Carrick impresses as interim

Michael Carrick stood up for the beleaguered coaching staff and took charge of two games against Villareal and Chelsea impressing everyone to earn an away win and a draw. Most striking feature was how different they were setup in these two games 4-2-3-1 with Ronaldo leading the line and 4-3-1-2 flooding the midfield without Ronaldo making the winger Jadon Sancho to score in both these games thereby regaining form. Carrick himself paid tribute to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his man-management before the first game, and took on the responsibility of managing United as an interim with great application based on his vast array of technical skill as a player.

Later due to delay in getting the work permit and agree terms with Lokomotiv Moscow for Ralf Rangnick, Carrick had to manage the team for the 3rd match against Arsenal at home. He dropped Aaron Wan-Bissaka who was involved in a lash to clear the ball that caught Thiago Silva's leg and United could only draw at Chelsea. This is proper management that seemed to be lacking under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Diogo Dalot deputized and unlike being outrun and targeted by Villareal, Carrick played Rashford on right not left to protect him. Fred was the workhorse again that earned United a crucial penalty as Ronaldo scored two goals to earn a 3-2 win against their direct rivals for the 4th Champions' League spot. Typical exhilarating Premier League match of recent years where again United did not have majority of possession even at home, something that is still unthinkable could have happened under Sir Alex Ferguson!

After the game it was made public that Michael Carrick would be leaving his position with United that started 15 years ago initially as player who replaced Roy Keane winning every trophy in his illustrious career and took a stint as a coach under Jose Mourinho. Carrick let it know he does not have any plans as yet but loyalty to Solskjaer was a factor. United are losing one of their finest who could have become their permanent manager from the bootroom in the future. Rangnick revealed he has tried to persuade Carrick to stay on in a long chat two days before. Hoping Carrick has a great career as a coach ahead of him and crucially win trophies that most of Ferguson's former charges have had very little of. Thank you.

In a short three game period Carrick has an impressive two wins and a draw but his team displayed cohesiveness that was lacking for much of this season under Solskjaer and a clear formation adapting for the deficiencies in midfield. In the game against Chelsea the coaching staff had live data feed from analysts in the background which was not the case before Rangnick's appointment. This made many experts believe that it was Rangnick forcing the move to bench Ronaldo against Chelsea and it was not Carrick's call. Judging from Carrick's storied history as a technical lynchpin of past United side playing alongside Paul Scholes with aplomb, he would have taken in the positive advice from Rangnick to make more use of pitch-side monitors for the coaching staff but the final team selection would be his own.

Another feature that was liked by all was Carrick's reading of the game in his press conference. As an example he described Thomas Tuchel's in form Chelsea team and the way they play in depth with full analysis. Did not repeat stuff often nor try to paint a picture but reveal his view. Refreshing.

By the way, Ronaldo scored his 800th goal of his career in the game against Arsenal. 800th! United fans would love him to get his 200th at United by the end of his two years here and surely surpass George Best's tally of 178 goals. Only Ryan Giggs has more appearances for United than 800 at 963, imagine to score in 19 seasons that is averaging a staggering 42 goals per season. Only Sir Denis Law has managed to score more than 42 goals for Manchester United once in 1963-64 that won him the Ballon d'Or with 46 goals, a trophy much coveted and respected in the past. 

Manchester United make the right call

Ralf Rangnick the godfather of modern football credited with developing Gegenpressing has been appointed by the club to be interim manager and help adapt the club to modernize its coaching setup as a consultant later. Instead of trying to move from one extreme of coaching method to another the club have moved to set themselves a structure in tune with prevailing standards at top clubs. John Murtough the Director of Football is said to have driven this big decision and perhaps demonstrates the separation of from financial management represented by most people at the board. Football finally triumphs at the premier English institution where Glazers have thrown money without knowledge of the game since retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.

United have been tracking Rangnick for over two years since the first meeting with Ed Woodward to become the first Director of Football. He clearly outlined two big deficiencies - recruitment and coaching in interview with The Times. Later hinted he turned United's offer down over how much 'control' he would get on those two crucial aspects. This issue must now have been firmly resolved for Rangnick to take charge. In recruitment he has helped unearth talents like Marcel Sabitzer, Erling Haaland, Joshua Kimmich, Sadio Mane, Roberto Firmino, Timo Werner, Naby Keita etc. In coaching he has inspired Thomas Tuchel, Jurgen Klopp, Julian Nagelsmann, Ralf Hasenhuttl etc. For now United players need to concentrate on winning the ball back in 8 seconds and scoring inside 10! Fate of the beleaguered coaching staff is not known but it could be a boon for the likes of Michael Carrick to learn under the German master.

