Manchester United malaise runs deepThere seem to be two main problems at United. One is the lack of patience of the management and the lack of astute signings is the second problem.
The run the most successful team in English football had, after resumption of the Premier League following the Covid-19 enforced break last season, been promising. They did not lose a single game and secured third place which had seemed unlikely earlier in the season. There was finally hope that good times were back again at Old Trafford, maybe for the first time since the departure of the legendary manger Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013.
Their first game this season was supposed to be a straightforward win against lowly Crystal Palace. But they not only lost but even struggled to control the game. They seemed disjointed, without a structure and devoid of any desire. It took for new boy Donny van de Beek, who came on as a substitute in the second half, to score their only goal after their opponents were already 2-0 up. The goal was a fortuitous one after the fell to the Dutchman after some confusion among the London team’s defenders.
Van de Beek has been the only addition at Manchester United so far this season. In contrast, other top teams in the league have been making significant additions. There has been a lot of noise on Jadon Sancho joining them but with Borussia Dortmund not willing to let go the England international on the cheap, United are reluctant to meet the German giants’ valuation. United are known to make big signings but for whatever reason, such signings do not always work out on the pitch. Alexis Sanchez came mid-season in 2018, after having starred at Arsenal over three and a half years, but he wanted to leave after one day. Paul Pogba has not hidden his desire to leave despite having come for a record fee from Italian serial champions Juventus and as a World Cup winner.
There seem to be two main problems at United. One is the lack of patience of the management. David Moyes, who replaced Ferguson, did not last a season. The club’s longest-serving player Ryan Giggs finished as caretaker manager. Then came Dutchman Louis van Gaal who lasted two seasons and was sacked right after winning the FA Cup in 2016. Jose Mourinho lasted two and half seasons up to December 2018. The club seems to want too much too soon and don’t seem to realise that someone of the stature of Ferguson cannot be replaced overnight. They don’t want to be left too far behind the leading pack but managers need to be given time to win the confidence of the players and build a system of play. And clubs need to support the manager in the transfer market if it wants success.
The lack of astute signings is the second problem. The transfer fees clubs pay for players is simply mind-boggling but such is the interest in the game worldwide that clubs do recoup their expenses from television rights, merchandising, sponsorships and gate receipts though this has been suspended in light of the pandemic. Luke Shaw, the left back is a case in point. He was bought for then world record fee for a teenager but despite having struggled in the position continues to be first choice. There had not been a settled right back for years until Aaron Wan-Bissaka joined from Crystal Palace a couple of seasons ago. Highest paid team member and goalkeeper is David de Gea, also the only surviving player of the Ferguson era, continues to be suspect.
It was not only Ferguson the club has had to replace but also David Gill, the vice chairman who left in 2013. The owners, the American Glazer billionaire business family whose late patriarch started off as a door to door watch salesman, replaced him with Ed Woodward, an investment banker.
While Manchester United travel to much improved Brighton, despite the latter’s opening day loss to wobbly Chelsea, the marquee match in this round of fixtures is the Liverpool-Arsenal clash. Liverpool may have lost the Community Shield last month to Arsenal and in the league last season after they had been crowned champions in the Premier League, Jurgen Klopp’s team have been much more impressive against Leeds United and Chelsea. That they conceded three against newly-promoted Leeds United and Chelsea were holding them until the Andreas Christensen red card just before the interval last weekend will give an ascendant Arsenal hope.
A win for the Gunners would mean a statement of intent but with their defence still unsettled, despite the recent arrivals of two new centre halves, it will be difficult for them to keep the lethal forward three of the Reds at bay. They will be supported ably by Thiago Alcantara, the man-of-the-match of the Champions League final, who arrived quietly to Merseyside from European champions Bayern Munich. The Spanish orchestrator of Brazilian origins will surely want to be a champion again.