I have to admit that it has been hard to talk about Manchester United as a fan over the last few years.
Since the end of Sir Alex Fergusons glorious reign and the start of David Moyes ill fated one, United have lurched from a dizzy stumble to a drunken stupor. In fact, as former club captain Gary Neville put it:
“Manchester United have been crawling along on their hands and knees, minute after minute, hour after hour, match to match for the last few weeks and months – it’s been unpleasant.”
And it has been unpleasant.
Under Moyes we had a Manchester United in shock. They had lost their leader. Their father. Their general. They lost the person that had steered the club for 26 years and as a result, they found themselves in disarray.
But because of the stature of the club, this was papered over. Contracts were signed. Money was spent. And the Manchester United Inc marketing machine grew into a behemoth on the backs of the legacy built by Fergie & his boys.
Sir Alex Ferguson:
Played – 1500 | Won – 895 | Drew – 338 | Lost – 267 | Win Percentage – 59.7
Having not planned for the end of Fergies reign, the owners of Manchester United left it up to him to pick a successor. And by doing that, they passed the responsibility of ensuring continuity after his reign to to the man who was retiring.
The result? Fergie picked nostalgically. Fergie picked his countryman. Someone with solid premier league experience. But what he picked was a manager. Not someone who could do what he did.
The hunger for glory that had been created by a staple diet of trophies, accolades and eye catching football, began to turn into a cancer of sorts as the club began to be at odds with itself. After only 10 months at the helm, David Moyes was axed, having only claimed the Community Shield.
Played – 51 | Won – 27 | Drew – 9 | Lost – 15 | Win Percentage – 52.94
To be fair, David Moyes was not given enough time to make a difference. His sacking was more an indicator of the disarray that was corroding the club in the background than an indictment against him as a manager. David did not seem to have what it took to run the juggernaut that is Manchester United, because at the stage he was hired… no one knew what exactly the manager was supposed to be doing.
There was a brief moment after Moyes, where Ryan Giggs looked to be taking over. We got the feeling that the storm was over. But alas, it was just the calm before the storm. He was only managing till season end.
Played – 4 | Won – 2 | Drew – 1 | Lost – 1 | Win Percentage – 50
Alex Ferguson chose David Moyes as his successor because David was a great manager who could use his resources well. But Alex had been more than just the manager at Man United. And when he left, he left behind a club with no structure. A club with no one with football expertise in the decision making processes.
As Alister Magowan of the BBC put it:
“When Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United, not only did the club lose a great manager but they effectively lost a director of football too.”
Thus Manchester United proceeded to act, without a rudder. Without a navigator. To shore up the vacuum created by the departure, Ed Woodward, the newly minted CEO, decided to take the reigns on the business end of the football and proceeded to handle contract negotiations & transfers.
But there was one small problem… neither Ed nor any of those he tasked to assist him in his capacity as CEO-cum-Jerry Maguire, had any football expertise.
Sure they were surrounded by football experts… but all the decisions on the direction of the club and philosophy of the club, were made without any input from said experts. Not on an official executive level anyway.
Thus began the downward spiral into the identity abyss.
We hired Louis Van Gaal. One of the most decorated managers in the world. A former player and registered physical education practitioner. A manager that won La Liga, Die Eredivisie, Die Bundesliga, the UEFA Champions League and even the UEFA Super Cup. A man that had won these trophies while coaching Ajax, Bayern Munich and Barcelona.
With such a strong pedigree, surely he was the man for the job.
The result? Some of the most arid football you have ever seen. A team that passed where they should dribble, passed where they should run, passed where they should shoot & even passed where they should tackle. They passed themselves right into mid table status. And a few wonderful signings were wasted in the process.
Eventually, after a couple years of unhappiness, Manchester United gave LVG the boot. Just after he won the FA Cup. He was not too happy.
Louis Van Gaal:
Played – 103 | Won – 54 | Drew – 25 | Lost – 24 | Win Percentage – 52.43*
*Less than Moyes
But while we were in the throes of our detention under Principal Van Gaal, across the proverbial pond, at Chelsea, one Jose Mourinho was in the middle of what seemed to be a mutiny. He had crossed swords with a few players and staff and they seemed to be in open revolt.
The result? Chelsea, the reigning champions at the time, were languishing in 14th place as the players betrayed the fans and stopped playing in a bid to get the manage fired.
Before anyone could spell Abramovich… Jose Mourinho, the best coach in the world, was sent packing.
To quote former Arsenal man Martin Keown:
“Mourinho has lost the players” “It has imploded in front of our eyes,” “It is astonishing. I saw players who were not giving everything.” “There is no trust there, respect is gone. Ultimately it is easier to change a manager than 22 players.”
Woodward didn’t even think twice as the media circus began fantasizing about the marriage between the biggest club in the world and the biggest manager in the world. He swooped in like a bald eagle and bagged his man. The stock price went up (maybe) and the cracks seemed to be getting someone big enough to hide them.
But it was to little too late.
Mourinho, having just survived a mutiny came in humble. He came in with a softer touch than he would have or should have. He decided to “give everyone a chance to prove themselves”. This either sent a message to the board that they could hold off on transfers or was as a result of a message from the board.
Either way, a lot of the driftwood amassed between Moyes & LVG was left to drift in our pond and is still doing so.
Instead of doing what Pep Guardiola & Jurgen Klopp had been allowed to do (clean house & buy new players), Mourinho had to “work with what he had”. Mourinho had to settle for players he was given and not the ones he asked for. He also had to play “The United Way” and promote youth and keep the fans happy and keep the money flowing.
It was a big ask. But Jose Mourinho was the best coach in the world. One of the greatest of all time. We don’t even need to list his achievements.
