Sport Writer Imogen Uwins discusses Manchester United’s slow start to the season, discussing injuries, ownership and coaching
On Wednesday the 1st of November, Manchester United were kicked out of the Carabao Cup in a 3-0 defeat against a Newcastle team that had eight changes, with seven players in their starting line-up having never started a premier league game. United have endured their worst start of the season in decades and have lost consecutive home games by three or more goals for the first time since 1962. The question everyone is asking is: what is going wrong?
On a surface level, their issues could be put down to injuries. The defence is impacted most by this, with the centre-back pairing being fourth and fifth choice. The absence of Luke Shaw and Martinez has drastically impacted the left side causing imbalance and ultimately affects Marcus Rashford’s game, who was vital to United’s best run of form last season. However, it is likely this issue is much deeper than this.
When a football team is not performing up to standard, the fans tend to look to the manager as responsible. However, in the ten years since Sir Alex Ferguson left United, they have had a spout of six short-term managers, the longest of whom being Jose Mourinho who was fired during his third season there. As their most successful and most renowned manager, Sir Alex won United more than thirty domestic and international titles during the twenty-six seasons he was manager. The club’s drastic change from consistency to changeability contributes to the decline they are facing. Every game, Erik Ten Hag’s position is put under scrutiny. However, firing him continues the stream of failure. The individual players, and the team as a whole, need time to adapt to the manager’s style and vision, and constantly changing this is confusing for the players. Despite Ten Hag having issues with particular players, namely Jadon Sancho, and buying players with whom he has had previous relationships opposed to players useful for the team’s structure, a consistent manager is needed for improvement. Maybe this isn’t Ten Hag, but someone has to stay for more than three seasons.
The fundamental problem with United is with the owners. Ever since they bought the club in 2005, the Glazer family have been wholly unpopular with United fans. However, they are now in the process of trying to sell. Just like the effects of constantly changing managers, the uncertainty surrounding who is going to buy the club, at what price and with what consequences, the ownership dilemma causes a huge sense of uncertainty. Looking at United as a business, trouble at the top will always trickle down. It is a difficult working environment for the players and focusing on one’s game and training must be hard when the future of the entire club is so unsure.
As well as taking up half the board of directors, the Glazer family have not appointed a sporting director. The sporting director is a vital position at a football club as they are responsible for the team’s overall philosophy, beginning with the youth team all the way up to the first team, as well as working with the head coach and CEO to identify transfer targets, coaches, budgets, contracts etc. The lack of someone filling this role has led to the manager making these important decisions without a broader stylistic vision being implemented higher up.
With these being Manchester United’s issues, what are the solutions? There have been rumours that Dan Ashworth might join the board as the much-needed sporting director, however he has since shut these down stating he is very happy with his role at Newcastle. These rumours, however, imply United’s progress in approaching people for this role and the team’s understanding of its structural issues. Sir Jim Ratcliffe, a long time United fan, is set to buy 25% of the share of the club which could be a patch of blue sky for the red devils. He is believed to already be in talks with the Glazers about personnel and structural changes, hopefully bringing in a sporting director. Overall stability and trust is needed at the club and this won’t happen with so much turnover of staff and players. There is a chance that when the starting eleven are recovered from injuries and a secure board is established by Ratcliffe, a sense of the family dynamic produced by Ferguson may return, but that is currently a long way off.
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