Manchester United now have a new route but the destination may still be the same


Manchester United did on Tuesday morning what they had done twice before since Sir Alex Ferguson retired as the manager of the club, sacked another manager. David Moyes was sacked in his first season as United manager, despite having a six-year contract. Louis van Gaal became his successor, himself being sacked just after winning the Emirates FA Cup in May 2016, the first major honour for United since Ferguson retired. Jose Mourinho was appointed days later, and two and a half years later, was himself sacked.

There have been lots of embarrassing things which have happened with United since the end of the 2012/13 season, which saw United win their last Premier League title. Moyes was not properly backed in the summer transfer window in 2013, the club scrambling late on deadline day to pay £4 million more for Marouane Fellaini, based on the fee they could have signed him for earlier that summer. There were suggestions of big names coming to the club. That never happened.

When Moyes was sacked, just after Easter in 2014, despite rumours of his sacking coming during the Easter weekend, it was a low blow by United. The football was dire and the morale was at an all-time low at the club. It was a sacking that needed to happen. However, the way in which it was done was poor by the club, especially when you would expect more from Manchester United. That said, Van Gaal’s sacking was not done properly either, finding out a rumour minutes after he lifted the FA Cup.

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It makes you wonder what the club is thinking about, seemingly allowing rumours to be leaked hours or days before a manager is sacked, failing to realise that the said manager will find out about these rumours, which is the wrong way to conduct business. The football under Van Gaal was not the greatest either, and I agree that he needed to be shown the door, but deserved much more respect, as did Moyes. This third sacking was not expected, not today anyway, so lessons may have been learned there.

At this moment in time, Manchester United is a club that is rotten from the top to the very bottom. There does not seem to be any desire from the owners, the board or the executive vice-chairman to guide United to the pinnacle of European and World football. There is a desire to make as much money as possible through advertising though, which is where this is starting to go terribly wrong. United is a football club but seems to have been turned into a business, which also plays football.

Without football, there would be no business for the club. That is something that needs to register in the minds of the owners and Woodward. But I will not be holding my breath. Mourinho became the manager of the club in May 2016, signing a three-year contract, which would have ended at the end of the current season. However, after rumours of Paris Saint-Germain being interested in Mourinho, Woodward extended his contract in January 2018 until the summer of 2020, with the option of a further year.

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At the time of Mourinho’s contract extension, Woodward, quoted by the official Manchester United website, said:

“Jose has already achieved a great deal as Manchester United manager and I am delighted that he has agreed to extend his commitment until at least 2020. His work rate and professionalism are exceptional and he has embraced the club’s desire to promote top quality young players to the first team. He has brought an energy and a sense of purpose to everything that he does and I am sure that will continue to bring results for the fans and the club.”

Fast forward just a few months to the summer transfer window. There were high expectations from every United supporter. United had just finished second in the Premier League, 19 points adrift of Manchester City. There was work to be done. United signed Diogo Dalot, Lee Grant and Fred. It was an experienced central defender that was needed at the club with links to Toby Alderweireld said to be the most reliable. United never brought in anyone else.

To top that, Woodward seemingly briefed journalists as to the reasons why he did not back Mourinho, suggesting that the player the Portuguese manager wanted were no better than the ones the club already had. The logic right there seemed amazing. You could tell that an accountant made the decision, not a footballing man. Yes, United did achieve the second-best defensive record in the Premier League last season, but this season, with the same players, the club have conceded more goals so far this season, than all of the last.

It makes you wonder what the owners and the board want to achieve at the club. Do they want to make United one of the world’s best football clubs once again? Would they rather sellout the club by bringing in far too many sponsors which generate money, which seems to disappear in interest repayments with the debt not actually shrinking much, also allowing the owners of the club to be paid massive dividends based on the shares they own? Manchester United is nothing without football.

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Jose Mourinho had a defensive approach to matches. He has had that throughout his career as a manager. However, some of the best attacking football has been seen in some of his teams. David Moyes had his own problems too. The ‘what would Jagielka do’ phrase was something of a burden for him, as was getting rid of the successful backroom staff at the club once Ferguson retired. Louis van Gaal had his problems too, his philosophy was dated and was showing those signs at the club, despite a platform being salvaged from it.

Those problems aside, there has always been one destination for Manchester United, that is ruin. The Glazers had the club tethered to debt when they took over, not using a cent of their own money to buy the club. That debt was saddled to the club, with crippling interest payments having to be met each financial year. In September 2018, the debt secured to the club stood at £487 million, according to the Guardian. In 2005, the debt secured to the club stood at £525 million.

This means that less than £3 million a year, over the last 13 years, has been paid towards the debt. The cost of the said debt is around £24 million a year. In 13 years, to settle just £38 million out of the initial £525 million debt is deplorable. This means that around £312 million has been spent by the club just to service the debt, which is just over half of the debt the club was forced into just so the Glazers could but it.

No matter who manages the club, we have seen a picture post-Sir Alex Ferguson, that believe it or not, has shown the owners of the club are not all that interested in seeing it succeed. Earning a place in the UEFA Champions League is big business for football clubs but winning it is not all that big, in business terms, at least for the Glazers. Real Madrid won the competition last season, taking home £78.6 million in earnings. Liverpool, the runner’s up, taking £72 million. United got just £35.7 million.

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The destination, whatever anyone uses to dress it up, is always going to be a failure. During Ferguson’s reign, towards the end, there was never any value in the market, despite other clubs finding value. There have been many signings which were not right for United, both during and after Ferguson’s reign. Under Moyes, Van Gaal and Mourinho, United have spent more than £716 million in the transfer market and the club is no better off by spending that amount. There is deadwood everywhere.

The next manager that comes in, whoever that may be, on a permanent basis, not the interim manager, will need to be backed by the hierarchy of the club. There are so many players who have continued to falter at the club, many of whom have seen all three managers come and go. Mourinho was not backed in the transfer window in the summer, seemingly hung out to dry by the board, which might have been based on the fact his team played boring football, I don’t know.

The fact remains, the board need to back the next manager to lead the club. They need to be given all of the tools in order to complete the job. Otherwise, it is going to end at the same destination once again. Manchester United need to progress. The likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Tottenham Hotspur, Liverpool, and Arsenal are streets ahead of them now. Even the likes of Wolverhampton Wanderers are close to United right now, seven months after earning promotion to the Premier League.

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