Manchester United found themselves out of their depth at Stamford Bridge on Sunday afternoon, conceding the first of four goals just 30 seconds after the match starting. United had been shown up for the poor team they can be, which never seems to have disappeared in the time between Sir Alex Ferguson retiring and now. During that time, David Moyes, Ryan Giggs (for four matches), Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho have managed Manchester United. The same problems have been emerging, albeit differently, showing that the blame cannot really be attributed to the current manager. Under Moyes, United, albeit the reigning Premier League champions, were picked apart easily with many records, some which had stood for a long time, being broken. The media had a field day at Manchester United’s demise, which happened very quickly before our own eyes.
United have tried to get through the turbulent few years since Ferguson stood down, but it has not worked. It doesn’t always. Things do not always work, as we have seen, but things need to be afforded in order for them to work. The last three years has seen the phrase “Rome wasn’t built in a day” mentioned quite a lot, and still today, that is a phrase that does say a lot. Many Manchester United supporters have seen a vast amount of success during their lifetimes. I am only 37, so I saw a bit of abject failure before the success actually came, albeit a few years after Sir Alex Ferguson arrived at the club, seeing discontented supporters protest for his removal as the manager, only for things to eventually snap into place after winning the 1990 FA Cup. Patience is a virtue that many modern-day supporters do not have. You need patience. Nothing ever happens the way you want it to. We don’t live in a world where that is always going to happen.
When Louis van Gaal arrived at Old Trafford, many were suggesting he was the guy to take the club back to the top once again, backed him for a few months, but when things were not happening quite as quick as they wanted them too, the discontent soon turned onto him, and that was during his first season. Van Gaal got the club to fourth place in the Premier League, earned UEFA Champions League football once again and headed into his second season at the club, one which saw two of his arrivals the previous summer disappear; Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria. Six more players arrived, including Anthony Martial, one of his better signings, which caused a lot of discontent amongst the media and the fans, both of whom branded him as a waste of money, before the meaning of the world fickle arrived after they say the young Frenchman come off the bench against Liverpool and score his first goal on his debut.
The second season was not quite something which was built on Van Gaal’s first season, finishing fifth in the league, on goal difference as United matched Manchester City on points. The UEFA Europa League would replace the Champions League, which was not the best thing to happen, but United still had European competition, which could not be said after Moyes. Van Gaal led his team to the final of the Emirates FA Cup, a trophy which United had not lifted for twelve years, beating Crystal Palace at Wembley and lifting the cup. Hours later, the rumours were rife that the Dutchman would be sacked, which many of the clubs supporters wanted, yet they moaned about the way the news was handed to Van Gaal, seemingly taking offence about the way it was done. Jose Mourinho became the club’s third manager post-Ferguson, fourth if you include Giggs’ interim stint. Just three years after the great Scot retired, another manager was in charge of the club, more new tactics, training strategies and coaches for the players to get used to. Many assumed, albeit wrongly (thus far at least), that the arrival of Mourinho would mean Manchester United were fixed.
Fixed is not the word. United are getting better but in baby steps. Mourinho’s United started the season well, winning the FA Community Shield after beating Leicester City 2-1 at Wembley, the second time the trophy has been won post-Ferguson. United then beat Bournemouth 3-1, Southampton 2-0 and Hull City 1-0, which is the first time United struggled to pick a team apart this season. You could say it was where the struggles started and Marcus Rashford’s ‘Fergie time’ goal papered over the cracks. The international break came and went and United then had to entertain Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City at Old Trafford, which resulted in the Red Devils first defeat of the season. Two more followed with United losing to Feyenoord in the Europa League, then to Watford in the Premier League. Mourinho was the subject of a lot of criticism in the media with the bookies touting odds of the Portuguese to be sacked this season. That seems to be a money-making opportunity as I have not seen odds on Mourinho not being sacked, so that should raise some questions.
