The cracks are opening up again at Manchester United

The cracks at Manchester United appear to have opened up again. Despite what seemed like movement in the right direction last season, it looks like the lingering issues at the club have claimed the first casualty this season. The club’s elimination from the champions league last night, while not so surprising – at least for me – is yet another proof that there’s definitely a lot of things currently not right at the club.

One would be really naive to believe that Manchester United made any real progress last season. The team ended their Premier League campaign with sixty six points, same tally as the season before, scored one goal more than the previous season and only had improved numbers in defence where the team conceded substantially less. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was able to paper the cracks with deep runs into the UEFA Europa League, FA Cup and the EFL Cup but the club’s “improvement” in those competitions however failed to paint a clear picture of its true position leading fans into excitement that the club was finally making some progress even if it involved wins against teams in the lower leagues in England and the almost obscure leagues across Europe.

The truth that most people often ignore is that Manchester United failed to live up when it mattered most last season, the games with the biggest stakes like the ones against Sevilla in the semi final of the Europa League or the FA Cup clash with Chelsea at Wembley were season-defining games and they fell short. I know that some people would make a case for the team’s performance in the league, especially the games against the regular top six in which they did considerably well, but if we are being honest, those games amount to nothing but three points, the same number of points a team would be entitled to if it wins a game against a mid-table side or a newly promoted team. Besides, the league is a marathon and not a sprint, there are several opportunities to make up for lost games over the course of a season. The season-defining games are those games that make the difference between winning a title or playing for a chance to win a title and leaving empty handed.

A first look at Manchester United would lead one to think that the club’s issues are strictly on-the-pitch issues and to be fair, it wouldn’t be wrong to make such an assessment. Afterall, when a team isn’t performing well, the usual scapegoats are the players or the manager. Solskjaer’s flaws are there for all to see, the Norwegian has struggled to give his United team an identity, often setting his team up to react to whatever their opponents would offer. Most of the players also haven’t met expectations this season, Anthony Martial still searches for his first Premier League goal this season and only has one goal from open play in all competitions so far, Harry Maguire has failed to perform at the levels that you would expect from an 80 million pounds signing, Paul Pogba’s acts like he’d rather be far away from the club as soon as possible and summer signing, Donny van der Beek can’t seem to nail a regular starting spot in the team; there’s almost no current Manchester United player – save for Bruno Fernandes – that can be singled out for consistently good performances this season.

Off the pitch, it’s a totally different fiasco. On one end, you have an ownership that seems to be interested more in taking money out of the club. On the other end, there’s Ed Woodward, the club’s executive vice-chairman who oversees the club’s operations and is directly involved in the technical side of things. Manchester United operate a structure that does not include a technical/sporting director role which means that every decision regarding player recruitment has to go through him. This wouldn’t be a problem if Woodward wasn’t a complete “money man”; to his credit, he’s been responsible for the club’s successes on the financial side and has made sure that the club remains viable financially even in the face of sporting results that haven’t been up to the standard that a club like Manchester United should generally aim for. What United need however is a person with experience on the sporting and technical side to complement Woodward.

The 49-year old executive once admitted that the club’s structure needed tweaking as he focused on expanding the club’s recruitment department which he believed had not been “efficient” since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson but to think that just doing this would be enough to solve the club’s issues is like hoping that an aspirin would be enough to cure cancer. Former Manchester United manager, Louis van Gaal gave a critical assessment of the situation at Manchester United when he spoke with German magazine, 11 Freunde last year: “At Manchester United, Ed Woodward was installed as CEO, somebody with zero understanding of football, who was previously an investment banker. It cannot be a good thing when a club is run solely from a commercially-driven perspective.”

Ed Woodward’s priority at United will always be financially inclined, for every recruitment decision that will be made by the club, his first thought will always be how the club can benefit from such recruitment financially. It’s not his fault though, it’s just the way he is. The club would need to provide someone that’s more “football inclined” to complement him if they intend to achieve any form of stability going forward.

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