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Football News: Things at Manchester United will get worse before getting better

Things at Manchester United will get worse before getting better

Performances haven't been great this season, and to be honest it feels more like we are in a perfect storm rather than there being any one particular reason. We have the on going fiasco and uncertainty caused by the sale of the club, or not sale as it turns out. I find it odd that the SJR buying 25% is considered an investment rather than a sale, which doesn't make sense as none of the money will be invested in the club.

We've then had the WC mid-season last year which appears to have caused injuries (to many sides not just ourselves), however our injury crisis has been extremely impactful given that hits taken many key first team players out of the side in specific areas of the team, particularly defence. We had the Greenwood fiasco, compounded by the Antony situation. Sancho deciding to throw his toys out the pram and act like a petulant toddler.

All of these things seem to be having a dramatic effect of bring down the mood and drawing out the toxicity from some parts of the fan base, while obviously causing dissatisfaction amongst the entire fan base. Obviously stoked by a media that stands to make huge profits on the back of another negative Manchester United story. Too many fans reading the media and using that as a base for the opinions they form. Of course its much easier to fall into conformation bias when you are unhappy about a situation. Far more likely to believe every single negative and dismiss anything that challenges that negative stand point.

All this has predictably led us to that tried and trusted cycle of failure where we pin the blame on the manager and convince ourselves thing will get better if we sack and replace them. Of course this has literally never worked for us over the past 10 years.

So here we are debating whether the manager is the problem for the 5th time in 10 years, you'd like to think most fans of even average intelligence are starting to realise its not the manager. What did Einstein say, the definition of madness is; doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Yet still a massive proportion (or at least the loudest proportion) are starting to stomp their feet and ask for a rinse and repeat manager sacking.

Has EtH got everything right? No, of course not. No manager, no person in any walk of life gets everything right. It's about doing the best you can with what you have and hopefully learning from your errors so as to not repeat them.

Here's my view of the things I think EtH has got right and the things I think he has got wrong, along with my perception of the reasons behind them.

For me the biggest positive of EtH so far has been his behind the scenes management, which sadly is something the fans rarely get to see and will never fully appreciate. He has had more turmoil and issues to deal with than most United managers, with none of it of his own making. The on going sale, the poor running of the club, the lack of support within the club structure, the issues like Ronaldo, Greenwood, Maguire, Antony and Sancho, the injuries, the limitations in the transfer market, the poor quality and badly built squad he has to work with, the toxicity of the club when he walked in and the poor attitude of the players.

He literally walked in on day one to a utter s*** show. Yet I think he has done a great job of correcting things that are within his control and managing those that are outside of it. He has set a standards and up held them, installed discipline, handled his interactions with the media very well, shutting down questions designed to stir up trouble but still talking openly and honestly. Although with enough common sense as to not create issues for himself.

Rangnick spoke openly, in hindsight too openly and created problems for himself with senior people at the club and with the playing squad. Dealing with the media at Manchester United is a political minefield and its very easy to say the wrong thing. Especially if English isn't your first language. Many managers have been left red faced or dealing with problems caused by a sound byte where the meaning has been lost in translation or twisted to make a more interesting story.

The fact that in 18 months at United no such sound bytes or quote exist highlights just how well he has done, especially given all the issues at the club and all the difficult questions he has been asked by a media who are trying their best to make a story out of what he says. In fact I wouldn't be surprised at all if there is an element of the media bias against him stems from the fact that he doesn't make their job easy by saying things that they can write about. The media love in with Jose was in large part because he would give them loads of things to put into print with his interviews.

I really don't think United fans give EtH enough credit for how he has handled all of that side of running the club. He has by far been the best manager we have had since Sir Alex at dealing with that. Maybe even better than Sir Alex in some respects given that Sir Alex controlled the media narrative by banning journalist who irked him rather than by tactful answering of questions. I think this probably stems from EtH's calm demeanour and ability to control his emotions. Meaning everything he says has been thought through. Maybe it isn't entertaining like LvG calling a journalist "fat man" or a Jose rant, but it is far more stabilising to a club that is in dire need for stability.

I think on the whole his transfer have been good, certainly better than the majority of our transfers over the past decade. All bar Antony had a big impact last season, and played a role on our success. Even Antony played a understated role to be fair. His signing this season haven't had a chance to really show what they can do yet, most have been out injured stretches this season. Onana fits the bill of what we needed, unfortunately its impossible to tell whether he'll be a success yet or not due to the injuries in defence.

