United unwinds in Wile E. Coyote country

February 2, 2016 Tags: , Opinion 6 comments
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The winter transfer window has come and gone with a few departures and no Old Trafford arrivals. Ordinarily the headlines might have focused on the fact that United failed to bring in a fresh face in winter window for the first time since 2005. These are no ordinary times though as Manchester City confirmed football’s worst kept secret: Pep Guardiola will take charge of the Blues next season.

Guardiola’s move to Eastlands is the culmination of a pursuit that began in 2012 and, in fairness, City is perfectly suited for him. The club has an excellent youth system, there’s a well thought-out sporting structure in place, with Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain handling the footballing matters and, crucially, the hierarchy has a clear idea of what it wants on the pitch with a plan to meet the club’s goals. The argument that Pep is taking the easy option by joining City is countered by a simple rejoinder: why would he risk his reputation taking charge of a directionless Manchester United?

It is a bitter a pill to swallow for many United fans, but unlike the Reds, City has built the club’s foundations on the pursuit of footballing not financial success. It’s the adoption of a Fergusonian mantra: focus on football and the money will follow.

Under the Glazers and Ed Woodward United has not just failed to land Jürgen Klopp and Carlo Ancelotti, but now missed out on Guardiola twice. There’s nothing to suggest that there’s any long-term plan other than hoping that Louis van Gaal can dramatically turn things around. United’s 3-0 victory over Stoke City on Tuesday night is only a start, and far from a pattern.

Consider this – the Blues been working since 2012 to bring Guardiola to the Etihad, whilst United seems set on reviewing Van Gaal’s performance on a week-by-week basis. The contrast is stunning.

Even if Van Gaal does manage to bring his team out of its current slump, what of the future? The best case scenario, for the Dutchman at least, is that he sees out his contract and leaves in 2017. There’s no long-term planning in that. By that time José Mourinho – even if he isn’t to everyone’s liking – could be off the table, forcing the club to scramble for a new manager when the world’s elite may well be put off by United’s predicament. After all, if Gareth Bale was reportedly concerned about the direction the club is taking, the world’s best coaches may well think the same way.

In this the club is undeniably playing catch-up. City is now the Road Runner serenely moving ahead, with the Old Trafford club the hapless Wile E. Coyote. When the Looney Tunes villain needs a new toy he parses through his Acme catalogue. Similarly, when Woodward needs a player he invariably turns to Jorge Mendes. And if the coyote’s plans and contraptions to achieve victory are absurdly complex then what of Van Gaal’s tactical choices from team formation to bizarre substitutions? Remember the Dutchman turned to Nick Powell twice to dig him out of a hole away to Wolfsburg and Bournemouth. That’s the youngster, with no Old Trafford future, now loaned out to Hull City.

Whatever the tune at Old Trafford, it’s certainly loony. But then that’s what happens to a club that prioritises profit over everything else. The Glazers may even look back at January fondly – United signed commercial partnerships with an outdoor sportswear firm and an Indonesian isotonic drinks company.

The gauntlet thrown down by City leaves the ball firmly in United’s court. History suggests that Woodward and company will struggle to find the right move. The Moyes error was an unmitigated disaster, with the Scot tearing up the existing sporting set-up and setting the club on a process of accelerated decline. Van Gaal has steadied the ship, but is struggling for solutions to the problems surrounding the club. That the Dutchman reportedly offered his resignation – denied by the club – demonstrates his fragile confidence. No amount of expensive wine will remedy that quickly.

There are few apparent contingency plans. Woodward is unlikely to bite the bullet and appoint Mourinho, although the marketing men at Premier League HQ would be delighted if the Portuguese man o’ war was appointed United boss to renew his rivalry with Guardiola. It would certainly be box office.

Yet, the powers-that-be at Old Trafford are far from ready to tolerate the drama and soap opera that invariably surrounds Mourinho. It’s a principle that will only be tested if  United slumps even further this season.

Then there is the risky bet of  opting for Ryan Giggs in the hope that the Welshman could become United’s Guardiola. Giggs knows the club like few others, but there is a crucial difference between the pair. When Guardiola ended his playing career at Barcelona he went on the play in Serie A, Qatar and in Mexico for Dorados de Sinaloa; he was an admirer of then coach Juan Manuel Lillo. Guardiola may not have boasted any coaching experience prior to his position at Barcelona B, but he went out to explore new football cultures.

Giggs, conversely, has known nothing but United. His coaching education has come under Sir Alex Ferguson, Moyes and Van Gaal. It is understandable that he has been reluctant to learn his craft away from Old Trafford – after all Gary Neville’s Valencia stint offers a chastening lesson. The only former United star with a realistic shot at coming back to manage the club is Tuesday’s defeated manager, Mark Hughes – and he’s an outside bet not a front-runner.

Should Woodward reconsider his doubts about Giggs, Ferguson and the Class of ’92 cabal, then the executive would be wise to bring in a sporting director. Carlos Queiroz, currently with Iran, might fit as United’s first director of football. He would certainly be an intriguing choice as a tactically astute coach, who is hugely experienced, and aware of the club’s traditions.

