Showing posts with label John Murtough. Show all posts
Showing posts with label John Murtough. Show all posts

Glazers break the ceiling after #GlazersOut reaches a crescendo

Every new manager of Manchester United barring David Moyes was handed about 140 million to spend on new players. Louis van Gaal brougth Angel Di Maria, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind. Jose Mourinho used it on Paul Pogba, Henrik Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic(free). Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had Harry Maguire, Aaron wan Bissaka, Daniel James. Same was the expected outlay for Erik ten Hag except for two factors. First was footballing one where six players who came to the end of their contracts left although that freed up the wage bill enourmously. Second reason needs examination of chain of events that unfolded.

During a visit to a local pub chief executive Richard Arnold engaged with fans and answered all questions forthrightly where he disclosed the summer transfer budget to be about 200 million. Having parted ways with outspoken Ralf Rangnick the club decided to discard his suggestions of needing upto ten new players after the loss to Liverpool and ended their interest in targets that belonged to the Red Bull group whom the German had been associated in the past.

United and Erik ten Hag started the window by targetting the Barcelona and Dutch international Frenkie de Jong. Barcelona were in financial turmoil and needed to raise cash to revamp their squad and register them with La Liga who follow more stricter guidelines of UEFA's Financial Fair Play rules. This interest was sustained through out the transfer window despite the player repeatedly stressing his desire to stay with the Catalans. Arnold and director of football John Murtough visited Barcelona and increased their offer from 65 to 75 million to cover the deferred wages the player had been owed in order to complete the transfer. de Jong represents the Barcelona identity in Johan Cruyff mould and from the same Ajax acedemy where he honed his skills. Selling him would have betrayed the ethos of the club and the player was never wanting to leave unless forced. Barcelona meanwhile sold percentage of media rights to raise sufficient cash to not force the sale. United did not get their target.

United had only one new player for pre-season Tyrell Malacia and another two new before the season started in Christian Eriksen and Lisandro Martinez. Having comprehensively lost the opening game of English Premier League to Brighton with superstar Cristiano Ronaldo angling to leave, the club were in disarray. United hierarchy responded by chasing Bologna striker Marko Arnautovic for 7 million and Adrien Rabiot for 15 million! You cannot be serious!! Scott Patterson and other fans wrote to Richard Arnold questioning why the club were on the verge of signing a rascist? United backed off. Rabiot demands were excessive, thank god. Back to the drawing board. Brentford gave United a massive shock with a 4-0 thrashing in just 35 minutes of first half. Fans group 'The__1958' had organised protests against the Glazer ownership of the greatest English footballing institution before the match against arch rivals Liverpool. This time there was lot of media scrutiny into Glazers taking dividends out, not putting their money into the club, increasing debt, lack of investment into Old Trafford and Carrington etc. Something big had to be done to reclaim the focus on football which is a 'results driven business'.

United agreed a fee of 70 million with Real Madrid for their Brazilian central defensive midfielder Casemiro with the player present in the stands during the match against Liverpool. Reputed Spanish football expert Graham Hunter speaking to Off The Ball said this might result in Real not winning La Liga such is the importance of Casemiro to that squad. Following the win against Liverpool, United went back to Ajax to persuade them to sell Anthony whom Erik ten Hag had coached to become a full Brazil international. 84.5 million fee was accepted by United which shows the degree to which the manager believes in the player and the club backed it up. Worlds best wingers have mainly come from Manchester United with Geroge Best, Ryan Giggs, Cristiano Ronaldo or Brazil with Garrincha, Jairzinho, Rivellino. Sir Alex Ferguson chased Ronaldinho. Anthony becomes United's first Brazilian winger finally. United ended the window with spend of 226 million second only to Chelsea under new ownership and signed keeper Martin Dubravka on loan from Newcastle United to provide competition for David de Gea. 