If United go on a good run like they did under their last interim manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, will they succumb to temptations and appoint Rangnick full-time? If this process is as per statement put out by the club "Michael Carrick will now take charge of the team for forthcoming games, while the club looks to appoint an interim manager to the end of the season." they should not. Nagelsmann who worked under Rangnick might be in the shortlist to succeed with Erik ten Hag and alas no walkover for Pochettino struggling with ego's of big players at PSG! Rangnick has to identify his successor and help him achieve the target to win United its first trophy since May, 2017 potentially in May, 2023.

That will be six long years without a trophy which will be longest drought in clubs post war history since 1951 when they won the league championship after 40 year wait. In 6th year Busby won his first league title in '51, first trophy the FA Cup in 1963 after league win in 1957 the gap was due to devastating tragedy suffered at Munich. In 6th year United won second division in 1974 after European Cup triumph in 1968. United won the FA Cup four times between the league success of 1966-67 and 1992-93. Such is the gravity of task at hand on United's board to get this right. If they fail history is most likely to pinpoint the clubs decision to back an enigma of a player in Paul Pogba over Jose Mourinho who had won the League Cup and Europa Cup in successive years.

Last professor United had was Dave Sexton who handicapped by United's floatation in stock market combined with selling its best player in Gordon Hill endured a tepid trophy-less tenure that ended with eight straight wins without a convincing style and promptly got the sack. Rangnick has not managed at established elite clubs nor won major trophies like Bundesliga or Champions' League but help create and organize clubs like Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig. This appointment might not end the trophy drought but create platform to get the club to be competitive. Another professor Marcelo Bielsa is struggling at Leeds United this season.

United have an underachieving squad rather than inept. United need to bolster their midfield and correct the issues in defense to mount a challenge to Man City, Liverpool and Chelsea. Players have not hit a higher gear, big squad underutilized as same players were chosen, no new academy players included yet, upcoming winter transfer window to help push for top four with Declan Rice and Aurelien Tchouameni linked and perhaps Rangnick can help clinch the deal to land Erling Haaland next summer when Edinson Cavani leaves!

Ronaldo-de Gea FC

Solskjaer's side suffered a humiliating 0-5 defeat at the hands of their biggest rivals in English football Liverpool at home. Defeat 3 years ago to the same opponents at Anfield led to the sacking of Jose Mourinho though the score was less embarrassing 1-3. Yet Manchester United board caught by surprise with a sudden and alarming drop in performance persisted with the Norwegian to see another humbling 0-2 loss to local rivals City in a derby match where no players except David de Gea and Cristiano Ronaldo showed any fight. Mid-week United drew 2-2 away at Atalanta to top their group in Champions' League thanks to two strikes from Ronaldo. Ronaldo has scored five goals in four group games to keep United in the hunt. 

Ronaldo and de Gea have been consistently papering over cracks to save the blushes of the entire team especially the two hero's from England's Euro 2020 in captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw. Despite having Victor Lindelof and Eric Bailly as cover at centre-backs and Alex Telles at left-back, Solskjaer persisted with the same duo time and again. United struggle to control the ball from midfield with McTominay and Fred while no new recruits were added in the summer to augment that deficiency. Pogba was pushed deeper that resulted in him losing his form that saw him earlier create 5 assists in a single game and later dropped to the bench for crucial games against Liverpool and City! Greenwood's form has also tapered out. Bruno Fernandes' influence has not been sustained through the game but just in a few moments due to dysfunctional midfield. Rashford has been rushed back from injury. Jadon Sancho played out of position on left wing that is hampering him to gain confidence to justify his £73million fee. Die-hard academy graduate Jesse Lingard under utilized. These decision's neither gives afflicted players any respite to think through nor boost morale of squad players eager for an opportunity. What's the point then of having such a large squad that the manager has always been asking for?

LDLLWL has been their form guide picking just one point in their last four home games! Signs of disarray in their calamitous game-play evident from that fortuitous away win at Wolves the 3rd league game of the season but lessons weren't learned and situation allowed to deteriorate. United rank bottom in the Premier League on 20th place for 'total tackles' and 'duels won' and 18th for 'interceptions', 'aerial duels' and 'recoveries' tell a horrifying tale of players not applying themselves on training pitch which ultimately manifests on matchdays! If United have fallen so sharply in recent weeks although performances have been poor apart from the opening game against Leeds, why have the club still kept faith in Solskjaer? 

