The Football Notebook
How to Fix Manchester United
The name Manchester United was once synonymous with success.
Sir Alex Ferguson, the catalyst of United's resurgence after a dry spell, won a mammoth 38 trophies in his 26 years with the club. This included 13 Premier Leagues titles, 5 FA cups and two Champions League titles. Nobody, least of all the United supporters expected things to be the same on that fateful day in 2013 when Sir Alex left.
Manager after manager, they have failed to usurp the 19 other English clubs to regain the Premier League title. Glimpses of hope, lasting for little more than a couple of months before a single game made everyone doubt the quality and motivation of their team. Players, rejected by fans and relegated to deadwood because, quite frankly, they didn't meet the standards the supporters were used to seeing.
Coaches, ruthlessly ousted for failing to earn silverware as their respective managerial and tactical styles didn't fit the ‘Manchester United’ profile. Rallies to have their club sold stemmed from fans' annoyance at the owners' lack of investment into the club (popularising the acronym LUHG - Love United Hate Glazers). These are, of course, very vague terms to summarise the downcast Manchester United we've seen post-Sir Alex, but they are, by and large, accurate.
However, success is not as far out of their hands as it may seem. An FA Cup and Europa League under Mourinho. A second-place finish as recently as 17/18. A memorable Champions League campaign when they won against the likes of PSG and Juventus only to go on to lose in the quarters to a solid Barcelona side. As a caretaker-turned permanent manager, Olé Gunner Solskjaer said,'' I am sure it won't be 30 years until the next Premier League that we do win".
So what will the club need to achieve this target?
We at The Football Notebook™ have deduced a comprehensive, realistic guide for Manchester United to re-establish themselves at the top of European football.
*Disclaimer* we are aware that a change in ownership isn't on the list of reforms. This is done intentionally, as we don't see the sale of the club as likely to happen.
Intelligent, financially viable transfers
Manchester United are notorious for having no shortages on the side of finance – largely due to the magnitude of their worldwide following and profitable brand deals. It is where they spend this money, if they do at all, which has bemused supporters. However, this is not to say that the players signed have never had a positive impact on the team.
Post Sir Alex, the club have made some unthinkable transfers and neglected others which would seriously bolster their side. Marouane Fellaini comes to mind. That transfer window with David Moyes in 2013 was one to forget for United. With Toni Kroos available and willing to go to the Red Devils along with Thiago Alcantara in the same position, United was panicked and signed the man-mountain that is Fellaini on deadline day.
For 30 million Pounds.
It is said that Thiago, exactly the type of player United have needed since Ferguson left, “begged” then manager David Moyes, with the Scot reportedly saying that “he did not have a place for him in the team”.
Fellaini is not a bad player and is a useful squad man who can kill games with his physicality in the middle of the pitch, kind of like an anti-number ten. But with that price tag and the far superior alternatives, it could be looked at as one of the worst decisions in transfer history.
The Fellaini transfer saga really encapsulates the lack of preparedness and overarching mindset adopted by the club with regard to transfers. This has improved recently, but there is still a lack of activity in the window for this side which is in dire need of reinforcements in specific positions. Sometimes, expensive transfers make the funds unavailable to bring in these other reinforcements, as shown by the acquisition of Harry Maguire for 80 million pounds, making the transfer of a backup striker or quality right winger financially impossible in the same window.
Although Maguire has had an impact on the Red Devils’ defence, it is notable that Milan Skriniar, Kalidou Koulibaly, and Kostas Manolas were all around the same age, were valued at £10-20 million less, and can be viewed as better players than the lumbering England International.
Skriniar in particular was:
2 years younger
Had more experience in top European competitions
Would have been about £20M
Was, and still is probably a finer centre-back
So going forward, Manchester United must work on an efficient scouting system. Look at alternatives. Fortify positions with little or no backup. Appoint a top-class Director of Football.
It’s a vague blueprint, but it’s also exactly what the club needs going in future transfer windows.
Just look at Liverpool, and FSG(Fenway Sports Group).
FSG bought the faltering club in 2010, and through the investment into the scouting and recruitment sector have become infamous for bringing in superb value transfers - Mo Salah for £38M, Mane for £37.5M, and many more.
They have done this through belief in data, and have taken forays into the subject that few other clubs were willing to do.