United turned their form around, despite is being in the EFL Cup against Northampton Town, but two more wins followed with United beating the reigning Premier League champions Leicester City at Old Trafford, scoring four goals in a twenty-minute period in the first half, conceding once in the second half, they beating Ukrainian minnows Zorya Luhansk 1-0 with a Zlatan Ibrahimovic goal nearly 70 minutes into the match, the second time we saw United struggle to break down the opposition this season. Before the second international break of the season, United drew 101 with Mark Hughes’ Stoke City at Old Trafford, a match which saw more than twenty shots on goal, with United scoring just one of them. The international break came and went again, this time with a big match against Liverpool on the horizon, at Anfield. United played a tactical game against the Scouse side, coming away with a point, the second Premier League draw in a row, which was touted as a good result and continued United’s unbeaten form against Liverpool at Anfield, in the league at least, since Louis van Gaal came in as manager.
United then faced another Europa League tie, three days after travelling to Liverpool, the second of three matches in the same week. United beat Fenerbahçe 4-1 at Old Trafford, which saw Robin van Persie’s return to the Theatre of Dreams, not that United announced his exit more than a year ago. Spirits were high again, and they needed to be as Mourinho’s return to Chelsea was on the horizon, a match we now know was something that needed to be forgotten, in a way. After winning the first four matches of the season, then falling to a three-match losing streak, turning that into a three-match winning streak, which extended to a six-match unbeaten run, only to be lost against at Stamford Bridge. We all knew the Bridge would be a tough match. United had previously won twice in 14 years, so it was always going to be a match that could see the wheels fall off, so to speak, and that was the case.
The discontent arose almost minutes after the defeat. In actual fact, the discontent started 30 seconds into the match after Pedro found the back of the net. It was a bad day at the office for Manchester United. One that could develop into a bad week and even a month. Losing a match is not the best feeling, but football is a game where winning and losing run side by side. When you have lost a match, it is how you respond to that which will define how things go. Under Ferguson, when United lost, he set his side up to change their fortunes, sending them out onto the pitch with the mentality to win the game, that worked more than it failed. Ferguson was a winner, Mourinho is cut from the same cloth, despite his sacking by Chelsea last Christmas. Many supporters wanted Van Gaal to be sacked last Christmas, with Mourinho being installed as the manager almost immediately. It did happen that way, but (obviously) did happen. Many suggested that Mourinho would bring back the glory days quickly. It was a nice thought, but nothing happens that perfectly, not when there were still factors which could rear problems. The same problems which are happening now, the ones which happened under Moyes, Giggs and Van Gaal. Mourinho is now being blamed as the cause of those problems, but it is not really him, is it?
If a problem arose at the club under Moyes, came back in the short spell of Ryan Giggs, then following into Van Gaal’s tenure, seeping into Mourinho’s, how can he be the cause of the problem? I don’t see many people blaming the player’s, the ones that had been at the club for all the managers since Moyes. Mourinho has inherited a big squad. Of the first team players, Mourinho has four he brought to the club himself; Eric Bailly, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, and Paul Pogba. Van Gaal brought twelve players to the club, two of those have left, leaving ten; Sergio Romero, Marcus Rojo, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Matteo Darmian, Memphis Depay, Ander Herrera, Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, who has been told he is surplus to the Portuguese manager’s requirements, and Anthony Martial. David Moyes brought two players to the club; Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata.
The final seven were all Sir Alex Ferguson players; David De Gea, Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, Antonio Valencia, Michael Carrick, Ashley Young, and Wayne Rooney. The only other players regularly playing, or involved in the first team are all from the Academy; Sam Johnstone, Jesse Lingard, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Marcus Rashford. These were not brought in by any manager, just given the chance to earn their stripes by Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, despite Johnstone not yet playing in the first team under any of the four manager’s (five including Giggs), but being third-choice goalkeeper under Mourinho.
The only other players regularly playing, or involved in the first team are all from the Academy; Sam Johnstone, Jesse Lingard, Timothy Fosu-Mensah and Marcus Rashford. These were not brought in by any manager, just given the chance to earn their stripes by Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, despite Johnstone not yet playing in the first team under any of the four manager’s (five including Giggs), but being third-choice goalkeeper under Mourinho. Wayne Rooney has been a problem player this season, well not only this season, but he is more of a problem, for many it would seem. He has previously been dropped for three matches, last playing in the 4-1 victory over Fenerbahçe, they sidelined through apparent injury missing the visit to Stamford Bridge. Rooney is the captain but seems to have lost a lot of his instinct, despite journalists (albeit those onside with his camp) and former teammates saying otherwise. Rooney has achieved a lot for Manchester United, winning everything he could with the club, but no is the time where he should hand the baton over to the new blood, seemingly Marcus Rashford who has earned his chance after his rise to fame, which started in February this year and continues to this day.