Lack of risk management from NYSE listed club's board and player morale. His man-management has been good with the first team squad except a few. United's stock has declined to $15.60 last Friday from a high of $20.50 on 27th September that is 23.9% decline in less than a month! Board cannot sustain Solskjaer if results do not improve immediately. The board respect the fact that Solskjaer has stood by them when no structure existed to support the manager resulting in only two of five transfers windows being excellent - Bruno Fernandes and this summer's recruits. Squad has been overhauled completely without public fallout and the famed youth academy re-grouped. Ed Woodward stepping down at the end of the year the board might not want to make a crucial change now. Solskjaer has come out stronger after the International break usually and got a result somehow when he needed the most. United need to go on an unbeaten run but face league leaders Chelsea after playing Watford on 20th November. They must qualify to knockout stages of Champions' League to save Solskjaer. But if that is achieved without a conviction of a playing style and changes to the squad demonstrating an evolution of game-play, how long might that last?

To steady the ship Solskjaer has been a good choice till now. However the sheer quality of players now at United would not suffer mediocrity for too long and that has been the true testament of squad overhaul that Solskjaer has achieved with clubs full backing. Board however will be inclined to believe that its still early days of the new season and Champions' League qualification for next season is not ruled out yet due to the sheer number of match-winners in the United squad. Next break from hectic schedule of 3 games per week will be in mid-December after the facing Brighton to do the change by which time either United would have steadied themselves or ruled themselves out of the reckoning based on recent form.

Erik ten Hag and Brendan Rodgers are two obvious candidates as PSG would not allow Mauricio Pochettino to leave mid-season especially after signing Lionel Messi while Zinedine Zidane might not fancy coming to England over his preferred choice of France and Spain. If an interim coach is needed clubs usually go to their technical director i.e., Darren Fletcher who has UEFA Pro license and should be eligible. Flipside would be that many of the backroom staff tend to be retained. Scotland manager Steve Clarke who got the best out of McTominay and Brighton manager Graham Potter must be also considered in the shortlist. Gone are the days when the progression was incremental and tier based. Brighton are below United by just the goal difference. If United do not target any modern manager than least they could do is to look at Potter, just 46 would represent a transformational move that United can be cited to have set a trend among the elite clubs across Europe.

For now, hope Ole Gunnar Solskjaer turns it around for weathering the storm so gracefully. Norwegian has always put the club first which every genuine United fan appreciates.

Solskjaer invites pressure

Manchester United lost the easiest game of the group on paper against Young Boys of Switzerland with matches versus two tactically astute teams in Villareal and Atalanta yet to be played. Young Boys came through two-legged qualifying rounds to beat three teams scoring 16 goals and reach the group stages, consequently looked sharper. United had only 2 shots on target in the whole match which is the least since 2003-04 says a lot about the dysfunctional tactics and substitutions by Ole Gunnar Solskjaer despite having the greatest player of all time Cristiano Ronaldo open the scoring early on via an inspired pass by Bruno Fernandes. It will be catastrophic if United do not make it to the knock-out stages of the lucrative Champions' League after marquee signings of Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Ronaldo.

Did Sir Alex Ferguson always had a perfect squad to win all the trophies? Even during the treble winning season he had Roy Keane and Paul Scholes suspended for the final, won one league title with Wes Brown and Mikael Silvestre as centre-backs, one Robin van Persie inspired rest of the aging team to win his last title etc. Ferguson usually took out a full-back to bring on an attacker in the later stages of the match to try and score more goals. They did score loads of late goals and a certain Norwegian scored four times as a substitute against Nottingham Forest. Between the victory in Cup Winners Cup in '91 and reaching semi-finals of Champions' League in '97, Ferguson's United struggled against sides like Torpedo Moscow, IFK Goteborg and Rotor Volgograd. Fans had no doubt about Ferguson's ability as he had guided Aberdeen to '83 Cup Winners Cup glory beating the mighty Real Madrid and won the same competition with United eight years later beating Barcelona despite English clubs being banned from European competitions for previous five years! 

Solskjaer has no such record. That is why it is mandatory for him to not repeat mistakes. Last season the loss to Istanbul Basaksehir made United to fail to qualify for knock-out stages and were relegated to Europa League. That day he rested his first choice partner to Harry Maguire in Victor Lindelof by playing Axel Tuanzebe; in Bern he rested Raphael Varane for the first half by starting with Lindelof. Donny van de Beek started both these games and was not at fault in either. Solskjaer took off Tuanzebe and brought on Matic to revert to five at the back at half-time and did so again by introducing Varane for van de Beek. Then Juan Mata and now Jesse Lingard were at fault to allow a goal to slip by, both of whom should have moved on from United. In form Mason Greenwood was an unused substitute this Tuesday. In fact at Bern, United slipped alarmingly from a good start in both halves unlike at Istanbul where they got one goal back.

