Manchester United’s Downfall Analyzed

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Manchester United
[Image via Sky Sports]

The Manchester United Football Club was originally called Newton Heath LYR Football Club by the Carriage and Wagon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (LYR). In 1902 it was renamed when four new investors contributed £500 each, in return for a direct interest in running the club. Five years later, the club won its first League Championship under Earnest Mangnall.

In 1910, the club moved to Old Trafford, also known as the Theatre of Dreams. It is still home to England’s most successful football club. United’s successes are now a matter of history. Therefore, we look at the reasons why Manchester United has failed.

The Theatre of Dreams used to be the stuff of nightmares for visiting opponents in the Sir Alex Ferguson Era. In 1986 Liverpool and Everton were the dominant forces in English football. When the Aberdeen manager was appointed, the media reported that “the best they can hope for is an inner rather than a bullseye.”

United hadn’t won a top-flight League Title since 1967. All of that changed when the man from Govan led the team to their first major trophy, the 1990 FA Cup. He never looked back.

Winning 13 Premier League Titles in 26 years is unheard of in the sport. Add 5 FA Cups and 2 Champions League trophies and you’re looking at the most successful manager of all time. With an exceptional eye for talent, he recruited some of the most talented players of his time. But what made him so successful was how much he could get out of the not-as-talented players as well. Maybe that’s why he’s written 8 successful books on winning and leading in life.

 

Toughest Act To Follow

Sir Alex Ferguson
[Image via Press Association]
In an exclusive interview with The Telegraph’s Paul Hayward, Fergie revealed his reason for retirement was to spend more time with his wife. Cathy, his wife of 49 years, had just lost her sister and felt isolated. Sir Alex Ferguson credits her for stopping him from quitting 10 years prior to his eventual retirement. This time, however, she did not stop him.

He knew it was what she wanted, the decision was made. Ferguson retired on a high, ending his last season with a Premier League title, creating a sublime partnership between Wayne Rooney & Robin Van Persie. Both are still among the most prolific scorers in Premier League history.

With the veteran manager leaving the biggest shoes in football to be filled, the next chapter in Manchester United’s history was about to be written. Once Ferguson’s retirement was official, nothing was going to be the same. Then West Ham manager, David Moyes, was the first to take his place.

With the club at #7 and out of European competitions, he was sacked after just 10 months. Former Netherlands manager, Louis Van Gaal, was even more promising than Moyes when he took the gig. The club spent £130 million that summer, including Di Maria’s £60 million which set a new record for a signing by an English club.

However, the team struggled to score goals under Van Gaal and he too was sacked.

 

The Chosen One

Jose Mourinho
[Image via Matthew Peters/Manchester United/Getty Images]
In May 2016, Jose Mourinho signed a three-year deal at Manchester United. In his first season in charge, United won the Community Shield, the League Cup, and the Europa League. They also made it to the FA Cup finals where Mourinho’s former club Chelsea defeated the Red Devils. Man-U also finished #2 in the Premier League that season.

Although, the gap between champions Manchester City and second-place United was one of the widest we’ve seen between champions and runners-up. It was the first time since Fergie’s retirement that the Reds lifted trophies again, but they wanted more.

Despite winning trophies, United fans weren’t happy with Europa League success. These were fans who expected their team to lift the Champions League or the Premier League trophy. Thus, they weren’t happy with what Mourinho delivered. In 2018, Mourinho was forced to leave the club with the team in sixth place after 17 games.

To this day, fans believe Mourinho just needed more time to turn things around. It is well-known that his tactics require world-class defenders in his lineup, something the club did not provide. One doesn’t hire Picasso and provide crayons to work with. This was the main reason Manchester United failed under Mourinho. Unfortunately, we will never know how different things could’ve turned out for both parties involved.

 

Ole At The Wheel

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
[Image via Adrian Dennis/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images]
It was finally time for a former player of Sir Alex Ferguson’s to have a go. Fans were excited, dues were paid, so how much longer could Man-U suffer? Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was set to be the savior.

Having won the Norwegian Cup with Molde in 2013, Ole was appointed by Cardiff in January 2014. Ole’s task was to keep the struggling Welsh club in the Premier League. With just 3 wins in 18 games though, the club was relegated. After failing to make a positive start in the Championship, he was sacked with an overall record of 16 defeats in 30 games. He couldn’t make a positive impact in English football.

He returned to Molde where he tried to recreate his previous success but failed to do so. If Solskjaer wasn’t a successful player for Manchester United, his name wouldn’t have been on the shortlist of potential managers. Many were surprised when Ole was hired for the role following Mourinho’s exit in December 2018.

