Manchester United are still paying the price for mistakes since Sir Alex Ferguson left
5 years on from when the great Sir Alex Ferguson left, there is still no Premier League trophy for United fans and with Jose Mourinho at the helm, the outlook for the future does not seem rosy as the Portuguese's reign has been littered with criticisms of negative football, poor man-management and general discontent among players and fans of the club. However, the fact is it has been like that under every single manager since Fergie left.
It would be unfair to blame Mourinho for all the current problems United are facing. There have been a series mistakes made since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club 5 years ago in what would turn out to be a fateful summer for many United fans. It was never going to be easy to replace Ferguson after 26 and a half years under the legendary Scot- it was always going to be a period of upheaval after such a long spell under one manager, particularly one who was so successful.
Ironically, the first mistake really was committed by Ferguson himself- strangely opting to hire David Moyes instead of the available Pep Guardiola. Imagine how different things would have turned out if Guardiola had got the United job instead of Moyes. Many current United fans might say the same about hiring Guardiola instead of Mourinho in 2016.
There are many who suspect that Moyes wouldn't have got the job if he were not Scottish and there may be some element of truth in this. No United fan needs reminding of the disaster that Moyes presided over- with the club finishing 7th in the Premier League after many embarrassing defeats. Moyes alienated all of the old guard, nonsensically comparing Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand to Phil Jagielka and making several other strange decisions.
Moyes never really understood what United was all about and never really bought into the 'big club' mentality. The fact that Fellaini was his only notable signing of that era (although there are some that admire the big Belgian's er 'qualities') kind of tells its own story. To add further salt to the wound, fierce rivals Liverpool and Manchester City recorded league doubles over United that season, which was unheard of under Sir Alex.
After Moyes got the boot, Louis Van Gaal was hired. It's hard to say whether this was an even more disastrous appointment than the hapless Scot. Van Gaal had a history of falling out with players and management wherever he managed (rather like a certain Jose Mourinho).
Even though Van Gaal delivered a very credible 4th place finish in his first season (though that could have been higher had the club's league form not tailed off towards the end of the season) and made some good signings (like Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera), he again never really understood what United was all about.
If anything, Van Gaal was even more negative in his style and tactics than Mourinho and it's a miracle that United actually managed to win a trophy under him (even if their victory against Crystal Palace in the FA Cup was highly fortuitous). Some players thrived under Van Gaal's dictatorial approach- Daley Blind (who has thankfully now left the club) was a personal favourite and trusted lieutenant of Van Gaal's extremely negative style of football. Chris Smalling was another grateful recipient of Van Gaal's curious man-management methods as he shed his previous unpredictability and finally matured into a reliable defender, even being the stand-in captain on certain occasions.
However, just like Moyes before, Van Gaal made a series of costly mistakes- buying and selling Angel Di Maria (who has since thrived at PSG where he has the actual backing of his manager) and also letting go of fan favourites Robin Van Persie, Nani and Javier Hernandez. If 2014/15 was a reasonable season for United, the following season was really where the rot set in despite winning the FA Cup. A series of uninspiring, negative performances led United to 5th place and maybe the only bright spot of that season was Marcus Rashford coming to the fore, albeit briefly.
As well as annoying the fans with his departure from the much-heralded 'Man United' way of attacking football, Van Gaal also caused unrest among the dressing room by treating the players like children, partly influenced by his background as a teacher. Mourinho got the job and Van Gaal was swiftly removed, but not without a hefty compensation payout, which he scarcely deserved.
Much has been written criticising Mourinho but if anything he has been a marginal improvement on Moyes and Van Gaal. 2nd last season was the highest the club have finished since Fergie left, though a repeat performance looks unlikely this season.
All of the above however illustrates that clearly lessons have not been learned since Sir Alex Ferguson left. Anyone who is interested in football knows that Sir Alex won titles and trophies through a blend of attacking football and sheer force to wear the opponents down. Fergie never criticised a player in public and the dressing room was tight-knit, with the players having the utmost respect for the manager, Ryan Giggs even referred to Ferguson as a father figure.
However, since Sir Alex left, United have deviated from everything that brought them success- attacking, attractive football, a winning mentality and a really close dressing room. Under Moyes, Mourinho and Van Gaal, none of these have happened- the football has been bland, there seems to be no confidence among the players and the dressing room has been divided. It seems inevitable that Mourinho will get the sack at some point this season because he has basically repeated the same mistakes as Moyes and Van Gaal- not respected the traditions of United and not inspired confidence in the players.
The answer to United's current problems is simple - go back to what brought them such success under Sir Alex- good football, a bonded dressing room and a manager who actually values attacking football. There is the potential to restore the club to its former glory if Zinedine Zidane is hired. Will the United board listen?