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When the 2021-2022 season wraps up, it will be five years since Manchester United lastly won a trophy and nine years since they won a league title. Frankly, United are at rock bottom, and while the announcement of Erik Ten Hag inspires belief, there are more questions than answers that they must solve to get back on track.
First things first, sacking Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in November 2021 was the right thing. Although bringing Ralf Rangnick, who spent his last two years as a sporting director at Lokomotiv Moscow, has not yielded the desired results, the issues at the club start way above any other manager’s head. The club survived on the brilliance of Sir Alex Ferguson and the monopoly he had over the Premier League for so long; they thought it would carry over when he left in 2013. Since the long-serving Scot retired, United has spent over $1.2 billion yet has nothing to show for it.
For the last decade, the club has lacked an identity, which the managers hired in that period, have failed to implement. While identity seems a buzzword right now in modern football, it is a fact that United do not have any. Whenever Manchester City step on the pitch, you know exactly what every player’s role on the pitch is. Regardless of personnel, you know what each player in each position is expected to do effortlessly. When Liverpool steps on the pitch, you know the same thing. Bayern Munich, Real Madrid, Chelsea, Inter Milan. All the top sides in the world are in the same boat. No surprise they have all recorded silverware in the last three years.
When a club has an identity, recruitment becomes easy, as you immediately know which players would suit and which players would not. Despite having more resources to invest in their team, Manchester United lack such a luxury. The current squad was banded together by marketing people with a mix of talents and qualities, hoping that whoever had been given the managerial role at the time could sort it out. It should not beggar belief the catastrophic failure they have endured thus far.
Appointing Ralf Rangnick to help sort out the behind the scenes issues was a brilliant idea from Manchester United. However, it is a shame he needed six months in the limelight first before getting to work. From his press conferences, it is clear that he knows exactly what needs to be done. Erik Ten Hag is responsible for establishing an identity, which has eluded the club in the last decade. Having a defined style is important, as it lays a foundation for continuity, making player recruitment and managerial replacements easy. The club would not need to burn everything down to the ground first.
After establishing an identity and laying the much-needed foundation, the club must build a squad to suit. While building a squad to suit may take a few years or several transfer windows, getting the right players in and getting the players on edge out must be done, especially with the club’s resources. Thirdly, they must be consistent and challenging. Addressing key issues and areas in the squad after the additions of Raphael Varane, Jadon Sancho, and Cristiano Ronaldo will put the club in a better place to compete with Liverpool and Manchester City.
Until these decisions are made, and issues are addressed, the club will continue to struggle and register mediocre results in domestic and European competitions.