Kieran Davies on a club in terminal decline that has this week sought a temporary cure
Ding, dong! The witch is dead. Or so Manchester United fans will lead you to believe. Social media erupted on Tuesday with United fans declaring their Christmas present had come early as Jose Mourinho was dismissed as manager. It is easy to see why fans are glad to see the back of ‘The Special One’ as they have been forced to watch negative football, players having seemingly ‘downed tools’, a manager criticising his players in public and being beat by teams they would be expected to brush aside with ease…..it was more a case of when not if Mourinho was sacked. Who is the person to take over? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Well it seems he has been announced as interim manager today. Does the man sacked by Cardiff City for not cutting it in the Premier League have the credentials to take United out of this slump?
The club needs to make some very big decisions in the next few weeks or months. What direction are they going in? Youth? Spend heavy and try and buy their place back at the big boy’s table? Then you can start considering candidates who can implement this vision effectively. Then worry about whether you can get them. The club then needs to consider how much time they are going to be given and how much time they can afford to write off as a ‘period of transition’. While you have an interim manager in place the club cannot move forward and any plans you may have to rectify matters are put on ice until a permanent replacement for Mourinho is installed. Many crave Zidane but is he really a good manager? Winning trophies with a star-studded Madrid team with finances available most managers could only dream of? For me that is not a ‘world class manager’. He is untested. He cut his cloth in the most privileged of circumstance.
The majority of fans who are demanding the club return to the trophy laden days of the Ferguson era, know only this period. They are not old enough to remember the pre-Fergie days but now are living the aftermath. You are lucky if you experience one of these eras in your lifetime as a fan, it is not a given and certainly not a divine right to dominate. More so in the modern game, it is more competitive than ever and questionable whether periods of domination are even possible anymore. The title has swung back from Man City to Chelsea back to Man City and now this season City’s credentials are being questioned by Liverpool. What is the realistic expectation for Manchester United? There seems to be many things wrong at the club currently and Jose Mourinho was not the root of all evil here. Behind the scenes, things seem to be rotten to the core. A club who purchases players for managers and solely decides when the club will spend or not.
The academy has failed to replicate ‘the class of 92’ or anything anywhere near and Marcus Rashford seems to be the token gesture from the youth system currently. Instead they are content in paying Alexis Sanchez £500k per week (including bonuses) for sitting on the bench daydreaming about his dogs. Pogba who broke the seal on the United pay structure with his return, sulks, walks around the pitch and seems more interested in posting videos of him and team mates dancing in the changing rooms. Alex Ferguson would not have had any of this or for that matter these players at his club. This side has lost its identity, maybe even the club. Is there a quick fix to return to former glories? Pochettino? The stumbling block being that he is at a club in a much better position than United both on and off the pitch at the moment, any advance from Old Trafford may not turn his head. The choice of the next manager could have repercussions for years to come, the club must choose wisely. Missing out on Champions League football qualification this season would heavily affect pulling power in the transfer market.
So, what now for the fans? Well the owners aren’t going anywhere and neither is the way they decide to run the club. Do they need to lower their expectations? Maybe, they were blessed living through Fergie’s reign and domination of the domestic game and this is something in reality they will never see again. The current squad needs dismantling, there are too many players simply not good enough for a ‘top four’ team but therein lies the problem. The powers that be at the club don’t think so. Classic example, stand up Chris Smalling. A defender who would at best, be fourth choice centre back at most ‘top four’ teams is given a new contract. How can De Gea be expected to turn down the attentions of Madrid over and over again when asking him to choose to have Smalling and Jones in front of him instead of Varane and Ramos? That is inhumane. The heyday of Scholes and Keane replaced with Herrera and Matic, while Lukaku looks like a shadow of the striker the club paid £75m for.
In the short term something needs to be saved from this season. The league is too competitive to grace anyone time to steady the ship. The club is still in Europe with PSG looming in February. Between now and then somebody needs to get the team playing again to stand any chance of knocking out Neymar, Cavani, Mbappe and co. A trophy would be deemed a success for anyone taking over until the end of the season, the Champions League is too much of an ask. A domestic cup is far more attainable, so with the FA Cup being the only viable option, we may see stronger line ups played in the earlier rounds. Chasing a top four spot has to be the prime ambition, something which is going to be no easy feat. There are at least five teams playing a lot better football than United at the moment. If Solskjaer does take over, a return to the club who sacked him in his first game is the kind of romance we love to see as football fans. Who will have the last laugh? Vincent Tan or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?