United had lost seven consecutove away games a feat which had not occured since mid 1930's and now managed to win two back to back away gaimes against Southampton and Leicester by a single goal with same starting XI that does not include Ronaldo, Maguire, Shaw. Arsenal the only team with 100% winning record to top the table presents a real test for Erik ten Hag's team. Casemiro and Ronaldo came on as substitues in last two games and could start against the Gunners. Anthony would eventually start on the right wing while Jadon Sancho switches to the left; either of these would be vying to wear the coveted #7 shirt after the tenure of Ronaldo ends. Goal scoring record and adaptability of Ronaldo will also result in him being included in the starting XI which looks like: de Gea(GK), Dalot, Varane, Martinez, Malacia, Casemiro, Eriksen, Fernandes, Anthony, Ronaldo, Sancho

Five of starting XI have been changed in first transfer window itself of Erik ten Hag, massive. Lisandro Martinez has already won United's player of the month award, Malacia had Salah in his pocket in his first game for United, Eriksen spraying the passes from the deep to push Fernandes into goal scoring positions, over to Casemiro and Anthony now for 'o jogo bonito'. Without head of recruitment United under Richard Arnold seem to have come to grips with the situation by changing their response by accepting feedback and listening to genuine fans. From van Gaal, Mourinho to Solskjaer it was the second summer transfer window which deeply dissapointed. Win always gives a breather to correct and Arnold has time till next summer to prepare and learn from past mistakes.

Do or die against our biggest rivals as #GlazersOut gathers pace

New manager Erik ten Hag lost opening two games comprehensively against Brighton & Hove Albion (home) and Brentford (away) by scoreline 1-2 and 0-4. Team as a whole nor players individually did not demostrate any fight whatsoever. Ronaldo was introduced at half-time in the first match while three substitutions were made in the second where David de Gea was unusally responsible for two of the goals and apoligized for the same. Liverpool with two draws are 15th in the table meet United who are 19th on Monday in the biggest rivalry of English football. Last season United lost 0-9 on aggregate. Last time Manchester United lost their opening three matches it resulted in the change of manager before Christmas, first in 1972 with Frank O'Farrel and then in 1986 with Ron Atkinson!

Disastrous summer of rebuild without a head of recruitment caused this nightmare start with a new manager in tow. Richard Arnold and John Murtough concentrated all their energies on Frenkie de Jong who loves Barcelona not Manchester. Since the departure of Ander Herrera the club does not have a defensive midfielder of repute. Nemanja Matic was inefffective due to his age and Scott McTominay thrust into the cauldron like a youth parachuting over Normandy with only hope to his aid. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer who was backed to the hilt never filled this crucial gap having played with Roy Keane and Micheal Carrick. Erik ten Hag started both the games with McTominay and Fred in continuation of previous regime despite signing Lisandro Martinez who could have played in that role to limit the damage. Erik ten Hag has also retained Harry Maguire as captain, David de Gea as goal keeper and wants to retain Ronaldo who scored 24 goals for the club last season. If results do not improve either of these might have to give way.

Attention and blame was rightly pointed to the Florida based owners of the club, the Glazer family whose leveraged buyout has saddled a profitable club with debt that now stands at 590 million. They have thrown money since Sir Alex Ferguson left but without a clear vision. Mainstream media has finally got the guts to state these facts. But what took them so long? Was it their nationality or amount of money being thrown at the problem. Few of the grievances are listed below:

  • capped spending under Sir Alex Ferguson to 20 million even when rivals were spending more.
  • sold Ronaldo for world record 80 million but replaced them with Owen(free), Obertan, Valencia
  • have not upgraded the facility at Old Trafford since takeover
  • backed OGS, LVG without oversight even SAF esp by not having replaced Scholes and Giggs
  • backed the cult of Pogba over the manager Mourinho and destroyed the culture
  • united reserves relegated in 2018 under their watch
  • failed Moyes and Mourinho in the transfer window
  • commented that club can sustain without Champions' League football
  • earnings call always referenced social media frenzy the club generates but not sound football structures
  • only club owners in EPL to take dividends without putting their own money into the club
  • no fan interaction until the protest by fans over super league fiasco
  • backed the disastrous European Super League
  • not sacked Ed Woodward sooner. To be fair Richard Arnold from his interview appears more frank and sincere.

