News Article

Dissecting Manchester United's journey in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era!

Written by: Tushaar Sachdeva

The Red Devils are a club transformed beyond recognition so much so that if you were to compare them with their hay day one would feel like being in a time machine...

The greatest manager in English football, Sir Alex Ferguson, had announced that he would retire after the completion of his then current contract. It hit the football fraternity with a storm. Sir Alex revealed that he had already decided to retire at the end of the year 2012. So, when Manchester United first embarked on life after him, they still believed they could pick a promising young manager from an upwardly-mobile club and turn him into the sort of man who would look like being in-charge of the biggest beast in English football.

It was a worthy notion that in the heat of modern football, United could transform the decent and hard-working David Moyes of Everton as they once did with young Ferguson when he arrived from Aberdeen, but in retrospect, it is hard to believe so many of us bought it. Four years on, and three managers down the line, United have finally accepted that there is no point trying to restage the history of the 1980s and 1990s and that a super-club needs a super-coach.

A rough display of the tactical play of Manchester United players under Sir Alex

After hoisting Ferguson for 26 years at Carrington, United had sojourns with as many as four managers, including the Special One (Jose Mourinho), finally. In their thirst for glory, they made numerous transfers that went terribly in vain.

When Ferguson retired, more than half of the playing XI was 28 years of age or above. It included those critical pieces of the team that needed to be replaced in urgency. Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra, Ryan Giggs, Paul Scholes, Micheal Carrick, Darren Fletcher, Robin van Persie and so on.

Vidic and Ferdinand formed the backbone of United's success

Vidic and Ferdinand were past their peaks, had become too slow and were a shadow of their former selves, especially Ferdinand. Their replacements, Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans simply weren't United quality. Coming to midfield, Paul Scholes had retired. Giggs was more of a squad player to pass on his experience to younger teammates rather than influence games. Fletcher, although a competent player, wasn't world class. Shinji Kagawa couldn't adapt to the Premier League. The less said about Anderson, the better. Carrick is a very good player but limited in terms of the things he could do on the pitch. Also, the wingers in Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani weren't exactly setting the world alight. 

Up front, Sir Alex sold Van Persie a huge dummy when he told him that he'd stay for more than a year when the striker enquired about Fergie's future before signing. He also left Wayne Rooney unhappy. As a result, Moyes was busy most of the summer trying to keep the Englishman and the core at the club.

Ferguson was a great manager and he got the best out of a lot of players. He had this unique ability to get extraordinary performances from ordinary players. Fergie had the chance to sign Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara but he persisted with Tom Cleverly, who reminded us of a young Scholes but turned out be another flop under any other manager. 

Tom Cleverly wasn't good enough for United

Moyes had a tough job from the beginning and because of his reputation, we saw only two signings under him, Fellaini and Mata. As the season progressed, He shook Man United down to its core and many players lost confidence as the team finished 7th, outside of the Europan places for the first time since the 1990s.  Then, with 4 games left, Moyes was sacked with Giggs coming in as the interim manager.

 

United's record under Moyes was patchy

By the end of the season 2013-14, United was into a financial makeshift. United, under the executive leadership of Ed Woodward, was heading towards a mega boost of financial power for the club.

Woodward has been hit and miss in the market

Then by 19th May 2014, the then Dutch International coach Louis Van Gaal had agreed to manage United, signing a 3 year deal with the club. His first decision as the manager was not to extend contracts of ageing players like Ferdinand, Vidic and Evra. Giggs, on the other hand, became his assistant manager. Backed with great financial power, United spent £200 million in the transfer window. 

Van Gaal adopted the Madrid’s Galactico policy for his first season, acquiring talents like Di Maria and Falcao, ironically, none of the players stayed over for more than a year at United. Di Maria was bought for a hefty British record breaking amount from Madrid, justifying just a little to it.

Collectively, they scored only 6 goals over the total appearance of more than 60 games in all competitions

Getting over it, Meanwhile, Ed Woodward got many sponsorship deals bringing huge fortune to the club. Highlights of them were the Adidas and General Motors deal. Adidas agreed a 750 million pounds shirt sponsorship deal for 10 years with United whereas General Motors agreed to pay 53 million pounds each year as main title sponsor.

United dominated possession but did little with the ball

Tactically, Van Gaal was criticised for his style of play. He preferred on sustaining possession by keeping the ball at the centre of the park. His team had the most number of back passes and 3rd most side passes in the league to the goalkeeper and the least number of chances created. Quite surprisingly, United went on to qualify for Champions League next season only to be demoted into the Europa League the very next season.

Most of Manchester United's passing was meaningless

By the inception of the season 2015-16, Van Gaal had sold 90% of the players who were there with Alex in his last season. Wayne Rooney, Chris Smalling, Phil Jones, Micheal Carrick, Antonio Valencia, Ashley Young and David De Gea were the only players in the 30 man squad to have survived the axe of Van Gaal overhaul. 

United were a squad in decline when Fergusomn left

Manchester United featured into the Champions League after a year gap, only to be kicked out at the group stage. Demotion to the Europa League did no fair to the team’s fortune. United was knocked out by their arch rivals Liverpool at the last 16 stage of the competition.

