Manchester United: Heritage without Direction

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer and are not representative of the platform itself.

It is the summer of May 2008, the date is the 21st. Manchester United fans all over the world rejoice as they celebrate their third Champions League trophy just weeks after lifting the Premier League title. A world-renowned deadly attack consisting of the ever clinical Wayne Rooney, future ballon d’or winner Cristiano Ronaldo and Argentina legend Carlos Tevez. An industrious midfield consisting of Michael Carrick, Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs to name a few. A rock-solid defence with arguably the best centre-back pairing the prem has ever seen, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic (Not John Terry. Sorry Chelsea fans, it just slipped out). This side, led by the great Sir Alex Ferguson. As a Manchester United fan, you would think that nothing can go wrong, that the Red Devils would dominate the football scene for years to come. Fast Forward to 2013. Sir Alex has just announced his retirement following yet another domestic title, shocking but the rational voice in your head says that this shouldn’t cause many problems as the squad is as strong as ever. Sir Alex Ferguson has just named his successor David Moyes from Everton and to absolutely no one’s knowledge till this point, this would be the start to the mysterious and shocking downfall of Manchester United.

David Moyes brought ambitious signings such as Marouane Fellaini and Chelsea star Juan Mata and Spanish prodigy Ander Herrera to the club. However, disaster ensued as Manchester United endured some of their worst results since the 80s, getting knocked out of the FA Cup by Swansea (of all teams) in January. They performed better in Europe, topping their Champions League group but were swiftly knocked out by Bayern Munich in the quarter-finals. Back at home, they suffered horrible form, with a shock 2-0 loss to Everton. Moyes was subsequently thrown out of the Trafford grounds in the first year of his five-year contract. Club legend Ryan Giggs took the reins and Manchester United finished 7th in the league, their worst finish since 1990 and their first time failing to qualify for European Competition since 1980. The fans were distraught, shocked and in uproar. This was supposed to be a new era, the passing of the torch one could say but this was more like the metaphorical torch being repeatedly slammed into the ground until it was nothing but dust. 

In came Louis Van Gaal, media proclaimed Dutch mastermind with a strong CV (unlike Moyes) consisting of managerial experience at clubs like Barcelona, Ajax and the Netherlands National team. “Finally a manager with experience who could lead the club to their very rightful glory” the fans roared in delight. He brought world-class Real Madrid superstar Angel Di Maria for a then club-record fee of 60 million pounds. Daley Blind and Marcus Rojo were brought in to give the defence a new lease of life, seemingly a huge upgrade from previous centre back pairing Phil Jones and Chris Smalling. Van Gaal started the season with a flying start, a 7-0 win over LA Galaxy in a pre-season friendly, not a difficult task mind you but it was a sign of hope for the Man United fans. Adding to his hype, he won the International Champions Cup after a win against Liverpool. However that was short-lived as they lost their first official game against Swansea, perhaps this was Swansea’s ability to be United’s kryptonite or as was more obvious with the passage of time, perhaps it was a sign of things to come.

Setting the standard for all the league matches for the season, on 26th August they lost *4*, yes 4 nil to League One side Milton Keynes Dons in the league cup, a club so obscure that one would have to google their name to confirm how to spell it (cough). Following 10 league matches, they stood at 9th in the league with only 3 wins, setting yet another record as this was their worst start to a season since 1986. Following many injuries including Herrera, Rojo and Falcao one of the many unnecessary signings made by United in the Van Gaal era). Van Gaal justified the bad form by stating that his team would achieve maximum efficiency in 3 years (very reasonable in my opinion ) Van Gaal, led united to a 4th place finish, however, the end came when on 10th April Tottenham won 3-0 in which Van Gaal employed some questionable tactics and the players lost trust in him, leading subsequently to his “sacking” shortly after. The only highlight of his period at United would be winning the FA but this in no way justified United’s spending during his time at the club.