What was the initial reaction to the loss? United had apparently 75 million of Frenkie de Jong deal to spend and guess who they were approaching to sign - Marko Arnautovic and Adrien Rabiot! Arguement was that de Jong still signs before deadline day and additionals funds of 7 and 17 million coughed up to fill the gaps. Abject lack of big picture is brazenly evident in the decision making echelons of the club. Finally the #GlazersOut movement that got trending forced the club to make an approach for Brazilian midefielder Casemiro who like Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo has won five Champions' League titles at Real Madrid. Madrid were able to break perhaps their greatest midfield trio of Modric-Kroos-Casemiro due to marquee young talent they've signed up in Tchouameni and Camavinga. 60 million pounds with 10 million in add-ons for a 30 year old is still expensive considering that Varane was signed for 34 million pounds at 28 years of age last season.

British billionaire Jim Ratcliffe a boyhood United fan who had even made a late bid to buy Chelsea earlier has expressed a firm interest to buy the club from the Glazers. The NFL affiliated owners who are at the forefront of commercializing sport are not likely to sell their English Premier League assets easily though. United would definitely match and exceed the price Chelsea got i.e., 2.5 billion pounds. What can force the Glazers to sell? Sustained fan protests in the immediate phase or pressure from the independent regulator when its fully functionaing later on. Change of ownership will be bumpy but if they do not take money off the club and invest instead will win over the goodwill of fans slowly apart from having a clear football vision. 

Madrid trio Varane, Casemiro, Ronaldo with ten Hag's signings Martinez, Eriksen all starting will mean captain Harry Maguire may not be first choice starter. His positional sense is suspect and is not adept at playing the high line makes him suseptible to errors that lead to goals. Ronaldo had to be assuaged by the United hierarchy especially given that there was no Champions' League football this season from the opening of the transfer window by signings like Casemiro and still need to add a backup striker, right back, midfielder, leftwinger, goal keeper if possible. Bid for another of ten Hag's favourites Anthony was increased from 60 to 80 million which is huge in itself but to raise it further to 100 million would be insane. Instead would a young and hungry Declan Rice make more sense? Or combination of PSV winger Cody Gapko and Lazio midfielder Sergej Milinkov-Savic who both offer physicality that is lacking in United presently. Without Casemiro, United will need to manage Liverpool for now at Old Trafford. #MUNLIV This one match can turn the season around and save Murtough not Erik ten Hag from the sack.

United's transfer woes and wins

Manchester United not only secured early appointment of Erik ten Hag on 22nd April before the final league match of Eredivisie on 15th May but the Dutchman started work immediately thereafter by watching the final league game of Reds against Crystal Palace on 22nd May. This was primarily due to the good officies of Edwin van der Sar and Ajax Amstredam. United secured the services of his assistant coach Mitchell van der Gaag to be his deputy at Old Trafford. It is quite natural for managers to have known and trusted backroom staff but also to get one player especially if he transmits the ideas and instructions of the manager on the pitch like Lisandro Martinez. United had done this in the past when Ron Atkinson signed Bryan Robson for a record British transfer fee to follow him from West Bromwich Albion.

Although officially this might be the business concluded with Ajax Amstredam but what transpired in the month of June during and after the Nations League was ungracious from United. It started with courting of 21 year old breakthrough centre-half for both Ajax and Dutch National team in Jurrien Timber. Ex-United manager and present manager of Dutch National Team Louis van Gaal termed his potential move as "not wise" arguing that he wants his players to get maximum game time ahead of first ever winter World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Timber decided against following his coach who progressed him from reserve team through to first team and helping him win the Marco van Basten Ajax Talent of the Year award for 2021-22 season.

While United were busy with Timber, Arsenal had an initial bid of 30 million Euro's submitted for his partner Lisandro Martinez in the heart of Ajax defense that had won two successive league titles. Martinez can play also play as defensive midfielder to keep in check the main opposing threat and win the ball back. He was Ajax's Player of the Year. United banged in to try to snatch what seemed like a bargain but Ajax stood firm. United then reportedly bid ~110 million for both Argentine Martinez and Brazilian winger Anthony together as per the Times. Ajax meanwhile as planned let Noussair Mazraoui (on free), Ryan Gravenberch (last year of contract) and Sebastien Haller (big fee of 31 million) leave. This raid from United would have ripped the team apart. Ajax indicated the price of the duo that United were not about to match thus Anthony was dropped.