United have previously played on plastic pitches against Young Boys themselves in 2018, Astana FC and AZ Alkmaar in 2019. More than half of Norwegian league home grounds have artificial surfaces! Despite FIFA and UEFA certifying artificial turf since 2004 and the technology evolving into third generation perceptions of increased player injury, tiredness for players and different ball behavior still exists. For Young Boys the result could prove to be 'Miracle of Bern' moment for Swiss football if they qualify.

Nor has Solskjaer outmaneuvered his opponents to win a trophy yet like the loss to Sevilla and Villareal in Europa League, to Paris St Germain and RB Leipzig in Champions' League group stages, to Chelsea and Leicester City in FA Cup and to Manchester City in successive League Cup runs. Solskjaer is the only manager to have beaten Pep Guardiola three times in a row, yet could not get reach the League Cup final. He has managed to beat other stalwarts Thomas Tuchel and Julian Nagelsmann but could not progress through to group stages of the Champions' League last season. A well settled West Ham United provide a stern test this weekend but initiative has been lost bringing more scrutiny and pressure so early on in the season evaporating the feel good factor of Ronaldo's homecoming.

Declan Rice on his European debut with West Ham produced a virtuoso performance against Dinamo Zagreb and scored a wonderful goal too, will be eager to remind United what they have missed. Not since Michael Carrick the most underrated footballer in history, has anyone won all player awards at all levels at West Ham academy after joining from Chelsea at the age of 14. United can no longer get away by not snapping up exceptional talents as they did for Carrick and Rio Ferdinand, but have to get them before and directly as clubs are no longer hard pressed to sell their top talents because English Premier League is the richest in the world and due to excessive transfer fees involved especially if the player is English. After dismissing Declan Rice as 'sloppy' earlier ex-United captain Roy Keane now said "He's is way ahead of where I was at 22." recently. To remove two positions occupied by McTominay and Fred, Solskjaer needed someone like Rice to free up another spot for an attacker without losing the defensive shield. With the present squad it's still possible to win games with 3-2 score-line rather than 3-0. 

Darren Fletcher might intervene to not only check but mark those errors in tactics and substitutions by Solskjaer against Young Boys for John Murtough to analyze. This tracking might have escaped in previous seasons but not now. As a club United have gone up a few notches with key personnel all around not just in summer signings and that will make more demands to get the right results. Its not a doomsday scenario for Solskjaer but he can't postpone anymore to impose 'style of play' dubbed the 'Man United way' with the squad at his disposal now.

Return of Cristiano Ronaldo

Manchester United were nudged by Jorge Mendes, the expert agent of Cristiano Ronaldo when he opened direct talks with local rivals City about the next move after his most famous client decided to leave Juventus this summer. Sir Alex Ferguson praised Mendes in his autobiography as "the best agent I dealt with, without a doubt. He was responsible, looked after his players to an incredible extent and was very fair with clubs". Credit to the team at United who acted swiftly to secure the services of Ronaldo once again, undoubtedly the intervention of Ferguson perhaps a first since his retirement brought about this transfer coup considering the final fee in five installments of €3million a year!

Ever since Ronaldo scored 42 goals to help United to their European double of Champions' League and English Premier League in 2007-08 his stats has been explosive and consistent. At Real he averaged 50 goals per season and at Juventus 33. Ronaldo broke the men's record of most international goals by scoring his 111th goal for Portugal who defeated Ireland 2-1. In the recently concluded Euro 2020 delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic he was the lead scorer despite Portugal losing in the knock-out phase itself. For the first goal he scored against Germany, Ronaldo ran 90 meters in less than 14 seconds dispelling any doubts about his fitness even at the age of 36. Despite being two years older than Messi he rose to the challenge brilliantly almost matching his 472 goals with 450 of his own during the same time in La Liga. Harry Kane and Romelu Lukaku will have stiff competition for sure.

Does Ronaldo make Manchester United title challengers? Despite lacking a central defensive midfielder of repute to control games, United will solve another major problem of not having a player to score 30 goals a season. This itself will catapult United to challenge for the title but it will not make them favourites like Manchester City, Liverpool or Chelsea. Ronaldo is not an affliction with United's past glory as critiqued by a few notable journalists. Considering the history of Sir Denis Law, United protected their interests now unlike in the 70's earning the unpopular Glazers an important point over the Edwards ownership for sure. Sir Alex Ferguson augmented his coaching staff by recalling legends under Sir Matt Busby in Nobby Stiles to help nurture academy graduates, and promoting Brian Kidd to be his assistant. That worked brilliantly for Fergie. Another incredulous critique was to draw parallels with the disastrous purchase of Alexis Sanchez that completely disrupted the dressing room under Jose Mourinho; here the player in question is an ex-legend and super fit with a coach eager to get the best out of him. Yes, the United wage bill has hit the roof with this one transfer but the benefits far outweigh any negatives.