His managerial portfolio was nowhere near what a club of this stature required. This was just an emotional hire that only added to the reasons Manchester United has failed. A Champions League win against Paris Saint-Germain, an unbeaten away record of 29 games in the Premier League, and a trip to the Europa League final were the biggest highlights of Ole’s reign.

However, he never won a trophy in his three years as manager. This led to his firing in November 2021.

Ralf Rangnick has been named interim manager until the end of the 2021-22 season. He too has been struggling to get great results and the hunt for the savior continues. The club has botched the appointments in regards to the managerial role, only adding to their failures.

 

Who’s Got Next?

Erik Ten Hag vs Pochettino
[Image via The Athletic]
With rumors flying all over the place, it is not confirmed who is going to be responsible for the squad in the 2022-23 season. The list has been narrowed down to two names: Erik Ten Hag & Mauricio Pochettino, with Ten Hag as the favorite to be appointed. The current Ajax manager is also being courted by German club RB Leipzig. However, if the Red Devils officially offer him a contract, it’s hard to imagine him going elsewhere.

Pochettino’s Paris side has been the only other team in Europe to be as big of a letdown as Manchester United. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have shown signs of aging and need their teammates to do the heavy-lifting off the ball. This has had a domino effect that now affects the overall team’s performance in more ways than one. A rebuild for United is the best option and it seems like the club is willing. Paul Pogba is most likely on his way out, but not alone.

We feel neither Ten Hag nor Pochettino can restore United’s former glory. This skepticism is toward the club’s priorities and playing system, not the players’ individual abilities.

It might take a former player like Ole, but one who is a great manager as well. Xavier Hernandez’s resurrection of FC Barcelona is serving as the blueprint. Meanwhile, Steven Gerrard’s dream-come-true run with Rangers F.C. in Scotland is another example of player-to-great-coach. The younger managers are proving worthy of our faith.

Wayne Rooney has shown signs of getting there but admitted himself that he has a lot to learn and isn’t ready for the United job. There could be small victories worth celebrating in the coming years, but we recommend keeping hopes realistic.

Manchester Truly United?

One of the biggest reasons Manchester United has failed on the pitch is a lack of cohesiveness. On the pitch, there has been a visible lack of chemistry between the players. This could be due to a constant change in managers, it could be due to a constant change in the lineups. It could all come down to a matter of philosophy.

Some of the players serve a certain formation and philosophy. All of a sudden they’ve been left with a mismatch due to constant changes. These are great individual players, but the club lacks an overriding philosophy to put all the players under one umbrella. It becomes evident while watching the team that they’re not all on the same wavelength. Each individual has a different approach and a different priority on the pitch.

On offense, the lack of chemistry leads to final balls being easily intercepted. On defense, the lack of chemistry opens gaps to be exploited. While on paper the possession stats don’t seem all that bad, most of these passes are successfully completed in non-threatening areas on the pitch. Add this to the fact that fans have been vocal about their hatred towards the owners.

This makes one wonder, is Manchester United really united in any way?

 

The Glazers

The Glazer Family
[Image via GQ India]
Malcolm Irving Glazer was a businessman who made his money by investing in real estate. He bought the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1995 for $192 million. Then in a controversial deal, he purchased Manchester United for $1.4 billion in 2006. The family has always kept a low profile in the sports world, making it clear they are more interested in business and aren’t exactly sports fans who get the culture.

Manchester United fans grew even wearier of their new ownership when The Sun ran a profile of Malcolm Glazer referred to as “Trailer-Park Tyrant.” They mentioned how the owner of trailer parks in Rochester was once sued for overcharging residents, including extra fees for children and pets. Malcolm Glazer began the takeover of United in 2003 after his sons advised him to.

He bought 2.9% shares for $4.7 million around that time. By the end of the year, he owned 30%.

Hostile Takeover:

In 2004, John Magnier & J.P. McManus, who owned 28.7% shares in the club, had a falling out with Sir Alex Ferguson over a racehorse named ‘Rock of Gibraltar’ which was co-owned by the three.

The duo sold their shares to the Glazers in 2005, giving them 57% ownership and the majority ownership overall. That 57% soon rose to 75% as well, ensuring the Glazers would not have any competition in-house. The threshold for Malcolm Glazer to bid for complete ownership had already been breached when he owned 30% of the club.

The Glazers then delisted Manchester United from the stock exchange, increased their shares to 98%, and forced the remaining 2% to sell their shares. A complete takeover of Manchester United for £790 million was complete. However, this money was not invested in a positive way like what Sheikh Mansour did with Manchester City.

Instead, the club was required to pay interest on the Glazers’ loans. What a wonderful way to introduce yourself to the United fanbase, right?

