On 22nd April 2013, Manchester United secured their 13th Premier League title under legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson. His subsequent retirement from the club was always going to be a huge blow as he was such a commanding presence and influence on the players and those above him in the boardroom.
It is a little bit surprising that United were not more prepared for a future beyond him after twenty six years. You could say it did not matter which kind of players, manager or chief executive the club brought in afterwards as comparisons will always be made with Ferguson and the teams he built. In the post-Fergie era, it was always going to be a leap of faith into the unknown and we will take a look at the reasons why United have struggled since he has left.
David Moyes had been handpicked by Ferguson to take over United. It was never going to be an easy job for the fellow Scotsman to follow in Fergie’s footsteps; you could say it was an impossible job for Moyes. One of the key things that Moyes should not have done and maybe a detriment to the club was when he first arrived he dispensed with the services of assistant manager Mike Phelan and Coach René Meulensteen. By having them there, the club would have had some continuity after Ferguson left and the players would have been working with people they already knew. However, Moyes wanted to be his own man and impart his vision on the club and that is why he brought his own coaching staff in which did include former United player Phil Neville. Moyes was not helped by those above him in the boardroom especially Ed Woodward in the transfer market during the summer of 2013. Rumours had been flying that United were trying to sign the likes of Cesc Fabregas and Gareth Bale but nothing ever materialize on both of these players. Moyes had inherited a title winning squad but it was in need of a major rebuild. The results did not help him and also that several of the players either moved onto other clubs or retired from the game.
The second most powerful man after Ferguson in the club was then chief executive David Gill and his subsequent leaving also had an impact. Gill and Ferguson worked really well together and they both knew that for Manchester United to be successful that they needed to have a winning team on the pitch. When David Gill left the club, Ed Woodward was appointed as executive vice-chairman. Before this, Woodward had been in charge of the commercial and media operations. He grew the commercial revenue from £48.7 million in 2005 to £117.6 million by 2012. Whilst Woodward’s business acumen cannot be faulted, it has been his ability in the transfer market to sign players that United fans have called into question on many occasions. During Ferguson’s time at the club, his main rivals in the Premier League were Arsenal at first followed by Chelsea when Roman Abramovich pumped his millions into the club. Then came the other half of Manchester when City started to become a force in the league thanks to millions from their Abu Dhabi investors . The emergence of blue rivals has given managers at United an urgent sense to keep the noisy neighbors in line.
With Liverpool stepping up to challenge again under Jurgen Klopp, United have seen their rivals catch up and overtake them. United have not mounted a title challenge since Ferguson left and subsequent managers have all tried to claw back their position of dominance without success so far. Also, the big clubs in Europe were also rebuilding and adding new players to their teams such as Real Madrid, who won three Champions League titles in a row between 2016 and 2018. There seems to have been a lack of strategy since Ferguson left as no director of football has been appointed. In the years before Ole Gunnar Solskjær had arrived back at the club, it was unclear what style of football they were trying to play as David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal and Jose Mourinho had their own ideas which divided and caused debate amongst the United fans.
The signings made in that time and sometimes for big transfer fees did not appear to have been thought out in great detail or whether they would actually fit into the shape of the team. United have invested nearly £700 million on players since Ferguson left and not including free transfers for likes of Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez. Despite the vast amount of money being invested into the playing squad, no manager has been unable so far to return United back into the dominant force it once was. For players that were successful at United, there were others who failed to live up to expectations or were not given enough time to showcase their talent – the likes of Angel Di Maria and Henrikh Mkhitaryan being two such players. The capture of Alexis Sanchez from Arsenal (swap deal for Henrikh Mkhitaryan) probably summed up the lack of proper decision making on the player recruitment side and is the worst signing made by Jose Mourinho. With his reported 400,000 a week wages, which ruffled feathers in the dressing room. The fact is that he did not offer much when playing and had only scored five goals before being loaned out to Inter Milan at the start of 2019/20 season.
United have made a good start in terms of player recruitment with Ole bringing in three good players in the form of Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James and moving on players who he felt was no longer required at the club. However, more and better recruitment is still needed. But do the fans trust in this long term view approach? Because they cannot keep pressing the reset button every time a manager has been dismissed from the club. Though results could have been better this season and given their position in the league, fans have to be patient and give Ole and the club time to implement the new long term strategy, which they hope will hopefully return United to success. Will Manchester United see their glorious days return back to Old Trafford? Only time will tell.