What’s Going Wrong at United?

25/09/2019 Planet FPL

After United’s limp defeat to West Ham signalled the club is heading for another season of mediocrity, the usual round of inquests began including a superb podcast by James and Suj on Monday.


Having been pretty downhearted by the club all summer including on my appearance on 30in30 the position doesn’t surprise me – indeed I’ve predicted 6th places finishes for United for the correspondent predictions podcast both last season and this – and I thought now was as good a time as any to discuss why it’s going wrong.


The Glazers.


The ownership is beyond a joke and has been for years. Propped up to buy the club with money that wasn’t there’s the American owners are yet to put a penny of their own money into the club. The club has stayed in a debt position since they bought it – debt is cheaper than credit balance for big companies – and the interest paid on that debt has passed the billion pound mark.


The club has been used to secure property for the owners in America and as a vehicle to monetise commercial opportunities abroad to help bring cash into the club with no real consideration as to help the footballing side.


The Glazers are neglectful owners – look at how their NFL team Tampa Bay Buccaneers has been ran – the below is a fan petition to remove the Glazers in Tampa.


“change is needed in Tampa Bay! The Buccaneers are becoming the laughing stock of the NFL…fans would rather see players that want to play and are committed to the team. Games like Chicago where players/coaches just don’t care and don’t show up aren’t acceptable! If they don’t want to play or don’t have the heart get them off the field…we don’t care how talented you are. We want heart and desire and passion!…The culture within the Bucs organization is not acceptable. Its bad when the players in your organization seem to care less win or lose, and this has become the norm…We need a serious culture change! Losing should infuriate these players and drive them to work that much harder. With the talent level they have they should never embarrassed by other NFL teams the way they are on a weekly basis…We want change. This organization needs big changes, top to bottom! Fans if you agree that change is needed within the Buccaneers please let your voice be heard…the hope is to garner enough support that our voices will be heard by management directlyFive awful, dysfunctional seasons and Licht not only keeps his job, but he’s in charge.
That’s appalling….But why does Licht get to stay? Why should he get to pull one out of the fire when he should be in the fire himself? Why him? Keeping him is far too high a price to pay for the Glazers not knowing their right foot from their left during coach searches

I think Licht (GM at Tampa – Woodward’s equivalent) is as responsible as Koetter for this disaster. Poor personnel decisions have set back this franchise…This franchise needed a fresh start, a reset. This isn’t that. The Glazers needed someone who wasn’t afraid to speak to power. They needed someone to tell them what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. Licht isn’t that…That is how, as awful as he has been at his job, he saved it while Koetter lost his. Licht’s career-preservation light is always blinking. That’s no way to run a football team, except for a bad one”.


Sound familiar. Another similarity is the success on the pitch, like at United where early success was followed by sustained mediocrity the Glazers at Tampa won a Super Bowl in 2003 but are currently on an 11 year run of no play off appearances (12/32 teams reach the play offs each year) and currently own the worst win ratio in the history of the NFL.


In short the Glazers are terrible, selfish owners who run clubs into the ground for their own ends whilst appointing a succession of people unsuited to the job.


Which brings us to…


Ed Woodward


The executive vice chairman and de facto director of football has been an unqualified failure in his role in football operations. Woodward was and still is hugely instrumental in creating the worldwide commercial behemoth the club has become and deserves to be applauded for that.


What sticks in the craw is the arrogance of continuing in his football role given his lack of experience, his demonstrable lack of success and a belief that the football team is a sideline to a commercial merchandising business “Playing performance doesn’t really have a meaningful impact on what we can do on the commercial side of the business.”




The club is now in full on Liverpool in the nineties phase – the only differences being a lack of white suits, better sponsorship deals and a the inability to play anything like the sexy football Roy Evans created.


