Tom McDermott has watched Man Utd struggle since Sir Alex Ferguson left. Read his five-point plan for getting the club back to the top.
In the six years since Sir Alex Ferguson left the club, Manchester United have gone from Premier League winners, to a top six team that will do well this campaign to reach the latter stages of the Europa League.
While the commercial deals continue to roll in, the recent scattergun approach to managerial appointments and player recruitment, means that the club has receded, and supporters now look on enviously at great local rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, as they go from strength-to-strength at home and in Europe.
Ed Woodward pledged to stay patient with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer as he announced record financial revenues of £627.1million recently, but the focus on business over achievement has frustrated many.
Most United fans that I speak with would have expected a few years of hardship post Sir Alex Ferguson, but the speed of the decline on and off the pitch is so alarming, that many now wonder how bad it might yet get.
I've put together a five-point plan to help United get back to the top, or at least on the path towards it.
The word “culture” should sit at the top of the plan. If you ask former England cricket captain Michael Vaughan what some of the key ingredients were that helped England to Ashes success in 2005, he’ll tell you that he not only had very good players, but that it all started two years before in 2003, when they began to change the culture and mindset around the squad.
As a minimum, any squad in any sport needs to buy in to a culture of hard work and a particular way of playing, because if they don’t, then you’re up against it from the start.
Get the culture right though, and everything that follows is easier to implement.
So once this is decided upon, add players and staff that are not only aware of what the culture is and understand it, but most importantly will become strong advocates of it within the dressing room. This minimises the cliques and helps it to trickle through to other areas of the club, such as the academy.
A strategy must be agreed, on and off the pitch. If this means buying the “best of British” and allowing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer to have two or three windows in order to refine his squad, then United fans must be patient, and the club must be transparent and help the manager by explaining that this is their intention.
And there are signs that this could be happening. In a call to investors on Tuesday, Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward said that "everyone at the club" is determined to bring back success by winning trophies and that "we won't be influenced by short-term distractions". We’ll see between now and Christmas if this really is the case.
3. Style of play
What exactly is the 'United way' of playing? For me, the 'United way' is winning football matches and if they can, winning football matches by playing entertaining attacking football, with width.
We shouldn’t forget that even Sir Alex Ferguson’s greatest teams were capable of grinding out an ugly 1-0 win, so while entertaining football should be high up the list, it’s not the be-all and end-all each week.
That said, it’s nice to have a playing identity like we associate with Barcelona and again Liverpool and Manchester City. The trick is not to copy what they’re doing but to take some of their ideas and introduce a new way, and one which is loyal to the values and principles of Manchester United, which means something that is unique and isn’t found anywhere else.
Again, this takes time and requires patience, because it’s impossible for all teams to play the same brand of football.
4. Director of football and recruitment
A director of recruitment or head of football recruitment should be appointed and should ideally be someone who doesn’t just have strong links to the club, but one who is qualified for the position.
Former goalkeeper Edwin van der Sar is the CEO at Ajax and is one name that’s been mentioned, as has his former Dutch team-mate Jordi Cruyff.
Darren Fletcher and Patrice Evra have also been sounded out about the role, and in the future, may prove to be valuable additions, but at the moment, the last thing United need is more under-qualified people in key positions, regardless of their legendary status.
5. Stick with a plan
Have a plan from the boardroom down to the academy that highlights some of what’s been discussed. Put the life and soul of United back into the club. Start building now. But, stick to it!
It’s all very well discussing a forward thinking and progressive culture, defining a structure, a way of playing, moaning about the facilities at Old Trafford and Carrington, picking holes in the scouting system, appointing a director of football and creating a modern identity and way of playing, but you must have courage to see it through.
This doesn’t mean that United are overly loyal to their history, but it doesn’t mean that they’re blind to the changing demands of the modern game either.
The club is in danger of letting their history hamper them, in the same way that it did with Liverpool when they relied on the old boot room brigade to lead them from one mess to another.
On the pitch, phase one of Solskjaer’s recruitment plan and his defence is just about there. However painful it is or might get, he must be given time to see it through by allowing further players to leave in the midfield and forward areas, and bringing more fresh faces in.
If Woodward isn’t instructed by the Glazer family to look for a buyer and sell the club anytime soon, then he needs a plan that includes urgent support between his position as executive vice-chairman, and the first team manager, whoever that is.
Until that is done though, and the manager and structure is given time, we could well see United in a similar mess in 12 months’ time.