It’s time to have a conversation. I’m a Manchester United fan through and through but it’s time to be honest — it’s not getting better anytime soon.
Man United are the soup du jour, they are on everyone’s mind. The famous Manchester club have been dissected by everyone and anyone.
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The true reality is that, unfortunately for me and fortunately for some, the club is not a serious institution. They have not been for a while. Sir Alex Ferguson’s successes under the current ownership painted over the cracks, but the last decade, you have seen the lack of a cohesive plan show and expose the bare bones. The house that Sir Alex built looks nothing like it used to.
A whole lot of nothing
On the pitch, it’s a mess and Erik ten Hag looks a shell of himself, like every manager before him — David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer — different managers who eventually became lost in the mess that are Man United. Ten Hag’s comments about the style of play post Man City were alarming. The writing is on the wall and he is not helping himself, especially with the player selections and the tactics. It looks ghastly.
Ten Hag spent a ton of money, poorly. Antony (on and off the pitch) and Mason Mount are examples of this. Man United have needed a right winger and there were options but to spend 95 million euros on Antony, alarm bells should have rang.
Mount had done well at Chelsea but fell out of form. His position has usually been where Bruno Fernandes currently plays. That’s 55 million pounds on a position that was filled.
Where there are glaring holes, there has not been a smart use of funds. Ten Hag chose to have full responsibility for buying players (which is another indictment on the club organization) and in this day and age where clubs have well thought out transfer structures, it was not the best move to let him have free reign. Don’t forget — Ralf Rangnick and Louis van Gaal did warn him before he took the job.
It’s a vicious cycle at Man United. I’s Groundhog Day. A manager comes in with ideas to be the one to fix it. They get a pot of cash, and the next thing you know, two-three years into the project, they’re losing 3-0, 4-0, 7-0. The rumblings become roars and the writing is on the wall. Managers and players should take the blame as it’s their job to go out there and perform.
A disaster off the pitch and how to fix
Off the pitch, it’s an even bigger mess. INEOS, Qatar, the Glazers never talking outside of journalists close to the club. It is left up to your imagination and hope for what is going to happen next. The club’s debts are an eyesore, the stadium needs work, the kits are too tight. Everyday it’s another story and example of how to not run a football club. It’s like that military adage — proper planning and preparation prevents piss poor performance.
Newcastle beating Man United 3-0 in the Carabao Cup this week is a huge indicator of where things are and what it takes to return. Prior to Mike Ashley, Newcastle saw themselves under John Hall then Freddy Shepherd, with no trophies but varying degrees of success. Newcastle are a proud club with die hard fans and St. James’ Park is a tough place to play — just ask PSG.
Stay with me though. Under Mike Ashley, life for Newcastle became bleak really fast. In 14 years he went from hero to villain, being relegated twice, recently as 2016-2017, and they were nearly relegated again, saved by Eddie Howe and his heroics.
So how do we get from Man United to Geordie Shore? Hope you’re with me. We are going to get to the point.
PIF ended up acquiring Newcastle. They didn’t make any splashy signings, just players who work hard. They found cohesion and Newcastle ended up in the Champions League and are now going to Old Trafford to have a party with a heavily rotated squad.
So how did the team that were rudderless under Ashley get here? Care. They have owners who hired smart people and it shows. Darren Eales was hired from Atlanta United, Dan Ashworth is their sporting director, Amanda Staveley is there, Peter Silverstone is their chief commercial officer. These aren’t names most fans are familiar with but they are some of the very best in the business and have a direction and plan for Newcastle and it is showing on and off the pitch with such a quick turn around.
So when you look at Man United, they have John Murtough and Richard Arnold as their sporting director and CEO. They seem to be lovely people but are they really needle movers? Based on what Man United have shown, there is much left to be desired.
You can be snobbish as a Man United fan but there’s plenty of examples of well ran clubs — Tony Bloom and Brighton, V Sports and Aston Villa. While those clubs are not comparable to Man United, they have shown they have structure and sticking to a plan helped them grow massively. They are both in Europe, Aston Villa have 11 wins in a row at home and Brighton are playing some beautiful football while stacking young talent.
David Weir, Brighton’s technical director, told Training Ground Guru, “People (in football) often want success quickly and that’s understandable. People just want to win a lot of the time and don’t care how they get there. Actually having a long-term plan and vision, something they stick to and don’t react when maybe short-term things aren’t going so well, was really appealing for me, in terms of being at a club where there is the chance to build something.
“We kind of know what we are looking for, whether that’s coaches or players. When Graham (Potter) left, we weren’t expecting that and we had to react. But when we chose a new head coach, we did it within our parameters in terms of what we wanted and what we thought was important to us. Although Graham and Roberto (De Zerbi) are different, they do have similar characteristics — in terms of how they want to play, being coaches and developers, being willing to play young players.”
So why can’t United do it? Liverpool brought in Jörg Schmadtke and retooled, Arsenal found structure and a formula that has them purring, Man City are the golden standard in football. In 2012 they hired Ferran Soriano as their CEO and Txiki Begiristain as their director of football, laying out a plan and transition for Pep Guardiola when they hired him in 2016.
Until The Glazer family genuinely care, hire the best in the business, have structure in place, it’s going to be the same song and dance.
Throw cash at the problem, keep players who should’ve been sold while everyone blames the manager and the players.
“At all my clubs I have done it and also last year here I did it as well, but at this moment we are in a bad place,” Ten Hag said after the Newcastle loss.
The manager does have a role to play, but it’s bigger than Nino Brown.
Fishes rot from the head down.
Until there’s change up top, Man United will continue to be a relic like the Lee Plaza Hotel in Detroit — a once beautiful building left to rot and fester.