Hounding did not stop there. Next was young striker Brian Brobbey an ex-Ajax academy graduate who had been transferred to RB Leipzig but brought back last January to play an important role with 7 goals. Usually employees sign Non-Disclosure Agreements on joining a company and stick to Non-Compete clause while leaving, this clearly was about to be breached and also tarnish the great legacy of Erik ten Hag at Ajax. Another Ajax target Sasa Kalajdzic was scouted. Clearly neither Brobbey nor Kalajdzic has the record nor consistency to lead the 20 times English Premier League champion's attacking front line but are players still developing their potential.  

As none of the Ajax targets fructified United pounched in the deal of young left-back from Eredivisie Tyrell Malacia after Olympique Lyon had agreed a fee of 13 million with PSV Eindhoven. United did not seem to mind to pay 2 million extra to get their first summer signing and first signing of Erik ten Hag era. This is the second deal where United have muscled in and clearly exposing their lack of transfer specialist among their midst while hiring another corporate manager to be assistant to Director of Football John Murtough. This was highlighted by United's recent pursuit of Brentford's head of recruitment Lee Dykes in vain.

Malacia (15 million), Eriksen (free) and Martinez (55 million) done the next focus will be on protracted saga of Frenkie de Jong. United have as per reports increased their initial fee from 65 to 75 million to cover for the deffered wages owed by Barcelona to the player while the total fee remains 85 million. If concluded it will take the total spending to 155 million. If Frenkie de Jong deal does not get done than ETH can be confident that United are fully behind him to secure the type of players he demands. United might be forced to make the best out of Anthony Martial for one more season while promoting Alejandro Garnacho. Free agents Dries Mertens, Andrea Belotti or Jamie Vardy (last year of contract) can be last gasp attempt to cover for absence of Mason Greenwood. United have earned 10 million from the sale of Andreas Pereira to Fulham and departure of six players has drastically reduced the wage bill. United remain hopeful of further offloading Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, Axel Tuanzebe, Alex Telles or Brandon Williams.

Erik ten Hag's debut match was a 4-0 thumping victory over our greatest rivals Liverpool in Bangkok, Thailand, Asia. Here is hoping Dutch Revolution mark-II gets the chance to be completed unlike mark-I under Louis van Gaal which was abruptly disbanded just as Rashford, Lingard, Martial after initial struggle settled nicely and were starting to turn things around. Trust the process.

Erik ten Hag presentation

Manchester United suffered their 12th loss in the last match of 2021-22 English Premier League season 0-1 to Crystal Palace and finished with lowest points tally in EPL history with just 58 points that is 35 points adrift of the champions City. Goal difference was a perfect naught with only 57 goals scored thanks mainly to Cristiano Ronaldo's 18 and conceded as high as 57 goals placing the club 12th in goals against. United lost 5 of their last 8 matches ceding 16 goals as Ralf Rangnick era quaked to a meltdown due to player's apathy. Sensing the urgency of the situation Erik ten Hag rightly decided to advance his joining date, got his two assistants on board - Mitchell van der Gaag and Steve McClaren, and even attended the Palace game in London. The Dutchman formally took charge the very next day on 23rd May after the final matchday and was presented to the media.

Erik ten Hag sounded confident and methodical in his explanation having won his 3rd Eredivisie title in 4 years with Ajax Amstredam. On next steps he said "What we are now doing is first constructing the staff, constructing the squad and constructing a good plan. First it's the pre-season plan that we are now working on." His remit from the club was clear "They have to set conditions and I have to work with my squad to achieve success." and demands from a big club like Manchester United "We want to win every game, so we go from game to game and then we will see." with some big name players "But it is always players who dictate the way of play. I have the ideal, I will line up my best team, and I will line up my players like that to get the best out of them."

He simply had to sound ebullient when asked if the dominance of Klopp-Guardiola can come to an end before they leave? "I think, yes." After the worst season in 30 years the fans hope the only way is up and he echoed that "Although it is a fantastic history, the reason is there is a high potential for the future. That's why I am here." Most stinging criticism came from the first Dutch manager of Manchester United Louis van Gaal when he branded it as "commercial club" and hoped ETH will not join them. ETH naturally rejected that "I draw my own line and I’m convinced that is not the case. I spoke to the directors about it and football is one, two, three these days. Every club these days is commercial. Every club needs it. To be successful you need to do what is necessary, but football is one, two three in this club.”

