Another weekend, another damning indictment of modern-day Manchester United. It was less so the scoreline, a 4-1 Manchester derby defeat, but more so the manner in which they lost. The players simply packed it in. The second half stats said it all; 14-0 shots, 79-21 per cent possession. At one point, Manchester City had a 15-minute spell where they enjoyed 92 per cent of the ball. More Sunday stroll than Super Sunday.
It adds further weight to the argument that this is the worst season the club has had since relegation in 1973/74. Sure there’s been lower league finishes, the season of David Moyes springs to mind, but has there ever been this level of negativity around Old Trafford? From the sacking of a club legend, albeit one completely out of his depth, to the arrest of a club starlet, it’s been a car crash of a season. A culmination of nine years of mismanagement and neglect that’s led to widespread disillusionment amongst the fan base. So what’s next?
Manchester United: Biggest Summer Yet?
Big Decisions to Be Made
It’s been said basically every summer in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era that it’s a “big summer” for United but this one might actually be the biggest of the lot so far. Discussing the club and its issues is the football equivalent of Martin Luther’s 95 theses but let’s get the obvious out of the way first. The Glazers and the puppets below them at board level. Sadly barring a minor miracle or a corruption scandal (fingers crossed), they’re not leaving so focus shifts to an issue that will be resolved this summer – the appointment of a permanent manager.
Interim gaffer Ralf Rangnick doesn’t have hope if Gary Neville is to be believed and it’s for the best. His best work is done upstairs and behind the scenes. He’s more or less been conducting an audit of the playing squad, exposing deep-rooted issues. Whether United let him do anything about it in his consultancy role is another question. No one seems to know what the role entails, or how he’ll dovetail with Darren Fletcher and John Murtough. Rangnick himself has said he doesn’t even know what Fletcher’s job is.
Two Primary Candidates for Manchester United
That leaves two likely candidates, and the only two being mentioned with any seriousness by fans and journalists alike, Erik ten Hag and Mauricio Pochettino. Whoever they decide on, or whoever is mad enough to take the job, it’s critical that after four permanent managers, two interims and two caretakers, finally the right choice is made.
Ten Hag is the new kid on the block of European football (despite being older than Pep Guardiola), a hipster’s dream and someone who’s brought Ajax back to Europe’s top table, all while playing progressive football. He’s also only worked under a perfectly honed structure in Amsterdam, headed up by United legend Edwin van der Sar, and might not have the same effect in the Manchester madhouse.
Pochettino on the other hand has previous of swimming in choppy waters, both at Tottenham Hotspur and Paris Saint-Germain. While his time in France might not be going all to plan so far (who has it for?), it’s his tenure under Daniel Levy that gives him the upper hand when it comes to suitability. He’d also have a far bigger budget than he was ever afforded in North London and his football is Premier League proven.
What Would a Manager Be Inheriting?
Arguably the most spineless, pathetic and self-serving bunch of players in the history of the club. An impassioned and irate Roy Keane said five or six of those who played on Sunday shouldn’t ever play for the club again. He’s not wrong and hopefully, this summer sees a much-needed clear out of a hugely unlikeable squad. The club’s long-term incompetence may prove beneficial with five players set to leave on free transfers. Addition by subtraction is the name of the game.
Paul Pogba; ten years after he bid adieu for a first time, a symbol of a disastrous decade for the club. Few tears will be shed. Edinson Cavani; seemed to get “it” last season but only plays when it suits him now, which is seemingly never. Jesse Lingard; bizarrely kept last summer when his stock was at an all-time high and has spent the season embarrassing himself on social media. Juan Mata: should have left at least three years ago, a club mascot to rival Fred the Red since.
A Huge Clear-Out Is Needed but Feels Unlikely for Numerous Reasons
If only a few others’ contracts could be ripped up – who in their right mind is going to pick up Harry Maguire’s wages, let alone his meme-worthy performances? At the very least he should be stripped of the captaincy. Luke Shaw has reverted back to the form he’s shown for the vast majority of his United career. It’s mad to think those two were a penalty shoot-out away from being EURO 2020 winners last summer.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka is more afraid of crosses than a vampire and just isn’t good enough – is the 2019 window of him, Maguire and Dan James for a combined £145 million that kicked off a supposed “cultural reboot” the worst of all time? At least a profit was made on James.
Big Names, Big Question Marks
Marcus Rashford could be off if recent reports are to be believed, but such is the level of leakage from United it’s hard to know what’s true. If accurate, it’s a laughable response from a player whose form has fallen off a cliff. Take a look at yourself first.
Cristiano Ronaldo probably isn’t sticking around either if top four is missed out on. Could you blame him? Mr Champions League doesn’t deserve to spend his final years slogging it out in the Europa League. It could also be beneficial for all parties to cut the reunion short given a lengthy rebuild is needed, even if his mind is the only thing elite at the club these days.
Given that no club can sell 15 players in one window, and United struggle to sell in general, the likes of Diogo Dalot, Alex Telles, Victor Lindelof and “McFred” will stick around for another season or two. They’re not the main issue – decent lads, limited talent. Nemanja Matic is in a similar boat with his contract up in 2023. Anthony Martial, Eric Bailly and Phil Jones will be tough to shift on permanent deals. Donny van de Beek’s future probably depends on ten Hag being appointed.
Manchester United Need to Promote Youth and Sign Smartly
All of this leaves a prospective new manager with probably five players to build around, and ones fans would be loath to lose: Bruno Fernandes, Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane, Anthony Elanga and David De Gea. An upgrade is arguably needed on the latter too, whose distribution isn’t near his contemporaries.
Supplementing this core should be youth players like Hannibal Mejbri, Charlie McNeill, Amad Diallo, Ethan Laird and James Garner. A move away from the obvious “superstar” signings would also be welcomed – it’s high time United adopted a smart recruitment policy, hopefully, led by Rangnick and the new gaffer, signing young hungry players or those slightly unknown who will buy in – think of Javier Hernandez or Park Ji-Sung.
Is This Realistic for the Summer or Ever?
The odds are against it given United’s track record since 2013. A title has never felt further away and is unlikely to come while the Glazers remain in charge, but a semblance of hope and pride needs to be restored. And maybe some sensible decisions for a change. Is that too much to ask for?