“My greatest challenge is not what’s happening at the moment, my greatest challenge was knocking Liverpool right off their fucking perch.”
It was, as ever, Sir Alex Ferguson’s defiance in the face of media criticism that elicited the Scot’s best and most memorable invective. “And you can print that,” was the appendage that inspired a thousand banners.
Misery, so the saying goes, loves company. If that’s the case Manchester United fans can take solace that theirs isn’t the only sporting entity being mismanaged by the Glazer family. Stateside, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers NFL franchise is going through a period of turmoil too, after firing the head coach in rather haphazard circumstances. Read More
It was, one supporter departing Old Trafford claimed, the worst Manchester United performance in more than 30 years. Perhaps not, there have been some truly devastating defeats in that time, but few supporters can remember less entertainment on a night where United’s passivity in the face of a supposedly inferior opposition reached a fresh nadir. Indeed, the Reds’ narrow FA Cup victory over League One Sheffield United, despite a rash of defeats in December, may yet come to be seen as peak Louis van Gaal – a day when the tide finally turned in the endgame of the Dutchman’s Old Trafforddeparture. Read More
January 25th, 2014. Ex-Chelsea playmaker Juan Mata makes his grand entrance at Manchester United, arriving aboard a helicopter at Carrington to meet Ed Woodward and David Moyes, as the Spaniard moves in a then club-record £37.1 million transfer from Stamford Bridge to Old Trafford. Almost two years to that day Mata could be heading for the exit, with the rest of this season potentially determining his future. Read More
“I changed Herrera because I wanted to waste time – what Swansea were doing the whole match,” admitted Louis van Gaal after his side’s 2-1 defeat of the Swans. Manchester United’s was a welcome, if nervy victory on Saturday, but lost among all that was the fact that Michael Carrick, the Spaniard’s replacement, was making his 400th appearance for the club. Read More
The year ended much as it began: with Louis van Gaal’s side languishing well behind the Premier League leaders, exiled from European competition and out of at least one domestic cup. Plus ça change, Louis. United’s run of eight matches without a victory as 2015 closed helped to end the year with a sense of crisis in the air. The new year begins with Van Gaal under pressure to turn the team around, Ed Woodward to secure the resources his heavily backed manager needs, and the fans to remain positive amid what is beginning to feel like permanent decline. Read More
“Until the club understands what it stands for, and how it operates beyond making deals with regional noodle vendors, any manager will struggle.” – United Rant Twitter feed, 22 December 2015
Manchester United is now a fully blown Glazer entity, a cash cow being milked to the nth degree and then some. The club can boast a total of 21 global, 16 regional, 15 media and 14 financial partners; more than 60 partners in total. Talk about leveraging an asset. Read More
May 19th, 2014. The day Louis van Gaal was confirmed as the new manager of Manchester United. After David Moyes’ dark tenure players and fans were won over by a manager with a glittering CV. One who had guided a relatively weak Dutch team to third place at the 2014 World Cup. Van Gaal possessed the gravitas and the tactical acumen to rebuild a United side that was sliding into mediocrity. His bold words were a breath of fresh air, with claims that United could even win the Premier League in his first season. Read More
Modern economic theory is built on the mathematical technique called “constrained optimisation.” Resources are scarce and people are assumed to behave in a way that maximises their individual happiness given what they have. It is natural to extend this analysis to football clubs.
Manchester United, as a business entity, seeks to maximise its profit. To maximise profit, the Glazer family run club must achieve good results on the pitch – after all, few firms want to be the “regional partner” of a struggling club, where the relationship is essentially about reflected glory. In other words, the Glazers must pay close attention to matters on the football pitch if they indeed are rational, profit-seeking – some might argue profit-exploiting – businessmen.
The Glazers have so far behaved “rationally.” They have also delegated on-pitch matters entirely to the manager, perhaps to the detriment of the club.
United is falling behind other clubs in terms of structure, with many inside the industry viewing United’s scouting department, in particular, as antiquated, while the argument for hiring a director of football holds much merit. Yet, the behind-the-scenes backroom structure does not concern the Glazers greatly, especially if they intend to sell United sometime in the future – not unlike politicians who invest in industries that yield immediate profits, but not in social infrastructure.
At Old Trafford first-team football is the fruit-bearing industry. Alarmed by the Reds’ recent performances under Louis van Gaal, the Glazers and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward will be carefully considering a plethora of options available, including a replacement.
One feasible strategy could be to inject a lot more cash in the winter transfer market to keep United in contention for a place in the Champions League, and then go for Pep Guardiola come the summer. Van Gaal will surely not be allowed to see out his contract if the Bayern Munich manager can be convinced that Old Trafford is his best next step.
