Manchester United’s myth of a re-structure ends in misery.

Image 1: Solskjaer and Guardiola on the sidelines at Old Trafford

ootball as a sport is like a drug. It’s highs are very high and its lows leaves fans buried under the ground. Likewise, the way it is viewed from the outside. The way media and fans view football, team performances, players is very polarizing such is the United — seems to be on his way out — boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s tenure. There’s no middle ground in football. Unfairly, opinions post games, whether from the armchair fan, a teenager in his mom’s basement or in the morning prints, are heavily results-influenced, like it or not. It’s either absolute negativity, blame, personal attacks, indirect attacks, and abuse or absolute blind belief with rose tinted glasses.

Results based analysis, whether by a fan or a journalist, is often based on a preconceived opinion or narative they have of the team beforehand. As such, they try to fit the result of the game — win or loss — into that preconcived notion. The problem — with this analysis — is that it is shortsighted and fails to consider the multi-facet problem of 22 players taking actions all at the same time at any given minute during a game. (i.e. blaming just a defender for a goal, interpreting structural issues as individual mistakes, etc.)

Nobody looks at the root causes. No one has time to actually find out what went wrong for United and whether or not something or anything was actually working for them from before. The media wants to sell news and headlines. Solskjaer is an easy target and with every result he made himself easier to attack. He was seen as a novice who is in way over his head and he was seen as such throughout his tenure — speaking under the assumption he’s getting the sack this week.

Fans; there has never been any middle ground with any fans of any team in any country. I can make an exception for Ajax and their fans but then again I don’t fully know them and their language to make any assumption.What I do know and fully believe — having lived in 4 countries spanning 4 continents — fans are the same everywhere, the are extremely reactionary towards managers and players. Like the media, there was a section that never wanted Solskjaer — remnants or disciples of the Jose Mourinho era — there was those who weren’t sure but went with it and those who fully believed in him.

Nonetheless, there was one view that kept regurgitating throughout social media, actual media, and a big section of the online fanbase; Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a clueless, inept, tactic-less manager. There was an apparent refusal to accept or praise anything he has done right.

The flip side of the fan coin are those who stood by him fiercely seem to believe that everything he has done was right, although, even they are quickly arriving at the conclusion that it is time for the boss to be replaced. This isn’t working out. Still, they are all chanting that Solskjaer improved United’s structure by getting a technical and football director under his watch and restructuring the recruitment team. Solskjaer revived and improved the acadmey and has given more debuts than any other manager before him. Even United’s loaning system started working properly again. The football — under Solskjaer — has largely been quite entertaining up until this season at-least.

The puzzle here is these improvements were not being reflected on the field or at minimum some of it. In fact, this season has raised more questions than it has answered. My question is: where is the middle ground?Did United actually improve structurally under Solskjaer?

The middle ground with Solskjaer’s “re-structure”

The Norwegian manager has done numerous things that deserve praise at United. In fact, if we dig deep into all the things he had to overtake, manage, and change, you’ll come to the conclusion that he has done a fairly decent job as manager of United. United were considered title contender before a ball was kicked and this was not just based on their name — for once. However, there are some fatal mistakes during his reign. It isn’t all butterflies and rainbows.

Man United, unfortunately, rely on the manager coming in to set the direction of the club , the vision, the recruitment style, and manage the actual team and coach them. This not incuperating the countless administrative issues that United’s manager has to content with and find ways around — I don’t know them all, I mentioned the ones off the top of my head. For example, the United manager has to content with inefficient recruitment with no sense of direction, and inefficient offloading due to the absurd contracts given to players who don’t prove themselves or are yet to if they were youth. This is the result of the extreme shift in vision and philosophy the club was subjected to during its 3 previous sackings. Plus, the elephant in the room, Ed Woodard, his buddies and the Glazers. According to reports, they interfere in transfers more than they should and sometimes deny managers certain signings or force on them certain signings due to their commercial value — and for non football people to interfere like that, it says it all about the club. All managers under their reign have experienced it, from Ferguson to Solskjaer. We all thought this was all behind us with Solskjaer.

