Manchester United, once a great football institution, have become a global laughingstock
On the New Year’s day, Manchester United were thumped on the pitch by Arsenal, yes you have read it right. Their manager, Ole Gunnar Solskjær, grinned from ear to ear at the post match press conference after being humiliated by a team that didn’t win anything at home for the last three months. It’s very difficult to lose to a side that have David Luiz and Sokratis as their centre-halves. But United had been awful. Without Paul Pogba, they were bereft of quality in the midfield. And Pogba is unlikely to play for United again.
Ahead of the match, Solskjær had spoken about Pogba having some fitness issues, the reason why the midfielder skipped the trip to the Emirates. “He is injured. He is feeling some discomfort in his ankle. He will be out
for a few weeks, definitely,” the United manager told MUTV. Solskjær was struggling.
Pogba has made only two substitute appearances since September. Now, he reportedly needs a foot surgery on the advice of his “people”. Solskjær doesn’t seem to have any control over his star player. He tries to keep Pogba in good humour, but the latter listens to his agent, Mino Raiola. The player has reportedly told his team-mates that he is done with United, as the club are “two or three years behind” title contenders Liverpool and Manchester City. Pogba wants to chase trophies. At United, football seems to have become incidental.
Just days ago, Raiola had laid into United. “Today I would no longer bring anyone there (at Old Trafford). They would also ruin (Diego) Maradona, Pele and (Paolo) Maldini. For Pogba I fought with (Alex) Ferguson. Paul was the only one to say no to him, he never digested this and he took it out on me. But now Pogba’s problem is Manchester (United); it’s a club out of reality, without a sports project. Paul needs a team and a club, one like the first Juve,” told Italian outlet La Repubblica.
United, once a great football institution, seemingly have become a global laughingstock. Post Sir Alex and former chief executive David Gill, they are a club without direction. Ed Woodward, United’s executive vice-chairman and Gill’s successor, has worked wonders on the commercial side. As far as football is concerned, he is a serious let-down. The Glazers’ ownership is proving to be detrimental to the club’s football progress. But there’s no immediate solution in sight.
Even the United season ticket holders know that the problem lies in the club’s ownership and the way the whole thing is run by Woodward. United urgently need a director of football, someone of the calibre of Ralf Rangnick or Marc Overmars. The director of football will preside over all football matters, from managerial appointment to transfers. United are yet to appoint one. Solskjær is completely out of his depth as a manager. His team selections, substitutions and tactical shortcomings attest that. But the 47-year-old Norwegian is just a small cog in the wheel. Woodward is seemingly happy with ‘Ole at the wheel’, for a lack of managerial pedigree keeps Solskjær on the back-foot.
An elite manager is high-management. Solskjær, on the other hand, is appeared to be happy just to have the job. He won’t make lofty transfer demands. He won’t slate his players. That Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur are having an indifferent campaign has given Woodward some breathing space. United are still in the top-four race in the Premier League and if somehow they qualify for the Champions League football next season, Woodward would be happy to retain Solskjær, sweeping every other problem under the carpet. Top-four has become the new trophy for United. At this rate, they are not going to challenge for the title in the next 20 years.
With a director of football in place, United would have had a proper manager. It’s an irony that Everton have Carlo Ancelotti as their manager, while commercially the world’s biggest club are making do with a Cardiff City discard. But Woodward doesn’t care as long as long as he keeps rolling in new noodles partners.
Focusing on the academy and playing with the academy graduates is fine. But talent-wise, the current crop of youngsters, save Mason Greenwood, is not good enough to match the Class of ’92. Solskjær has proved to be a complete failure to deal with a strong character like Pogba and also his agent. He should have taken a leaf out of Sir Alex’s book to tackle the problem. Mauricio Pochettino is free and should be a shoo-in. He will improve the players. He will put the agents in their place. But before that, the club need a proper football structure. The mighty have fallen so much that a teenager like Erling Haaland can give them a snub. United need to go back to move forward.