Getting it Wrong: The United WayApril 17, 2019
It would be a tough act to follow, but not an impossible one. Great leaders are, after all, not irreplaceable.
The last campaign season (in Kenya) was resplendent with parallels to the Abrahamic faiths’ tales of delivery to Canaan- the land of milk and honey. From their religious texts, the Children of Israel had, unarguably, one of the greatest leaders of all time, Moses, through whom they were delivered from bondage under the Pharaoh of Egypt; crossed the Red Sea and for fourty years wandered the desert until he led them to the banks of the Jordan River.
Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses, considered the Greatest Leader in Judaism was given notice that he would never step into the Promised land. In his last moments, the Greatest Leader’s thoughts were neither of remorse nor self-pity, in lieu, in supplication, he sought the Spirit to bequeath the mantle of leadership to his successor within his lifetime, appointing Joshua to lead the wanderers into Canaan, before ascending Mount Nebo, looking at the Promised Land dying.
Sir Alex Ferguson is no Moses. However, he is the Greatest Manager of the game. Yet, at the moment, Ed Woodward has for all intents and purposes, is shitting a good one at the knight’s legacy at Manchester United, the small issue of the legend’s succession still uncomfortably unresolved.
Getting a successor for as successful a manager as Ferguson was always going to be difficult- but not impossible, especially since the club’s top executive David Gill (and FA Godfather) was also due for replacement. There was a succession plan, probably featuring most notably, Pep Guardiola and Jose Mourinho. When Ferguson eventually left, he unilaterally appointed David Moyes, for whom, despite his vast experience in management with Everton, enviable work ethic, and the backing of the legend’s faith and ego, managing an outfit of United’s colossus was a dive off the deep end!
At the end of 10 months, that left the Scot (Moyes) looking like a wight heralding ‘Winter is here’, Woodward appointed, perhaps the most decorated manager available then: The Netherland’s Louis van Gaal. The Dutch ticked all the right boxes: manager at Ajax, Bayern, Barcelona and the Oranje (the Dutch National Team); winning the Eredivisie, Bundesliga, La Liga, Champions League and finishing 3rd at the World Cup; and had a reputation for bringing young talent through the ranks. LvG didn’t last long, frequently lulling to sleep crowds at the Theatre of Dreams. Ed, perhaps in remaining true to form, had to get it wrong- LvG was not only ambling towards the end of the era that was his career but was a manager who hadn’t won a trophy in a decade. He did lift the FA trophy but:
Manchester had turned blue. The Citizens at the Etihad were the Manchester team. Much like the President of Real Madrid, Florentino Perez had turned to Master of the Dark Arts to pip Pep Guardiola from dominating the football scene in Spain, Ed Woodward, turned to one of the names that had at least been whispered in Fergie’s succession plan. Enter Jose Mourinho.
Jose had just come from miserably failing at establishing a legacy at Chelsea. Despite, our reverence for the man, it is impossible not to allude to dementors at Old Trafford, at the mere mention of his name. In the end, he won the Europa League, tried to convince the world that the United team privileged to be under his tutelage was not “world class”, sucked all happiness from Paul Pogba and ended up looking like a wraith himself.
After Mou, only pleasant thoughts could cure the gloom and dour at OT. This came in the form of an out of season Molde coach and legend from his days on the turf: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer on a temporal basis. There wasn’t much to go on on his tactical innovation or an allusion to a depth of knowledge as a gaffer, at least not to our knowledge. But, plainly being a decent human being to the lads playing, generated an energy, a Patronus that not only the fans fed off, but also guided the Red Devils past the spoilt, arrogant and overpaid footballers in a farmer’s league in the Champion’s league. (Which will be this campaign’s 3rd best comeback.)
And then he got confirmed as manager. Which only served to highlight another gaffe by Woody. Good human decency, generally, a reputation- perhaps riding off the back of Roy Keane’s selflessness in 1999 and surviving on the washed-up exploits of David De Gea in goal, isn’t good enough to compete in football today. Given, United last won the league, under SAF, with 10 sheep and Robin van Persie, there would be very little to miss about the current squad were all of them to be shipped out tomorrow, compared to any other reasonably decent sides across the globe. Without a sporting director and the number of managers under their employ since the retirement (of Fergie), it is no-shocker that recruitment is underwhelming under Ed. It is shocking, however, the enormous sums that say, Alexis Sanchez is paid; honestly, before OGS, United’s best player was Marouane Fellaini – whose donning of the red of United is as mysterious as it was baffling.
The ground that is Old Trafford will never be asked to host a European event, at this rate, because it is in ruin- and not that gladiator-esque, historical spectacle, but also appalling sense of Italian stadia- say like Napoli’s San Paolo. The Theatre of Dreams is literally crumbling. The Glazer family, owners of United are infamous for taking money away from the club and being the polar opposite of what responsible club owners should be- but leaving the stadium go derelict has to be a new low even for them, unless they are prospecting for oil- which still fails to make a strong business case should some Arab abuser of human rights turn up to indulge his lifelong dream of owning Pogba. Especially, when clubs like Tottenham Hotspur, rivals Manchester City, Arsenal and Liverpool have all actively raised the bar in stadium-management since the last time a renovative bolt was screwed at OT.
Arsene Wenger, the innovative genius that he ‘was’, made up the ‘Top Four Trophy’, for which you (mostly Man U, who are also by default the most) fans mocked him. As it is, United are firmly in the race for the top four and all indications point to 1000 mile journeys to the rectum of Eastern Europe in the Europa League next season. Who’s laughing now?
A rebuild is due at OT, literally. Then there is an ominous yard clearance sale of players who try as they may cannot be part of the United stock going into the Promised Land. As dead stock is cleared, there must err on the side of caution, careful not to throw the baby out with the bath water. So for the exits of Alexis Sanchez, Matteo Darmian, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia, Marcus Rojo there are redeemable players in Fred, Herrera and Pereira under a proper football coach.
Throw some money at (Spur’s Daniel) Levy and get Mauricio Pochettino, Ed. We will not suffer a fool gladly.