Most important information that came out was his sharp dismissal of Ralf Rangnick's consultancy role and he simply cut the answer short "That is on the club." and refused to elaborate any further. Days later first it was Rangnick after being unveiled as Austria manager announced that he will end his role at United. "We have come to the conclusion that it is better for me and the club to concentrate fully on the Austrian national team. I cancelled the consultancy contract." Rangnick didn't salvage the situation at United rather added fuel to the fire with claims of board not backing him to recruit a striker in January after Mason Greenwood was ruled out. Fans do thank him for exposing the club but that situation cannot continue for long without becoming untenable. 

ETH distanced himself from Rangnick's conclusion of the club needing upto 10 new players after 0-9 thrashing over two legs by their biggest domestic rivals Liverpool, by harking back to era under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer "I am still in the process of analysing...The season before, this squad was second in the league, so there is huge potential." This perhaps gives a clue that despite United losing 6 experienced players whose contract expire this summer and central midfield positions still vacant that there will not be any wholesale changes but rather a evolution in squad. This dampened the spirits of many leading broadsheets who gave a pessimistic reading of ETH presentation. The Telegraph opined "New Manchester United manager deserves time to prove he won't be remembered as Erik Ten Months" while The Times were more considerate "Straight-talking Erik ten Hag will take no nonsense at Manchester United."

ETH has started work 5-weeks early compared to David Moyes who consequently failed to add any significant players to the ageing squad that had won the league in previous season. ETH is bringing in a known hand in Steve McClaren while Moyes failed to persuade Rene Muelensteen to stay while disbanding rest of Sir Alex Ferguson's formidable backroom staff. Richard Arnold and John Murtough have a new setup taking shape after a string of departures in Jim Lawlor the chief scout, Marcel Bout head of global scouting, Matt Judge director of football negotiations, Hemen Tseayo chief strategy officer and Ed Woodward the chief executive. This can be a boon for ETH to push through his requests or a bane if the new hierarchy cannot deliver the transfers in time for the pre-season - a deadline crucial for the new manager. Manchester United appointed Andy O'Boyle as Deputy Director of Football reporting to John Murtough, and like Murtough himself O'Boyle joins from Premier League's head of elite performance. This puts an end to the rumours of links with Paul Mitchell who has signed on for another season at AS Monaco or Luis Campos who has joined Paris St Germain.

Best piece of advise came from the gaffer Sir Alex Ferguson "Well, I hope he does well because the club needs someone to get in control. I hope he does well, yeah." No Dutch manager has won the English Premier League title yet(Guus Hiddink, Louis van Gaal, Dick Advocaat, Martin Jol, Ruud Gulit, Ronald Koeman, Rene Muelensteen, Frank de Boer) and that's a stiff challenge for ETH in itself. David Moyes flew to Thailand for pre-season so will ETH in July but hope history does not repeat itself any further.

Paul Mitchell or relegation battle next season

With upto six players coming to end of their contracts at Manchester United who already have an unfilled vacancy in central midfield since departures of Ander Herrera and Marouanne Fellaini three years ago, the club has a monumental task ahead in the summer transfer window as Ralf Rangnick put it "for me, it is clear there will be six, seven, eight, maybe ten new players" following a 0-9 aggregate thrashing at the hands of their biggest rivals Liverpool. With the scale of the rebuild and a limited funding of about 150 million nett the task of getting the right players is difficult as it is; it is further compounded by the fact that United have a duboius record under Ed Woodward and Matt Judge to take forever to conclude negotiations while paying over the odds for the wrong players!

Richard Arnold will want to demonstrate how he tends to operate differently than his beleaguered predecessor and thus the appointment of Erik ten Hag, an upcoming manager who has steadily won laurels at Ajax. A new position was also created under John Murtough for Deputy Director of Football. Ralf Rangnick worked closely with Paul Mitchell at the Red Bull group and both were spotted at FA Youth Cup match in February. The Manchester born recruitment specialist would be an ideal candidate based on his brilliant eye for talent while at Southampton, Tottenham Hotspur, Red Bull group and now AS Monaco. Mitchell was also synonymous with the rise of Mauricio Pochettino at Southampton and Tottenham but reportedly fell off with Spurs chairman Daniel Levy and had to leave. With AS Monaco losing to Braga in round of 16 in Europa Cup and presently in 4th place in Ligue 1 six points off 2nd place amid managerial churn, time is perhaps right for Mitchell to move to new destination after a two year stint at the principality.

