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Could this summer be a turning point for Manchester United?

Manchester United have been rumoured to be implementing a Football Director and a Technical Director for a matter of years with suggestions of the club interest being released into the media after Jose Mourinho was sacked in December 2018 but it took the best part of three years to actually implement. On Wednesday 10 March 2021, United made the announcement that John Murtough, who was already employed by the club, is now the Football Director and Darren Fletcher, who had joined Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s coaching team recently, announced as the Technical Director.

This should be seen as a step forward in the development of the club as previously Ed Woodward, the clubs executive vice-chairman, was in charge of the footballing decisions and there have been many mistakes made by the guy in the years following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill, Woodward’s predecessor, stepping down. United seem to have moved forwards finally investing in Solskjaer’s plans for the club which will leave United in a better position that it had under the management of David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Mourinho, which is a positive in itself, despite social media supporters maintaining their agendas.

The stability that these appointments could garner should be positive for United in that Solskjaer will have a direct relationship up the line to suggest what he wants this summer, telling Fletcher, who was a teammate of Solskjaer at the club, which in turn will find its way onto Murtough’s desk. United need to now start backing the manager, now assuming that with a lack of funding he can continue to get the best out of the team. If United get the players that he wants, it will set United up to continue the rebuild and follow Solskjaer’s plan, which has created some good spells for United since he arrived at the club. There is a lot of positivity at the club now.

Many supporters might be quick to suggest Murtough will do what Woodward tells him or even talk about the mistake that was made when United could have signed Erling Haaland in January 2019 if it was not for a mix up in the time the call was meant to be made with 9am suggested but meaning local time in Norway, not 9am in Manchester which is in a different timezone, which was recently reported by Football Insider. Murtough will take on all ‘leadership and responsibility for operations and strategy across all football functions’ which was stated on the official Manchester United website at the time of his appointment.

Fletcher, an academy graduate of the club, know what it takes to succeed and make it to the first team, will work closely with Murtough and will ‘add technical input and direction into all football and performance areas’, as stated at his appointment. There are positives to be seen here if you forget about the past. We should give them both a chance to see what they have to give to the club. United have a direction to travel in and that must continue to happen. Solskjaer will need to be backed to give what he can for the club which is to return United to the pinnacle of world football, which is something that he helped to do as a player.

This summer, United will have many targets. It is suggested that the club will seek a new central defender to partner Harry Maguire with many players already linked to the club. I wrote about nine players recently, which gives insight into the direction in terms of that position. It is also suggested that a right-back may need to be signed to give competition to Aaron Wan-Bissaka, which is something I will be writing about in the next week. A defensive midfielder is another area as right now only Nemanja Matic is available in that position, which is not the greatest option for the club. A right-winger is required, despite Facundo Pellistri and Amad Diallo arriving.

One of the areas that requires some immediate improvement is the striker. Anthony Martial’s form has been a major question mark hanging over the squad this season and Edinson Cavani’s fitness record is another. United have been finding goal from elsewhere, with Bruno Fernandes (23) and Marcus Rashford (18) scoring the majority of the goals this season. That does need to change though as with a striker that can hit a barn door in the squad, United will start to achieve things. Erling Haaland will be hotly linked to United, however, inn my opinion, with Mino Raiola as his agent, United should admit defeat and look elsewhere.

I will be writing about the right-back, defensive midfielder, right-wing and striker options as the weeks progress so they will all be something to look out for. Looking at the strikers that have been linked to the club already, Patson Daka seems to be a good option, but so does Andre Silva who plays for Eintracht Frankfurt in the Bundesliga, who so far this season has scored 22 goals in the league, also assisting five times. There will be business to be done by the club this summer and it should be a positive one, addressing some of the problem areas in the squad so that can be rectified.

Of course, United have many players that could leave the club with Lee Grant and Sergio Romero’s contracts both ending, Juan Mata’s contract coming to an end, although there are reports that his extra year could be activated. United also have players that are not really part of the forward plan, including Phil Jones, Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira and Tahith Chong that could contribute towards the budget to bring in the players that Solskjaer wants to continue his rebuild. We all expect good things every summer and never end up getting them but this summer should be different, even with the coronavirus pandemic damaging the financial market.

Written by Dave Preston

Manchester United to appoint a technical director within a fortnight – reports

Manchester United are reported to be desperately seeking a new technical director and hope to appoint someone into the position inside the next fortnight. Talk of this materialised back in December 2018 after Jose Mourinho was sacked. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was brought in as the caretaker manager, then was appointed in a three-year contract and talk of appointing a director of football seemed to die.

Then, speculation of a sporting director or a technical director materialised, which in turn added hope to the fan base that executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward had finally seen that bringing the club structure into this modern era was finally happening. This then suggested that the appointment could be made before the summer transfer window opened.

That did not happen either. In fact, all talk of this new role to be appointed at the club stopped and it was forgotten, until now at least. The likes of Darren Fletcher and Rio Ferdinand had both been speculated in the media as being contenders for the technical director at the Old Trafford club, which has seemingly come to light once again, with United’s desperation a major factor in the reporting. It is true or is it just another slow news day?

It is suggested in the report that a technical director could be appointed at the club before the squad embarks on their pre-season tour, which starts in Perth, Australia against Perth Glory on the 13 July, following with another match in the city against Leeds United four days later. United will then be involved in the International Champions Cup in Singapore, Shanghai and Cardiff, facing Solskjaer’s former club, Kristiansund in between the final two matches of the summer.