Cristiano Ronaldo will himself be aiming for glory to give his glittering career a fitting end. He would want to aim for record of Francesco Gento with most UEFA Champions' League wins and put a daylight behind his present records. His Premier League tally is 84 goals now with 34 assists, his overall tally of 112 needs 43 more to enter top 10 scorer's of all time and 67 to match George Best's tally of 179, he missed Denis Viollet's tally of 32 league goals the most by a United player by just one goal in 2007-08 and in the same season his tally was 4 shy of Denis Law's all-time record of 46 goals in 1963-64 that won the Scotsman a Ballon d'Or a first ever for a United player. George Best scored 6 goals in a match against Northampton Town where as Ronaldo has scored five goals in a league match on two occasions. Wayne Rooney rightly argued that Ronaldo has the physique to play into his 40's like Ryan Giggs.

Ronaldo's home-coming promises to eclipse the return of George Best twice, first after retirement under Frank O'Farrell he scored 4 in 19 games and second time after suspension under Tommy Docherty he scored 2 in 12 games before finally quitting United. Ronaldo's age might be a handicap in terms of longevity when comparing to Mark Hughes' spectacular seven years second spell. Paul Scholes made an impactful return from retirement by winning the Premier League. Other returnees have mainly been youth players from Mark Bosnich, Les Sealey to Paul Pogba and Tom Heaton. How hard it is get one's wish to return, just ask Gordon Hill when Ron Atkinson wanted him back at United after excelling in mid-70's but fate conspired against it.

With Ronaldo, United can play two upfront and not just 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1. Edinson Cavani scored 17 goals in all competition last season and would be an ideal strike partner. Rashford or Martial from the left, Fernandes or Pogba through the middle, and Sancho or Greenwood from the right offer plethora of opportunities to create goals for the Portuguese superstar. Pressure on Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will increase manifold to keep United in the hunt for the league till the very end and win the club its first trophy in five long years. There is no place to hide anymore!

Most promising season under Solskjaer

Manchester United begin the season on the back of their best transfer window in the post Sir Alex Ferguson era with additions of centre-half Raphael Varane, winger Jadon Sancho and reserve keeper Tom Heaton. Diogo Dalot back from his successful stint at AC Milan is like a new signing. And two weeks are still left to the end of summer transfer window! Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has augmented his coaching staff with Eric Ramsay the youngest coach to get a UEFA Pro license at 27 in 2019, he joins United from Chelsea as 'set-piece specialist' an area of concern from last season having conceded the most goals amongst the top four with 44. Trophy is the only thing missing now at United.

Unlike last season United managed to play four pre-season friendlies(2W, 1L, 1D) to build the momentum leading up to the opening game of the season against rivals Leeds United. It will be the first game at Old Trafford with fans since the 2-0 win over Manchester City in Mar, 2020 due to the Covid-19 pandemic. United will have a new shirt sponsor this season in Germany's Team Viewer and look forward to "ground-breaking augmented reality solutions and remote access to Old Trafford – Manchester United’s famous stadium". Solskjaer also signed an extension to his contract until 2024, the departing chief executive Ed Woodward rightly said "Ole and his staff have worked tirelessly putting the foundations in place for long-term success on the pitch."

Based on the fixtures released United have a relatively easy start until facing Liverpool on 23rd October. Three matches each in November and March will be the toughest. Aim for Solskjaer will be to have United in the hunt for the title until April. This will be a very tough task as the standards set by Manchester City and Liverpool have been of the highest order. 12 points behind City last season and 33 points behind scoucers in season before that; on both occasions the champions ran away from rest of the pack in December. Chelsea have invested heavily to win the Premier League as they endure the longest league trophy drought under Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. Strength in depth still does not favour United with deadwood at the club in Phil Jones, Jesse Lingard, Eric Bailly, Andreas Pereira and aging Juan Mata, Nemanja Matic, Lee Grant. This is despite the purge of more than a dozen players like Fellaini, Sanchez, Rojo, Smalling, Romero that has positively brought down the wage bill significantly to move United from top to 7th in space of two seasons. Following players have been loaned out: Axel Tuanzebe, Facundo Pellistri, Tahith Chong, Nathan Bishop, Ethan Galbraith, Ethan Laird and the futures of Amad, James Garner, Brandon Williams, Teden Mengi is not finalized.

United face Leeds on the opening day of the season only for the 2nd time. First time they met was in 1970 on August 15th losing 0-1 at Old Trafford. Last Leeds United win at Theatre of Dreams was on 28th February, 1981 and since then United have mostly the upper hand. Premier League welcomes 50th club in Brentford this season, with Norwich and Watford the two other promoted teams. Much maligned VAR has adopted the successful model from the Euro 2020 in terms of offside and handball rule; the substitutions has been limited to 3 from 5 while the squad can still have 20 players.

