Man Utd malaise runs deeper than failed managers
Manchester United have finally bitten the bullet and sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, but the move appears unlikely to address the deeper eight-year malaise at the club that dominated English football for two decades.
Since Alex Ferguson ended his 26-year reign at Old Trafford with a 13th Premier League title in 2013, four coaches have come and gone without a serious title challenge between them.
David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Solskjaer brought vastly different attributes and levels of experience to the job.
Van Gaal and Mourinho were proven winners, Moyes was handpicked by Ferguson as a worthy successor and Solskjaer was cherished as a club icon who scored the winning goal in the 1999 Champions League final.
But what they have all had in common is an inability to turn United’s dysfunctional off-field structure into sustained success.
“This is the third time in the last eight years that a manager has been given a long-term contract or an extension and lost their job within a few months,” said former United captain Gary Neville. “The planning hasn’t been great.
“I don’t want to stick the knife in today to the club, the club’s owners, the club’s hierarchy but you have to ask serious questions. I’ve had enough of it.”
In confirming Solskjaer’s sacking, United also stated their intention to appoint an interim manager until the end of the season rather than seeking a permanent appointment straight away.
That has led to more criticism of the club’s owners, the Glazer family, and outgoing executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward for seemingly giving up on a season that still has six months left to run.
Although realistically out of the Premier League title race, 12 points behind leaders Chelsea, who United face on Sunday, there remains plenty to play for.
Victory against Villarreal in caretaker boss Michael Carrick’s first game in charge on Tuesday would secure a place in the Champions League last 16.
A spot in the Premier League top four is also attainable and the FA Cup offers the chance to end a barren run stretching back to 2017 without a trophy.
Comparisons have been made to Chelsea’s swift response to a similar slide under a former club legend in January.
A day after Frank Lampard was sacked, Thomas Tuchel was installed as the Blues’ new boss and went on to win the Champions League four months later.
Woodward in spotlight
Woodward has been a consistent focus of criticism for the club’s fans since 2013, when he stepped into the shoes of former CEO David Gill, who achieved so much working in tandem with Ferguson.
Following the failed European Super League (ESL) project in April, Woodward announced his intention to step down at the end of the year.
But Sky Sports reported on Monday that he could delay his departure to play a role in the appointment of the new manager.
Woodward’s commercial expertise — keeping sponsorship money rolling in despite dwindling results on the pitch — has maintained his status as a confidant of the Glazers, their man on the ground in England.
The American owners have been unpopular ever since they saddled the club with huge debts to fund their takeover in 2005.
The ESL episode reignited that fury, with fans storming onto the Old Trafford pitch at a time they were still shut out due to coronavirus restrictions and getting a match against Liverpool, postponed in May.
Heavy investment in the most recent transfer window appeased supporters, with Cristiano Ronaldo returning to the club following the signings of forward Jadon Sancho and defender Raphael Varane.
But the fanfare surrounding Ronaldo has only emphasised the impression that United prioritise commercial contracts and clicks over a functioning football team.
The 36-year-old has delivered some dramatic moments to keep United alive in the Champions League.
But his presence derailed Solskjaer’s long-term project to build a youthful side that thrived on the counter-attack, with Sancho struggling to make an impression and other forwards shunted to the periphery.
He may be gone, but there is no guarantee United’s problems will not linger for his successor.