Manchester United. The most successful side in British football some may argue, but how far have they fallen in recent times?
Many teams can only dream of winning such silverware as a Europa League and League Cup double in a season, as United did in the 2016/17 season, but for a team with such stature and long-standing success the only acceptable scenario is to be dining at Europe’s top table and winning titles.
With fierce rivals Liverpool storming to their first Premier League title with their superstars and Manchester City taking the bragging rights in Manchester presently, uncertainty rings loud on the waters of the Salford Quays. Fans have suffered since Fergie left and they are becoming more impatient. Even one of the top managers in the world stating that his greatest achievement in management was clinching second place in the Old Trafford hot-seat was not enough to stifle the unrest.
Huge sums of money spent on transfers with little reward on the pitch has been United’s Achilles heel. The club has spent close to £850 million on transfers since Fergie’s exit. Superstars have arrived, but have been unable to realise their potential on the pitch. Falcao, Di Maria and Depay are just three names who have plunged through the trapdoor and tarnished their reputation whilst playing for the ‘biggest club in the world’.
Many fans feel there isn’t the attraction to play at Old Trafford and players coming in give the impression the paycheque is more important than the club. Fans frustrations lie with lacklustre performances, a lack of passion and team cohesion. The infrastructure is the main topic of debate amongst United fans. Ask where the failings stem from and many will say Ed Woodward. Even Gary Neville has slated the ownership of the club on numerous occasions. In an interview with the Manchester Evening News, he expresses his views and concerns on how the club he dedicated his career to and loves is now being run.
“I can’t believe the investment that’s been put into the squad in the last five, six, seven years and you end up with that out on the pitch.”
“I can’t change the ownership of United, no one can. I’m struggling to understand why the ownership have persisted in trusting ‘that’ management team to oversee the building of a Premier League title-winning team since Sir Alex left.”
What does Solskjaer need to turn this club’s fortunes around? A prerequisite for a club such as United is to get back into Europe’s elite competition along with ensuring that the domination of Liverpool and City on the domestic front doesn't continue.
Investment in youth and giving young players a chance to flourish has been fundamental to United’s success in the past. This may now be the road that the club is choosing and why not; Rashford, Greenwood, McTominay and Williams are all players who have flourished under Solskjaer’s reign.
A key question is why change it up? Consider one word. Creativity and a distinct lack of it.
United desperately needed a playmaker during the first part of this season, Lingard’s last league goal for the Reds was against Cardiff in Ole’s first game in charge. The ever-reliable Mata brings essential experience to the squad, but the Spaniard is no longer the skilful maverick he once was. Pereira is another player brimming with potential but appears to have succumbed to the ‘curse’ of playing for United and, as yet, has not covered himself in glory during his time in the north-west.
Fast forward to January 29th this year. Bruno Fernandes. A scintillating run of form in Portugal put him firmly on United’s radar. With 15 goal contributions in 17 league games for Sporting Lisbon fans have been left drooling at how good he could actually be. Ole speaks in his press conferences at unearthing a gem, a rough diamond. He speaks of his effort levels in training; this is for sure a player who wants to win everything and is the type of player United desperately needed.
Bruno’s impact is significant in this rebirth of Manchester United, but what about other positions that need strengthening this summer?
Jadon Sancho has frequently been linked with a move back to Manchester whilst he’s been plying his trade in Germany. It makes sense. He is close with a number of the players through the national team and is definitely a player who has the ability and talent to transform United’s attacking threat. A front four of Martial, Rashford, Fernandes and Sancho is title-winning material. No?
With Pogba’s future a constant talking point, United may be looking at a central midfield option to partner McTominay and Fred for the future. Of course, you can’t leave Matic out of this discussion, but the Serbian isn’t getting any younger at 31.
Declan Rice and Saul Niguez are examples of players the Reds have been targeting in recent months. The club may look to bring in the latter, given his Champions League experience, but the current nine-year deal he has at Atletico means he is unlikely to come in cheaply. There is no doubt that Rice has performed superbly at times for the Hammers this season, but is he really the calibre of player United are looking for? Many are questioning this.
From a defensive standpoint, United have completed some astute business with the signings of Wan-Bissaka and Maguire. Watching the team now you do get more of a sense of defensive solidity.
In the not too distant future, United, of course, want to be the dominating force in English and European football again. To do that Ole needs to spend. Spend big but wisely and bring in a blend of both experienced and technically gifted young players. This isn’t an overnight fix, however, to get this club back to where it wants to be, perseverance from both Ole and the fans is essential.
They will be back.
This article was written exclusively for golear.co.uk