Manchester United: Problems more than solutions
Consecutive losses, a third-year syndrome, fights within the dressing room and an under performing side; sad to say but yes, this is the present story of Manchester United. Gone are the days when a top tier team used to fear the might of the Red Devils.
The hunting tigers are now being hunted in their own kingdom. Theatre of Dreams is no longer United’s hunting ground. The entertainment level has dropped and we don’t even remember when United threatened to take the game away from the opponent after being down to 10 men or two goals? Do we? The flair and the aggressiveness of being the true Red Devil have taken a backseat after Sir Alex Ferguson's departure.
David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho are the names of the managers who were not able to provide the same level of comfort to the fans as Ferguson's side would have given at Old Trafford.
Where is the problem then? Are the players not fit enough to meet the needs of the heritage team or the manager not good enough to handle them? United’s rich board not able to rectify the problem or the problem is within the people handling the board? Where is it? No answer for sure.
1. Values and Trust:
Money can buy everything but it cannot buy values and club legend Gary Neville believes that United have lost their “values that were maintained for past 100 years”. Indeed, post-2013 has been an era of chopping and changing in the history of United.
With all the riches of the world in hand, United has slipped into the league of teams where getting results is more important rather than installing the belief that no matter what happens, the board is with the players and the manager.
During the year 1989/90 much similar to the present scenario, United were struggling to find a place in the top 10 of the division 1 table. The majority of Ferguson's first years at Manchester United were spent in a position he has since taken great pleasure in becoming unfamiliar with.
Ferguson's first job at Old Trafford was to overturn the run that the previous incumbent Ron Atkinson had placed them into and he succeeded in lifting the Red Devils from the relegation zone into 11th place at the end of 1986-87.
With the club not performing and the constant pressure of the fans; one thing was clear that Ferguson’s days were numbered as a United Manager but what happened then was Sir Alex ended up as the best United Manager ever witnessed in the British football.
Why did this happen? Why is this story of Ferguson’s struggles mentioned here? The reason is simple to show that the board trusted the manager at that point. Red Devils president gave the then manager the time he required to settle in and allowed him to handle the business of the club on his own. But is this happening now? Probably not.
Moyes failed and was sacked. The moment Louis Van Gaal made himself comfortable with an FA Cup victory, he was sacked and now with seven matches down and nine points adrift from the top position, the calls for sacking Jose has begun.
A Europa League, a place in the Champions League, United’s highest tally ever in the points table post-Ferguson era are overlooked and now, Mourinho too awaits the stroke of the sword.
After the defeat against West Ham, United's legends have also criticised the club, with Rio Ferdinand branding it a "mess" - and insisting that the board may have a decision to make.
"The narrative of the club hasn’t been football. It has been about everything off the field," he said.
And as Gary Neville said during his stint as a pundit at Sky Sports, that -"This mess started when United sacked David Moyes after 8 months and we lost all sense of the values that the club had been built on for 100 years.
"It’s not the manager it’s the lack of football leadership above him. They are bouncing all over the place with no plan!"
Actually, this is true! Even Ferguson was given time to settle in and transform a team into serial winners but the modern demands of the club do not buy all these values. Since Sir Alex’s departure, the story of higher management falling out with the managers or the players have become a telling story of Manchester United and the solution to this seems to mirage in a dessert.
2. Intensity and players:
The intensity shown by the players on the pitch is surely needs to be questioned. Players have looked less aggressive and the shoulders have dropped dramatically after an opponent has taken a lead. Although the new bunch of players under Mourinho are good enough to take the fight to the throat of the opposition, yet the same worries of the opponent taking a lead continues with the team.
Thus, playing safe has hurt the players and a campaign with three wins, three loss and a draw with only one clean sheet is a clear reflection of what the players are lacking on the pitch. The defensive nature has resulted in unfamiliar results, unlike the previous years where the team used to play on the front foot despite being two or three goals down. Nonetheless, the present teams have lacked all the qualities that the club’s past side possessed.
