Reminiscing is only natural when we find our current situation difficult and, for many Manchester United fans, it is the only way to sleep at night during these frustrating times for the club. Following their 5-0 defeat to Liverpool at Old Trafford, there has been an exposé of major problems throughout the club that need addressing before they can challenge Liverpool, Manchester City and Chelsea and once again experience the success that many fans became accustomed to in the 1990s and the 2000s.
A glaring problem is the ineptitude of their manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, to challenge for major honours with this squad. The progress under Solskjaer prior to this season was promising; however, his tactical maladroitness has been exposed when compared to world-class managers like Jurgen Klopp, Pep Guardiola and Thomas Tuchel, with pundits and fans alike under the impression that Man Utd need to appoint a similar level of manager if they wish to return to the highest echelon of football once again.
Perhaps Antonio Conte, an available manager of this world-class standard, whose swift appointment will allow the club to progress further. United can look at the example of Southampton in 2013. The Saints had been doing quite well for a newly promoted club, however by replacing their manager, Nigel Adkins, with a more ingenious tactician (Mauricio Pochettinho) the club would finish in 8th the following season, their highest finish since 2003. To garner more success, United must follow this example set by Southampton.
The manager to succeed Solskjaer will be expected to implement “the United way” of playing, a style based on dominance and an attack-like approach; made famous by the sides of Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson. Under Solskjaer the squad have attempted to implement “the United way” with no silverware to display. However, this view of “the United way” is a complete fabrication within United fans’ imaginations.
A successful United side is a side that is playing “the United way”. There were few complaints when Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal were winning silverware with their respective tactics because as long as the club won trophies fans were happy. Ferguson was able to employ “the United way” by adapting his tactics throughout his long tenure in charge by employing different coaching staff at different periods to help evolve the tactics and system of the team, maintaining the side as a dominant title-winning club.
An evolution of the mindset and move away from this fantastical “United way” will grant any future manager the ability to express their ideas, returning the club to its place as an all-conquering side, with the most relevant example being Conte. Conte has been extremely successful, winning league titles at every club side he has managed (Juventus, Chelsea and Inter Milan), with these sides allowing him to impose his tactics. United need to trust their vast financial resources available in a manager and their methodology to bring inevitable glory similar to that experienced under Ferguson.
Sir Alex Ferguson is the most successful manager to ever grace the game and led United to unapparelled success. Yet at this present time, his continued influence within the side is hindering any progress the club is making to reach this level of success again. Ferguson’s continued support for Solskjaer has kept the manager at the helm of the team, yet as discussed this is to the detriment of the club, and the influence he had in the Cristiano Ronaldo signing.
Ronaldo’s signing was greeted with huge fanfare by many United fans, for understandable reasons. Ronaldo has been a world-class player throughout his career, winning four Champions Leagues and five Ballon d’Ors, and he has recently become the all-time leading international goal scorer as of the 1st September 2021.
However, it has proven to be a poor piece of business by United and has been the catalyst to the progress under Solskjaer ceasing. The signing of Ronaldo was a desperate attempt by the club to demonstrate that it is still the largest in the world with an ability to wield incredible influence, but his skill-set is detrimental to the relatively successful style of play that Solskjaer had established. His signing has destroyed any chance United have to win a league title or the Champions League this year or next.
The Ronaldo signing was a nostalgic call back to the successful period under Ferguson in the 2000s when United were leading the way within the footballing world. However, the club is well off the standards it set in the 2000s, and has been left behind by its competitors. The stadium has become run down, the training facilities are nowhere near the standards of other elite teams and the club has lost the appeal to attract the stars it once had. These issues require an ownership that cares about the club and wants to see a return to more glorious days, yet their owners show no want to do this as long as the club achieves European football and is making money for the Glazer family.
The club has become decadent and is reminiscent of Percy Shelly’s “Ozymandias”. It needs a vast overhaul to achieve its past glories and the evolution must begin now. The appointment of a new manager, the signing of players to suit the needs of the squad and manager, the update of the facilities at the club, and the removal of the influence that Ferguson still waves would be the start of a much-needed evolution at United. But it is incredibly unlikely we are going to witness this under their current ownership of the Glazers, and so the problems will continue to fester for Manchester United.
Written by Brendan McGilligan
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