Mount is a very good player, EPL proven, homegrown, shown leadership qualities in the past. Hojlund looks talented and a player with huge potential. I'm fairly confident that if we can get a settled team then all three will prove to be successes. Bayindir is a 4m back up keeper. The others are loans or free transfer brought in because the club has its hands tied financially. None would be the managers first choice, all just brought in to do a job. The only transfer I'd say was a mistake was Antony, he was very expensive, hasn't done enough on on the pitch and has caused controversy off it.

Other than that I think we've signed good players who have/ will have a positive impact on the team and improve us. We've definitely over paid on a few (Casemiro, Mount, Antony and possibly Hojlund), but that isn't down to the manager, he doesn't negotiate the deals after all. Obviously its hard to fully judge his transfer dealings as its too soon to judge nearly half of them as they signed this summer and we haven't seen enough of them yet to form a solid opinion. There has been a media led inquiry into the signings of the manager, with a lot of emphasis placed on them being signings he knows. I think a lot of this has been misplaced as well.

Trying to say Malacia, Weghorst, Eriksen and Mount were players he wanted while at Ajax as if to try and suggest that he was running all the signings. Or that Hojlund is with the same agency as he is. Onana, Martinez, Antony and Amrabat are the only signings he has previous managed. All the others were players that the club had come up with along with the manager. Mount was offered to the club by the players agent after deals with Chelsea and Liverpool could not be reached. Casemiro was offered to the club after Real Madrid decided to sell after signing both Camavinga and Tchouameni and needed to balance the books. Has the manager used his contacts and connections to help the club sign players? Most likely yes, but then I'd expect a manager to do so. Why wouldn't you use your network of connections to help you achieve your aims.

So transfers on the whole a success, definitely the first seasons signings, too early to tell with this summers signings.

At this point we have a manager who has done well setting standards, installing discipline, handling the media (during some particularly difficult situations), has on the whole made good signings and improved the squad. Lots of positives, especially when you consider the context he has had to do that in. Certainly handled things better than his predecessors.

We now come on to the biggest bone of contention with the fans. Playing style. This for me is the hardest one to understand, firstly many fans struggle to tactically breakdown a game. This is especially difficult via TV as the camera follows the ball so its difficult to understand what is happening on the entire pitch rather than just the 20 yard area around the ball. While there were a few murmurs last season about playing style they tended to come after a defeat or during our poor run of games in the final month of the season.

Which isn't surprising, fans want to find a positive in defeat, so signs of an emerging, clearly defined style of play is something many will look for. Of course it is in defeat where it is hardest to spot this style of play as clearly it hasn't worked. It far easier to see something when it works than when it doesn't. It's also difficult to pinpoint why it hasn't worked as it could be that the players had an off day, are struggling with aspects of it, don't have the quality/ skills to implement it or it could be that a well drill and prepared opposition were able to counter it and pick it apart. Negating it almost entirely.

Or of course it could be several or even all of those factors played a part. So without being in the team meetings, at the training sessions and being told explicitly by the manager/ coaching staff what the tactics specifically were for that game and why then it becomes a second guessing game as we don't know what the tactics even were, which makes it almost impossible to pinpoint where they went wrong and why.

This tends to lead to the disconnect between the manager and the fans when a manager might praise aspects of the game when we have lost. He knows what he wanted from the players and obviously saw it, while as the fans we are in the dark and probably didn't see or notice how the team successfully carried out the tactics as we don't know what they were supposed to be doing in the first place.

If we put aside the difficulty of fans being able to pinpoint the tactics, when they have and haven't worked and the impossibility of accurately understanding why we are left with the reality that most fans typically only really care about style of play when the results don't go our way.

For what it's worth I think (and this is just my opinion) that EtH did initially want to imprint a more possession based approach when he first joined the club, the players he chased Timber and FdJ are certainly players whose skills suit a more controlled possession game rather than a transitional one (although as intelligent, technically gifted players they certainly would be able to adapt) . However, he certainly abandoned that approach after the first two games last season, once it became clear that he couldn't get the players at his disposal to play that way to the required standard.

