Manchester United fell apart before our eyes
The season started encouragingly for Manchester United. Cristiano Ronaldo’s encouraging return was a pleasant surprise. There were some bright stretches at the start of the season without defeat, and the hopes of the MJ fans were overwhelming. But nine months later, United ended their worst season in the Premier League, finishing in sixth place with 58 points, 35 points less than champion Manchester City.
And this fall, as usual, has more than one “father”. A lot of insider sources inside the club were published by ESPN, and we will try to look into them, which may bring us closer to understanding the reasons for the further decline of the Mancunians.
The state of affairs within the club may well be characterized by a small episode. In it, the agent of one of MJ’s top players expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that Ronaldo is given more attention by the club in advertising campaigns than by his client. That is, at a time when everything was collapsing and burning, people there were thinking more about PR than about the team’s sporting standing. And such has been the world of MJ this season.
The allure is gone
The figure of Ole Gunnar Suljær as MJ coach looked like a long time winner. However, the fascination with the Norwegian, which extended not only to the fans but also to the players, has passed with time. And Sulscher failed to offer anything other than a name and a flag. United’s resounding defeats and departures from tournaments, many anti-records, including maximum conceded goals, series of defeats and minimum points scored – all this is far from Sulsher’s fault alone and not so much. But it all started with him.
An ESPN source tells ESPN that the club’s staff and players eventually came to regard the Norwegian as too soft and indecisive and lacking in tactical acumen. He promised the players bright attacking soccer in pre-season with a 4-3-3 formation, but quickly went back to 4-2-3-1 at the start of the season and was unable to intelligently integrate Ronaldo into the team in a way that did not affect the atmosphere at the club or the scheme. In many ways he accepted half measures, including the same introduction of Cristiano and relations with the players. And half measures don’t inspire confidence or respect.
Many people didn’t like that Sulscher allowed Cavani to stay in Uruguay for two weeks longer. Simply because Edinson asked for it after a difficult previous season. And Cavani himself was furious when his interests were easily sacrificed after Ronaldo’s arrival. And the Uruguayan tried to switch to Barcelona, realizing that he would now have no chance at Old Trafford. But he was turned down. What did he end up doing? Eight games into the season and two goals scored. Plus another nail in the coffin of the team atmosphere.
With Ronaldo’s arrival, the relationship with Marcial, who found a way out in the form of a loan at Sevilla, also deteriorated. The treatment of Cavani and Marcial also surprised many because Rashford had big problems with his form. He took a long time to recover from injury and then was unable to concentrate on the game and finished the season with five goals in 32 games.
Rangnick has not impressed
But if Sulscher can at least boast the first part of his time at Old Trafford, then his replacement, Ralf Rangnick, flew in there utterly unsuccessful. In between, though, there was also Michael Carrick, who led the team in three games after Sulsher was sacked in November. And, by the way, sources at the club say that during that short stretch, calm and peacefulness reigned in the team. With Carrick, MJ won two matches and drew one.
At the time, Antonio Conte was seen as the most likely candidate to become United’s head coach. However, MJ bosses were wary of the Italian’s too tough style, and while they hesitated, he accepted the offer of Tottenham, who eventually beat MJ by 13 points to qualify for the Champions League. And Manchester City were left with no working options. They handled it quite extravagantly, saying they were taking a long pause to select the ideal candidate. And for the time being invited Rangnick. The idea seemed strange from the start. And subsequently it grew in perception into a delusion.
It is said that some MJ players had to Google who Rangnick was. And Ralph himself was warned that he would face unprecedented pressure and attention. To which he supposedly, laughingly, replied that he experienced a similar thing when he moved from Hoffenheim to Schalke. It is unlikely that with this response he convinced those who warned him. Still, the estimate of the scale looks wrong at once. The figure of the 63-year-old specialist set the staff and the team on a skeptical footing right away. Purely mentally, they were already leaving him no chance. And the uncertain status of the placekicker imposed its own imprint. The appointments of Rangnick, who brought to the coaching staff the same specialists from among his cronies who were not perceived by others around him, looked doubtful inside the team.
ESPN, citing several sources at the club, tells us that by January Ronaldo had already made it clear to his bosses that he would leave if Rangnick was left on a permanent basis. Cristiano understood and reflected team-wide skepticism. Given this perception from the doorstep, it’s hard to imagine that the players will transform their game and immediately start giving it up for a coach they don’t believe in, don’t know, and whose appointment doesn’t make sense to them.
Rangnick’s behavior was also perplexing. His public comments about players, even if they were not directly insulting or derogatory, still disliked and annoyed the players. At the very least, this was true of Ronaldo, Maguire, Rashford and Cavani.
Another internal rift, a rift among the players, also loomed around that time. A crisis of management and trust hit the team as well. Sources at the club tell us that the division occurred into two large factions. One was dominated by British players and the other by foreigners led by Ronaldo. Some players were openly unhappy with Maguire as captain.
Moreover, these disagreements echoed back to agents, to staff, to people who were somehow closer to one of the factions. Before some games, for example, the encounter with Atlético de Madrid in the Champions League, the conflict even became heated. There were suspicions and accusations of leaks and other unpleasant things accompanying internal conflicts. By the end of February there was already an oppressive atmosphere at United’s training facilities and in the canteen.
A separate episode mentions the halftime showdown with Liverpool in April, when Rangnick decided to play three defenders and pulled Jones out of his dusty cupboard, whom he hadn’t noticed for three months. And at halftime he replaced him. Pointless tossing, defeat, unclear decisions and personnel changes of the coach further confused the team and destroyed the already far from ideal relationship.
By the way, Rangnick finished in his now familiar style. He announced that he would lead the Austrian national team after he resigned as coach of MJ, although he had an agreement on a two-year deal as a consultant to United. Admittedly, it’s unlikely that anyone at Manchester City is much upset by this decision by Ralph.
The most deeply thought-out and ideal option for MJ was Erik ten Hag from Ajax. He’s not to be envied. Still, the club will undergo some personnel cleansing, and the Dutchman is still in sight, has a distinct style and position in soccer society. Pogba, Cavani, Lingard, Mata will leave as free agents, Matic has also stated his desire to leave. The squad will somehow stabilize. And ten Hague, realizing what he will face, made the decision to start even earlier than his contract implies.
It’s been three months since MJ had a new chief executive. Richard Arnold has succeeded Ed Woodward. Sources at the club have noticed some positive developments and attempts by Arnold to fix things. In particular, he intends to visit the common dining room, to be closer to the staff, whereas Woodward was not seen by many at all.
In addition, Arnold held a meeting with some “veteran” MJ immediately after his appointment to discuss the future of the club with them. All of this, of course, is more grand gestures, but for now Arnold is being looked at without skepticism, but rather with interest. Well, MJ is making a new attempt to pull through.