Manchester United: The Lost Paradise of Football

Burnley FC v Manchester United - Premier League
Burnley FC v Manchester United - Premier League
Abhishek Mandal

Manchester United, once a dream destination for superstar footballers, are on the verge of being written off as a has-been. This is a threat that has been lingering on the horizon and would not be good for European Football.

United has a rich history, It is one of the most successful clubs in Europe based on the number of trophies won. In this article, we will compare the current squad with the greats of the 2007-08 Champions League winning team. This should help us in finding the missing pieces in the current squad.

Recent History

Old Trafford boasts of being the alma mater to several superstars, whose performances are engraved on the walls of history. However, the torchbearers of the club in the current squad are finding it difficult to maintain the legacy. As a result, the paradise of football is fading away slowly. It is losing its sheen.

Since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009, United have found it hard to maintain the momentum and the stardom created by CR7. They have failed to rope in an able replacement for Ronaldo. The departure of Cristiano was not going to be compensated by money alone. The ideal replacement would have brought the class that the great man possesses. Unfortunately, it was not meant to happen for United.

They have won the Premier League twice in 2010-11 and 2012-13. However, their performance, that followed since the turn of 2013-14, is not noteworthy. It is almost half a decade now; United is not the same reckoning force in European football as it was once used to be.

Definitely, Manchester United have won the European treble in 2016-17, but the performances are far from convincing to count them as a ruthless force.

Cometh the season, Cometh the ghosts

In the 2017-18 campaign, a glimmer of hope was painted on the skies of Old Trafford. However, with the beginning of the new season, the ghosts of past have resurfaced. United are already 6 points adrift of the top and sitting at 10th in the table.

They have shipped in 7 goals in just 4 games. It is unbelievable with David de Gea, one of the best goalkeepers plying his trade in world football is defending between the sticks for them. Is this the Manchester we used to support? The answer is certainly a big NO.

So what is prohibiting United from getting back to their old days? A small comparison of the current squad with the Champions League winning team in 2008 should help us find the appropriate answer.

Champions League winners were a different breed

Champions Leagues brings the best out of an individual player. It needs grit, determination, persistence, patience and class to win the Champions League. Therefore, the comparison made here of the winners to that of a team trying to survive in the Champions League would raise many eyebrows. Still, it could be a good yardstick to find the gulf in class of the two squads under consideration. Let's do a quick analysis.

The Goalkeepers

Manchester United v Chelsea - UEFA Champions League
Edwin van der Saar in action against Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League final in 2008

In the goal, the Champions of 2007-08 had Edwin van der Sar and now we have David de Gea. The yardstick could not be made to measure and compare the status of the two legends. While van der Sar is one of the greatest goalkeepers to grace the game, De Gea doesn't go inferior at any point and is following the footsteps of his senior.

The Defence

Manchester United v Sunderland - Premier League
Manchester United v Sunderland - Premier League

At the defence, then we had John O'Shea, Wes Brown, Mikaël Silvestre, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidić and Patrice Evra. O'Shea was one of the most decorated Irish footballers of all time. The partnership of the centre-backs, Ferdinand and Vidić, was arguably one of the best the game has ever seen. Evra was one of the best left back in his prime with Manchester United.

In the current squad, we boast of a defensive wall in which there are umpteen holes. Ironically, these holes are visible to opposition teams only, but not to the United players or the management.

We have the likes of Luke Shaw, Victor Lindelöf, Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia, Matteo Darmian, Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo to form the last line of defence. Luke Shaw is the only promising light in the list.

The misery of the defence could be understood by the fact, that even Ander Herrera, the midfielder, has been tried as a right back against Tottenham.

The Midfield

Manchester United v Chelsea - UEFA Champions League Final
The header of Cristiano that gave Manchester United the lead vs Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League Final in 2008

Midfield is the engine of any team. In 2008, we had Owen Hargreaves, Paul Scholes, Michael Carrick, Anderson Oliveira, Ryan Giggs, Nani, Darren Fletcher and none other than Cristiano Ronaldo. If we compare this midfield with the current one, we have Paul Pogba, Juan Mata, Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira, Fred, Ander Herrera, Marouane Fellaini, Nemanja Matić and Scott McTominay.

The list doesn't look that miserable on paper as it is playing on the field. The only big name that could demean the current midfield is the presence of Cristiano Ronaldo. Paul Pogba was supposed to emulate the same stardom but in vain.

Ander Herrera is underrated and he has not been used properly by the coaches so far. He could be the Andres Iniesta of the United midfield, whose playmaking can shatter defences at will.

The Forward Line

Fulham v Manchester United - Premier League
Fulham v Manchester United - Premier League

In football, goals decide a football match. And this job is assigned to the forwards of respective teams. Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez were a nightmare for any defence during their peak. The present team has Alexis Sánchez, Romelu Lukaku, Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial. The reputation of the forward line is at par with the older one, if not more.

A microanalysis could help us realize that there are only three major problems in the system that is hindering the progress of the current team.

  1. The demoralised defence
  2. Squad formation and,
  3. Improvement in the link-up play of the defence to the midfield to the forward line.

This underlines the role of a motivational and tactical manager.

The managerial unrest since Sir Alex Ferguson

Alex Ferguson
The greatest Architect of Manchester United Football, Alex Ferguson

After the retirement of Ferguson, Manchester is still in search of an inspiration in the managerial front. David Moyes, Ryan Giggs and Louis van Gaal were tried in the first three years. José Mourinho is continuing since 2016.

But none of these stalwarts has been able to find a solution to the existing problem. The vulnerability at the coaching front tells that the squad has not got sufficient time to settle down. Though it could not be a convincing argument.


Manchester United lacks a source of inspiration and a well-drilled defence at the back. Back in 2008, we had an inspiration in the form of rising Cristiano. Now we are on the mercy of inconsistent Rashford, Pogba and Lukaku. If Manchester wants to get the glory days back, then they need world class signings. A manager like Zinedine Zidane and a rising star such as Mbappe would help their cause.

Zidane would be an ideal manager for the Red Devils as he is more of a man manager. United needs the squad to be managed and inspired. If rumours are going right regarding Zidane, then United are doing their homework well for the upcoming seasons.

For now, we could only hope that things will fall in line for the Old Trafford outfit. Until then, we could pray to the Almighty to clone and send the copy of the famous and the greatest wizard from Manchester who is busy finding his feet at the Allianz Stadium in Serie A in his pursuit of Greatness.

The paradise of football is praying to get its glory days back... anyone listening??

Edited by Glenn Joseph


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