At which point we looked to play a more simplistic transitional style of play and it suited key players in our squad (Rashford, Bruno, etc) . The problem with implementing a entirely new style of play at a club that doesn't have a squad capable of playing that way is that you have to accept that you will go backwards before you go forwards. You have to rip down the ruins of the previous squad and rebuild it from the ground up. That would almost certainly mean spending a season or two scraping around between 10th and 6th place while the new squad is built in that image. You probably need to move on 15 or 16 players and bring in a similar number of replacements.

It's a 3-4 year project and you won't really see any real improvement on the pitch until the third season. The issue is that neither than fans or the owners will accept it. Fans just want to see success, at this club it is expected. They will start kicking off after a few defeats and will not accept anything but winning. While the owners have a club where the profitability is heavily dependent on UCL qualification and the money being in Europe brings in as well as the revenue linked to it though sponsorship.

It would be a process where the clubs revenues would decline for 2-3 years at the same time that investment in buying new players will be high. This is not something the owners will accept. They would rather a club play poorly and scrape 4th every year without ever winning anything, than see a down turn in profits and an increase in expenditure in order to create a team truly capable of challenging for top honours. This is probably compounded by the intensity they would face from fans in response to their ownership during those tough years in mid-table.

The reality is that if we are ever to truly see the club return to the top then short term pain for long term gain is inevitable. We will have to tear down this Frankenstein squad of misfits and poor purchases and rebuild it from the ground up. It will be a 2-3 year period of pain doing that to hopefully see success in 4-5 years time. Without the ability to just cut our losses and move on many players for practically nothing and have the funds to bring in 10+ players of first 11 quality (not decent squad players) then it cannot happen any quicker.

We would be talking upwards of £500m spent in one summer at least to accelerate that process. I'm not even sure if that would be possible within the bounds of FFP. While it would still be reliant on all of the signing s working out, which in the real world never happens. Anything above an 80% success rate with transfers is phenomenal. If you bring in 5 players of first 11 quality in a summer, then you can expect 4 to be a success and one to fail at the very least. If you need 12 players then at that rate you'd be looking at 3 summer windows.

This is where the club is right now, we can all name the players who need replacing due to either lack of quality or not suited to playing a progressive technical style of football (AWB, Dalot, Lindelof, Maguire, McTominay, Sancho, Donny, Martial, Antony) .

While the likes of Varane, Evans, Casemiro and Eriksen will just need replacing due to age. Bruno at 29 and Shaw at 28 will probably also need replacing before the side is truly ready to challenge in 3-4 years time when they'll be between 31 and 33 years old. So there is 15 players. that doesn't take into account whether players like Rashford, Martinez, Mount, and Onana suit the new style. Or players like Malacia, Garnacho, Mainoo, Amad, and Hojlund reach their potential.

At best we could be looking at replacing 13 players before we have a side ready to start seriously challenging, at worst that could be as many as 20 players might need replacing. That is the reality if you want to see both a consistent style of play and see a team built that is seriously capable of challenging for top honours.

If you only need to replace the 13 and you really push it you might be able to replace them in two summer windows, but you'd need to have 100% success rate and for the young players on this squad to all reach their potential to have a side capable of challenging in three seasons time. I think we all know that is extremely optimistic, both in that we only need to replace the minimal number of players and that we are successful with all of our signings.

That leaves us with a situation where if we accept reality we are 3-5 years away from having a side that both plays good football consistently AND is able to challenge for the league and UCL titles. Which in terms of the manager is simply do we believe he is the right man to be able to do that. Does he have the right temperament, can he handle the media and the depends off the pitch, can he build a team and improve the players in it? Personally I think EtH is the right man for that challenge.

He's certainly proven himself capable of doing much of it already. We just now need to give him the freedom and the support to do the rest. To change the style without expectation of instant results or a bare minimum requirement to qualify for Europe. The freedom to take the short term pain for long term gain. Because if its not him then who?

Or do we never give a manager the freedom to make the changes necessary to truly get us back among the elite, do we doom ourselves to rinse and repeat manager changes every two years, one year of new manager bounce, followed by a year of reality setting in, leading to another sacking and the ultimate delaying of any real chance of returning to the top.

Rome wasn't built in a day, and we will need to understand things will have to get worse before there is any hope of them getting better.

Written by Shappy October 31 2023 14:36:58


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