Should United lose out on Guardiola to Manchester City – a club that has tailored its structure around capturing the former Barcelona manager – the Reds will be in a particularly precarious situation. Jose Mourinho might be jobless, and seemingly waiting for Woodward’s phone call, but there is no guarantee that he will be available at the end of the season. For one, Rafa Benitez’s struggles at Real Madrid is such that the Spanish club might act in desperation and bring the ‘Special One’ back to Bernabeu.
Should Van Gaal complete his contract, which runs to 2017, both Guardiola and Mourinho will probably be unavailable; Carlo Ancelotti too. Elsewhere few élite managers will be available – Jurgen Klopp has made a mixed start as Liverpool manager, but is unlikely to have departed within the next 18 months, while Diego Simeone could well be managing Chelsea. With Arsene Wenger’s time at Arsenal winding down, the Gunners might also be searching for a replacement by summer 2017.
Meanwhile, there is little evidence, on the pitch or statistically, that supports the proposition that Ryan Giggs will become a leading manager, as romantic as the idea is. And at the end of the day United is not the Class of 92’s plaything.
The conclusion, even if Van Gaal does last out his contract, is that United will face a real challenge securing a manager proven and tested on the biggest stages. Or, in other words, United might have to settle for a lesser name or gamble on an up-and-coming younger coach come 2017.
That leaves Mourinho, who might charitably be described as being divisive and, perhaps not unfairly, often odious. His teams have sometimes played a brand of football even duller than Van Gaal’s, although there is no denying the former Real Madrid boss’ managerial pedigree. Mourinho is also available now. And the £7 million that it will cost the club to fire Van Gaal is little in the grand scheme of things. After all, United would struggle to recruit a much-needed and capable left-back for that kind of money. The club stands to lose a lot more should it fail to reach next season’s Champions League.
There appears to be little chance of securing Guardiola in the summer, while June 2017, when Van Gaal’s contract runs out, appears to be even more difficult. The opportunity to sign Mourinho now is thus even more urgent. If the goal is to secure a top manager at Old Trafford, then Van Gaal must surely go.
But the question remains as to whether there is any benefit in bringing in Mourinho. Van Gaal is struggling, but he has a chance to turn things around, just as Mourinho may not necessarily decelerate the Reds’ slide down the table. And should Mourinho be appointed and turn things around, as his CV suggests he might, then the Portuguese’s appointment would essentially amount to giving up on Guardiola for the next four years.
In this sense, if Van Gaal ultimately goes early, it is either Mourinho or Guardiola. Many supporters prefer Guardiola, whose football is based more on flair and positivity than the Machiavellian football Mourinho preaches.
Is there a realistic chance in appointing Guardiola? After all, the Spaniard did not bother to let Sir Alex Ferguson know of his move to Germany despite the Scot’s request that the pair keep in touch. There have been many reports suggesting that Guardiola is fascinated with United, although more reputable journalists, such as the Guardian’s Raphael Honingstein, consider City as Guardiola’s most likely destination.
Another crucial issue is whether United, currently sixth in the Premier League, will be in the Champions League next season with Van Gaal in charge. It would be an entirely different proposition for Guardiola to come to Old Trafford with the Reds out of Europe’s premier competition.
There are 19 games left with United only nine points behind Arsenal, with the Londoners an injury or two away from dropping points. An exceptionally strong second half of the season could conceivably see United sneak onto the podium.
In short, United would be betting an awful lot on capturing Guardiola should the Glazers and Woodward decide to pursue him in lieu of securing Mourinho now. Risk must always be in proportion to reward. While an argument can be made that Guardiola will bring more to the club than Mourinho, it is hard to argue that the Guardiola effect will be enough to offset the insane risk United would be taking by passing on Mourinho.
Just when you thought the crisis has hit its lowest point, Louis van Gaal’s side found a way to burrow further into the abyss. Following another comprehensive defeat at the hands of Stoke City the club has now lost four games in a row, something the Red Devils have not suffered since 1961. The side is also now winless in seven games. Can the situation get any worse?
The answer might be yes – a home clash to finish the year awaits, with Chelsea visiting Old Trafford on Monday. Optimism hasn’t been at a lower ebb at any point during the Van Gaal era, and most fans are hoping he is either given his marching orders or falls on his own sword before the end of the year.
Criticism of the Dutchman is almost certainly justified, with defence of his methods now as flimsy as the efforts of his back-four. Despite Van Gaal’s successes in rebuilding the club from the ground up, for which he deserves credit, on-field performances have at best stalled and are arguably going backwards. Patience with the process has reached a pivotal moment.
