The stark realities facing Manchester United during Covid 19

by Darren
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2020 was the year everything changed, in January of that year the world was vaguely aware of a Virus in Wuhan that in just 2 more months would launch the globe in to lockdown. Our lives changed, our lexicons changed, everything changed, well…almost everything.  As we adjusted to a different world and the slogan ‘a new normal’ seemed to apply to almost everything, the one thing it didn’t apply too was that Manchester United would once again be dragged into a transfer saga.  The immovable force meets the unstoppable object, some things just never change.  As a 43 year old man, you have to learn to accept some things, one of those is premature gesticulation, the Monday after the season was over the highly respected Fabrizio Romano had reported that United had agreed personal terms with Jadon Sancho and a deal was imminent.  Like many United fans, i both rejoiced at that news and felt something that i can’t recall experiencing since i was a child as a lifelong fan of this club, the satisfaction of a major transfer being completed with ruthless efficiency.  To be fair to United, since this awful Pandemic hit, the club have been impeccable, they were a beacon in their community, they rightfully did not ask their staff to take pay cuts nor did they furlough anyone.  Much of this is owed to Charlie Brooks who succeeded the superlative Phil Townsend, credit where it’s due, Charlie has been a breath of fresh air at the club and genuinely does care about the club having conduits to the community and its fans.  Marcus Rashford has also illustrated that not all Footballers are self centered obnoxious millionaires, he used his platform to amplify the experience of so many kids who are being deprived of the bare minimum in life, a meal.  Rashford made sure every kid in the country would be fed, something that seems insignificant to those who have never had to wonder where their next meal is coming from, many aren’t that fortunate.  Theres good reason for optimism, United finally looked like a club that for once were learning from their mistakes.  Then the haunting reality hit.

Optimism soon turned to pessimism, the elation of the previous day was replaced with a sobering reality that the deal was far from being done.  It felt like we took our shiny new toy to the cash register only to have to put it back on the shelf due to insufficient funds.  As United and many of their fans scream that Dortmund’s prized asset should be on the clearance rack and sold in a deal similar to one you strike at Radio Rentals, Dortmund don’t give the impression they’re a club that will budge, so here we go again, another saga, another summer of United fans injecting more therapeutics than Samir Nasri.  

When Jose Mourinho came to the end of his reign, it wasn’t just the football that was bad.  The club did not resemble anything that you associated with Manchester United, the swagger was gone, the glamor, the excitement, the club was dead.  Even in the barren spells of the 70’s and 80’s, the club had a glamor about them that even Liverpool were envious off but under Mourinho they’d become dull, painful to watch and toxic, changes had to be made.  Solksjaer came in to reset the club, to put a team on the field that embodied what this football club was about.  Attacking football, width, creative players, youth, courage, a team with it’s identity back with a manager on the bench who was on exactly the same frequency as the fans.   Someone who spoke to all of us telepathically and who knew exactly what a United team should look like.  There have been many ups and downs, times when our faith has been tested to its limits but Solskjaer has delivered all that could be asked off him, the club was on it’s knees and the board needed a fairytale, Solskjaer provided one.  In his one full season, he got this club into 3rd, he hasn’t wasted a single penny of the clubs money and he’s restored our identity.  He has been the most consistent manager in the league since January, he has improved almost every player at the club and players who were undoubtedly talented but wanted to leave are now playing the football of their lives and delivering.  The baby faced assassin has more than done his bit, now to the money men, show that you deserve him.  Show the fans you mean what you say when you talk about restoring this football club back to it’s former glory, show the fans that you define success by silverware and profit, not solely the latter.

As the season came to a close, one question was answered another one remains open.  The manager was no longer in question, the board now have to prove their competency.  You can talk about all the cultural reboots you want, you can use buzzwords like “identity” or “The United Way” but ultimately they’re meaningless if the rot starts from the head down.  The culture of any business is set by the leaders, the decision makers.  Since January the man hired to make Football decisions for this cub to get them back to the top has asked for four players. Bruno Fernandes, Jude Bellingham, Erling Haaland and Jadon Sancho, right now, the odds are, we will get one of them!  Thats just simply not good enough, fine if you don’t want to sign Galacticos but if you’re going to target the best young players you have to actually get them.  If we can’t sign Galacticos and we can’t sign the best young players, what can we sign then?  Make no mistake about it, the current plight this Football club finds itself in is 100% down to the people who run it.  Other than competence, there isn’t a single resource available to Jurgen Klopp that isn’t available to a Manchester United manager, in 2017/18 this club finished 6 points ahead of Liverpool, since then Liverpool have won a European Cup, a Super Cup and a League title.  Nothing is more painful for Utd fans than to watch Liverpool win the league, as reds watched their hated rivals bask in the glory of another title success, some felt this would prompt United to respond in the transfer market in the same way it would to Real Madrid if Barcelona had won the League as well as the European cup and vice versa but we’re forgetting one thing, the Glazers aren’t fans of this Football Club, they’re fans of a business and profit, they couldn’t care less as they sit in their mansions in Florida, in fact if reports are to be believed, they called their fellow American owners to congratulate them, thats how much it hurts.  If winning a European Cup didn’t prompt them to respond, why would the league?  Jurgen Klopp is a brilliant manager and FSG are not the Glazers, Pep Guardiola is a world class manager with unlimited resources at his disposal, Solskjaer is at the mercy of a de facto Director of Football, Joel Glazer who allegedly has a picture of George Best on his wall who would be turning in his grave at how his beloved club is being run.