Players seem to be partly responsible for what is happening at the club, yet they seem to avoid any kind of criticism or even blame, with the manager being held responsible, despite him sending the players into the pitch with a plan, which against Chelsea seemed impossible for them to follow. Only two players who started the match on Sunday could hold their heads high; Antonio Valencia and Ander Herrera. Juan Mata, when he entered the fray, did try to change the game, but at 3-0 down at the time, it was a little too late to change anything, the main damage had been done. The fact that the players felt the need to laugh and joke with the team that had just mauled them, swapping shirts and walking off the pitch smiling, not even walking near the traveling supporters, who had been in tremendous voice for 90 minutes, despite seeing their side play abysmal football for the majority of the match. It almost looks as if these players do not give a toss about the traveling support, the fans who in effect pay their hard-earned money to the club, which turns into a proportion of their high wages. You would expect some ownership to be taken by the players, rather than them seeing the media and the fans direct everything towards Mourinho.
I did not want Mourinho at the club in the summer. I never liked the guy as an opposition manager, but after having experienced him at the club, I have to say he has grown on me. I still hold reservations about him, but I am willing to give him the time to prove me wrong. I afforded David Moyes time, at least until the Everton defeat, which signaled the end for him. I gave time to Van Gaal too, who despite adopting a boring philosophy, did some good at the club by setting a foundation, one which seems to be a struggle to break through and change into something else at this moment in time. I feel Van Gaal was let go abruptly, especially so soon after winning the FA Cup. He maybe should have been informed that it was the end of the road for him, much sooner, perhaps ahead of the trip to Wembley, rather than minutes after securing the trophy. Mourinho will be afforded the time too. It is too soon to call for him to be sacked. What next if the club sacked him. The third manager to suffer the same fate after Ferguson retired, what manager in their right mind would want to manage at the Theatre of Dreams after that. They will have seen enough over the last three and a half years to see that once the fans had turned, which seems to be happening much sooner, your days are numbered and off you go down the road wondering where you go from there.
Patience is something that needs to be adopted my all supporters. Many can see that things are happening to turn the club around, but it is not something that has an easy fix button. Time is something people need to give, and that is something many, who seem to think they know it all, are not willing to give. After Sunday’s mauling at Chelsea, the foreign contingent of supporters were the quickest to call Mourinho out. These are the fans that support the club for one reason and one reason only – success. When that is not there, they feel they have a right to call for managers to be sacked. At the end of the day, they don’t. Neither do I. No fan has that right. The club will do what they see fit, and right now, that is backing Jose Mourinho, who has been given the job, much to the support of all the fans who are now against him. I remember when Bailly, Ibrahimovic, Mkhitaryan and Pogba were signed in the summer. Mourinho could not be a bigger legend at the club for doing that great bit of business, without the club being in the Champions League. Now, a few months down the line, people have seen the ugly side of the game again, been on the receiving end of a few bad results, and here we are at the start of another protest for the club to commence sacking manager number three and looking for number four post-Ferguson.
Football is a game. A game with winners and losers. You don’t always win and you don’t always lose, but you need to expect to experience both at some stage. If you cannot handle a defeat and feel the need to associate blame, why do you need to stick around and pollute this club with that bullshit nature of you not liking the fact that you regularly see your own arse! The fact remains, Rome wasn’t built in a day. Under Ferguson, Manchester United took a few years to get into the right spirits, that was under the guidance of one manager. What we have now is a more difficult problem to solve – three managers in just over three years, all trying to make Manchester United dominant once again. Trophies will come, perhaps not at the rate they did under Ferguson, but United will get there again. All teams have periods where they dominate, they regress, Liverpool is an example, it will be 27 years next year since they last won a league title, hopefully, that is not something United experience, despite the media writing articles to try and compare what is happening now, to what happened to Liverpool. United will prevail. If that means the club gets rid of some of the millions of glory supporters out there, that is just fine.