A billion dollars and the demise of Manchester United

Published: January 4, 2018
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Jose Mourinho, Manager of Manchester United looks on prior to the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on August 19, 2016 in Manchester, England. PHOTO: GETTY

“It was the best of times; it was the worst of times… It was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”- Charles Dickens (A Tale of Two Cities, 1859)

Nothing describes the mood better in Manchester than Dickens’s most famous quote. The followers of Manchester United enter the New Year burying any hope of a title challenge, while their neighbour seems destined to clinch another Premier League title, in a style reminiscent of Arsenal’s Invincibles – unbeaten.
United have been replaced by their city rival, Manchester City, who is now the dominant power in the country. City has spent close to $1.2 billion (net spend: $850 million), since the summer of 2013 and have managed to build a fierce squad that is not just winning games but annihilating the opposing teams.

During the same time period, despite Jose Mourinho’s appeal for additional funds, the Red Devils have expended approximately $1 billion (net spend: $700 million). However, in spite of this massive outlay, they have been unable to develop a squad that could rival the best teams in Europe.

In defence, it is baffling to see that United’s right-back and left-back positions are often filled by players that were bought as attackers: Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia. At the centre-back positions, in the absence of Eric Bailly, we see Chris Smalling and Phil Jones – both of whom would struggle to get into any of the top teams in Europe. Yet, they maintain an impressive defensive record, due to the heroic efforts of one man – David de Gea.

David De Gea of Manchester United makes a save during the Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester United at Emirates Stadium on December 2, 2017 in London, England. Photo: Getty

Across midfield, United still lacks a genuine playmaker that could unleash the attacking capabilities of their forwards. They have been unable to find a reliable pairing, since the loss of Roy Keane and Paul Scholes. With an unlimited budget and arguably the best brand name in football, the blame for this lapse falls entirely on club management over the past few years, including legendary Alex Ferguson.

Mourinho’s attempt at fixing the problem with Paul Pogba and Nemanja Matic seemed like a good solution, but their partnership is failing to deliver on the pitch – Pogba being the biggest disappointment. A player who was bought for a world record fee of $120 million, now valued around $109 million, looks ordinary in the centre of the park when compared with players like Kevin De Bruyne or N’Golo Kante.

Paul Pogba of Manchester United reacts to having a goal ruled out for offside during the Premier League match between Manchester United and Southampton at Old Trafford on December 30, 2017 in Manchester, England. Photo: Getty

Unfortunately for United, their problems do not end there.

In attack, both Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford are better players than Romelu Lukaku, as witnessed in the recent win against Everton. Martial headed the attack for the first time this season in place of an injured Lukaku, leading United to victory with a well-deserved goal.

However, after spending a massive $100 million on Lukaku, few managers would risk dumping him in favour of someone else, halfway through the season. Lukaku has failed to convert easy chances, forcing his team out of the title race. Not to mention, he is horrible at defending corners as witnessed in the past couple of games. Even Mourinho couldn’t help term the goals scored by the opposition, as “S**** Goals!” caused by the mistakes of Lukaku on at least two occasions, including at the Manchester Derby.

Manchester United’s Anthony Martial curls in the opener against Everton. Photo: Shutterstock

The only glimmer of hope for United at the moment is their manager, who has a track record of success with teams like Porto, Chelsea, Inter Milan and Real Madrid. He was handed a team, riddled with problems but has still brought them up to the second spot in just his second year in-charge. He was probably hoping to find a Didier Drogba in Lukaku; a mixture of Frank Lampard and Michael Essien in Pogba and those have been his biggest mistakes. Although in Matic, he might have found a Claude Makélélé.

Given the above issues, it is clear that United has turned into Mourinho’s greatest challenge and the next few months will reveal if he can restore this club to its former glory or wreck his own career, trying to rescue a sinking ship.

Khawaja Akbar

Khawaja Akbar

The author works at an office during the day and teaches part time in the evening. He enjoys reading and writing and, in an ideal world he would spend his entire time studying history. The history of everything. He tweets @KhawajaAkbar1 (twitter.com/KhawajaAkbar1)

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • pp pp

    I think Mourinho is the perfect fit for United at the moment! Sure things are not perfect at the moment but we shouldn’t forget the fact that we are still second in the league. The problem lies with the average players in our squad. We should have players that teams like Barcelona, Real Madrid, Bayern, etc compete for signing. As mentioned in the article, as good aa Young and Valencia have been, they aren’t natural defenders.

    It’s easy to applaud what our noisy neighbor, Man City, has done but we shouldn’t forget the fact that they already had a title winning team in the last season. They have continued to spend large sum of money throughout the period and have replaced all of the ageing players like Zabaleta, Clichy, etc with good players like Walker, Mendy, etc. This sort of clearance is required at Man United if we hope to return back to our glory days.

    United fans should keep clam and trust Mourinho. He WILL turn this around! #GGMU #UnitedTillIDieRecommend

  • PoorSaint

    The main problem with United since 2013 has been poor transfer policy.They have got an average squad.Football has changed over the years.You need to spend big if you want to compete with the big boys.Previously only Real Madrid was known to have Galacticos but now every big club in Europe is following that policy.You cannot expect to win the league or compete in UCL with players mentioned above unless you have a masterclass manager like Sir Alex. I personally think the man who needs to be replaced is Chief Executive Ed Woodward.He has made Man Utd a financial giant but has been an utter failure in transfer policy.His sacking of van Gaal was embarrasing,this is not Man utd way of doing things.They need a specialist for every position and a strong squad in case of injuries.Paul Pogba will never perform to his potential unless he has got a “playmaker” around him.Pogba is not a playmaker, he is an attacking midfielder with world class skills who can do anything with the ball if left free to roam around.Mourinho is a good manager, but I am afraid he is not a Man utd material.We need a manager like Guardiola,Klopp or anyone who believes in attacking football.When I watch a game at Old trafford these days, there is no excitement in the crowd.They know its gonna be another boring game of football.The manager is not pushing his players to play with their full potential which is quite unfortunate.Unless he changes his attitude and brand of football,I don’t see him in the hot seat in the near future.Recommend

  • Imran Kardar

    Although this piece is well written and most problems with Manchester United are correctly highlighted there is one glaring mistake and that is what all has been written about Paul Pogba. Firstly comparing him with Kante is an apple’s to oranges comparison. They are two players who have very different roles in their teams. It would be the same as comparing Cristiano Ronaldo with Busquets, a totally wrong and unfair comparison. Secondly the author hasn’t researched on the numbers of Pogba and De Bruyne this season. As of today in the EPL, De Bruyne has 9 assists in 22 games this season whereas Pogba has 7 assists in 12 games. Pogba, who missed about two months end of last year due to injury, has played 10 games less than KDB and is only 2 assists behind. Also if you look at Man United’s win percentage with and without Pogba it’s clear to see that the team wins far more with him than without him. Another thing, Pogba last lost an EPL game playing for Man Utd over 400 days ago when Chelsea beat United in the end of 2016. Clearly with these facts branding Pogba a disappointment and a failure signing is unacceptable.Recommend