English Premier League

The lack of progress at Old Trafford is exasperating

Looking back at previously written articles with the hope of finding inspiration for a new one isn't something I'd normally waste my time in doing. Nevertheless, the current state of affairs at Manchester United is a different story.

Manchester United. This is a club without direction. Blind leading the blind. Helpless led by the clueless. They are hamstrung by parasitical owners, who are interested in the bottom line and only ever worried about the on-pitch performance when it subsequently hampers their dear old bottom line. Footballing operations are orchestrated by an investment banker by trade, seemingly unwilling to hand over any duties to men with the acquired knowhow of running the on-pitch performance of such a sporting behemoth. José Mourinho is and will always be a modern day great, yet he seems so at odds with everyone apart from his own reflection, that the club’s already poisonous concoction becomes even more venomous.

Back in March 2016, I aired some grievances regarding the then situation engulfing Old Trafford in Red News. At the time, Manchester United had Louis van Gaal in charge, his compatriot Daley Blind orchestrating the back-four, France’s finest Morgan Schneiderlin in midfield and an evergreen Wayne Rooney up top.

I wrote about how it was abundantly clear that Manchester United desperately required a Sporting Director or Director of Football; a figurehead to perform the glue-like role in between Ed Woodward, as Executive Vice Chairman, and then manager, Louis van Gaal.

I grumbled about the utter footballing disorganisation that had been allowed to infest the club since Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill left in 2013 and how it was glaringly obvious they desperately required restructuring from top to bottom.

I stressed that modern day managers required a go-to man who was allowed to focus on tasks that arose outside first team matters, especially given the amount of commercial tasks that was put their way. That would then provide the correct structure for a modern day football club to thrive and, if complimented with some financial clout and a focused view on where they want to go, and how they want to do it, could take the club a very long way to reaching their end-goal.

I emphasised the need for Manchester United to go back to the tried and tested methods of club philosophy in terms of recruitment, youth development and playing style that didn’t end up with a manager so at odds with the club’s historical trends.

I moaned about how the club approached each summer transfer window in overconfident fashion, only to be outmanoeuvred and made a laughing stock amongst their rivals, before ultimately adopting a scattergun-like approach come the end of August.

I spoke with unease of the goings on over at the Etihad; how Manchester City had shown United the way forward, by employing former Barcelona kingpins Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain to head their footballing programme, which then resulted in Pep Guardiola joining the club.

I groaned about the fact it should be no bombshell whatsoever that the footballing side of the club was in such disarray, given the man in charge (Ed Woodward) specialised in investment banking, commercial operations and qualified as a Chartered Accountant from PricewaterhouseCoopers in 1997 after receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree in Physics at Bristol University in 1993.

“Now tell me, what exactly has any of that got to do with Football?”

I finished by calling on everyone to forget the conundrum regarding the United Kingdom’s position within the European Union – bear in mind the dreaded vote wasn’t for another three months – since Manchester United and Old Trafford required reform first and foremost.

As you’ve probably realised by now, not much has since changed.

It is still clear as day that Manchester United are in need of a Sporting Director or Director of Football. This was emphasised in the summer transfer window when José Mourinho insisted on a centre-back only for Ed Woodward to veto all his suggested targets, before a last-minute scattergun approach was adopted on transfer deadline day.

The lack of footballing persona at the highest echelons of the club remains an issue. The gaps left by the departures of Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill are still being filled, all this whilst rival opposition such as Manchester City, Liverpool and now Arsenal are constantly pushing the boundaries of what was once found to be the norm with regards to staff setup. 

The commercial aspect of modern day football remains a conundrum for the current setup. José Mourinho bemoaned the effect PR activity had on their pre-season preparation, and as recently as October, several squad members were known to have refused to carry out activities with sponsors in a dressing room protest.

Despite having in place a manager with surreal track record and the right level of ambition in José Mourinho, you need to remember this is not a man who embodies what Manchester United is all about. All the occasions he downplayed expectations, dampened moods on the first day of pre-season, created rifts with players, turned the rare highlights of his tenure into sequels of The José Mourinho Saga – it has since reached the point of no return. His first season proved a success, last season’s trophy-less campaign wasn’t the disaster some made it out to be, but this season he really should be doing better with the players at his disposal. Believe it or not, there is some real talent in the squad, and the inability to coax better than eighth position and 17 points adrift of the leaders after 15-games has to ultimately land at José Mourinho’s door.

True, improvements has since been made to the youth and scouting setup, still you can’t help but feel Manchester United are playing catch-up instead of leading the way. And lastly, what now of the UK and the EU? The less said about that the better.

The last two and a half years have posed more questions than answers for Manchester United. Where they go from here and how they finally find long-term progression clearly remains unanswered. 

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