For Manchester United, one of the greatest clubs in football history, it would be an understatement to suggest that the club is going through a lamentable and unsatisfactory phase.
However, if their recent performances and the trust in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer are any indications, the Red Devils seem to be on their way back to challenge for the biggest football trophies in England and Europe.
Being a Manchester United fan, reminiscing the good old days under Sir Alex Ferguson is inevitable. During that period, Manchester United weren't just the biggest threat to all English clubs but were also a force to reckon with in Europe.
During Sir Alex Ferguson's glorious reign of 26 years, Manchester United won a plethora of titles home and abroad. They won the Premier League an unbelievable 13 times, the FA Cup five times, the English League Cup four times and the Champions League twice.
Moreover, Manchester United also won the Club World Cup, the Intercontinental Cup, the UEFA Super Cup and the UEFA Cup Winners' Cup once apiece.
However, since the departure of the legendary manager, Manchester United have not won the Premier League. The club's best season in terms of league position and goals scored and conceded came in 2017/18 under Jose Mourinho when they scored 68 goals scored and conceded 28 goals while finishing second.
It was the first time that Manchester United managed a podium finish since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. The Red Devils have won the FA Cup, League Cup and UEFA Europa League during this period but the Premier League has eluded them. It is certainly not a trophy collection to boast of especially for a club of Manchester United's stature.
So what has gone wrong for Manchester United? While such a fall from grace is not unprecedented, it is rare to see a club with the kind of financial muscle that Manchester United has, struggling to make sound investments and attract top talent. On that note, let's take a look at five reasons why Manchester United have struggled to replicate their success after Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement.
Five reasons why Manchester United have struggled in recent times:
#1: Management and ownership
The management and owners of Manchester United have drawn a lot of criticism and flak for the way the club has been managed in the post-Ferguson years. The club's owners, the Glazer Family is largely blamed for the rising debts of Manchester United.
The Glazers have also been criticised on numerous occasions for their apparent refusal to infuse money for signing top talents, especially in today's inflated player market.
Eric Woodward, a very infamous man in Manchester United's supporters' circles, has drawn heavy censure and disapproval from fans and ex-players. While ensuring that Manchester United have an official Noodle Partner in Nissin, his efforts have not been visible where it matters the most - out on the field.
Manchester United's lack of a Director of Football has been of the main causes of the club's downfall. That has resulted in a lack of proper communication between the club's manager and the Board besides the absence of a proper system and strategy in place with respect to player signings and attracting top talent.
Both Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal complained of a lack of proper support from the Manchester United Board, which affected both player signings and the club's subsequent on-field performances.
#2: Lack of a vision
Right from the appointment of managers to signings done under them, Manchester United's lack of a long term vision has been all too apparent. Too many player signings, especially that of marquee players, have failed and in spite of splashing the cash, Manchester United have not reaped the rewards that they should have.
The signings of Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao and Bastian Schweinsteiger failed and Manchester United also failed to keep hold of Angel Di Maria. During this period, the promotion of home-grown talent was very limited and the club's young players were utilised only when there was no other option.
However, the rise of young Manchester United players like Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay, Mason Greenwood and Brandon William would suggest that this trend is beginning to change.
Right from the 90s to the time of Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement, most Manchester United signings were done with a vision and purpose that helped the club become the one that they are today.
Sir Alex Ferguson's best signings is the subject of another article altogether. The list is extremely long but right from David Beckham to Robin Van Persie and Wayne Rooney, Rio Ferdinand and Cristiano Ronaldo, most Manchester United signings proved to be hugely successful for the club.
#3: Sir Alex Ferguson's magic and Manchester United fans' expectations
There can be doubt whatsoever that Sir Alex Ferguson will go down as one of the best managers in Europe during his tenure at Manchester United.
Sir Alex Ferguson's man-management and tactical prowess have admirers far and wide and it also showed on the field. Manchester United were almost always one of the most feared attacking sides in Europe.
The Scot had built a formidable defence and an excellent midfield. When he didn't have the defence he desired, he followed the famous n+1 rule where his players would score at least one more goal than their opponents. Even with players that were far from world-class, Sir Alex Ferguson's Manchester United produced excellent results.
As Ole Gunnar Solksjaer recently said, it will be difficult for anyone to emulate what Sir Alex achieved at Manchester United. Fans' expectations continue to remain sky-high, which puts added pressure on Manchester United's manager and the players.
Things are beginning to move smoothly with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer at the wheel. We are beginning to see the fast and courageous attacking football that we used to see Manchester United play under Sir Alex Ferguson.
The fans also seem to have a lot of trust in the man who was responsible for the club's second Champions League trophy. Perhaps we will soon hear "And Solskjaer has won it!" again.
#4: Poor transfer decisions
The list of poor transfer decisions at Manchester United since Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement is a long one.
While delving into the past is not the point of this article, it cannot be forgotten that one marquee Manchester United signing under David Moyes was that of Maraoune Fellaini. Several million pounds and several failed signings later, we are still staring at a semi-polished Manchester United team. The Old Trafford club has failed to replace several key players, especially in defence.
While the Red Devils have had good midfield players, for the most part, the attacking and defending departments at Manchester United have been found wanting. Manchester United have yet not been able to find a number seven player.
The club also needs a world-class winger to complement Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. For a long time, Manchester United's defence has been a pale shadow of its former self, with the likes of Chris Smalling, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo being the best options at the centre. Signing Harry Macguire for £ 80 million is a transfer decision that is not an easy one to explain.
Although, the situation on this front has significantly improved, one would think that Manchester United still need to bolster their defence to compete at the top level once again. In this respect, Aaron-Wan Bissaka has proved to be a successful signing.
Liverpool, with their data-backed transfer strategy, have found tremendous success both in the domestic arena and in Europe, something Manchester United can take a cue from.
#5: The faltering form of David de Gea
Just a few years earlier, it would be impossible to believe that David de Gea is one of the weak links in the Manchester United squad.
In recent times, though, the Spaniard's mistakes have been too frequent, even though the stopper has pulled off some of the most amazing saves one would ever see. It is true that De Gea has been a huge player for Manchester United over the years, some fans are losing faith him as he is getting too error prone.
The Spaniard is making extremely basic errors of late, conceding goals off shots that should have be easily saved. Roy Keane went so far as to call him the 'most overrated keeper in the world'.
Even if De Gea isn't able to reclaim his old form, Manchester United currently have formidable options in Dean Henderson and Sergio Romero. The club also has the option of looking elsewhere as well.
However, it is too early to suggest that Manchester United need to find a replacement for David de Gea, given the Spaniard's past performances for the club. It is time to repay the faith and help him get his confidence back rather than dent it further.
Then again, Manchester United cannot keep playing a keeper who makes basic mistakes that lead to goals. A little prudence must be exercised in this regard as De Gea needs to rediscover his old form soon.
Under Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, Manchester United fans are optimistic about the club's future. We are being treated to exciting football again, and the club is attracting top talent again. The financial juggernaut that Manchester United are, acquiring quality players isn't a big issue.
The club needs to make signings to bolster their attack and defence. An attacker to complement Martial and Rashford and a left-back with better quality than Luke Shaw should be signed as soon as possible.
Manchester United seem to be on the right track. They have had surprisingly better performances against the top teams in the league table as opposed to the supposedly weaker ones. That cannot exactly mean a bad thing.
A league double over their 'noisy neighbours' Manchester City has been one of the high points of Manchester United's 2019-20 season. However, it is important to have realistic expectations, given the growing competition in the Premier League.Published 27 Jun 2020, 13:04 IST