It is said that the technical director will work alongside Solskjaer to pinpoint transfer targets and complete deals with Woodward approving deals, rather than overseeing them. If true, this is the first step to someone who understands football to start something at the club, which provided it works out, would be a great start in something happening which could see Woodward oversee the things he is good at and has interest in – bringing in the money.

United have been linked with more than 60 players so far this summer and have only signed Daniel James from Swansea City but are still hotly linked to Crystal Palace right-back Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Sporting Lisbon midfielder, Bruno Fernandes. United will require more incoming players this summer if they are determined to right the wrongs which have been made over recent years so a footballing man in the role is very important.

Only time will tell if this is yet more speculation in the media or whether United have finally admitted that it was not really the managers; David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho who caused all of the problems at the club during the past six years. Woodward and the clubs owners, the Glazers are also culpable for the lack of investment, funding and structure in bringing United back to the pinnacle of football.

Will Ferdinand or Fletcher be involved in helping the manager solve United’s problems in the future or will it be someone else? In time we will find out.

Darren Fletcher: An underrated Manchester United Legend

Old Trafford has been home to a number of great central midfielders over the years, including the likes of Bryan Robson, Paul Scholes, Roy Keane and Michael Carrick, to name but a few. Yet one great central midfield player that tends to be overlooked in this discussion, is Darren Fletcher.

Fletcher first joined Manchester United at the age of 11 and played his way through the academy ranks, featuring for the reserves as they went on to lift the 1999-2000 Manchester senior cup. The same year, Fletcher was almost set to become the youngster ever player to appear in the United first team. With the young Scot being selected for an end of season match against Aston Villa, however, his first team debut would have to wait with Premier League rules dictating that players on schoolboy contracts could not feature at senior level.

In the meantime, Fletcher continued his development with the youth team, before signing his first professional contract, the following season on his 17th Birthday. The next three seasons would see Fletcher’s involvement with the first team being limited by various injuries, yet during this period, he was still a familiar face in the reserve team. On the 12th March 2003, after waiting almost three years the young midfielder finally made his debut, coming on as a substitute as United faced FC Basil in the Champions League.

It was not until the following season though; the young Scot really began to break in to the United first team. With Fletcher making 35 appearances for and helping United lift the 2004 FA Cup, as they beat Millwall 3-0 in Cardiff.

However, despite putting in some great performances in his earlier days Fletcher’s Untied carer did not get off to the best of starts.  This can be put down to the fact that he was often used out wide, a position that didn’t really suit his skill set and build.  It was when Sir Alex Ferguson started to use, Fletcher as a central midfielder that he began to get the best out of him. It soon became apparent to the United faithful, what the Gaffer had seen in Fletcher from the start and he quickly became known as a reliable player who always gave his all in a United shirt.

Fletcher always remained professional and patient while at the club, despite often struggling to get in the starting line-up. Always being ready when called upon and proving time and time again that he was a big game player. One of Fletcher’s most memorable appearances came against Chelsea in the 2005/6 season, in what would be a key league game. With the Scot scoring the only goal, a brilliant looping header as United ended the blues 40-match unbeaten run, and It was not only Fletcher’s goal that proved vital in this match but his all-round performance with his work rate too much for Chelsea to handle.

Fletcher best season in a United shirt though was the 2008/09 campaign and is the season that he finally began to get the recognition he deserved.

Fletcher was key became key for United as the season progressed, going on to make 41 appearances in total, helping United reach the Champions League final. A game his absence was felt greatly in, with Fletcher unable to play after receiving a harsh red card against Arsenal In the semi-finals. In the end, United were beaten 2-0 by a truly brilliant Barcelona side that Including the likes of Lionel Messi and David Villa.

At the time though many fans and pundits believed that if Fletcher hadn’t been suspended, then United might have had a better chance at beating Barcelona.  Yet while it’s hard to know for sure how Fletcher’s presence would have affected the game, the fact he was so badly missed, shows just how important he was to the team that season.

The following season, Fletcher continued to be a big game player and well and truly consolidated his place in the United midfield. Perhaps his most memorable game of the 2009/10 season came in the Manchester derby, with the Scot scoring twice against Manchester City as United secured a 4-3 victory.  Fletcher also went on to captain the side in a league game against West Ham and his consistent performances earned him a place in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year.

Although sadly the next few years would be riddled with Illness, with Fletcher diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. After missing the end of the 2009/10 season and losing his place in the team, he valiantly made efforts to continue to play for United and made sporadic returns for the following two and half seasons. Before it was announced by the club in January 2013 that he would undergo surgery and miss the rest of the campaign.

After nearly a year out of football and having suffered from a career-threatening illness, Fletcher made a truly remarkable return to the club and made his first appearance in almost a year against Aston Villa in a 3-0 league victory.

In the post-Ferguson era, Fletcher was a great squad player for both David Moyes and Louis van Gaal and was made the vice-captain in 2015, after impressing during in pre-season tour.  However, he was never really able to get a consistent run of game time upon his return to first team action and constantly sitting on the sidelines must have grown incredibly frustrating for the Scot. In February 2015 with a heavy heart, Fletcher made the tough decision to leave United, joining West Bromwich Albion, where he was soon made captain, becoming a key figure on and off the field. Fletcher now plays for recently relegated Stoke City and continues to be a hardworking and important first team regular.

All in all, it’s clear that Darren Fletcher is definitely the most skillful and exciting footballer to walk through the doors of Old Trafford and he is certainly not in the same bracket as Scholes or Keane. Yet his professionalism, work rate and big game mentally alone, not to mention his years of contribution to the club certainly merit him the same recognition as some of United’s most legendary central midfielders.

Written by Jamie Mackinlay

copyright: JW