In Solskjaer’s first year and a half, the fans were promised by him and the board that United will undergo a complete rebuild to go back to the “United way”. To go back to being United. In all fairness, we all believed that seeing the style of players being brought in under Solskjaer. The attention paid to the youth systems and the massive amount of young talent the club recruited added more belief.

Maguire, Wan-bissaka, James, Fernandes, even Ighalo. They all seem to fit a certain mold and style. Solskjaer wanted a front foot team. A team that is young and works hard. In 19/20, despite the early results, Ole’s United actually had a style and certain things that they tried to achieve on the pitch but they massively lacked the quality. The post-lockdown United is the closest version to the complete team Solskjaer wanted to build. For a brief time, fans really thought they got their club back thanks to Solskjaer.

Summer 20, United failed to offload all the players they wanted and they failed to get the target — Sancho — they wanted. Stupidly, they already committed by getting the young dutch star Van de beek. The issue here Donny doesn’t yet suit United but he still fit a similar mold to the players before him. So did, Amad, Pellistri, Telles, and Cavani. Although Telles is a very different style of fullback to Shaw and his qualities. Telles— in my opinion — seemed to not fit what we were building.

United hired a technical director — Darren Fletcher — and a director of football— John Murtough. All the fans were overjoyed seeing their club finally act serious by building a solid stable structure that will last beyond the current manager. A plan for sustainable success whether it comes with Solskjaer or after him. The instigator of it all though was Solskjaer as such fans will attribute the credit of future success back to their hero’s tenure.

Summer 21, United still struggled to offload players — most notably Paul Pogba who is still holding out on extending with the club. United, finally, get their target Sancho after a 2 year chase. Up until now, the progress was steady linear somewhat — if a little slow — but visible. The fans are on board and they can see the direction the club is heading. Now, the last remaining gap in United’s squad, which will give them balance, was a midfielder or two. United lacked a deep midfielder, a defensive midfielder or whatever you want to call the position.

This is where the decisions and recruitment started to take a different direction. They went out and got Raphael Varane, who on paper is a wonderful signing but not one United urgently needed. Then United said, they can’t get anymore signings until they offload but we knew they are terrible at offloading players — especially ones on big wages and don’t play often. 2–3 weeks later, rumours that a certain Cristiano Ronaldo will go to Man City started to spread like wild fire.

The earths and the heavens were shaken at United. SAF and his boys from the 07/08 team all urged United to do something to stop it and get him back to United. The questions here become; 1) Where did the money come from if they needed to offload first? Laurie Whitwell in the Athletics said that the Glazers, after being convinced by Woodward, sanctioned money for the Ronaldo signing. I am sure he told them we’ll get the money back as Daniel James was wanted by Leeds still. 2) do you abandon your vision and plans to get him despite neither the team nor Ronaldo fit each other? Why didn’t the club sell James earlier and get a midfielder?Where’s the recruitment team in this? Do they get a say in that this will disrupt the vision and unbalance the team? The gap in midfield is a fatal issue compared to having excess wingers. 3) How can a professional club be derailed from their vision by external influences? This is not professional. It seems like a buddies club.

It was reported that even if United didn’t get Ronaldo they wouldn’t have been able to get a midfielder. The most important piece to the puzzle, can you imagine? This is when alarm bells started ringing again in the heads of many fans’ — me included. This reaks of United of old. The United that only go for commercial signings just so they can say they won the transfer battle. This reaks of another Sanchez transfer. Obviously, Ronaldo is not Sanchez and he has a strong affliation with United. Nonetheless, the negelgance and incomptency to get the one thing United needed was astounding and all that just to get a commercial signing. This made me think about the re-structure all over again.

Solskjær comes out and says, as always, he is happy with the transfers and anything after this is a bonus. I can’t confirm whether Solskjær was annoyed by the lack of a midfielder and the failure to offload players. Solskjær is good at playing the nice guy mantra who says all the right things. However, those words were used against him, and it kind of should be, because those words of contentment is basically conveying that he is happy with unbalancing the squad further after all the hard-work he has done in the previous two years.