So where do we go from here?  Cast your mind back to the last time we had a major recession, 2009, that will give you a hint what to expect.  That summer United pocketed the fee for the most expensive player in world football, a deal they agreed 12 months earlier then chose not to spend it due to a supposed inflated market that they inflated with the sale of Ronaldo.  12 months ago Solskjaer said if Lukaku goes he will have to be replaced, i don’t know if he was told thats what would happen but it doesn’t look like the club had any intention of that.  Lukaku was sold and almost immediately United agreed a fee for Maguire, that’s it.  They had 6 months to prepare for another window and it just so happens that one of the top young strikers in the world was available, a player who Solskjaer gave his debut too, surely you would expect the club would be in pole position to secure his signature.  In the end the deal fell through allegedly upon discovery of a get out clause that Raoila wanted inserted in to the deal.  Bizarrely enough the German press barely mentioned this clause and surely if you’ve got 6 months to prepare for this deal, you don’t find out the day before he signs for Dortmund that a clause absolutely fundamental to the deal suddenly appeared?  Surely before you buy anything, you find out the price?  It’s not like the club had never dealt with Mino Raoila before who is often unfairly maligned.  He’s an agent who has exactly the same objective as the club, get the best possible deal they can, thats his job, he also doesn’t say a thing in public without the approval of his clients first, there’s a reason why he’s so successful.  Lets even say there was a clause, which i highly doubt such a thing existed and i’m even less convinced it was something that appeared the day before he went to Dortmund, are you saying that if he came to United, scored 80-100 goals, two of them could have been against Sevilla or an FA Cup Semi final then leaves a few years later for a healthy profit, thats a bad deal?  I’d take that deal with every signing the club makes.  Haaland signed for Dortmund for 17.1m pounds, he’s already worth 4 -5 times that and he signed at the very beginning of the month.  After missing out on Haaland, thaT Lukaku money should still have been burning a hole in Utd’s pocket, available to spend this coming summer.  Instead we had to settle for a loan signing in Ighalo that expires this coming January and who will need to be replaced.

Fernandes was signed six months too late, surely he wasn’t bought with the Lukaku money, it was obvious they were short in midfield after they somehow let Hererra leave without a replacement. A mistake that without doubt was responsible for the debacle that we saw first half of the season.  It defies belief that the biggest football club in the world sent its manager into s season with one creative midfielder who was fundamental to how we played and no replacement for a 20 goal a season striker, you’d like to believe the board acknowledge that error and the role it played in leaving the squad woefully short.  Then we have Bellingham, imagine the roles reversed. Do you think Bayern or Dortmund would lose a 17 year old wonder talent in the 2nd division in Germany to United?  People say he went there for first team football, what promises can Dortmund make him that United can’t?  If you play well you’ll stay in the team.  I interviewed Harry Redknapp on my podcast who gave him his debut, he said to me he’d be the third best midfielder at United right now behind Pogba and Fernandes yet once again, the men in suits fell short of doing their job. These shortcomings don’t seem so consequential right now but they’re the very same shortcomings that existed at Arsenal and for the very same reasons that saw them miss out on players like Ronaldo at the same stage of their careers.  Arsenal fans must be sick of being reminded of this.  We’ve no idea how much truth there is to this but you’ve got scouts claiming Utd ignored strong recommendations for De Jong, De Light, Alphonso Davies etc.   

If things go wrong next season, the cries will be familiar, it will be Solskjaers head many of the fans will call for.  It will be his decisions that will receive forensic scrutiny, his team selections, his game management despite the fact he doesn’t have the players he needs to change games, it won’t be the people who put him in this position.  They too will blame him, they never blame themselves, anyone but them and the process will be repeated.  People who know nothing about Football who refuse to acknowledge they know nothing about Football and who won’t in any way own the failures.  Never in a million years would the club allow such ineptitude on the business side, you’d never see them give Mike Phelan a go at being the commercial manager because he’s good at Monopoly for obvious reasons.  Greenwood has saved United a fortune as has McTominay and Brandon Williams yet still we have glaring holes in the squad that require investment so this team can realistically challenge our peers.  It’s painful when i see the likes of Bayern Munich, a team we once could match, they’re now so far ahead of United.  Many fans approached this summer with optimism, the club finally going in the right direction after years of mismanagement, the closest we’ve been since Fergie left however i leave you with these words of warning.  Adjust your expectations, there is a stark reality to be faced.  This club had to borrow 140m cash in May just to cover it’s operating costs, it had 90m in cash reserves in the bank.  Not only do i expect a repeat of the summer of 2009, i fear things could and will get much worse.  Only for a refinance, we very nearly had a repeat of the Hicks and Gillet situation, this is not a club designed to take huge unforeseen financial hits and this pandemic has taken out much bigger businesses than United, we already had the largest debt in world football. With no vaccine imminent, the club losing 4-5m every match day and with broadcasters wanting money back, not only do i not think Sancho will happen, i think this pandemic could spell huge trouble for the Glazer ownership and Manchester United.  

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