Under the aegis of the Glazer family, Manchester United have become a giant, suppurating mess of a football club. Blinded by the pursuit of cash, the club fleeces its fans and rakes in record revenues even as the team flails. The idea Old Trafford remains a Theatre of Dreams has become a joke. For some time, it has played host to a pageant of the mediocre and the dire.
As United flounder in mid-table and approach the latest staging post in their fall from grace with the visit of reborn Liverpool next Sunday, speculation continues to grow about the future of manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and his replacement if he is fired. You’ve heard the names: Julian Nagelsmann, Massimiliano Allegri and Mauricio Pochettino have all been mentioned as candidates.
It is said that if United lose to Jurgen Klopp’s side at Old Trafford next Sunday, Solskjaer fears he will be sacked by the club’s hapless executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward but, amid the chaos at the club, one truth remains. That is that it is Woodward who should be sacked. The truth, actually, is that he should have been sacked, or moved aside, long ago.
United’s football operation is an autocracy run by a naïf. One of the biggest clubs in the world has got a bean counter as its de facto director of football and it shows. Woodward has made mistake after mistake after mistake and the club is paying for it. ‘A man’s got to know his limitations,’ Dirty Harry once said. Woodward, a commercial whizz but a football disaster area, never got that memo.
In the time since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, Woodward has bounced brainlessly through five managers in six years, star-struck by big names, ignoring continuity of playing philosophy. The result is that Solskjaer has inherited a Frankenstein’s monster of a squad, a hideous creature bolted and stitched together. Some bits have fallen off and not been replaced. All that is left is half a monster.
Solskjaer has been derided by many. They have already decided he is not up to the job and that he was never up to the job. They want to fish another name out of the hat, lurch in another direction, take another punt, veer even further away from the values and loyalties and the long-term philosophy that once made United great.
It is too early to judge Solskjaer. Way too early. He took over at a club that had been thoroughly demoralised by the reign of Jose Mourinho and is still fighting to repair the damage. Some of the revisionism around Mourinho’s time at the club is amusing. United were sixth when he was fired and heading south fast in mid-season. His methods were outdated and worn. He was a vanity hire.
Some argue Klopp and Pep Guardiola would be getting more out of this squad than Solskjaer. Well, maybe. They are the best two managers in the world but even they might blanche at what Solskjaer is expected to work with. This is a team who seem to have forgotten they need a centre forward. This is a team who lack a dominating midfielder. This is a squad ruined by poor recruitment.
Let’s face it, United are a shambles. I don’t care if Klopp is the manager. Or Guardiola. Or Nagelsmann. Or Pochettino. No one is going to turn this around quickly. Woodward and the Glazer family have let things slide too far. Fans know that. They are connoisseurs of excellence. They know this is going to take years to put right.
Another manager now is not the answer. That would be basket-case territory, six managers in six years at a club like United where their greatest success has always come with managerial longevity. Another manager now means yet another fresh start, yet another new direction of travel, yet more time wasted, yet more distance lost to Liverpool and Manchester City.
The answer is to stick with Solskjaer. At least give him a chance to right the wrongs of the last six years. Let him buy the players he wants. Give him two more transfer windows as a bare minimum to put his stamp on the club and build it up again from the place where Woodward and the Glazers have let it languish.
The league position might not reflect it but there are some signs of progress. Harry Maguire, Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka are good signings. And if United look short in some areas, it is because Solskjaer could not get the players he wanted in the last window and, rather than saddle the club with more bad buys, he decided to wait for the right personnel.
It was a gamble. But it was the strong thing to do. It was the right thing to do. Everything about United in the past six years has screamed short term. At some point, someone has to be strong enough to build patiently. At some point, United have to break the destructive cycle of panic and reaction Woodward has been sucked into. That is what Solskjaer is already trying to effect.
‘The board needs to hold its nerve,’ said Gary Neville last week. ‘They’re responsible for this with poor recruitment, poor selection of managers. Man United are now getting the pain they deserve for poor decisions at board level.’
United’s fall has become a football horror story. With Woodward in the role of Frankenstein. And the team as his monster. Until he goes, or until he is persuaded to move aside and appoint a director of football to restore a long-term philosophy to a club that was once a model of stability, managers will come and go but nothing will change.