This has led to 2 CL finals, one of which they won, and a brilliant Premier League title win - their first in 30 years.
Solskjaer, from Molde to the United. Really?
Now don't get us wrong, we have nothing against Solskjaer and strongly believe that he has spearheaded the club in the right direction. He obviously has a strong understanding of the values of the club, having played for Sir Alex Ferguson himself.
He came in last year and immediately took the club through a long unbeaten run winning match-after-match. A promising start in an otherwise dismal season for the reds.
Transfers which have been scarce but reasonable with the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire playing crucial roles in the Man Utd team this season. Solskjaer is not an incompetent manager. But he does not seem to have the ability - tactical acumen, man-management, and even bold personality that are all required to see this once-great club back on top.
His tactics are largely inflexible. The football played by United is not that of a top side, not very aesthetically pleasing. His results are inconsistent, with emphatic wins against top 6 teams followed by dropped points against league minnows. He was relegated when he played with Cardiff. He was in the Norwegian league before he was brought in to temporarily stand-in for the sacked Mourinho for half a season.
Now he's the full-time manager and hasn't been all that impressive. He failed to make a proper push for the Champions League spots last season – despite his promising start to life. This season, his side has been very up-and-down. They've been eliminated from the Carabao Cup and are still far from guaranteed a Champions League spot. There have been a few positive results, including a draw against the rampant Liverpool side and two wins against Manchester City but when their record is besmirched by draws and losses to teams fighting relegation, these results become effectively worthless.
A hand-picked manager would be able to fix this. Mauricio Pochettino took Spurs to the finals of the Champions league without having made any transfers in the preceding window. He made Tottenham a regular top 4 side, even challenging for the title on a couple of occasions. And although it doesn't have to be Pochettino, he does seem to be the most realistic option - and depending on how Solskjaer ends the season, could be a candidate for the managerial position come the 20-21 season.
Integration of the youth
The youth was once the heart of Manchester United Football Club. The side has boasted at least one player who's come through their youth ranks in every matchday squad more than 4000 times in a row.
Players like Mason Greenwood, Marcus Rashford and Scott Mctominay all establishing themselves as first-team players and excelling, shows how imperative the integration of youth is to the future hopes of the club. It gives the club direction for the long term and players who come through the academy really do understand what the club is really about. When you play for United it's a privilege. It is pride. The pride of donning the Manchester United shirt, something which very few people in the world have the honour of doing.
This isn't to ask the club to play only academy graduates - just to consistently give these players from the academy opportunities to prove themselves. You never know when the next Paul Pogba, David Beckham, or Ryan Giggs might come around.
But in recent times, youth players have been neglected. Tahith Chong wanting to leave because of a lack of game time, Angel Gomes out of contract today, on July 1st with no new one seemingly being signed any time soon.
Bring back the youth, bring back the glory days of United.
Appointing a Director of Football
Ed Woodward is another figure who has induced the hatred of a large fraction of the Man Utd Fanbase. In fact, the Sun reported an attack on the chief executive's house by a group of fans at the beginning of this year. Woodward has been unfortunate to be in the position he is, but he seems out of his depth in his current role in the club. He isn't educated about football per se, more about the money.
That is where a Director of Football would come in. This topic has arisen a lot recently, but it has mostly just been speculation. Edwin van der Sar, Paul Mitchell and even alumna Rio Ferdinand have been spoken of as potential candidates. All have considerable knowledge about the game, enough so to know what the team needs and at what time.
All would be feasible candidates to replace the business-minded Woodward, or simply bear the load off him and allow him to focus on the finances rather than the transfers and football side of the club. His alliance with the Glazer family doesn't help improve the fans' overall perception of him, but a change of ownership doesn't seem likely, as we have already established so he probably will not be going anywhere anytime soon.
Invest in Data-Driven Recruitment to find transfers for the club
Appoint a World-Class Manager
Find a Director of Football to think long-term, and guide the Football Club back to the top of Europe
It will not be very long until Manchester United return to the top if they were to go about it in a logical and rational manner. But business is important, and none of the options discussed would be possible without adequate funding of the Glazers. The uncertainty of that happening is what makes it so difficult to definitively predict the resurgence of Manchester United.
Can they do it, or will the owners' greed for money supersede their respect for the club?
Only time will tell.