Its 2016 and Manchester United are arguably at one of the lowest points in their esteemed history. Manager-less and wondering what manager with even a small bit of dignity would want to manage a declining team, in came one of the most decorated managers to ever bless the game, Jose Mourinho. Apart from his amazing Instagram game, he was as knowledgeable and as tactically blessed as ever. Playing ruthless attacking football at Chelsea and every club he ever managed. He got off to a flying start as he came in on 27th May and almost immediately won the FA community shield beating reigning Premier League champions Leicester City (one of the happier memories of his time at the club) 2-1, fans however still sceptical as he needed to prove himself in the league. Winning his first premier league match against Bournemouth, he had a steady few games until September when, unfortunately, they lost to their neighbours Manchester City in a 2-1 defeat, Mourinho did perform well in the EFL cup, ultimately winning it against Southampton in a 3-2 win bringing hope for the fans. By doing so he became the first United manager to win a trophy in his debut season. He performed almost perfect in Europe, well not the Champions League but the Europa League and topped a magnificent run with securing the Europa League against Ajax in a 2-0 win. Even after his horrific 6th place finish in the league, he proved his worth by winning silverware, or in the Europa Leagues case, by winning cheap aluminium. In his second season, he brought in Romelu Lukaku to replace the mighty and reliable Zlatan Ibrahimović . To sum up, this whole season was just a huge let-down and a shadow of the performance in the last season with an early exit in the champions league in the round of 16 against Sevilla and an FA cup final loss against Chelsea with an Eden Hazard penalty to finish the Red Devils off, ending a fairly average run. United did finish 2nd in the league though but even that wasn’t an accomplishment as they had a 19 point gap with the league leaders Manchester City, who had a famous 100-point season. 2018 saw Jose start off to a horrible start , losing 2 of his first 3 league games which included a shock 3-0 loss to Tottenham after which he had his famous “respect” interview (what a drama queen, love him). However (my heart pains while writing this) after just 7 league wins in his first 17 matches, he was sacked, leaving United 19 points off the top from the league leaders. 

Manchester United, in complete acknowledgement of their clear demise, appointed club super-sub legend (Bayern fans would have found memories of him from the 1999 Champions League final) Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, yes and before you ask I did need some help from google to get these spellings right. He was appointed as interim manager on 19th December 2018. His first match was ironically against the team he lead to relegation as a manager, Cardiff city. United performed well against them in an emphatic 5-1 win. Following this, he led United to victory in his next 4 league games which was unheard of and he was the first to do so since Sir Matt Busby (in God knows what year) and the hype train for Ole was catching speed. Ole was named as premier league manager of the month and was the first to do so after the man whose shoes he was trying to fill, Sir Alex in October 2012. In the champions league, he provided some crucial wins such as the famous PSG second leg win (goosebumps) in which prodigy (and future candidate for the Prime Minister of Britain) Marcus Rashford MBE scored a 94th-minute penalty to send United to the quarter-final. He was the first manager in history to advance after losing the first leg by two goals or more. United were knocked out in the Quarter-finals of the Champions  League, and finished 6th in the league, yet even this was exceeding the expectations of most fans and therefore, Ole was offered a 3-year contract which tied him to the club till 2022.  

The start of the 2019/2020 season was almost magical as Manchester United won 4-0 against Chelsea (the first of many, Chelsea fans) with a double from Marcus Rashford and goals from Anthony Martial and debutant Daniel James. The rest of the season was looking quite bleak however the arrival of Bruno Fernandes (a nightmare in the penalty box) saw a rejuvenated spark in the United  attack as they closed a huge gap between them and the top of the table. A minuscule achievement at first glance, it was vital for Ole to secure Champions League Football to give an end result to his image for the club. The “Champions League” race for top 4 was quite thrilling as it went to the last match of the season when goals by Bruno and Jesse Lingard (he’s a young talent, give him time to nurture guys he’ll be a top player soon) against Leicester helped United finish 3rd in the league just for the second time post-Ferguson era. In the Europa League, Manchester United quite valiantly reached the Semi-Final, losing to Sevilla. Winning might have been better (I say might because it’s the Europa league) but a Semi-final finish was enough to gain the trust of the board. They also reached the semi-final of the FA Cup in which they lost to Chelsea, a loss which will be forever remembered by United Goalkeeper, David De Gea. 

An end to a good season left fans hoping to experience a great transfer window as they were linked with the likes of Jadon Sancho, Dayot Upamecano and many other rising superstars. The board were publicly expressing their reluctance on backing Ole and slowly, suspicion took form into reality, as United failed to sign any of their targets instead signing Donny van de Beek, an attacking midfielder of great quality but one could argue that the only position where United have a number of quality players is attacking midfield, and Edison Cavani from PSG on a free transfer, who was ironically given the number 7 shirt, a number which many United fans saw Jadon Sancho wearing at the start of the transfer window. It was clear that amidst the Coronavirus pandemic, the priority of the board was keeping their financials in check, rather than investing in the project.

At the time of writing this, Manchester United sit 10th in the League, failing to win any home games and suffering a 6-1 loss to Tottenham a club ironically managed by former United manager José Mourinho, which Ole described to be the worst day of his managerial career.  

Manchester United has suffered a sad and tragic curse in which the same cycle repeats. They sign a manager, he proves his worth, the board plans to back him and then don’t, leaving the team vulnerable and then performing below par in the next season which ultimately leads to the dreaded sack. A curse which cannot be broken by bringing a new manager but by thorough re-strategizing by the board and the owners. Their malicious intent to profit off of the club has left it in a shadow of its former self and this decline has no signs of slowing down just yet.

Mustafa Faisal
TLC Writer

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