The other question in mind is did United make the Varane signing because it was much easier to do than a midfielder? United have connections with Real Madrid and the player wanted to leave. No one in the PL really needed a CB other than United. I know for sure that a manager doesn’t control the speed, the efficiency, the prices and the order of transfers. There is an argument that says Solskjær wanted a midfielder after Sancho but the club, got the easier targets first not the most urgent ones.

After the Liverpool game, I truly thought Solskjær was out the door. No manager survives such a heavy defeat to their bitter rivals. It was the manner as well. A week later, Solskjær walks out the dugout as manager. It said a lot about the club that week. They have no contingencies. They have no plan of continuity and there’s no risk assessment planning. And given the names branded around, it said that the club still doesn’t know what their direction is.

It seemed to be that only the manager knew, which currently, even HE seems to have lost the plot and doesn’t know where he is heading. As a fan, I wasn’t upset that Solskjær was still manager but I was upset to think how badly I was mistaken about the club’s re-structuring.

Conclusion

The last few weeks were a lot to swallow but it gave us real insight to where the club is. Fans just look at the team-sheet and the names on it then think we are back. It doesn’t work that way. This team is still severely unbalanced. This team still has obvious gaps. I am not getting into the tactics of it all here but know this, despite the names on the team sheet this team won’t challenge for the title in the state it is in — under any manager. However, they will definitely play much better with a different manager.

I still have many questions. What is Feletcher doing? He seems to be only training with the team and the coaches. Shouldn’t he be building connections as a technical director for future signings? United are still inefficient in offfloading and recruiting, What is Murtough doing? Why is Matt Judge still in charge of negotiations? Remember, agents complained about that guy not picking up his phone.

Was this “re-structure” a mirage? An illusion? Was it just a shuffling of a few friends under different positions and different names?

Ultimately, the effects of these guys could be seen in the future but as of right now, it seems the club has not changed. It seems that it is the United of old. It all seems to be a big joke.

Due to the emotional investment fans put in clubs, they see things as black and white. They often retaliate after bad results, and believe you me, I am no different. I just learned to temper them. However, things are not black or white. There were many improvements under Solskjær. United has a lot of young talents — some of the best in the world. They have many players who just entered their peaks and with a few tweaks this team will challenge — just not this season.

United is more data focused and the recruitment network grew a lot. Solskjær did his best to modernize the club to help it catch the teams that left them in the dust. United operated like it was 1999 not 2021. Solskjær pushed it forward to 2013 but there are still many improvements to make.

The worry here is that the structure of club is still the same. The club has not changed. It is still being lead by incompetent owners and exceutives. While United are very close to challenging, if they get the next transfer window wrong they go further back.

United are now linked with Ralf Rangnick. This is the guy that I would have loved to spear head United after Ferguson and Gill left the club. The problem is Rngnick is too sensible a signing for United’s heiracrchy and he demands too much control. This is what he had to say about club rebuilding:

“At any club, if you cannot get the right players, then you should at least not sign the wrong ones. You are in trouble if you do that in one or two or three consecutive transfer windows.

“Club building is about building the right squad by transferring the right players away and having more than 50 per cent success rate of bringing in the right players. Then you must have the best possible coaches to develop these players.”

he told The Guardian: “ if any club wanted to speak to me, the question would have to be: ‘Can I be somebody who can influence areas of development across the whole club?’ Otherwise you are only getting half of what I am capable of.”

The requirements he needs are not available at United. In a nutshell, this should tell you where United are as a club. Solskjaer tried to manuevur his way around these club issues but he failed. With Rangnick, it will end in flames because he won’t stand for any of this — that is if he even accepted coming without getting the guarantees.

This club is still not built to win or at least sustain a winning position. After all this, the restructure feels like it was a myth.

Just a guy interested in football.