In a previous post titled ‘The Stage of Soccer’, one had labored to play up the possible strengths of the current Man United squad while tinkering with formations. One had in fact sent a subtle warning to other European clubs as to the depth at Old Trafford presently. Indeed, one incurred accusations of praising erstwhile manager Jose Mourinho for merely recognizing his body of work in the game and his un-poetic strategy in getting Man United its last major title – the Europa League – at the expense of Ajax. The appointment of the loyalist super-sub Ole Gunner Solskjaer as substantive manager and the demystification of Paris in Barcelona have added up to move the post-Fergie United conversation forward. BBC pundit Jermaine Jenas recently added his voice to that of ESPN’s Craig Burley in stating matter-of-factly, without fear or favor, that the appointment of OGS in permanent capacity was a wrong move based on emotion rather than logic. Both Jenas and Burley are admirers of Tottenham Hotspur boss Mauricio Pochettino, and as such have continually called on the Man United Board to offer the reigns at the Old Trafford dugout to Pochettino.
It is precisely at this juncture that the arrogance of United, which is shared very actively by a good number of pundits, must be called out. There is nothing to suggest that Pochettino, if offered/courted, would prefer the Old Trafford role to his present job. Mourinho did try to set the agenda properly when, as manager, he cited United’s past ability to scout at White Hart Lane and sign Spurs’ best players on a whim. The examples of Dimitar Berbatov and Michael Carrick offer sharp contrasts to United’s current inability to sign an Eric Dier or a Dele Alli, never mind the hurricane Europe covets in Harry Kane. Question is: can United even muster the nerve to tap Harry Kane let alone make a bid? Bayern Munich’s Jerome Boateng publicly declined to make a switch to Old Trafford only last summer. And this is precisely where Man United finds itself. Top and not so top talents have no motivation to join the Red Devils. Lest track is lost, two points by Jenas inform the remainder of this intervention. The first is his claim that Mourinho had tried to re-invent an identity for United, but that the latter failed to key into it. The second is related to the first in that it borders on a frittered identity and the need to appoint a manager in his own right, thus move beyond the notion of finding a replacement for Sir Alex Ferguson.
On Jose Mourinho: A careful study of the signings made by United in the Mourinho era reveals a trend of overpriced players and a tilt towards certain player agents. What this suggests is that Mourinho has taken to money more than to the game in recent years. Consequently, he has had to shed any specialness hitherto associated with his management. More than these, the predicament of United presently is perhaps best illustrated by the story of Alexis Sanchez. It is so bad that conspiracy theorists have taken over the conversation: which is that since Cristiano Ronaldo’s departure, the number seven shirt has become jinxed. Antonio Valencia only became a good bargain for United when he dropped the number seven shirt for the number 25. Memphis Depay was a colossal failure in United sporting the number seven shirt. His success at Lyon certainly validates the jinx argument. And now Sanchez whose signing is quite simply unforgivable. The United fans who continue to buy merchandise and tickets are being grossly insulted each week Sanchez gets a check of his bumper pay. Indeed, how does one explain the signing of Sanchez beyond cat and mouse, I-sharp-pass-my-neighbor moves by Mourinho? Sanchez’s position wasn’t even a priority when he was signed. Mourinho got wind of Man City’s interest, and then he suddenly became interested. His later analogy of Sanchez being a very ripe orange at the top of the tree goes to show the extent of ridiculous. It all fell flat on his head/job in the short run.
On scouting and the need for an identity: One only needs look across the premier league over the past 12 months or less. What with the Wolves striker Raul Jimenez who has tormented United at each opportune occasion? What with Felipe Anderson and the rest of the Westham band? Need one mention Virgil Van Dijk? Question is: Where was United (and United scouts if they exist) when all these marque signings were made? The hard fact is that there is simply no guarantee that OGS’s targets would be interested in joining Man United. In the event that they do, they would be out-priced and United would be exploited continually and endlessly, as it already is. ESPN’s Shaka Hislop has made the point repeatedly that neither De Gea nor any target of United’s would agree to a contract that pays them beneath what Sanchez gets, and rightly so. The solution for United lies not in the market but in the market. On the one hand, United needs to sell wholesale. For their efforts, Man United players are over-pampered and overpaid and as such, about all the players should leave starting with Paul Pogba. On exceptions, depending on their choices to leave or stay, Sergio Romero should be made captain while Diogo Dalot, Marcus Rashford, Jesse Lingard and Antonio Martial should become the senior members of the team. Unfortunately, this may not change much since the responsibility one envisages would spur them on is already on their shoulders at the moment! Suggestions by fans on whom to sign in the summer window have continued to make the speculative rounds. And while many touted names are names of really good players, reality suggests that the moment an offer is made (which would include a 100% pay rise), their performances would wane rapidly.
Crucially, therefore, there isn’t need to sign anyone or any so-called world class players at United. Just as an array of foreign-based stars began to fumble in national colors playing for Nigeria, a resort to the home-grown talents of the local league provided succor. This is precisely the sort of direction that is required at Old Trafford, for the Red Devils have increasingly cut and passed across the frustration that the Super Eagles grew renowned for. The youth players should be promoted to the main team as a matter of emergency. United should work with what it has without signing nor continually polluting what Man United is supposed to mean. The team would finish 10th or even 16th, but it won’t take more time or more pain, than has transpired since the days of Fergie and about a billion Pounds ago, before a winning team manifests. Of course, if two solid center halves whose abilities and performances outweigh their egos are willing to join the team, such would be fine. However, it is tough to imagine the existence of these, which is why it could be more prudent to coach unknown quantities into world beaters. It is time United began the process of financial astuteness and saving its pride. Every Tom, Dick and Harry is rejecting a move to United these days. As a matter of policy, therefore, United should stop signing players. The club’s image has been (almost) irreparably dented by these rejections and the Board’s poor choices. The club should create an identity. As of now, there is none. For United, there has never been a better time, context or space to shut up shop. United must look beyond Ed Woodward and look profoundly inward instead.