United have lost four straight away matches to Man City, Everton, Liverpool and Arsenal. Last time this happened was in 1980-81 when United finished eight. United have lost 10 matches this season and conceded 51 goals already. Loss to Liverpool was the worst match in Premier League history. If it were not for Cristiano Ronaldo and David de Gea, United would be battling relegation. Board having sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and appointing an interim manager thus writing off the whole season, demolished the morale of the squad. With impending player exodus the chances of 'Too good to go down' might repeat in 2022-23 just a year before the golden jubilee of last relegation in 1973-74. Reports of conflict between British and Iberian/South American players must be firmly dealth with. Everton part of original top 4 clubs of league football in England are now facing relegation, United must wake-up now. Not only have City and Liverpool marched on while Chelsea, Arsenal, Tottenham are re-grouping but likes of Wolves, West Ham, Leicester, Brighton, Brentford, Aston Villa, Crystal Palace have sound structures to enable high performance. 

More than anything the character of the players will be paramount. Sir Alex Ferguson brought Viv Anderson, Brian McClair and Steve Bruce and fixed the centre-back issue to build a firm foundation that got better after Gary Pallister added pace to handle counter-attacks. United must rally around a new captain in Bruno Fernandes ably guided by veterans Cristiano Ronaldo and David de Gea as the current skipper Harry Maguire has had a torrid time while being unispiring. Mason Greenwood is likely to miss another season, Edinson Cavani is leaving, Martial and Rashford are not number 9's which makes an emergency signing of a forward mandatory. If team takes time to adapt to different type of gameplay under Erik ten Hag, they must have an option to switch to more direct form in the last 20-30 minutes to salvage crucial points. United were relegated due to lack fit and proper strikers in 1973-74 campaign! Return of James Garner from an excellent spell at Forest has raised expectations. United cannot introduce young players from the team that has reached the FA Youth Cup final without proper protection from senior players like how 'Captain Marvel' Bryan Robson switched to left wing to take care of opposing right-back who was giving young Ryan Giggs a tough time.

United certainly cannot spend 150 million on one player like Declan Rice or proven leaders like Harry Kane and Conor Coady as it seems very difficult to raise significant funds from selling players. United need two defensive midfielders, one centre-forward, one centre-back for a start. Hypothetically it is likely to be 40m for Ruben Neves, 50m for Yves Bissouma, 75m for Darwin Nunez, 35m for Jurrien Timber will top 200m. But an expert like Paul Mitchell can tweak this from his extensive contacts especially from Red Bull group players like Amadou Haidara(ligament injury), Konrad Laimer, Josko Gvardiol, Willi Orban, Marcel Halstenberg, Christopher Nkunku, Rasmus Kristensen et al and from his existing employers AS Monaco the likes of Aurelian Tchouameni, Benoit Badiashile, and others throughout Europe to transform the squad in couple of seasons itself. Getting Paul Mitchell will strengthen Ralf Rangnick's stature who is to become a consultant after this season and the board must not bring politics into play to handicap the club instead of being an enabler. Mitchell is likely to weigh up the takeover scenario at Chelsea who will play in the Champions' League next season unlike United before deciding.

United have been poor at letting players go and the plan of Ed Woodward to load non-starting players at high salary to extract good transfer fee has backfired spectacularly. Club will have to generate minimum of 50m by selling Dean Henderson, Eric Bailly, Anthoy Martial. Instead of Phil Jones club can groom Axle Tuanzebe or Teden Mengi. Luis Campos who is not associated with any club since leaving Lille in late 2020 is an formidable alternative to Paul Mitchell as are Brentford duo Phil Giles and Rasmus Ankersen. Campos performed the ultimate miracle by helping AS Monaco and Lille to win the French Ligue 1 as underdogs against oil rich Paris Saint-Germain. United were beaten by another United in Newcastle to the signing of technical director Dan Ashworth who has left Brighton and Hove Albion. What if United had football people at decision making levels to back Jose Moruinho over players with social media power, hired Luis Campos and signed one quality centre-back in summer of 2018. This summer is another such momentus occasion where fans want Manchester United to be run as a football club and not just a commercial brand.