Why Fans Opposed:

The Glazers are among the most unpopular owners among their own fan base. Manchester United was a debt-free club until 2005. The Glazers took out loans to acquire complete ownership of the club. Those loans were even taken against Manchester United’s assets. Meaning, that in spite of owning 75% of the club, the Glazers didn’t put in any money from their own pockets.

Instead had charged the club £60 million per year as interest on their loans. The reported sum of these loans is a staggering £525 million.

A report in The Athletic states that at the end of the financial year of 2020, Manchester United was in debt of £455.5 million. In 2018, The Guardian reported that the Glazer takeover had drained United of more than £1 billion in interests, costs, fees, and dividends that the Glazer family took for themselves since 2005.

To their credit, the club has continued to grow significantly as a business off the pitch. Cash now pours in from commercial partnerships with global companies and far outstrips what Manchester United earns from fans at games. In fact, they dominate their local rivals in this aspect. Manchester United sat atop the list of most valuable sports teams in the world in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

Fans only wish to see the same passion for results on the pitch as well.

 

Building A Culture

Old Trafford
[Image via John Peters/Man Utd/Getty Images]
Old Trafford has been left to rot since the Glazer takeover in 2005. In fact, they’ve had a leaky roof, a rodent problem, and a dire need to upgrade the stands. United have been far from progressive with how they have handled their stadium’s matters. United has spent £118m in the last 11 years for stadium repairs overall. In that same time, Liverpool spent £278 million, Manchester City spent £374 million, and the Tottenham Spurs spent 1.4 billion.

This is yet again one of many reasons United has failed. It is more than a structure, it is a big part of the community.

Look at Tottenham’s recent billion-pound project for example. Not only has the club moved into one of the biggest and brightest stadiums in the world, but its location is also in the heart of the city. Surrounded by small local businesses that have all seen a boost in revenue thanks to the new stadium’s location.

Meanwhile, Old Trafford’s south stand hasn’t been upgraded in over 50 years and is visibly smaller than the rest of the stadium. Manchester United doesn’t have mini-stadiums for reserves and youth teams, and no grand facilities either.

However, announced on April 14, 2022, it was reported that there were plans to redevelop Old Trafford finally. Yet it is too early to provide a timescale and it is still in the planning process. The Glazers are set to take on more debt despite ending 2021 with roughly £500m pending. The owners had given up on the stadium before this announcement. While it’s better to be late than never, each rival club has already beaten United to the punch. All of this adds to the anti-Glazer mentality among the fans.

Money Not Well Spent

A report by French newspaper L’Equipe has revealed the five players who are earning the most in The Premier League 2021-22 season. Manchester United stars take four out of the five spots.

Cristiano Ronaldo is unsurprisingly at the top of the list, as he earns £26.4m annually. Manchester City’s Kevin De Bruyne is at #2 with £20.4m. Completing the top five are David de Gea (£19.2m), Jadon Sancho (£18m), and Raphael Varane (£15.6m). Ronaldo, Sancho, and Varane, all arrived in the summer of 2021, costing well over £100m in transfer fees, only adding to these wages.

One can’t help but wonder if these funds would’ve been better directed towards renewing/upgrading the stadium, or building youth facilities instead. United’s Under-23 team used to be among the best in the world in Ferguson’s time, now they’re a mid-table side at best.

Meanwhile, the senior team is neither a contender for the Premier League trophy, nor the Champions League. Ronaldo’s goals-to-game ratio is the lowest it has been since 2007. Sancho’s 3 goals and 3 assists in 24 appearances are unimpressive for a player of his abilities. Varane’s injuries have made him an irregular part of the team. It is impossible to justify these signings in terms of results on the pitch.

Let’s face it, the Glazers didn’t sign Ronaldo hoping to add a Champions League trophy to the legend’s trophy cabinet. The Glazers appear fine with this all-sizzle-no-steak approach, as long as the sponsorship deals keep bringing in cash. Running the club solely for monetary profit is the reason Manchester United has failed. Worst of all, where has the actual profit come into play anyway?!?

 

Ed Woodward

Ed Woodward
[Image via Chris Brunskill/Fantasista/Getty Images]
Ed Woodward advised the Glazer family on their acquisition of United in 2005. He was appointed to the club’s Board of Directors and took charge of operations following David Gill’s retirement in 2013. Many will tell you that Woodward is one of the biggest reasons Manchester United failed.

Most pointed out how strange it was that a banker would run operations of a football club, especially of this magnitude. The skeptics were right about Woodward and how his role never made sense. Manchester United has spent more than £1 billion in transfer fees during Woodward’s time in charge. Yet they haven’t won a single Premier League title in this time, after having won 5 of the last 7 seasons before he took over.

Ed has been criticized for his transfer decisions, especially after only signing Marouane Fellaini for £27.5 million in his first transfer window in charge.

