or possess an encyclopedic knowledge of it.
Just in case we forgot, a year ago Arnold proclaimed that Solskjaer had led United to “phenomenal success.” Any football club worth its salt would have blacklisted him after making such a remark.
Murtough and Darren Fletcher run the football division of one of the game’s most venerable institutions. Soriano and Txiki Begiristain were snatched up by Manchester City from Barcelona, with the former’s influence on Pep Guardiola’s contract extension in 2020 despite his broader role as the CEO of the City Football Group.
Among Guardiola’s trusted confidants are Begiristain, Manuel Estiarte, and chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak. For Begiristain, transfers are more than just a hobby; he also acts as a sounding board for Guardiola when it comes to strategy. With an interim manager in place, that dynamic is highly unlikely at United.
Murtough and Fletcher have been described by a fan as “enthusiastic” when it comes to interacting with fans. Even though he’s friendly and experienced, Murtough has climbed the ladder despite working under four different managers: David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. After nearly a decade of failures, supporters may point to Murtough as a single factor. The involvement of Murtough in recruiting has been exaggerated, according to industry sources who dealt with him.
At a recent fans’ forum, Fletcher made an attempt to clarify his role as technical director, but he was unable to persuade. The worldview of Fletcher has impressed both as a player and as a commentator, but he’s now in over his head and in desperate need of some armbands. The fact that he still wears his boots and poses for “winning team” training pictures makes it impossible to take his role seriously.
Recruiting chief scout Mick Court must be held accountable for his actions. After high-ranking United figures derided the recruitment hit-rate of Louis van Gaal, global scouting chief Marcel Bout was inexplicably appointed.
After the humiliation at the hands of Liverpool, Manchester United’s credibility was shattered when they waited to sack manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. ‘Ole’s at the wheel’ was sung by supporters of Liverpool, Manchester City, and Leeds, and they remained unmoved. There was only one way for United fans to get rid of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the 4-1 loss at Watford: booing him.
Antonio Conte’s demanding style of coaching would have convinced United supporters that a title challenge was still possible if the club had sacked manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer with the team nine points behind the league leaders in October. Despite Conte’s interest, United never considered hiring him because they were so committed to Solskjaer and so afraid of the confrontational manager.
United’s crisis of self-identification was exposed in full force with Conte’s arrival. Outspoken, he preferred players in their late twenties and early thirties. In spite of the club’s stated preference for younger players with high resale value, United currently have two strikers who were signed in the last 18 months with a combined age of 72.
United are on the lookout for a long-term coach who advocates a free-flowing style of play. On Sunday, Gary Neville had to shed light on Micah Richards: “He wasn’t wanted by them (Conte). They didn’t want him, and that’s understandable to me as well. Manchester United do not have Conte as their manager. He’s here for a year or two and does an excellent job. Jose Mourinho has been a part of their lives.”
Conte, on the other hand, triumphs. Mourinho, too. Shortly after Mourinho was hired, someone at Carrington said, “Half the staff fear him and the other half hate him.” Currently, United could use some help.
Instead of settling for an interim and a fourth-place finish, it would have made more sense to seek immediate gains under Conte. That’s not United States of America.