Marcus Rashford will miss the opening 2-3 months due to long delayed shoulder surgery. This will put the onus on Anthony Martial to make the most to sustain his United career which was blighted by injury last season. Will Paul Pogba be consistent? Will Donny van de Beek get more game time? Will Solskjaer still persist with double pivot of McTominay and Fred? Will the acquisition of Sancho hinder the development of Amad? Will Bailly be happy being fourth choice centre-back? Will United be as lucky as last term with injuries? United will need to create more goals to augment the loss of penalties from changes to VAR. Last three seasons United have won 12, 14, 11 penalties! Two legged League Cup fixtures are back unfortunately. Top three finish in league but within single-digit points difference from the winner, make it to the knock-out stage of Champions' League and a trophy like FA Cup or League Cup sounds risky as a good Cup run usually depends on the draw.

United will get off to a better start this season than the terrible ordeal of last season, try to avoid losing to relegation teams and convert many of the 11 draws into wins. To win trophies they would need to win the crucial moments in crucial matches by making right use of all available resources. This will entirely depend on the judgement of the manager in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. If Sir Alex Ferguson chose Solskjaer to be his 'man of destiny' who in turn has build the club back step-by-step, will surely be cognizant of the pivotal moment this season is going to be. United faithful have never been so optimistic in last five seasons, not just our super-sub.

Murtough breaks new ground

Manchester United pitching for players from their rivals in European G14 teams in Real Madrid and Bayern Munich, and in their prime like Raphael Varane and Leon Goretzka is a clear shift in transfer policy under the first Director of Football John Murtough. As highlighted in a previous post this type of transfer has been unusual at Old Trafford who would avoid contacting players from these clubs out of respect. Previously Bastian Schweinsteiger and Zlatan Ibrahimović had joined United after their best years at Bayern Munich and Paris St Germain. It must be noted that United did come close to signing Sergio Ramos from Real Madrid in 2015 but only to be used in order to negotiate a better salary for the player. This time around the player in question has changed his agent to CAA Base Ltd whose primary clientele are Premier League players.

John Murtough is perhaps the major success from David Moyes era, both of whom worked together at Everton before he was made Premier League's first Head of Elite Performance a program which was introduced in 2012-13 and slowly adopted by clubs since then. Its key function has been described as "Through a systematic, evidence-led approach the Elite Performance function aims to add value to player development throughout the age phases (9-23) and across a multi-disciplinary platform, including physical, technical, tactical and psychological development." This has led to successful introduction of academy players Marcus Rashford, Scott McTominay and Mason Greenwood into the first team. Having revamped the youth setup and headed the group to introduce data science, being appointed as Director of Football seems like a natural progression: "overall leadership and responsibility for operations and strategy across all football functions." 

Raphael Varane has the distinction of winning the most Champions' League trophies before joining Manchester United and at 28 in prime of his career! At 24 he unseated Paolo Maldini as youngest defender to win three of Europe's most elite competition, played ahead of more experienced Pepe at Madrid, won the 2018 World Cup with France by playing in all the games. Due to muscular problems recurring through his career he hasn't played in more than 32 league games per season though he has missed just 1 to 6 matches at a time in short absences. Varane's two mistakes led to City winning 4-2 on aggregate in last season's round-16 match in Champions' League and he accepted the responsibility for it. Sir Alex Ferguson pursued Varane in 2011; fellow countryman Zidane clinched the deal on behalf of Madrid. Philip Anthony Jones joined United as part of a trio including Chris Smalling and Johnny Evans identified by Ferguson to eventually compete and replace perhaps United's greatest centre-back pair of Rio Ferdinand-Nemanja Vidic. Having been disastrously unsuccessful in selling or loaning out Jones, United must hand the jersey number 4 to Varane.

Schweinsteiger was 31 when he came to Manchester in 2015 on the back of playing his last and 500th game at Bayern Munich, lifting the World Cup with Germany in 2014 and winning the treble of Champions' League, Bundesliga and DFB-Pokal Cup in 2012-13 season. His appearances for Bayern Munich decreased due to recurrent injury problems at his patella and ankle, and also when Pep Guardiola took over as coach in 2013. He was fans favourite for a long time as an ideal replacement for Roy Keane since 2005. 9 year wait! Under Louis van Gaal who also was his manager at Bayern for two seasons, placed full faith in the German at United. His team selection was often questioned especially when he paired 34 year old Carrick with Schweinsteiger and got found out for lack of pace. He then switched to 'Schmidfield' with Schweinsteiger and Schneiderlin that drained all creativity from midfield and made watching United a bore. Jose Mourinho took over and instantly froze the German who was made to train with U23's but came out of hibernation in a FA Cup match vs Wigan with a goal and an assist to win 'Man of the Match'. Mourinho was more than happy to let him leave United for MLS in 2017.