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 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!

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.

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!

Disappointing season finale

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer remains in the company of Wilf McGuiness, Frank O'Farrell, Dave Sexton and David Moyes as trophy-less post war manager of Manchester United after fumbling against minnows Villareal in the UEFA Cup final in Gdansk. Final took place on a historic day, 26th May synonymous in United folklore with birthday of Sir Matt Busby and victory over Bayern Munich to complete the treble in 1999 under Sir Alex Ferguson. Solskjaer has managed to finish in top four in last two successive seasons a feat not achieved since retirement of Ferguson, and improved upon four semi-final losses by claiming his first runners-up medal. Progress seems labored and sluggish at best, aided by rivals Liverpool, Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur having a bad season at the same time!

Transfer spending has not been a problem despite criticism of Glazer ownership as Solskjaer has spent heavily on Harry Maguire (80m), Aaron Wan-Bissaka (50m), Daniel James (15m), Bruno Fernandes (67m), Edinson Cavani (free), Alex Telles (18m), Amad Diallo (37m), Facundo Pellistri (9m) totaling a staggering 276 million pounds in two and half years. Style of play still does not reflect the DNA of the club which is well-known to Solskjaer and over reliance on Bruno Fernandes who again won player of the season award for two straight seasons. In contrast flamboyant Ron Atkinson with star signing Bryan Robson won two FA Cups in '83 and '85 while Solskjaer meekly surrendered opportunities against Chelsea in semi-final last year and to winners Leicester City in quarter-finals this year. Outwitted by Sevilla in last year's UEFA Cup semi-finals and in league Cup semi-finals by Pep Guardiola's City for two straight season's. On that previous evidence the loss to 7th placed team Villareal in Spanish La Liga in Gdansk albeit on penalties was not a surprise.

As a player who is fondly remembered for his goal scoring exploits off the bench as a substitute being dubbed 'super sub', Solskjaer the manager is the anti-thesis with inflexibility and lacking plan B. Many point to his bench strength arguing about its depth but the same lot fail to acknowledge that unbeaten away from home record this past season was sustained mainly due to changes introduced in second half in Cavani and Greenwood being 3rd and 4th choice strikers behind Martial and Rashford. United had a brilliant shot stopper in Sergio Romero (released at the end of his contract after 6 years on 04-June) on their books but could not use him as he wasn't anywhere near the squad all season despite earning huge salary. Romero was the keeper when United lifted their only UEFA Cup trophy under Jose Mourinho in 2017 with Valencia, Smalling, Blind, Darmian, Herrera, Mata, Fellaini, Pogba, Mkhitaryan and Rashford. Eight of those have moved on in such a short space of time and replaced by more vaunted players like de Gea in goal, Shaw, Maguire (was injured replaced by Bailly), Lindelof, Wan-Bissaka, McTominay, Pogba, Greenwood, Fernandes, Rashford and Cavani. The result in 2021 was poor but it puts the spotlight clearly on the manager unable to pack a punch let alone punch above.

Fiasco over Super League flirtation will force the Glazers to spend more than usual this summer. That will directly increase the pressure on Solskjaer to deliver next season. In this context a new 3-year deal for Solskjaer seems unlikely to be completed while his existing one enters its final year. An extension sounds more prudent. Solskjaer's repeated assertions about being a man-manager than a coach raises doubts about his present backroom staff which might need augmenting. Assistant manager Mike Phelan, a former United player was crucial to the initial days of success under Ferguson and later his trusted assistant, Michael Carrick and Kieran McKenna are relatively early in their respective coaching careers, Martyn Pert is the latest addition credited with Fred's turnaround and Richard Hartis who is back as goal-keeping coach. Addition of former United defender Michael Clegg as head of strength and conditioning has resulted in lesser injuries to players this season, he now occupies the same position in coaching set-up that his father once did. Bizarrely Mourinho hasn't yet won a trophy without his former assistant Rui Faria when they last lifted that UEFA Cup for United. Rui Faria is yet to sign a contract with any club since he left Al-Duhail SC while Steve Cooper at Swansea prefers 4-2-3-1 like Solskjaer and Carlos Corberan has stabilized Huddersfield Town in his first full season in the championship. Meanwhile United academy under Nick Cox have made an excellent appointment in Justin Cochrane former England U-17s coach to replace Nicky Butt as Head of Player Development.