So he went to work. Like Moyes, he collected the Community Shield in his maiden season. Apparently that counts for naught though, so onwards he went.
He then Claimed the EFL/Carabao Cup, making him the 1st Manager in the history of Manchester United, to win a major honour in his maiden season. But he was not done.
In a bid to qualify for the UEFA Champions League (we had been out for a few years) Jose gave up on chasing 4th place and focused on winning the UEFA Europa League as that came with automatic qualification. But this was a gamble. Also, Man United had never won the Europa Cup before. We had won every single other trophy a football club could win… except Europa.
Jose Mourinho capped off his maiden season by completing our trophy set and etching his name in history as not only the only manager in our history to win a major honour in his maiden season but the 1st to win 2. He is the most successful manager of Manchester United in the post Fergie era.
“Jose Mourinho was the best coach in the world. One of the greatest of all time. We don’t even need to list his achievements.”
But that wasn’t enough. What the club wanted was the league. And so, in season 2, Jose gunned for the league. We finished second to a Man City that scored a record haul of points and played Barcelonaesque football that destroyed everyone. The gap between 1st & 2nd was massive. We needed re-reinforcements. And so Jose asked for reinforcements… but Ed decided we didn’t need them.
This of course was a mistake. United had just extended Joses contract. But now they were refusing to back him.
Jose went into full Jose Mode. He became dour & sarcastic. He began antagonizing players. He publicly voiced his concerns. Soon the unrest began. He had won trophies and finished second, but his football was too pragmatic. He played too defensive, preferring to grind out results instead of go head to head. He played players out of position and it didnt always work. It was not the sleepy LVG sytle, but it was not “The United Way” either.
Ironically, Jose trained under LVG as a manager. Funny how life works.
Eventually Mourinho’s petulance became too much for the petulant prima donnas at Carrington to endure (even though Mourinho’s treatment had been strengthening them & reigniting the fire in them) and they began to play halfheartedly. Mourinho of course wasn’t having it as he had seen this play out at Chelsea. So he went for the source of the unrest. De facto leader Paul Pogba. Uniteds star player.
Soon there were headlines in the media and inquiries about Pogbas transfer fee. Soon Pogba was taking selfies with Messi and cutting a forlorn figure. United was on the verge of loosing their most valuable asset.
And thus we found ourselves at Anfield. Pogba on the bench. Liverpool flying high in top spot vs our 7th. Fergie and David Gill in attendance. Wayne Rooney watching. Becks watching. Giggs watching. Gary. Rio. Probably even Ronaldo watching.
Liverpool smashes us 3 – 1. The star of the show? Xherdan Shaqiri. Ironically, United could have bought Shaqiri to take our No.7… but Mourinho felt he was too short.
A few short days after, while social media went into a meltdown and the reality that we had fallen too far to come back began to take hold… Ed called Jose int his office. They spoke. 44 minutes later, he fired Jose Mourinho.
Played – 144 | Won – 84 | Drew – 32 | Lost – 28 | Win Percentage – 58.30*
*The Highest Post Ferguson
Again we were changing managers. However, this time there seemed to be… a plan. Carrick was mooted to do a Ryan Giggs till end of the season, but a gaff on the United website revealed that the coach of Norwegian club Molde, Ole Gunner Solskjaer, would be stepping in.
Ole of course is a club legend. A cult hero. He is the very man that scored the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final that immortalized the Class of 92. He is a self confessed student of Sir Alex Ferguson and believes in a philosophy of attacking football, shooting if you have half a chance, pressing high, taking risks and enjoying the game.
He is totally different from Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho.
The excitement is palpable. More so because the firing of Mourinho triggered an exodus home of our old boys. Everyone is coming in to help steady the ship.
Mike Phelan, (Fergies number 2 after Carlos Queiros graduated) has come back to coach the team. Former academy coach Kieran McKenna & Micheal Carrick are stepping up as they did under Jose. But more importantly… the cracks are being filled. Heck, we might just be building a new wall.
Before the match at Cardiff, club legend Wayne Rooney texted Ole with some advice as he had been speaking to players and was aware of how unhappy and depressed they were. As Ole explained:
“He told me to make them enjoy football, smile and go forward. Just be Manchester United. And that’s what I asked of them.”
The result? A 6 goal thriller. United 5 – 1 Cardiff. It was the 1st time we had scored 5 since Fergies final match, a 5 – 5 thriller at West Brom in which Lukaku (then at West Brom) scored a hat trick to deny Fergie a winning end.
Next we were at home against Huddersfield. A 4 goal fiesta. 3 – 1 to United. 2 Goals from Pogba. Our descent out of the top 6 arrested.
And now our match against a Bournemouth side, lead by the fantastic Eddie Howe ft the lethal Callum Wilson, King & Fraser produced 5 goals. United 4 – 1 Bournemouth. It wasn’t a “big match” but it had a big match feel.
We beat them. Neutralized their threat. Pogba scored another 2. Marcus Rashford embarrassed other children. Tony Martial was fluid. And Lukaku scored a goal within 5 min of coming on as a sub (shades of Ole).
So we close the year on a high. Keeping the pressure on those above us and keeping those below us at bay. With a little luck and a lot of work, we just might even finish 2nd. Again.
After winning this convincingly… I am beginning to think we dont need Zinadine Zidane or Mauricio Pochettino. We Have Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
After all, Alex Ferguson was relatively unknown and far from decorated when we hired him. It is perhaps that hunger that drove him. Along with the peoples trust. We tried getting “decorated coaches” but perhaps we should try something new. So far, its working.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer:
Played – 3 | Won – 3 | Drew – 0 | Lost – 0 | Win Percentage – 100