 

Woodward Proves How Unqualified He Is:

A list of 5 transfer targets was given to Woodward by Mourinho and none of them were acquired. Woodward’s contributions are considered among the biggest reasons Manchester United has failed to win at a high level.

However, after only taking money from the club for the first few years, the Glazers started investing back into the transfer window. It aligns with their commercial goals. Superstar players bring revenue to the club in multiple different ways. The international sponsorships, merchandise sales, ticket sales, TV revenue, mere hype & relevance. All of this requires big names on the squad.

The Glazers have set transfer records, signing 4 of the 17 most expensive players in football history, including Paul Pogba for £89 million. The biggest problem was that the man spending this cash on their behalf was not qualified to make those decisions. Players like Angel Di Maria, Romelu Lukaku, Wilfried Zaha, and Alexis Sanchez struggled while at Old Trafford but their performances improved significantly after leaving.

This suggests United’s system doesn’t bring out the best in the players.

 

European Super League Fiasco

When 12 of Europe’s top teams announced to form a breakaway “Super League,” pushed by Joel Glazer in England, it made matters worse. Oh so much worse.

This was too much for even Woodward to stomach down and led to him resigning. The fans of the world’s most loved sport were given a clear look at the people pulling the strings. Football is just a business to them, this was exactly what Manchester United fans despised about the Glazers. Money was the motivation behind the ESL concept, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Revenue wouldn’t be shared with myriad teams involved in the Champions League’s qualifying rounds. Champions League payouts total an estimated $2.4 billion annually. The Super League could’ve generated roughly $4.2 billion.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said:

“We’re going to look at everything that we can do with the football authorities to make sure this doesn’t go ahead as it’s currently being proposed. I don’t think it’s good news for fans. I don’t think it’s good news for football in this country.”

Sir Alex Ferguson expressed his opinion as well. He called it:

“a piece of nonsense. [adding] It has done the reputation of clubs no good and has, in fact, alienated a great many supporters. It sells them right down the river, and you can’t disregard your fans and customers.”

This kind of disconnect between ownership and fans adds to the reasons Manchester United has failed.

 

Dallas Cowboys Fans Can Relate

Jerry Jones
[Image via Tom Pennington/Getty Images]
Trophies can’t be bought, contrary to popular belief. The Dallas Cowboys are the best example of this in the NFL. Despite being the most valuable team in the NFL ($6.5 billion), the last time America’s Team won a Super Bowl was in 1996 when they defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Recently Emmitt Smith stated his opinion on the matter, saying it is a problem with execution, not talent. The retired Cowboy Hall of Famer added:

“When you’re talented you think your talent can overcome a lot of things, but the game of football is more than just talent.”

Another similarity between the Dallas Cowboys and Manchester United is the fans’ displeasure with the owner. While Cowboys owner Jerry Jones isn’t nearly as unpopular as the Glazers, he too holds his own team back. The 79-year-old is the Owner, President, and General Manager of the organization.

To perform in all three roles at a high level is nearly impossible. An organization wouldn’t willingly hire a part-time CEO. Similarly, one man with so much on his plate, and the lack of more suitable professionals in those roles, is surely holding the team back. Jerry said himself that he’d fire a GM who delivered the results that he has. One would assume that would make him want to hire someone who isn’t him, but we guess he also ignores himself.

For fans focused on what goes on on the pitch, it can be hard to understand why such star-studded rosters fail to deliver. These billionaire owners make such great returns on their investments that a trophy is a mere cherry on top.

Conclusion

Manchester United
[Image via Sky Sports]

It is never just one factor that leads to such struggles. This machine has multiple cogs. Sir Alex Ferguson’s gaping void is extremely difficult to recover from. Many of these owners don’t even love sports, let alone the club. They prioritize money made off the pitch, instead of relying on success on the field.

The man running operations wasn’t even from a sports background and clearly spent the transfer funds very poorly. The transfer funds could’ve and should’ve been spent on the long-term growth and development of the club’s infrastructure. An iconic old stadium that hasn’t even been maintained, never mind the lack of upgrades.

The fan base that has lost hope in the current owners, and the players are often paying the price. Players struggle to click or make big plays when the going gets tough. The English giant doesn’t pose a threat to its rivals anymore. The Theatre of Dreams is now a place for memories, but only memories of the good times. The rest is a literal living nightmare.

It’s easy to say that new ownership could fix all of this or the appointment of a former player like Wayne Rooney could. It would certainly be a step in the right direction. However, for the Red Devils, the problems can’t outnumber the hopeful. Take your pick of all the reasons why Manchester United has failed.

Survivors built the club, and the giant won’t be asleep forever. It could take a while, but Manchester United will surely return to glory someday. This writer hopes, anyway

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