Manchester United: Devil In The Detail

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  • Post published:March 21, 2024

Wherever they end up this season, it has been another turbulent campaign for Manchester United, writes SportClub Editor Nick Said.

Manchester United won 13 Premier League titles in 21 seasons from 1992 to 2013, at one stage an unstoppable force under Sir Alex Ferguson.

His retirement following the most recent of those triumphs was always going to be the end of an era, but had you said the Red Devils would not win the league again in the subsequent 10 seasons, many inside and outside the club would have scoffed.

They have a UEFA Europa League and an FA Cup triumph, and a couple of League Cup wins since then, but it is not nearly enough for one of the biggest brands in global football.

The rise of Manchester City and Liverpool as a force again has played a part, but so have a succession of poor decisions in terms of both coaches and player recruitment. United have, at times, been their own worst enemies.

Since 2013, they have finished in the top four five times, but also gone a further five seasons without UEFA Champions League football. Again, unthinkable having never missed out in the 21 previous years. They look like they could miss out again this term. Club legend Gary Neville, such a crucial player under Ferguson, says the problems at the club are as bad off the pitch as they are on it.

“You can’t trust them; they will let you down. They give you a glimmer of hope that they might be on track, then they go lose a game they shouldn’t,” Neville said.

“United are inconsistent and the problems go a lot deeper. It’s a cultural failure all the way through the club, which can only be fixed by new ownership.”

That new ownership has come, in part, by a stake bought by self- confessed United fan Jim Ratcliffe, an English billionaire.

In December it was announced that Ratcliffe had purchased 25% of United, and that his INEOS Sport company would be taking control of football operations. The much-maligned American Glazer family remain as majority shareholders, but with less say on the running of the football aspect of the team.

“As a local boy and a lifelong supporter of the club, I am very pleased that we have been able to agree to a deal with the Manchester United Board that delegates us manage- ment responsibility of the football operations of the club,” Ratcliffe said.

“Whilst the commercial success of the club has ensured there have always been available funds to win trophies at the highest level, this potential has not been fully unlocked in recent times.

“We will bring the global knowledge, expertise and talent from the wider INEOS Sport group to help drive further improvement at the club, while also providing funds intended to enable future investment into Old Trafford.”

Ratcliffe’s INEOS also owns French Ligue 1 club Nice, Swiss Super League side FC Lausanne-Sport, and has a relationship with Racing Club Abidjan of Ivory Coast.

Having spent nearly a billion euros in the past six years without much to show for it, the club will hope at the very least they bring in players who have a greater influence on the pitch.

Whether that future will involve manager Erik ten Hag, and therefore by extension forwards coach Benni McCarthy, remains to be seen.

There have been reports United’s new hierarchy do not see Ten Hag as a solution to their issues and will replace him at the end of the season, with names such as fiery Italian Antonio Conte and ex-Real Madrid and Wolverhampton Wanderers boss Julen Lopetegui mentioned.

But Ten Hag may mention he has helped develop two exciting young players at the club and brought in another, to suggest the future is brighter than many may think.

Midfielder Kobbie Mainoo looks to be a generational talent, while Alejandro Garnacho and Rasmus Højlund are also starting to find their feet.

“The future for Manchester United is very good because we have high potentials,” Ten Hag said. “They are together and want to play football with adventure and enjoyment. If we keep this process going, we will achieve high levels.

“We are building a team, we signed young players, and we give them opportunities. This is a process with ups and downs, and we have to realise this. Our experienced players will help them, and we need them, and they will help the young players perform.”

What Ten Hag will know for sure is that the new shareholders will not accept anything less than silverware in the coming seasons, and the pressure is now on him to deliver.

As seen in the April issue of SportsClub Magazine.