On May 23, Manchester City became the Premier League champions for the fourth time in five years, while Liverpool finished second. It was a rollercoaster day as Liverpool had to win the game, and hope for a City loss or a draw to win the title. The City ended up winning, coming from two goals behind to score three goals in six minutes to clinch the title, with Liverpool taking the second position.
Meanwhile, Manchester United lost to Crystal Palace. They finished in sixth, 35 points behind winners Manchester City. The dichotomy between the direction Manchester United has taken as opposed to the other big clubs in England is clear as day.
It’s a story as old as 2013, back when Sir Alex Ferguson, Manager Manchester, announced his retirement from coaching, and David Gill, Manchester United’s Chief Executive, also decided to hang up his boots. Sir Alex chose Everton’s David Moyes as his successor for whom the term ‘The Chosen One’ was coined after Jose Mourinho’s self appointed ‘The Special One’ nickname.
Manchester United finished in sixth, 35 points behind winners Manchester City. The dichotomy between the direction Manchester United has taken as opposed to the other big clubs in England is clear as day.
Sir Alex Ferguson left behind a legacy of over 1,500 games with a win rate of 59.7 percent. He won two Champions League titles and 13 Premier League titles along with other domestic trophies, and many individual awards. All this with a net spend of £546.5 million. In the post Sir Alex era, Manchester United have spent over £700 million with a total of three trophies. Manchester City have spent in excess of £800 million with five League titles while Chelsea have bagged two League titles, a Europa League title and a Champions League title for a much lower net spend.
David Moyes’ ill-fated reign lasted for about 10 months after which Ryan Giggs was installed as the caretaker manager for the remaining four games of the season. David Moyes had done pretty well at Everton but it was observed that he was “too big for his shoes” at Manchester United with a lack of experience of dealing with huge expectations taking him down.
Manchester United then decided to bring in Louis Van Gaal, a proven disciplinarian and tactician. He came in with his head held high. His previous employers, the Netherlands, had done well at the World Cup, and had defeated the reigning champions by five goals to one. But he left two years later, in 2016, with his tail between his legs, having just won the FA Cup and finished fifth in the League, thereby ending United’s hopes of playing in the Champions League in the coming season.
United then decided to hire Jose Mourinho after he was sacked by Chelsea on December 17, 2015, after a poor start to the season. Mourinho won the League Cup and Europa League in his first season with Manchester United, and finished second in the League. Things were finally looking up but as fate would have it, Mourinho would be sacked by Manchester United three years and one day after he was sacked by Chelsea for similar reasons.
Manchester United then brought in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as an interim manager for the rest of the season. Ole’s reign began on a massively high note which earned him the Old Trafford hot seat on a permanent basis. Ole brought in a lot of positivity to Manchester United and tried to re-instill the character of Sir Alex Ferguson’s days. Ole, too, lasted for three seasons (two full and two half). He was sacked in November 2021, with Michael Carrick being made in charge of Manchester United’s upcoming game against Villarreal. The team United lost Europa League final in 2021.
Carrick was mocked for being an “interim interim manager”, while Manchester United brought in Ralf Ragnik, as the caretaker manager for the rest of the season, and looked for a permanent hiring for the start of next season. Under Ralf, while there was a lot of positivity among the fans, for he was the master of “Gegenpressing”, the high intensity style of play that has inspired a generation of successful managers, including Tomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp.
Ralf’s time at Manchester United, however, was marred with a knockout from Champions League, falling out of the race for top four, thereby saying goodbye to the hopes of Champions League for next season. United ended this season with their lowest tally of points in the Premier League era, and a goal difference of 0.
On April 21, 2022, Manchester United announced Erik Ten Hag (ETH) as their new permanent manager. ETH comes after proving his mettle at the Dutch club Ajax, having won three Eredivisie titles in four years (in the year that he didn’t, the season was abandoned due to Covid-19). His teams are known for their high pressing style of attacking football. There was excitement among the fans to see how Manchester United fares against Manchester City and Liverpool, teams that employ the same style of play.
Manchester United fans fall prey to optimism that they felt when previous managers were hired. Some fans believe the root of the problem lies with David Gill’s replacement Ed Woodward and the Glazers who own the club. Fans believe that lack of funds and non-football brains calling the shots are behind the fall. But a simple analysis shows that Manchester United has been one of the biggest spenders, not just in England but in the whole of Europe.
They have however gone wrong in their transfer strategy and clear long-term mindset. Under Ole, the sanity was somewhat restored, and a clearer direction was seen in terms of recruitment, but Ole’s lack of understanding of the game and his limited tactical knowledge let the team down. The current United squad is short on confidence, morale and the winning mentality that dominated the team for 26 years under Sir Alex Fergson.
Now, Ten Hag has a huge task at hand. He has to lead a massive clear out of players who he deems aren’t worthy of his style of play. And he has to bring in reinforcements as well, which can help him implement his philosophy at the club. However, it is not just down to him or the players he brings in. Much has to do with a clear transfer strategy and a consistent decision making for the technical running of the club. The footballing decisions must better be left with the footballing brains instead of the boardroom executives. Otherwise, Ten Hag would be another in the long list of high profile managers to have come, tried and failed. As for the fans, they must practice cautious optimism.