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Premier League: How Manchester United can recover lost glory after another systemically-failed season

“Manchester’s Everton,” tweeted on Liverpool-supporting individual following Manchester United’s 0-2 loss to Cardiff City. Another one tweeted, “It took 5 years but Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has finally got Cardiff playing well.”

“They are killing Paul,” posted Patrice Evra. This was a comment on fans in the stands chiding Paul Pogba post-game, while the players were walking around the inside perimeter of Old Trafford giving thanks. The clouds gathered over Old Trafford that day, and many feared to get wet from the rivulets that gushed in from the Old Trafford’s largely unmaintained, unrenovated roof during heavy showers.

In the press box, journalists subjected to follow this team, like Daniel Taylor for The Guardian, have been one of many to complain about the rat infestation that plagues the structure. Outside, Manchester United fans who have seen through to the other side of the red-tinted veil are bandying independent fanzines arousing dissent. There are more and more people listening than before. This is a far cry from James W. Gibson’s vision of Manchester United. This is a team not used to failure.

Nothing quite sums up the club than the Bobby Charlton Stand. In decay, suffering from lack of due process and passivity, the mounted television cameras focus on the diversion on the pitch. This tactic has worked in the early-Glazers years riding on the strength of character and process of Alex Ferguson. It can’t be ignored that Ferguson’s choice of successors and his loyalty to the ones who paid him, has set the club back by many years.

Here, we will discuss a well-meaning long-term five-point strategy that could reverse some of the damage that has been and maybe prevent further embarrassment.

Prioritise recruitment policy

 Premier League: How Manchester United can recover lost glory after another systemically-failed season

Manchester United have turned their season around after Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's arrival at the club as replacement for the sacked Jose Mourinho. AFP

When Luke Shaw is your player of the season, maybe procuring Kohler as your club’s official kitchen and bathroom fittings partner shouldn’t be the prime objective? There’s Mlily Global Mattress and Pillow Partner of Manchester United; New Era Official Leisure Headwear Partner of Manchester United; Gulf Official Global Lubricant Partner and Fuel Retail Partner of Manchester United too. Unsure of how many millions it would add onto United’s transfer coffers, but it is certainly providing a goldmine for rival fans banter and self-parody.

The board has been asking themselves easier questions when it comes to player recruitment instead of answering the hard ones. Having learned their lessons from applied Sabermetrics (which works fine in baseball and basketball, games with multiple stoppages in play, but not a game as subjective as football), Liverpool now employ cutting-edge metrics and supply it to their departments of coaches, sports scientists, statisticians and economists to provide the decision makers at the very top of the club to make the most educated guess possible. There are separate personality tests potential players must go through to measure threshold for pain, adversity, and character. Teammate and manager testimonies are sought for as verbal character certificates – a practice Jurgen Klopp has been an obstinate follower of in both Mainz and Borussia Dortmund. Manchester United’s methods in the transfer market are more in the shape of a dangerous game of darts and apples in the dark.

United, like Liverpool of a few years ago, not only need to re-establish their identity, and that can mostly be done by re-aligning the priorities. United are seen by the Glazers as a chicken that lays golden eggs than a club, nevermind a culture. Placating sponsors instead of fans is at the forefront.

Following the year of United’s first ever revenue dip for over a decade, the board responded by procuring Jose Mourinho, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, instead of doubling-back and address the root cause. The trend has since followed. If they made honest business cards, Ed Woodward’s would read Ed ‘paper-over-cracks’ Woodward.

Address team weaknesses

Full-backs are areas United need an upgrade on. Central defence is a Hangover 2 blooper reel – previously thought impossible, they have made David De Gea look like Hilario (with all due respect to Hilario). There’s little or no creativity coming from central midfield except the much-maligned, Pogba. And when Pogba doesn’t turn up, it’s all too apparent, and makes him look worse a player than he is. At Juventus, Pogba had the safety of fine-wine Andrea Pirlo, peak Claudio Marchisio. If Fred is the answer, Woodward is asking the wrong questions. Alexis Sanchez is on a retirement cruise, and might as well turn up with a straw hat, flip-flops and unbuttoned teal-pink Hawaiian shirt. Marcus Rashford isn’t as good as they thought he’d be, and his game-intelligence or more-tellingly, a lack off has left United faithful frustrated. And Jesse Lingard isn’t a prospect anymore. And all of them a collective flavour of undercooked swill.

It makes little sense when they won’t allow Ander Herrera a pay-rise and yet have Ashley Young, Phil Jones and Chris Smalling in their books. It’s meme-worthy. Any timeline where United ruined the dusk of Victor Valdez’s career and has Lee Grant as the 3rd choice goalkeeper is not a good time for United fans to be in.

Disband the old boys club

United are a football club, not a Gentlemen’s Club of Eton. Mutual back-slapping and sycophancy in a hierarchy make for a toxic marriage.

Let’s talk about everybody’s sweetheart Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. He made his reputation at Molde at the Norwegian Eliteserien; a league that is ranked below Cyprus, Belarus, and Austria, at 27th. His failures at Cardiff should have made wearier than they were. But he was an old boy. Gary Neville, Phil Neville, Paul, Scholes, David Beckham, Rio Ferdinand, supposedly unbiased, objective pundits, talked him up to exceed hyperbole. Michael Carrick joined up with Mike Phelan. The Manchester United PR machine went on overdrive into geeing up the manufactured feel-good factor around the club. But with most bubbles, it bursts. The club is a victim of well-intended, biased strategies producing unintended consequences. The apathy of the Glazer compounds this misery.

If United need to move forward, they would need to look beyond the obvious, unimaginative answers. Each one of Liverpool’s board members holds doctorates in economics, business and sports management between them. United’s board has the Glazer, Alex Ferguson, Bobby Charlton and no qualified sporting director. Having Woodward is the executive equivalent of kicking off a match with a one-goal deficit. The fact that Rio Ferdinand is even in contention for the Director of Football role, should give United fans cold sweats.

Assess what went wrong this season

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a lot of work to do. Reuters

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has a lot of work to do. Reuters

There needs to be an honest appraisal of United’s season. There have been spontaneous systematic failure up and down the levels. The tactics were one-dimensional, the players were demotivated by their own misery, the fans feel disenfranchised. A patience rebuilding should be in the cards from the stands to the team sheet. The hiring of a better analytical team would go a long way.

Manage fan expectations

The way back to the top is like a walk through the desert. It has multiple mirages popping up. Quenching, crystal water turn out to be sand. They need to be gracious as they take a backseat to Liverpool, Tottenham and Manchester City take charge of the English football narrative. Football is cyclic, and their time should come again, but that would need patience and growing pains. Something through so many years of successes, is a feeling majority of United fans are alien to.

PR should not be disingenuous and all hype. United could take note of Boston Celtics rebuilding process and emotionally insightful methods of expectation management. The manager, the players, the hierarchy, have to stiff their upper lip, acknowledge facts and be vocal, intimate to everyone who cares, that this is going to take time to do it the right way. Because really, self-critique begins at home, and you can’t fool all the people all the time.

If United don’t wise up, songs of ignominy will replace ones of glory.

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Updated Date: May 15, 2019 16:18:35 IST