Wednesday night was just like many other nights in the recent history of Manchester United FC. Once again, #OleOut was trending on Twitter. It’s become a weekly trend enabled by consistent loss of matches that are evidently wearing the fans out. Burnley United had added salt to the injury, it was 0-2 at the end of 90 minutes, and three points went with the visitors. That’s 57 points lost by Man United since March 2019, while at the same time Liverpool FC has lost only two points.
It has been disappointing performances, stretched across seasons to the downheartedness of hopeful Red Devil faithfuls.
The problem started back in 2013 when Sir Alex Ferguson retired as Manchester United manager, after 27 years leading the club to domestic and European glory. Ferguson added 38 trophies to the cabin of Old Trafford, which includes 13 League titles, two Champions League titles, five FA Cups and four League Cups. The Scot set the bar so high that the club’s supporters leaned on pride to taunt other clubs.
Upon his departure, Search commenced for who will not only take his place, but keep the legacy that has brought pride and fortune to the club. Ferguson was asked to help the club choose someone who would fit into his shoes at Old Trafford. A task outside coaching that he did without much rambling – Ferguson anointed David Moyes to succeed him, and the board concurred.
“We unanimously agreed on David Moyes. David is a man of great integrity with a strong work ethic. I’ve admired his work for a long time and approached him as far back 1998 to discuss the position of assistant manager here. There is no question he has all the qualities we expect of a manager at this club,” Ferguson said.
Moyes accepted the appointed with gratitude, called it “a great honor” and promised not to disappoint the club.
“I am delighted that Sir Alex saw fit to recommend me for the job,” he said, “I have great respect for everything he has done and for the football club. I know how hard it will be to follow the best manager ever, but the opportunity to manage Manchester United isn’t something that comes around very often and I’m really looking forward to taking up the post next season,” he added.
The season came and tested Moyes’ managerial ability beyond his imagination. He put up a hard fight though, taking Man U to the quarter finals of the Champions League, and winning 19 League games which saw the team finished outside the top four. Moyes performance in the club could only be entertained for one season; he was sacked before he could apply other tactics that he knows.
The club went to the market once again in search of a manager, someone who would give the fans a reason to boast again if not a perfect replacement for Sir Alex. The searchlight pointed at Louis Van Gaal who was at that time, managing the Dutch national team. Upon his appointment, he too promised to perform the needed miracle that would bring back the fading glory.
“I too have big ambitions. I’m sure we will make history,” he said.
“Making history” came with a lot of hurdles that LVG was aware of, and it depended more on Man U’s board than he himself.
“They had seven players over 30; we spoke about that at the job interview. In my first year, we qualified for the Champions League. In my second we won the FA Cup,” LVG said after losing his position as the team’s head coach.
The Dutch did not stay long to add to the FA Cup. On November 21, in his second season, Man U was second on the League table, just a point behind the leaders and eventual winners – Leicester City. There was hope the League would return to Old Trafford until their next five games killed it, United lost 13 points and in the same period were eliminated from the Champions League.
That was it, the Glazers had had enough. Following the disenchantment and grumbling from fans, the board made contact with Mourinho, and Van Gaal became part of history of managers who were sacked at Old Trafford.
In May 2016, Mourinho signed a three-year deal as manager of Manchester United. In his first season, he won the Community Shield, the League Cup and the UEFA Europa League. The hope came back in a thrilling way; finally the Red Devils have a reason to boast again. So they thought until the 2017/18 season, when the events in the fields became disheartening once again.
At the end of 2018, Manchester United was 19 points behind League leaders, Liverpool, and was sixth in the table. The performance of the team was described as the worst in the history of the club. Mourinho spent £400 million on 11 players; he had no excuse not to succeed. In December, Mourinho joined the list of managers who failed to fit into Sir Alex Ferguson’s shoes and were shown the way out by the Club’s vice president, Ed Woodward.
In January 2019, the club was in the market once more looking for a replacement. A United statement said: “A caretaker manager will be appointed until the end of the season while the club conducts a thorough recruitment process for a new, full-time manager.” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer became the caretaker manager and eventually, was made the full-time manager.
In his early days as Man United coach, the tides turned to memorable victories. The former Man U player recorded six Premier League wins in a row, prompting the song, “Ole’s at the wheel” by Red Devils’ supporters. The enchantment prompted the appointment of the Norwegian as the full-time manager. The restoration of faith in the team was dramatically based on outstanding performances, one of such, the remarkable 2-1 away victory against Juventus in the 2018/19 Champions League group stage.
But when they thought the glory is coming back, the wind of disappointment came with a full force and blows even the past record into shreds. It has been loss upon loss since the impressive start of Ole, and the fans are not having it anymore. The chronicle of managerial performances at the Manchester club is begging a question: What is wrong with Manchester United?
Managerial chairs have been reshuffled, players bought and sold, yet it appears that the post-Ferguson era has been spent so far on failed experiments. Some say it goes beyond what happens in the field. The Glazers and Ed Woodward have been fingered, and their method of operation has been criticized.
Managing director of the Americas at 21st Club, AJ Swoboda blamed it on the front office being led by Woodward, a former investment banker who had no previous experience in football business. He got into the game by helping the Glazers’ family purchase Man United. It is believed by many that with Woodward at the helm of affairs, United still lack the needed office structure that other clubs in the Premier League like Liverpool and Manchester City used to rise to the top.
Manchester United still doesn’t have a sports director like many other big clubs in Europe do. Liverpool, for instance is noted for investing in analytical decision making, enabled by Ian Graham, the team’s director of research. This kind of think-tank office has critically analyzed decision-making issues and come to the right conclusions.
Swoboda said: “In United’s case, there is a pretty big question of what is really driving inefficiency – i.e. the coach or front office operations? I’d be inclined to argue the latter given all the coaches that have come through since.”