The Glazers spell in charge began at a time when Ferguson was already creating his last great team – the Rooney Ronaldo Champions League winners in 2008 and by 2009/10 the team needed seriously investing in. The Glazers sold Ronaldo for 80 million up front in cash and didn’t sanction the funds to buy Carlos Tevez, instead choosing to buy a Wigan winger for 15 million pounds and young French winger for 3 million. They did however manage to get a Ballon D’or winner to the club – unfortunately Michael Owen was 8 years past his peak. From then on the Glazers relied on Ferguson’s genius to tick over titles and Cup finals, they were also grateful for Ferguson’s eagerness for huge wages and stung by the mess he created with the previous owners, Ferguson was more than happy to trot out the line of seeing “no value in the market” to line his own pockets. When Wayne Rooney rightly called out the club in 2010 on a lack of ambition he was then bizarrely rewarded with a huge pay rise, Ferguson as you will remember was apoplectic at Rooney’s behaviour but not angry enough to not force through a clause in his contract that meant he had to be paid more than the highest paid player.


What is frustrating looking back is the calibre of players that were available in 2009/2010 at relatively cheap prices – Benzema, Ribery, Ozil, Aguero, Silva stand out as players who were gettable and would have improved the squad even now.


Since Ferguson left and his genius left a lot of unpapered cracks the Glazers went too far the other way. Throwing good money after bad for 7 years has left the squad unbalanced and both bloated yet threadbare. The sight of Lingard up front chasing an equaliser after a billion pound of spending was laughable and Woodward and the Glazers are solely to blame.


Their biggest recruitment issue hasn’t necessarily been the players though – Di Maria, Falcao, Schweinsteiger, Shaw, Sanchez, Lukaku etc all appeared sound enough buys – the biggest flaw has been appointing managers.


David Moyes was out of his depth and it remains a mystery why Ferguson, a manager who was at heart a romantic gambler who dreamt of unimaginable heights, chose a manager who was reactive, defensive and so obviously small time as the next manager. Moyes didn’t understand the club, his first act in Australia on pre season was to disregard security advise and take the whole squad for a walk around Sydney Harbour at which point they were mobbed. He then showed Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic videos of how Phil Jagielka defended and his sacking in April that season was a relief to all involved.


His season at Sunderland where he announced the club were in a relegation battle as early as fucking August “it can’t change just like that, it can’t” summed the manager up and quite how anyone thought he was United material remains a mystery.


Moyes was then followed by an over the hill Van Gaal who’s prosaic football was nearly as bad as his handling of Angel Di Maria – at least we won the FA Cup, van Gaal was sacked on his way to lift the trophy to hire the life affirming, polite, joyous, angelic Jose Mourinho whose only redeeming features were a Europa League win and a demonic desire the throw Woodward under a bus when he refused to buy him a centre back.


Now the club is left with Solskjaer who increasingly looks as out of his depth as Moyes did and whilst he clearly “gets” United he gets it in a way that Gary Neville gets it – harking back to a long gone past without necessarily knowing how to get back there.


The players


My biggest bugbear on the narrative around the players is that they don’t care enough and they need Roy Keane to sort them out.


Roy Keane is my favourite footballer of all time and his brand of masculinity just wouldn’t wash in the modern era – and not just football, many of us work in workplaces where laziness is accepted, absence is tolerated and mediocrity leads to performance plans and meetings meetings meetings – the world has changed and Keane would be ignored in a modern dressing room. What United would gain from Keane is a consistency, and his rhythmic, hypnotic forward looking passing.


I don’t believe for one second any player at the club doesn’t care or understand the magnitude of the club, the simple answer is many of them are currently not good enough. Would anyone notice if we swapped 2019 de Gea for Pickford? It’s not Jones, Smalling, Young, Rojo, Mata, Matic’s fault that they’re old on huge wage packets. Is the reason Martial and Rashford haven’t come on the way they should because they don’t care? Is it their fault that at a young age they’ve been in and out of the team, moved positions and treated indifferently by three managers in 4 years.


An interesting hypothetical on this is imagine in 2016 Guardiola went to United and Jose went to City; would Sterling, Sane and De Bruyne be flourishing whilst Pogba Martial and Rashford stagnated? Would they? Really?


It’s not that bad anyway


Yes I know most other clubs have it worse and United fans are due a period of winning nothing.