Another past connection were re-united when Jose Mourinho got Zlatan Ibrahimović as a free-agent from Paris St Germain after winning two consecutive French domestic trebles. Earlier the pair had worked at Inter Milan winning the Scudetto in 2008-09. Ibrahimović scored on his debut for Manchester United in Community Shield, Home league game, Away league game, Europa League, League Cup and FA Cup in a single season and at 35 years became the oldest player in Premier League to score 15 league goals in a season. United under Mourinho with Ibrahimović won the Europa League - only trophy that club had not won in its illustrious history, League Cup and Community Shield. However in April while playing against Anderlecht he suffered cruciate ligament injury that made him to stay out of football for a year. His recovery since re-joining AC Milan in January 2020 has been amazing 28 goals in 47 games, and if compared with similar injury suffered by Radamel Falcao prior to joining United that full and complete recovery from cruciate injury is about 2.5 years! Zlatan could not be at his best for a year each at United and LA Galaxy while Falcao could not be at his best on loan at United and Chelsea only to later win the Ligue 1 with Monaco by scoring 30 goals in 43 games.

Laurie Cunningham became the 1st English player to play for Real Madrid in 1979 and later in 1982 spent a season on loan at United, playing only 5 times as injury curtailed his reunion with manager Ron Atkinson under whom he gained prominence at West Bromwich Albion as 'Three Degrees' with Cyrille Regis and Brendon Batson. Since then many United players have joined Madrid starting with David Beckham, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Gabriel Heinze, Cristiano Ronaldo and Javier Hernandez. King of assists the Argentine Angel di Maria joined United from Madrid for a record #59 million fee after not favoring a new formation by manager Carlo Ancelotti and left Old Trafford just after a season under Louis van Gaal despite starting off in splendid form donning the iconic number 7 jersey

Raphael Varane is a consummate professional looking for a new experience as Madrid still chase his signature to extend his deal. Varane crucially has pace which could allow Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to abandon the double pivot of McTominay-Fred to make way for more attack minded midfield. Like the signing of Gary Pallister(24) for Steve Bruce(28) or Nemanja Vidic(25) for Rio Ferdinand(28), comes Raphael Varane(28) for Harry Maguire(28) though not in terms of age. Maguire-Varane have a short time of 2-3 seasons to cement their status amongst other stellar United centre-back pairs!

Glazers engage with fans after 16 years

Friday afternoon on 4th June, Joel Glazer finally met with Manchester United fans forum representatives - the first meeting between Glazer family and fans 16 years after the heavily leveraged buyout that saddled the club with £540 million of debt and never been wiped out due to interest payments, loans and dividends made out to the Glazer family of over £1.1 billion in the same time. Before Glazers the club was debt-free and self-sustaining, consequently became the most sought after club in world football including being pursued by Rupert Murdoch's BSkyB the chief broadcasters of English Premier League which was vehemently and successfully opposed by unifying all United fans organizations, prominent MPs like Michael Crick and the media. Edwards family owned United between 1958 and 2002 for 44 years but were generally hated by the fans for mismanagement of England's most famous sporting institution as detailed in the brilliant book 'Manchester United: The Betrayal of a Legend', sadly same fate has befallen the Glazers.

Glazers were forced to apologize and meet the fans, it has to be noted not on their own volition but due to the fan protests and widespread condemnation of the disastrous flirtations with European Super League announcement on 19th April. Protests by United fans led to disruption to the training at Carrington on 22nd April and cancellation of the biggest fixture in the English league against their arch rivals Liverpool at Old Trafford. Glazers were forced to pay £22 million fine imposed by the Football Association. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic and Super League fiasco the Glazers still persisted with taking $0.09 per share as dividend that will be issued on 30th July. This makes the mockery of fine imposed by the FA, and further raises questions on why this take-over was not blocked by the Monopolies and Mergers Commission now called CMA. Ironically its the three American owners of three big traditional England football league clubs in Manchester United, Liverpool and Arsenal who have backed the Super League to mirror their operations in American NFL franchises!