Credit to Solskjaer for finishing second and go unbeaten away from home for the first time in Manchester United history in a Covid-19 impacted season. Without proper rest between seasons for players and no pre-season either the team got off to horrific start with 3 defeats in first six games claiming 15th position. Tottenham Hotspur coached by Jose Mourinho inflicted joint heaviest defeat 1-6 at Old Trafford that made Solskjaer to fixate Mc(Tominay)-Fred in midfield for majority of games stifling creativity and Donny van de Beek's chances. Not the 9-0 win over Southampton but beating Leeds United 6-2 on their return to top-flight was the best match of the season. Bruno Fernandes' goal against Everton in an Eric Cantona manner was easily goal of the season. Loss to Istanbul Basaksehir away was the low point of the season leading to United crashing out of Champions' League group stage and failing to win any points from their last two group games against Thomas Tuchel managed Paris St Germain and Julian Nagelsmann managed RB Leipzig, both of whom went through. At one point in the season United's local rivals City were favourites for the quadruple until Chelsea under Thomas Tuchel not United stopped their juggernaut in FA Cup semi-final and Champions' League final respectively! Lost to Arsenal at Old Trafford for the 1st time in 15 years! United's joint biggest Premier League win (9-0 vs Saints) and loss (1-6 vs Spurs) occurred in the same season! United also continued to lose at least one match to relegated teams for 4th straight season, in a 1-2 loss to Sheffield United at home! Most bizarre match was 3-2 win over Brighton & Hove Albion with the penalty coming after the final whistle scored by Bruno Fernandes who ended the season as top goal-scorer with 28 goals.


Solskjaer deserves another season for rebooting the club as per its tradition of emphasis on youth development in an non-acrimonious manner unlike Jose Mourinho. Solskjaer did not get the players he requested last summer yet did not lose his composure unlike Mourinho and consequently the team still attacks mainly from the left via Luke Shaw or through Bruno Fernandes in the middle, and if this changes due to United finally getting a right winger like Jadon Sancho or Ousmane Dembele the impact can be huge. John Murtough the first director of football at United assisted by technical director Darren Fletcher will oversee their first transfer window (that opens on 9th June) since being appointed. They will be tempted by the prospect of availability of Cristiano Ronaldo and for sure that will appeal to the commercial side of United. Another tough one will be to convince Paul Pogba to sign a new contract as his present one enters its final year. Losing Pogba and not getting Ronaldo will seem like commercial disaster for Glazers especially Richard Arnold favourite in-house executive to replace Ed Woodward.

Declan Rice must be on top of their radar as McTominay and Fred do not create enough chances from midfield and confidence in Donny van de Beek is low. Maguire-Lindelof does not seem convincing to win the league as they lack speed and the absence of Maguire to injury exposed the lack of leadership that has made United to look at experienced player like Raphael Varane. Ben White is the best English bet to recover from high defensive line. Links to right-back Kieran Trippier who will turn 30 seems odd even though he is a Manchester lad while Max Aarons seems too pricey being in the right age profile. Player sales might generate considerable sum to augment the squad as likes of Jesse Lingard, Anthony Martial, Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, Nemanja Matic, Andreas Pereira, Phil Jones seem surplus to requirements but their high salary will remain a constraint to get a move. Juan Mata who has been a brilliant pro but will probably look to play more games in a less competitive league as his contract comes to an end this summer. James Garner on loan at Nottingham Forest and Teden Mengi on loan at Derby County were the two best prospects this season. Solskjaer handed senior debuts to Anthony Elanga, Shola Shoretire, Hannibal Mejbri and Will Fish.

Dave Sexton lost his job despite winning his last seven matches to finish eight in April 1981 but importantly he hadn't won a trophy in 4 years despite finishing second the season before and losing the FA Cup final in 1979. Solskjaer needs to be acutely aware of that! United are in their longest trophy drought in three decades (since 1985 to 1989) i.e., 4 years since beating Ajax in Stockholm.

United dominate opposition after years in doldrums

Manchester United totally bossed the game with 28 shots 10 on-target against 3rd placed Antonio Conte's Tottenham Hotspur who were also ...

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