On 22nd April 2013, Manchester United secured their 13th Premier League title under legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. His subsequent retirement from the club was always going to be a huge blow as he was such a commanding presence and influence on the players and those above him in the boardroom.
It is a little bit surprising that United were not more prepared for a future beyond him after twenty six years. You could say it did not matter which kind of players, manager or chief executive the club brought in afterwards as comparisons will always be made with Ferguson and the teams he built.
In the post-Fergie era, it was always going to be a leap of faith into the unknown and I will take a look at the reasons why United have struggled since he has left.
David Moyes – The Chosen One
David Moyes had been hand picked by Ferguson to take over United. It was never going to be an easy job for the fellow Scotsman to follow in Fergie’s footsteps, you could say it was an impossible job for Moyes. I think one of the key things that I felt Moyes should not have done and maybe a detriment to the club was when he first arrived he dispensed with the services of assistant manager Mike Phelan and coach René Meulensteen.
By having them there, the club would have had some continuity after Ferguson left and the players would have been working with people they already knew. However, I understand that Moyes wanted to be his own man and impart his vision on the club and that is why he brought his own coaching staff in which did include former United player Phil Neville.
Moyes was not helped by those above him in the boardroom especially Ed Woodward in the transfer market during the summer of 2013. Rumours had been flying that United were trying to sign the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Gareth Bale but nothing ever materialise on both of these players.
United had been looking to do a double deal with Everton that summer for both Marouane Fellaini and Leighton Baines. Though we only ended up getting the Belgian midfielder who was definitely a good asset for United at times, it was the fact that we paid over the odds for him. It was in Felliani’s contract that he could be signed for £22 million but for some reason the club bulked at paying this price only to sign him later in the summer of 2013 for £27 million.
This just smacked of incompetence by those at United who were dealing with player recruitment and you could say since then, other clubs have tried to walk all over us when doing transfer deals.
Moyes had inherited a title winning squad but it was in need of a major rebuild. The results we had did not help him and also that several of the players either move onto other clubs or retired from the game.
I feel Moyes was out of his depth at times and maybe it needed a much bigger personality and a manager who had proven a track record to come into replace Ferguson from the get go. Maybe those in the boardroom should have been stronger and said before appointing Moyes that we need to look at other managers who might have been available at the time such as Pep Guardiola who was on sabbatical at the time.
Did the board underestimate the impact of Ferguson’s departure would have on the club? Did they believe in Ferguson’s decision to hand-picked Moyes as his successor? Were Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho unavailable at the time and the board felt there were no other managers with better records than Moyes?
We may never know the whole truth surrounding the appointment of Sir Alex Ferguson’s successor at the club.
The loss of David Gill
The second most powerful man after Ferguson in the club was then chief executive David Gill and his subsequent leaving also had an impact. Gill and Ferguson worked really well together and they both knew that for Manchester United to be successful that we needed to have a winning team on the pitch.
When David Gill left the club, Ed Woodward was appointed as executive vice-chairman. Before this, Woodward had been in charge of the commercial and media operations. He grew the commercial revenue from £48.7 million in 2005 to £117.6 million by 2012. Whilst, I cannot fault Woodward’s business acumen, it has been his ability in the transfer market to sign players that us United fans have called into question on many occasions.
It feels like with Ferguson that there was no proper planning done for when David Gill left the club and Ed Woodward has been a rabbit caught in the headlights at times. Maybe they could have been a transition period of six months whereby Woodward shadowed Gill to learn all about running one of the biggest football clubs in the world.
Our rivals caught up with us
During Ferguson’s time at the club, his main rivals in the Premier League were Arsenal at first followed by Chelsea when Roman Abramovich pumped his millions into the club. Then came the other half of Manchester when City started to become a force in the league thanks to millions from their Abu Dhabi investors . The emergence of our blue rivals have given managers at United an urgent sense to keep the noisy neighbours in line.
With Liverpool stepping up to challenge again under Jurgen Klopp, we have seen our rivals catch up and overtake us. United have not mounted a title challenge since Ferguson left and subsequent managers have all tried to claw back our position of dominance without success so far.
Also, the big clubs in Europe were also rebuilding and adding new players to their teams such as Real Madrid, who won three Champions League titles in a row between 2016 and 2018.
Lack of strategy
There seems to have been a lack of strategy since Ferguson left as no director of football has been appointed. In the years before Ole Gunnar Solskjær had arrived back at the club, it was unclear what style of football we were trying to play as David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho had their own ideas which divided and caused debate amongst the United fans.
The signings made in that time and sometimes for big transfer fees did not appear to have been thought out in great detail or whether they would actually fit into the shape of the team. United have invested nearly £700 million on players since Ferguson left and not including free transfers for likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez.
Despite the vast amount of money being invested into the playing squad, no manager has been unable so far to return United back into the dominant force it once was. For players that were successful at United, there were others who failed to live up to expectations or were not given enough time to showcase their talent – the likes of Angel Di Maria and Henrikh Mkhitaryan being two such players.
The capture of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal (swap deal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan) probably summed up the lack of proper decision making on player recruitment side and is the worst signing made by Jose Mourinho. With his reported 400,000 a week wages, which ruffled feathers in the dressing room. The fact is that he did not offer much when playing and had only scored five goals before being loaned out to Inter Milan at the start of 2019/20 season.
Change in focus
Following the appointment of Ole Gunnar Solskjær as permanent manager in March 2018 following his stint as caretaker, there has been a shift in focus at United as they have taken a long term view of where they want the club to go.
Ed Woodward, who spoke to the United We Stand magazine for their November issue said “We have to do everything that we possibly can to get back to winning the Premier League. We’re not successful until we do. Second is not success – we have to win the Premier League. I feel we are on the right track to get back to that point but we are going to have to be patient. The people and structures that we are putting in place are there to support that vision and are in place for now and in the future.”
He said the club’s vision is, “Winning, playing attacking football with players that have an ‘x-factor’; and giving youth a chance.”
United have made a good start in terms of player recruitment with Ole bringing in three good players in the form of Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James and moving on players who he felt was no longer required at the club. However, more and better recruitment is still needed. I trust in this long term view approach because we cannot keep pressing the reset button every time a manager has been dismissed from the club. Though results could have been better so far season and given our position in the league, we have to be patient and give Ole and the club time to implement this new long term strategy, which will hopefully return United to success.