At the time of writing this series Manchester United is a club in the midst of another rebuild. Jose Mourinho was sacked as manager and replaced by former United legend Ole Gunner Solskjaer on an interim basis.
In a statement after Mourinho’s departure, United said they would not announce their permanent manager until the end of the season, a sign that they are reviewing the entire football department instead of rushing into an appointment.
Right now Manchester United is a club that lacks direction and has lost their status as the number one team in Manchester. Mourinho’s appointment was to counter City’s appointment of Pep Guardiola, while the acquisitions of Alexis Sanchez and Fred occurred after City were keen to sign the pair.
United needs to return to the club steeped in traditions engrained by Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson.
The first step to revitalising the club is to appoint a director of football to act as an intermediary between the manager and the board and complete transfer dealings.
United need to realise it is unlikely they will have the same manager for more then five years in modern football. The director of football would ensure the transfer dealings would fit into the clubs traditions and prevent the club from having the same issue as Jose Mourinho, who was forced work with players signed by David Moyes and Louis Van Gaal that did not suit his philosophies. Having a director of football will allow United to sign a manager that follows their traditions and the way they want to play.
According to reports from Spain, Manchester United has submitted an offer to Atletico Madrid sporting director Andrea Berta for the director of football role, while RB Leipzig’s head of recruitment and development Paul Mitchell has also been linked to the club. Edwin van der Sar could also be in contention, given his history at United and the reputation he has garnered as the Ajax CEO.
United have shown previously that if they conduct a review correctly they can solve the issues at the club, as evident in their review of the academy in 2016. In the 2015-16 season, United’s Under-18s lost 12 league matches in succession, including a 4-0 defeat to Liverpool and a 5-1 mauling by Chelsea.
The youth set up had become stagnant and struggled to compete with the facilities on offer at Manchester City and Chelsea. Wary of the lack of talent being developed, United conducted a review and appointed Nicky Butt as the head of academy, whom made it his objective to recruit the best young talent in Manchester and around the world.
Kieran McKenna was also snatched from Tottenham’s academy system and became the Under 18s coach. Under the guidance of Butt and McKenna, the Under 18s prospered and has developed the likes of Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, James Garner and Mason Greenwood who all appear to have long careers install for them at the Red Devils.
Appointing a director of football will link the senior team with the academy and allow these players to progress into the first team.
The next step for United is to hire a new manager. The two candidates for the role in my opinion are Mauricio Pochettino and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Pochettino has developed a reputation of playing attacking football and developing youth during his time in England at Southampton and Tottenham. Question marks remain about his ability to win major honours given he has not won any silverware at Tottenham, but it is clear he has the ability to get the best out of his players and rebuild a club.
Pochettino is not a fan of working with director of football, which is intriguing as United are in the hunt to appoint one. It will also be difficult for the Red Devils to entice the Argentine away from Tottenham as he has yet to complete his objective of winning silverware at the club and is still contracted at Spurs. United would need to pay over £40 million to release Pochettino from his contract, but if he is the man United want then he is worth the money.
The other candidate for the role is Solskjaer who has excelled in the minimal time he has been the interim manager. The Norwegian’s positivity has revitalised the club and the supporters and this has seen a drastic improvement in results. Paul Pogba is one player that has excelled since Solskjaer’s appointment, returning to the form that saw him be the world’s most expensive player.
Doubts remain about Solskjaer’s tactical nous and whether he is only experiencing good results because he has released the shackles on the players.
But in my opinion, United do not need a tactical genius as their next manager, instead they require a motivator that continues the traditions upheld at the club. Solskjaer’s love for Manchester United is infectious and the way he speaks about what is means to play for the Red Devils has united the playing group and the fans.
United have had two ‘master tacticians’ in Van Gaal and Mourinho and both were unsuccessful because they tried to dictate the mindsets of the players and prevented any attacking freedom.
Sir Alex Ferguson was not a tactical genius and had great success due to his ability to galvanise the team and make each player feel special. Solskjaer’s has taken a lot of inspiration from the man he calls “boss”.
A left field candidate for the role is Leeds United manager Marcelo Bielsa. The Argentine may be 63 years old and struggled to manage some of the top teams in the world, but the man dubbed ‘El Loco’ could be the ideal candidate for United.
Bielsa has been referred to as ‘The Godfather’ of modern football by the likes of Pochettino and Pep Guardiola because of the way he has revolutionised the way the game is played.
Bielsa has excelled at Leeds United this season, which despite being at a lower level shows that he can succeed in England. If United do not secure one of Bielsa’s pupils then why not hire the man that has influenced so many top managers?
The final aspect of the club that needs to be assessed is the squad. United lack leadership in the team, which is one of the reasons they have struggled on field. The attitude of the players is another aspect of the squad that needs to be analysed. No matter what the playing groups opinions were of Mourinho, the way the conducted themselves shows a lack of class.
If reports are true that some players placed bets on when Mourinho would be sacked then they have to be reprimanded by the club and few need to be put on the transfer list.
Alexis Sanchez is one player that has reportedly been miserable since joining United and if that is the case then the club is better off selling him.
Pogba is an interesting case because he has excelled since Mourinho’s departure. But there is always the belief that United is a ‘pit stop’ before he requests a transfer to Barcelona, Real Madrid, PSG or Juventus. Pogba’s agent Mino Raiola is an someone that’s makes his clients move clubs every few years so he can reap the rewards financially.
No player is bigger than the club and if Pogba acts the way he did in Mourinho’s final few months, then the club has to let him go.
At the conclusion of this series, it is clear Manchester United is a club that has lost its way on and off the field. By forgetting the traditions of the club, United has become an imitation of what they have so long teased their rivals of being. United tried to have their own ‘Galaticos’ when they secured Jose Mourinho, Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic in 2016. But instead they have become a farcical side lacking the class they attained during the Sir Matt Busby and Sir Alex Ferguson eras.
It is time Manchester United returns to the team that made them the biggest club in the world. An emphasis on attacking football with players unafraid to show creativity is what they need on field, while football people in football roles is required to make the club stable again. With a little help from looking back at their history, Manchester United can yet again be the forerunner in football.
As Sir Matt Busby once said, “I never wanted Manchester United to be second to anybody. Only the best would be good enough.”