My 10-point plan to fix Manchester United
Words by Chris McHardy
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What is going on at Manchester United?
A manager who looks out of his depth, apathy in the stands, a chief executive under fire and a star player who seems determined to rock the boat. Don’t panic though, United fans, Dubai Eye radio presenter (and rampant Red) Chris McHardy has a blueprint on how to turn the club around
Easily the first port of call in my masterplan. After acquiring the club in their debt-loading buyout 15 years ago, the Glazers have presided over a period of stagnation, more concerned, it seems, with dividend windfalls than winning football matches. Even more galling is that an eye-watering £1bn has flowed freely out of the club in interest, fees, and refinancing penalties. United, a religion for millions, has been reduced to a mere personal piggy bank for a few.
Three men have been and gone since Sir Alex Ferguson walked off into the sunset. The fourth, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, is out of his depth. Poch is the right man for the job, I’m utterly convinced of that. A loyal disciple of Marcelo Bielsa, the Argentine tactician’s principles not only adhere to the modern game but his ability to develop and improve young players puts him on a par with Pep Guardiola and Jurgen Klopp. With the likes of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Brandon Williams, Scott McTominay, Dan James, Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford all 23 and under, the nucleus of United’s squad is tailor-made for Poch’s philosophy. Give him some money to spend and who knows what he could achieve.
As the face of the Glazer regime, the banker-turned-football-club-CEO is public enemy No.1 in the eyes of many United fans. And his rap sheet is a long one. Woodward has overseen one calamitous managerial appointment after another. He’s the kid who won the golden ticket to the chocolate factory and let gluttony consume him. He remains a brilliant numbers man and the club continues to raise the bar commercially with 25 global partners loyal to the cause. What Woodward is not, though, is a football man. I’ve heard countless tales of his negotiation skills, or lack thereof, that would make even the most ardent Ed sympathiser wince. Keep him on the payroll but keep him a million miles away from footballing matters.
Manchester City have a top-to-bottom playing philosophy that’s the envy of many, while Liverpool have mastered the puzzle of identifying value in an otherwise inflated market. However, at United a strategy both on and off the field has been conspicuous by its absence. Lille transfer guru Luis Campos, the man who discovered Kylian Mbappé and Anthony Martial, is one name mooted for the role. So too is Ralf Rangnick, the mastermind behind the recent rises of Hoffenheim and RB Leipzig in Germany. Either would be a step in the right direction. So too, former United goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar (above), now working wonders at Ajax.
English football’s bright young thing, the 20-year-old Sancho (right) has established himself as Borussia Dortmund’s creative fulcrum. Blessed with searing pace and an uncanny knack for assists and goals (he notched 17 each last season), Sancho is the one they all want and United should move heaven and earth to land his signature, even if that means parting with a club record £100m+. The fabled No.7 shirt awaits...
Not since a then 16-year-old Wayne Rooney bustled his way into our collective conscious in 2002, has a youngster elicited as much hysteria as Erling Braut Haaland. United passed on the chance to sign the 19-year-old in January, allowing Dortmund to swoop and Haaland hasn’t looked back since. A 23-minute hat-trick on his Bundesliga debut was followed by goals on his German Cup and UEFA Champions League bows. A scout at a Premier League club told me last year that Haaland was a “generational talent capable of playing for any club in the world.” Go get him, no matter the cost.
Let’s get one thing straight: I like Solskjaer. I’ve met him and found him to be personable and friendly. He’s earned his place in club folklore, the man who brought the European Cup home in 1999. What he is not, however, and I hate to say it, is a Manchester United manager. His fans will point to a return in playing style to the ‘United Way’ of old plus good runs in the FA Cup and Europa League and notable wins over Manchester City and Chelsea last season. But does he have the tactical acumen to win the war over a 38-game season? I have doubts.
The conundrum of whether to jettison or persist with Paul Pogba is one that polarises United fans. Some feel he has been a victim of circumstance, a world class operator denied the tools around him to express his genius. Others are exasperated at Pogba’s preening and inconsistency on the field that belies a player of the Frenchman’s undoubted ability. All signs point to a stay of execution with Pogba’s agent provocateur, Mino Raiola, insisting he’s going nowhere. Whether that’s borne out of a deep-seated desire on his client’s part to prove the naysayers wrong or the lack of interest post-Covid 19 is anyone’s guess. However, with midfield partner Bruno Fernandes shouldering the burden of expectation and flourishing at Old Trafford, I fully expect Pogba to fire this season.
Four managers in seven years has inevitably led to muddled thinking, on and off the field. As Gary Neville so aptly put it, “United are like spaghetti bolognese – all over the place.” Solskjaer needs to be commended for starting the cull, but the likes of Phil Jones (above), Marcos Rojo and Andreas Pereira will not be missed and should head for the exit. And then there’s Jesse Lingard. Just one goal coupled with zero assists in the league last season is a pitiful return for an attacking midfielder.
The Theatre of Dreams is no more. In its place is a Playhouse of Nightmares. One of the game’s finest citadels is a microcosm of the club: a place once of wonderment and allure now in disrepair. Standards have slipped, and Old Trafford is leaking. If the Red Devils are to return to former glories they ought to look the part off the pitch as well as on it.
Chris McHardy presents Off Script every weekday on Dubai Eye 103.8FM
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