In another scenario United could go for a surprise and hire an outsider such as Thomas Tuchel, Jorge Sampaoli, Massimiliano Allegri or Antonio Conte.

It’s hard to second guess what Woodward and the hierarchy will do though. If United hires Mourinho or another coach the obvious risk is that Giggs walks out of the club. Giggs’ departure may not resonate so strongly given his association with the Van Gaal regime, but it would still be felt. Yet, if Giggs is chosen to succeed Van Gaal, then United will be taking a huge gamble on inexperience.

This uncertainty lingers because United does not have a clear direction; it’s a point to repeat ad nauseam. City, by contrast, is built to succeed because it is a club with a structure and a plan that will last through Guardiola’s tenure and beyond.

And if the status quo is maintained then City could well streak ahead, like Road Runner on a clear stretch of highway, leaving United to figure out increasingly harebrained and not-so-wily scheme to catch up.

Or in other words, when it comes to near-term success, “that’s all folks!”

6 comments

Subterranean Steve - February 3, 2016 Reply

The noisy neighbours have plenty of cause to party.

Peter - February 3, 2016 Reply

Nice article. Now I will always think of Wile. E. Coyote whenever Woodward appears on TV. What about Pellegrini? A partnership of Queiroz as director of football, Pellegrini as manager, and Scholes as head of youth development would be good. It wouldn’t bother me in the least that Pellegrini has been at City. He has done a good job. He seems committed to attacking and entertaining play and, unlike Mourihno he is not a twat. He probably has a house in Manchester anyway. I suspect that City may prove a more difficult job for Pep than either FCB or Bayern where in each case he took over teams that are very dominant in their own leagues. Even United at their best never dominated the Premier League to the total extent that Bayern does the Bundesliga or FCB and RM do La Liga. It seems unlikely that he is so superior a coach that he will turn City into another FCB. And anyhow he will be gone in three years. It will be too cold and wet for him. It would be great to have a Pellegrini led United beat them

Emmyleo balbao - February 3, 2016 Reply

As I am concerned…we can continue to write and read all this articles day-in day-out with different opinion and suggestion,it won’t change anything…..what all united fan want now is a new Manager who’ll bring excitement and success to d team…..and lols *Does d glazer family read all this?

mancmanme - February 3, 2016 Reply

I think all this congratulating Manchester City for their ‘long term plan’ needs to be nipped in the bud.
The ‘plan’ is based upon nothing more having more money than God on pay day. The best facilities-tick, the best youth system-tick, the best players-tick, treating your current manager appallingly because you pay him enough to do so whilst a docile media gibber moronically about ‘a quiet dignity’ -tick.
They do all of these things because they can and if one or all of these things don’t work (does anyone really need me to start compiling a list of all the shite players they have bought, gifted youngsters not given a chance, up and coming English players taking the cash to sit on the bench) then they will spend again. It’s hardly the large Hadron Collider.
I realise that the staggering ineptitude of Woodward and the actions of the hyenas rinsing our beloved club throw almost any alternative into sharp focus but no credit where no credit is due.

giggyjon - February 3, 2016 Reply

The difference is that City have owners who are obsessive about winning and establishing the club as a European superpower. It is a prestige project for their owners and they hunger after the respect and kudos they will receive if and when they succeed. They are prepared to hire the best, pay to get the best kids and invest to have the best facilities, because they know that if you set yourself up properly (as in any business) then you have a better chance to achieve your goals. Our owners by contrast are only really interested in sucking as much money from our great club as feasible to pay off their debt, and our share price. United’s business plan is focused entirely around these objectives and these objectives alone. You simply don’t need to win the league every year to deliver the Glazers business plan and they have no desire to roll the dice to try and achieve more. Champions League qualification and the odd FA or League Cup will do just fine. That is the big difference and why as the article concludes ‘that’s all folks!’

Dazz2501 - February 3, 2016 Reply

There are many issues in all of this. Even if LVG does pull off a revival over 18 months of selection mistakes, pattern of play and the fact he has no desire to extend his contract mean he leaves, at the latest this summer, if results don’t improve earlier. He has only survived until now because of even more egg on Woodwards face. On the subject of Ed , if reports are true he didn’t even try to sign Guardiola, which shows the lack of vision running the club. City do have a structure which will survive changes of head coach, and tempt the likes of Guardiola or Mourinho. As both tend to only last 3 years looking at United means neither could hit the ground running.as thanks to LVG and Woodward, team imbalance and structural issues remain. Quieroz or Meulensteen would be good calls as technical director candidates and if Mourinho is on the radar then someone growing the club is a must. However, if you are looking for a manager who will provide a reboot from top to bottom, and promote youth more of a gamble is required, which means Pochetino or Giggs. Although Ryan hasn’t got the experience of being the man in charge nor did Guardiola at Barcelona, but both know the clubs inside out. United has always taken pride in unearthing some gems on the playing side, because they have been schooled in the right way. Giggs more than most, knows the United way, and it’s perhaps now or never in respect of him becoming manager, especially with Ferguson still around and Quieroz as technical director if he needs advise. Maybe Giggs time has come

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