Comparison’s with David Moyes grow by the day – the two managers records are comparable, with Van Gaal’s number no longer that favourable. Yet the common thread between the two men is less the results, but the man who hired them: Edward Gareth Woodward.
Woodward was promoted to the role of executive vice-chairman when David Gill stepped aside in 2013, following Sir Alex Ferguson out the door. Whilst Woodward is clearly a marketing guru, the former banker has essentially acted as the Chief Executive Officer, Commercial Director and Director of Football for United in the past two years. It isn’t working.
The reality, of course, is that Woodward is succeeding in running United as a business, but not as a football club. The question remains as to why Woodward appears to be immune to media criticism given that he now has two managerial failures behind him. If Van Gaal is in the firing line, then Woodward should join him.
Woodward has not been clear of blame from the club’s fans since he was promoted to the top job. He is, after all, a figurehead for the Glazer’s ownership of the club – a controversial topic within itself – whilst appearing to place financial success far above on-field performance. Woodward, it appears, fails to grasp that on the pitch success also means that the dollars will follow.
Woodward’s first window in charge was underwhelming – he hired Moyes, then failed in pursuit of a string of star players, leading to a very public display of panic on transfer deadline day. Marouane Fellaini joined for £27.5 million in August 2013 when the Belgian could have been signed for four million less had he a move been completed in July.
This followed a tortuous summer, with fruitless pursuits of players that, in some cases, were never likely to join the club. It has become an unfortunate routine, with supporters teased on an almost daily basis once transfer windows open – an embarrassing turn of events for a club of United’s stature.
Woodward chased Leighton Baines through summer 2013, although the defender was never close to a move, with the vice chair leading a naïve series of low bids for both the left-back and his teammate Fellaini. The pursuit indicated a gross lack of experience in transfer negotiation and a lack of respect for the selling club, with Everton already hesitant to join negotiations.
Then, for all of United’s spending power and willing show of financial muscle, the club could not tempt Gareth Bale to stay in England and make the move from Tottenham Hotspur. Despite reportedly offering north of £100 million for the Welshman, Bale joined Real Madrid that summer for a world record transfer fee.
Cesc Fabregas also turned his back on interest from United and a year later led the Premier League in assists as Chelsea reclaimed the Premier League. Fabregas is struggling this season, but at the time the Reds Devils were in desperate need of creativity in midfield.
Fabregas’ compatriot Thiago Alcantara also seemed to be on his way from Spain before Bayern Munich’s late interest, and Moyes’ dithering, scuppered a move. The opportunity to sign Munich’s Toni Kroos was turned down a year later, which makes even less sense now than it did then as the German flourishes in Madrid.
The list goes on. Woodward’s apparent interest in Mats Hummels and Arturo Vidal approach farcical proportions, leading to accusations of amateurism in the transfer market. It was and is unacceptable given United’s stature and does not appear to happen to other European giants. The longer the club holds am interest in Cristiano Ronaldo the more it mirrors that of the ex who cannot accept their former partner has moved on.
Worse than amateur behaviour, United’s transfer policy seems to prioritise commercial interests ahead of playing needs. It led directly to United’s acquisition of Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria, neither of whom lasted 12 months in Manchester before bolting for greener pastures. The Argentine’s departure may prove to be a mistake, but Di Maria’s signature, despite his lack of fit within Van Gaal’s system, must also be questioned.
Then there is United’s chase for a central defender over the last two summers. It is, frankly, ridiculous that someone of a suitable calibre has not yet arrived at Old Trafford. Sergio Ramos used United’s interest to secure a new contract and the captaincy at Real Madrid, whilst Nicolas Otamendi now plies his trade on the other side of Manchester – and was signed at a relatively reasonable price.
Woodward might be a lifelong United fan, whose father attended the 1968 European Cup Final, but the executive apparently does not have the nous to lead United’s transfer policy. That is not to understate his genius in globalising United’s commercial operation, but what happens on the field is more important to the club’s future.
Woodward’s failings through five transfer windows and two managerial appointments is threatening to drive United into a sustained period of failure. Meanwhile, rivals at home and abroad have progressed far beyond United on the pitch, perhaps to the point that it will be hard to attract players from elite clubs, even if they are being forced out the door, as Di Maria was at Real.
The harsh reality is that even United’s English rivals are outpacing the Reds on and off the field. Pep Guardiola seems closer to the blue side of Manchester than the red, whilst United slips further down the league table with each defeat. United risks ‘doing a Liverpool’ and being left far behind. Perhaps for years to come.
And much of this regression can be traced back to decisions Woodward has personally made. It’s surely now time to start holding United’s vice chair to account if the club wants to move forward. The best scenario might that United’s future is one without its executive chairman.