The defence has looked relatively weaker since the departure of Nemanja Vidic and Rio Ferdinand. Apart from Chris Smalling, Luke Shaw and Antonio Valencia, no one in defence has looked confident when the ball is around United’s 30-yard box.
Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly have looked out of sorts, Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo are more prone to injury than match time and Ashley Young is more concerned to play a role in the forward line than at the back.
Mourinho, known for his astuteness in defence, has not been able to find a solid pair of central defenders as he has done it previously in Chelsea, Inter MIlan and Real Madrid moreover board’s reluctance to bring a solid central defender from a good club has added salt to injury.
If the defence has shown signs of weakness then the presence of the big names in United’s midfield has resulted in the comedy of errors witnessed during the game. At times this midfield has looked really dangerous but nine out of 10 times the midfielders have not combined to take the team home.
A lot has been expected from the big “paycheck” Paul Pogba, but the player has dramatically failed to put up a show as he did for Juventus. Since his return to Old Trafford in 2016, the player is more concerned with his tricks and turns which in turn has left him surrounded with the opposition players thus fighting for the ball alone.
Fred is a newbie and is yet to settle in the team. Marouane Fellaini is the saviour of the team. Whenever the midfield messes up, he is sent as a cleaning agent to clean it. Matic with all his hard work has not been able to combine with Pogba opposite of what Mourinho expected. Herrera and Mata with all their experience are made to warm the benches.
Mourinho known for his strong midfield and the defensive line-up is finding it difficult to find a line-up that suits his current side.
There is less scope of criticism for the forwards as whatever little chances they get are either converted (if luck favours them) or turns out to be a good day for the opposition goalkeeper as the attempts rarely look dangerous enough to find the back of the net.
3. Jose and his fallouts:
Last but not the least, Mourinho’s fallouts with star players and his famous “third-year syndrome” are all but prominent terms associated with the side that the special one has ever managed. He was sacked from Chelsea, humiliated from Madrid and now a potential sack awaits at United.
“There’s no story,” Mourinho assertively restated after leaving one of his star players out of the starting line-up for a big game. But this was not Paul Pogba.
This was back in 2012-13 when the Portuguese finally brought three years of differences with Iker Casillas to a definitive conclusion and left the Real Madrid legend out of the Copa Del Rey final. Something familiar took place in England as well when axed Paul Pogba from the club’s vice-captaincy.
Probably unaware of the fact but Mourinho is doing the same with Pogba as he has done with Joe Cole, Ricardo Carvalho, Mario Balotelli and so many others yet no one could find any fault because you couldn’t see them for the glare of the huge major trophies. Any questions had the best possible responses.
The problem is that the trophies stopped becoming so prolific after 2010, so it was easier to see these issues and wonder whether they were connected. Maybe this is all hypothetical especially when this is a different side of his career in a different era when fewer major trophies have been won. A Casillas situation with Pogba, however, also does not need repeating as United are not in a strong situation as Real Madrid was.
Nevertheless, the recent stories and reports also provided another instance of his new fallout with Alexis Sanchez where he ‘reprimanded’ the player in front of other players. The Martial-Mourinho story is also something which was fuelled in between and is still making noises in the background despite the fact that the latter was given minutes to play in the Champions League against Young Boys.
Not only with the players, but the manager is also having a cagey relationship with the vice-president of Manchester United. Yes, Ed Woodward is the new addition to this list of fallouts.
Due to Woodwards reluctance to get some new additions to the team during the pre-season this year and Mourinho’s public criticism for the same has seen a scratchy relationship between the two men and a tense atmosphere in the dressing room does not account for a happy future for the manager.
The final say:
Has Mourinho lost his magical touch? Amidst the circus around this historic club, United’s problems moreover Jose’s problem do not seem to go away rather a couple of defeats in the upcoming fixture will conclusively decide the fate of the club and the manager.
Furthermore, Zinedine Zidane’s presence in London at this very moment might not a coincidence but a clear indication of what is going to happen next.
But the question still is: Does changing the manager or the players will get the ground running for the club or sorting out the problems at the higher level is going to help the team?