Manchester United were once the team that every other team hated to play against. It didn’t matter how good they were, the Red Devils had a psychological advantage over their rivals.
With good reason too, United dominated the Premier League throughout the 1990s and 2000s, becoming the most successful English football team ever.
Once Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down though, the tide changed and United have slowly been on a downward trajectory, with their performance dwindling. There was a slight increase in performance during the 2017-18 season, when the Red Devils finished 2nd, having won 25 of their games. However, they were no match for Manchester City, who broke records that year by scoring 100 points in a single season.
Manchester United finished the 2018-19 season in 6th place, and managed to scrape a place in the Europa League qualifiers. Fans had hoped things could have improved this year, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in charge. Alas, this has not been the case.
Manchester United currently sit 7th in the Premier League, having been pushed down by Sheffield United and Tottenham Hotspur. United lost 2-0 against Burnley, at Old Trafford in late January, and then drew 0-0 against Wolves, also at home on 1st February.
United have also been beaten by Arsenal, Liverpool, Watford, and Bournemouth in recent months, and have only managed 9 wins since the start of the season. This is despite starting the season well by holding Liverpool to a 1-1 draw, the only game Liverpool haven’t won all year.
United’s next Premier League game is not until 17th February, when they’ll travel to London to play Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. Things are not looking good for the Red Devils in this game either. According to MarathonBet, Chelsea are clear favourites to win the game.
The Red Devils have several other tough games, including fixtures against Manchester City, Everton, Tottenham Hotspur, and Sheffield United. They also have another game against Bournemouth, which could end in another United loss.
What’s the Source of the Problem?
There’s no magic fix for United’s problems. Fergie leaving set in motion a set of events that led to the situation they find themselves in today, but his departure alone is not the cause.
Financing is certainly part of the cause. The club’s owners and the Executive Vice-Chairman, Ed Woodward, have taken control of recruitment of players since Ferguson left. They have the second highest payroll in the world and have spent £850 million on transfers, yet they have a mediocre side.
Team culture is also a big problem. During Ferguson’s time, the team had a set of players called “the guardians” who set an example for the rest of the team, and who had influence over the rest of the squad. This doesn’t appear to be the case any more, with examples like the difficult relationship between Pogba and Mourinho.
United have had some good managers since Ferguson left, but none have appeared right for the club. Solskjaer is regularly considered to be unsuitable because of his lack of experience at this level, but his popularity as a former player helped him get the job.
Jose Mourinho, who was sacked as manager in 2018, commented on his second place finish in 2017/18 as one of the best achievements of his career. He added that his reasoning for believing this is that “people don’t know what is going on behind the scenes”, hinting at those ongoing issues with the way the club is being run.
Are United Condemned for More Mediocrity?
Perhaps. If Mourinho considers a second place with the most successful English club a success, then things are not going to change quickly at United. Woodward’s lack of experience in football appears to be showing, but unless the company’s value begins to decline, he probably won’t be going anywhere soon.
In 2018, Woodward was quoted as saying that performance on the pitch was not necessary to continue to grow commercially. So far, he seems to be right but it’s unlikely this will continue forever. United’s commercial success is built around its strong brand of success and being the best, which is slowly being eroded by this run of mediocrity.
Perhaps then, change will only come when the damage that is being done begins to show itself.