Under Van Gaal and David Moyes, United lost their threshold of fear and players under them were seen to be pale and fading. The only major highlight of 2-year tenure of Van Gaal was the FA Cup triumph in May 2016. The win made Van Gaal one of those managers who has had at least one trophy at every club they had managed.

The FA Cup triumph couldn't save Van Gaal's job

Van Gaal was sacked immediately after the triumph, appointing his ex-apprentice as his Manchester United Successor, Jose Mourinho. On 27th May 2016, Jose Mourinho signed a 3-year contract with The Red Devils as their Manager. His arrival was followed by mixed emotions from the football fraternity. This was complemented by massive signings Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Paul Pogba. Along with them came Armenian playmaker Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ivory Coast defender Eric Bailly. All of the 4 signings were regular starters week-in-week-out.

The Mourinho era was ushered in by winning the Community Shield

What happened in the course of next season was extraordinary and unexpected. Manchester United finished the league at 6th position with gaining the Champions League spot after winning the Europa League. If it wouldn’t have been about all the draws, we would have seen Manchester United seriously competing into the title race.

Enroute this below par success, United had to go through a lot. An adamant Jose Mourinho refused to include veteran Bastian Schweinsteiger into his plans but turned up to him once the evils of schedule and injuries bounced upon. He was later sold to the MLS side in late January.

Once Mourinho was signed, It was already speculated that the very first act of Mourinho would be to sell Mata, again. But to everyone’s surprise, Mata became an integral part of Jose’s system. Meanwhile, they won the less lauded EFL Cup and the first ever Europa League in their history, completing the only blank in their glittering trophy cabinet.

United are re-discovering how to win ugly under Mourinho

All in all, until now, Manchester United have become the most valued club in the world and are into a rebuilding state.

Reasons for this drastic decay

  1. Strike Power

Ferguson wrote the most glorious chapter in United history

Manchester United have always had at least 4 world-class strikers at any given season under Sir Alex. This has been one of the drawbacks. United have lacked this striking power in each of the 4 seasons after SAF.

  1. Midfield Enforcement


Manchester United's squad overhaul didn't work out

After the retirement of Paul Scholes and fateful exit of Darren Fletcher, United have been keen to bolster their midfield. Cleverly and Anderson were not of the United quality and Carrick was not getting any younger. Louis Van Gaal started buying central midfielders, his 50% of the signings were midfielders in the name of Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin. Whereas, the total 7 signings of Moyes and Mourinho also include 3 midfielders.

  1. Lack of Attacking drive

To score, Any great time either need a world attacking trident or supportive teammates to deliver the goals. The goals have to come regardless of the source. Unfortunately, for United, there has been a lack of goals and the chances created. Last season it started to change but eventually, it couldn’t.

  1. The Galactico model

Ibrahimovic was a success

Ed Woodward, the current Executive Vice-Chairman of the club, is very good at looking after the business side of the club. Under his stewardship, the club has become one of the most revenue generating football clubs in the world. However, when it comes to the football side of things, he believes in “the bigger, the better” philosophy. He likes buying the biggest names available in the transfer market which would help increase the brand value of the club. This has resulted in Manchester United buying players such as Falcao, Di Maria, Zlatan, Pogba etc., some of them turned out flops as they were not the players that the squad required at the time.

  1. Rise of the mid-table teams 

Since the end of July 2013, there has been a miraculous rise in mid-table teams. Teams like Everton, Southampton, Swansea, Newcastle United, West Ham United and Leicester City have been instrumental against the big 6 clubs (United, City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Liverpool and Spurs). They have the potential of upsetting any of the big six at any given point. Leicester’s 5-3 home win against United, Newcastle’s 5-1 win over Spurs etc are some of the plot twist games of the previous leagues.

  1. Dressing room leaks and rift with the manager

There's been a major increase in the number of stories reporting player unrest since Ferguson moved upstairs. Every club suffers from disgruntled players venting to the media, but it was an incredibly rare occurrence under Ferguson: David Beckham was probably the last player to take on the manager, which led to his exit in 2003.

When Moyes was the manager, a number of leaks from the dressing room were unprecedented for United. The matchday squad was regularly revealed by an unidentified member of the squad, while there were also numerous reports of the players resenting him. Such stories tend not to make for pleasant reading for United supporters, but they're also something of a novelty. Later, it could be easily seen that United players were continuously disobeying manager’s orders on the field.

Van Gaal’s dispute with Romero or installing cameras over the training field at Carrington, there has been a lot of strictness.

After three seasons of wilderness, Manchester United now looks to be heading in some direction. A new one, for sure, but a logical one in today's ruthless transfer market. The club needs to give the desired freedom to Jose Mourinho, who at this point in time, looks to be getting the club back to what it did best: WIN TROPHIES. After a lull, a storm is needed.

Mourinho doesn't flaunt a reputation of honing youth and nurturing them and is not mincing words to the United board. With signings like Victor Lindelof (22) and Romelu Lukaku already done, the Portuguese is setting the right notes with the Reds' faithful.

Published: Sat Aug 12, 2017 02:06 PM IST

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