Everybody associated with United is acutely aware that the club has not come close to lifting a Premier League title since 2013. Fergie’s retirement is obviously the most significant event that has precipitated this decline in United’s fortunes. However, the club lost more than just Fergie that summer. The ill-fated appointment of David Moyes saw him discard the backroom staff that underpinned the club’s success.
Sir Alex’s retirement was always going to be a huge blow to the club, but the loss of key personnel that understood the players, the methods, the playing style and the mentality that had delivered enduring success has compounded the effect of losing the great man. In retrospect it’s widely acknowledged that allowing David Moyes to disconnect the future of the club from its heritage of success was a mistake of gigantic proportions.
Having cycled through up-and-coming Scot, Dutch master tactician, and pragmatic Portuguese the club has belatedly tried to rectify this mistake in bringing back a manager who truly understands the club. According to Solskjaer himself, his first thoughts after being appointed were to turn to Mike Phelan.
Bringing Phelan back is more than a sentimental nod to the past. It’s about re-establishing the culture that leads to success, and Solskjaer deserves credit for recognising the mistake made by the club and having the courage to appoint a more experienced man than himself as his assistant.
It’s clear that Solskjaer knows that he alone cannot fill the void left by Sir Alex alone (who could?). There will be times when he is in uncharted waters and will need to draw on the collective memory bank of experience sat alongside him on the bench. This is where Phelan will be vital.
How to close out a game, when and how to introduce youth into the first team, selecting the right characters to bring into the club, allowing players to leave the club that don’t fit these are all decisions in which Phelan will be able to advise.
The recent signing of Maguire is an example were Phelan’s influence has been felt. Phelan of course gave Maguire his chance in the Premier League at Hull City, and he would have been able to assure the club and the manager that shelling out a world record transfer fee was a risk worth taking.
Phelan is the elder statesman in United’s coaching team. He is quoted as saying he is part of a team led by Solskjaer that spans different ages, different ideas, welcomes communication and that his role is to “hover in between making sure everything happens the way I feel the way Manchester United should work.” If he can re-instill some of the traits of former United teams, that we became accustomed to and took for granted under Fergie, he will be critical to the club in the next few years.
There are no guaranteed routes to success in the Premiership but bringing Phelan back was a no-brainer.