Opinion: Manchester United are a shambles
Photo: Getty Images - Clive Brunskill

Opinion: Manchester United are a shambles

Jose Mourinho has been sacked, but United's problems run much deeper than the ex-manager.

Craig Millar

When describing Manchester United's problems, where do you start?

Jose Mourinho. This week he paid the price for a wretched start to the season, the rotten football accompanying it and what seems like a mutiny within the playing ranks.

He said, "Manchester United is in the past". He was referring to his past, but the statement is fine as it is. Manchester United are living in the past.

Ed Woodward is not performing

Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and David Gill left, there is no longer a connection between the board and the manager. Ed Woodward is not a football man, and the awful state that United are in right now is a large result of Woodward's ineptitude.

Woodward has failed all three managers in various ways, yet he is never the fall guy. He is the main reason United have a bulky, overpaid playing roster with no real quality though.

Woodward is not solely to blame, and neither are the Glazers, however, there is an old saying that "Fish rots from the head" and the majority of United's problems stem from the 'top' men.

This season has been an unmitigated disaster, and whilst Mourinho ultimately had to take the fall the board are responsible for the chaos, and this lamentable group of players need to take a hard look at themselves also.

One of the biggest clubs in the world are reduced to borrowing a manager and an assistant manager from Norway and Australia respectively. It beggars belief.

The fact that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a playing legend, and Mike Phelan has been an integral part of the backroom team that enjoyed plenty of success under Sir Alex are positives.

There is every chance that they will galvanise this squad. They will certainly introduce a style of play that is more in keeping with the type of attacking football that Sir Matt Busby laid down as a blueprint.

Yet this group of players are a fickle bunch. Mourinho used tough love, his ego and his managerial record to try and cajole players into giving their all. They never had the heart to see it through when things got tough.

Knowing that Solskjaer and Phelan are potentially only here until the end of the season, are they likely to give everything for them knowing a new man could be at the helm in the summer? It's questionable.

That situation is another example of how this board are on times 'winging it'. Sky Sports News reported that United had negotiated a deal with Molde to "potentially" keep Solskjaer for the long term.

Sky later retracted this after discussing with a 'United source', but it is highly likely that Woodward and co. are thinking along those lines. How could they jettison Solskjaer if he turns this season around in spectacular fashion?

They couldn't, but they are hedging their bets. They haven't got a clue.

Managers and board not in Sync

Following Sir Alex was always going to be incredibly tough, and though David Moyes ticked many of the boxes, it was clear quite early that he was out of his depth.

Woodward failed him by not securing signings in the summer he took over, but the problem with the Moyes appointment was the six-year contract he was given. It was madness. 

The last interim manager United had was Ryan Giggs. He only had a short time in charge, but he showed a lot of promise and just as Woodward is hoping Solskjaer can turn things around, Giggs did to a degree.

The overlooked him but insisted that the tried and tested Louis van Gaal kept him on as his assistant. It made sense, and on the face of it was a good strategy. A proven winner, a club legend learning off him and potentially his successor.

One of the reasons that signings never came for Moyes, is that Woodward was desperate to make statement signings. He wanted marquee names to help with shirt sales, social media and commercial revenue potential.

With Moyes at the helm, and Woodward new also it wasn't so easy to get the likes of Gareth Bale even when you were trying to throw money around like confetti. 

Van Gaal probably didn't mind the likes of Radamel Falcao and Angel Di Maria coming in, far from it, but he had his 'philosophy' and names didn't mean a thing.

Injuries forced his hand on times, but he was still as likely to go with a young player as an established star. It was all about players taking on board his instructions. This wasn't necessarily in keeping with Woodward's vision.

Lack of class

Unfortunately for van Gaal, the football was not good on the eye and despite winning the FA Cup, he never saw out his three-year tenure and the split was handled awfully - directly after the cup final victory.

It was not particularly classy, and Mourinho coming in meant that Giggs was also surplus to requirements.

Unsurprising that Mourinho would not want a potential successor as his assistant, but the board seemed to have Giggs as a protege and again had a change of heart.

Getting Mourinho was a clear sign that success was the be all and end all, no matter what. There was never a chance that Mourinho would be the model manager. He can be prickly, spiky and occasionally quite crass.

But the success part did come. Two trophies in his first season and Woodward was breaking world record transfer fees. It wasn't plain sailing and criticism of one or two players would be a sign of things to come.

Mourinho's clashes

When Mourinho clashed with Paul Pogba, that is when things started to go downhill. The board had given Mourinho their backing and an additional year to his three-year deal. On the face of it, he was being backed.

Yet during this summer, the did give him money to buy Fred for a large fee and the young Diogo Dalot but baulked at further signings. Specifically, Mourinho wanted another central defender.

Given that Mourinho had bought Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof in the previous two seasons, you can understand the boards' reticence to splurge on another.

Yet if they extended his contract only a few months previously, then they had to give him the tools to do his job. This probably was the straw that broke the camels back for Mourinho.

From that point onwards, he was sullen. He found fault with everything and everyone. A lack of first team players on tour. The lack of additional signings. Pogba. 

His claim that second place in his second season was one of his greatest achievements was laughable. 

It is doubtful he gave up, and it's not totally his fault that this season has gone so badly. The squad is devoid of world-class talent. The scattergun approach to incoming transfers has no apparent strategy.

There is one world-class player, and a couple that have the potential to be, but the attitudes in general stink and the players deserve plenty of criticism for the position United are in.

Lazy individuals, no pattern to the play, no concentration. The statistics are damning, but you don't need statistics to see how poor this team is. You only have to watch a game. Outrun by every team, but outplayed in many matches too.

Solskjaer has his work cut out, but as he said in his first interview this is a clean slate for everyone. In the same interview, he was asked about the upcoming opposition and he praised the analytical team for their insights.

He also said that it's not about the opposition. The focus is on how United play and about expressing themselves. Refreshing. If he can inject confidence, allow more freedom in the team then he stands a chance.

Some fans may think the likes of Zinedine Zidane should have been approached, but as has been shown with the three managers that have previously been installed there is no guarantee.

Solskjaer has been given an opportunity, albeit in bizarre circumstances. United fans will do what United fans do, back both him and the team. 

If he achieves any kind of success, then it won't be because of the board's foresight, but in spite of their lack of it.