Same top three English teams were involved in the previous flirtation of European Super League in 1998, there again backed by JP Morgan from where the Glazers hired Ed Woodward to work on buying Manchester United. Then JP Morgan had promised $20 million to each of the founding clubs and of being in a group of 16 teams who will participate for six years irrespective of their domestic league position; that sum became $200 million in 2021. Since then the number six has had deliberate evolution in European football - top 6 teams: ignoring traditional giants of the game like Everton or Aston Villa, these top six sides in the league had steadily increased their lead from the rest of the league. Evolution perhaps has a surprise too, in Leicester City's of the world who have worked hard from ground up to evolve into a major club by strategic choice and financial backing by football savvy owners. Contrast Leicester City owners with Glazers who famously cut the net budget in the later years of Sir Alex Ferguson to about £20 million each year. Recall United selling Cristiano Ronaldo for £80 million, lost Carlos Tevez to local rivals City and replaced the duo with Michael Owen (free transfer), Antonio Valencia (£16 million), Gabriel Obertan (£3 million) and Miram Diouf (£4 million) from Ole Gunnar Solskjaer managed club Molde! Consequently the last Premier League winning team under Ferguson had iconic veterans who needed urgent replacing - Giggs, Scholes, Ferdinand and Vidic. Imagine if Glazers would have been in touch with football where might United have been post Ferguson? Brian Glanville wrote this of the Malcolm Glazer in 2005 under the heading 'United they fall': "Utterly ignorant of soccer, owner of Tampa Bay Buccaneers American gridiron club, obsessed by the urge to make money from childhood, at odds with his own sisters over his mothers will, he is the very incarnation of capitalism red in tooth and claw."

This was not the first protest by the Manchester United fans who had previously launched the 'Green and Gold' campaign by Manchester United Supporters Trust (MUST) that was inspired by the colours of Newton Heath LYR (Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway) football club as United used to be known till 1902. Many loyal fans who had been supporting the club for more than two to three generations were part of this protest, and some of them even managed to form a new club FC United who now play in Northern Premier League the 7th tier of English football. They did not get the backing from any of players of the club including the "Class of '92" who instead invested in Salford City FC in 2014 and changed their jersey from tangerine shirt and black short to red shirt and white short. That kit sounds familiar!

In the absence of any football men on United board its the 'Class of '92' who are backing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer just like Sir Matt Busby backed Tommy Docherty when United suffered their last relegation and like Sir Bobby Charlton backed Sir Alex Ferguson when he faced his worst crisis in 1989. It must also be stressed that Docherty and Ferguson had achieved path-breaking success at their previous clubs in Chelsea and Aberdeen respectively unlike modest Solskjaer.

Threat of Super League finally made Gary Neville to take a stand against the Glazer ownership and further shared details of him recalling his medals given to United for display at their museum four years ago, as had a former United captain Martin Buchan. Thus far the "Class of '92" have rightly backed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in general about the direction of rebooting the club as per its tradition. If Solskjaer does not win trophies this upcoming season be assured this backing might change. Gary Neville had the toughest of tasks to succeed Roy Keane and bridge the chasm that emanated from the bitter fall out between Ferguson and his long standing, most successful United captain. Neville has successfully campaigned for an independent regulator in football to which the government has positively responded, and his assessment of the outcome of fans meeting with the Glazers was spot-on too. Doubts remain if Glazers would ever agree to a fan share scheme but the result of #NotAPennyMore campaign that has led to the The Hut Group pulling out of the training kit deal offers hope.

The Manchester Munich Memorial Fund (MMMF) that spearheads the joint group of major United fan organizations to lobby for recognition of Jimmy Murphy's major contribution in creating the Busby Babes and leading the fightback after the crash at Munich made significant breakthrough in their talks with the club who in principle have agreed to the proposal. Confirmation from Jimmy Murphy's grandson in 'All for United' YouTube channel.

Glazers NFL franchise Tampa Bay Buccaneers despite having the lowest win percentage 0.397 they shrewdly acquired the greatest player in NFL history in Tom Brady and won only their second Super Bowl. Can they replicate the same with Manchester United by getting Cristiano Ronaldo? Since the retirement of Ferguson and only when United are out of top four Glazers have invested heavily, this peak and trough transfer policy without a core guiding principle has back-fired thus far. Ed Woodward the embattled chief executive finally quitting and decision making decentralized to a limited extent makes for a fascinating season ahead, not just the transfers. Solskjaer wisely is being patient in his reboot to fill all facets of a modern football club by getting the youth setup revamped, hiring coaches at all levels, backroom staff, director of football, and this is slowly but surely leading to a crescendo of success as a tribute to halcyon days of Busby and Ferguson. If the Glazers do not stop taking dividends and reduce the debt nor engage with fans, irrespective of any on field success they risk being hated just like the Edwards. Old Trafford needs urgent attention!

2005-06 was the only time I got a postcard from United to join as a overseas member, immediately after the Glazer takeover. I remain hopeful of a positive change.

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