Why the Manchester United board deserves credit for pro-activeness
Manchester United have made a lot of mistakes over the last few years.
Sir Alex Ferguson's retirement was always going to be the biggest challenge the club had ever faced, but no one involved with the Red Devils could have predicted the decline that followed. The last time United went 6 years without a league title was in 1992.
The rot began with the appointment of David Moyes. An uninspiring manager who had no experience with an elite club like United, the Scot oversaw a horrifying tenure that left the club in 7th place by the end of the season.
Sadly, Ferguson's biggest mistake as United manager, after 26 years and 38 trophies, was his choice of successor.
The next two coaches who followed weren't much better either. While Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho brought some much-needed silverware to arrest a startling title drought, there was a lingering feeling that neither of them left the club better off.
And so, 5 years and 6 months from the appointment of Moyes, Manchester United's board made the kind of bold decision that should have been made much earlier.
The prodigal son returns
Considering the kind of stifling caution that the board had taken on in the years following Ferguson's retirement, no one quite expected Mourinho to be sacked following the humiliation against Liverpool at Anfield in mid-December.
Even more surprising was the choice of successor. There were several high-profile managers available - Zinedine Zidane had been sniffing around. But the board went with Ole Gunnar Solksjaer whose sole Premier League managerial experience was being relegated with Cardiff City.
The United board of old would never have made such a bold decision.
Irrespective of how the move to appoint Solksjaer would have panned out (it's easy to imagine a scenario that would have ended in disaster), Ed Woodward and his fellow colleagues deserve their due credit.
They've made their fair share of errors in the recent past, one of them being presuming to know more than Mourinho when the Portuguese boss demanded a centre back in the summer.
There's no doubt that Woodward is a financial genius, as Manchester United's revenues every year clearly indicate. Even as the club deals with a string of underwhelming performances on the pitch, the former investment banker has done remarkably well to keep United afloat in monetary terms.
The lack of a technical director has led the board to make a lot of bad decisions that has failed to stop United from descending further downward with every passing year, and it looks like the club's high command are planning to change that as well very soon.
Given the incredible, albeit short-term success that they have experienced in appointing someone who is intimately familiar with the club, United will reportedly look within themselves for the new role.
The assistant academy director Tony Whelan and head of youth development John Murtagh have both been linked, and an announcement will presumably be made by the end of the season.
There's a sense of urgency now, a sense of pro-activeness in the way the board has gone about with these recent changes that show they're trying to turn things around before they reach a point of no return.
This successful, bold, and risky return to the roots is what the Red Devils have needed.
"Bold" is certainly the way to describe it. While trigger-happy owners and executives like Roman Abramovic and Florentino Perez won't hesitate to fire their managers, a club like United doesn't take that decision lightly.
Amidst recurring reports that Mourinho would have his job until the end of the season, the sacking that eventually came before the halfway stage was a jarring shock that literally no one expected.
There were the usual arguments among fans that the move went against the core principles of the club, but that was precisely why it was needed. Clearly, that principle of giving sufficient time to managers wasn't serving them well.
Ferguson had 3 seasons to settle before he experienced success, but the modern footballing world doesn't allow that much leeway for new managers. In an intense and increasingly competitive scenario, success is immediately expected.
The choice of successor itself was risky too. Solksjaer's history with the club, and his spell with the reserves trumped his relative inexperience.
Appointing him as a permanent manager is also a welcome decision. There will be critics who think it's a bit premature, but it's a fair acknowledgement of Ole's achievements so far.
Pochettino remains available, but the startling turnaround that the Norwegian has overseen is an indication of the advantages of having a manager who adores the club as much as the most die-hard fan.
In purely footballing terms, there are very few decisions made by Woodward that have turned out to be right in recent years, but the last couple of them certainly were. And with the imminent appointment of a technical director, he's also handing over the reins to someone more qualified to make those decisions.
Change is afoot at Old Trafford. The only way from here is up.