PART ONE – THE FALL
It has now been over 1,100 days since Sir Alex waved goodbye for the last time to the Stretford End faithful. He left us the memory of over 25 yrs of footballing joy and a parting gift of his 13th Premier League Title. We had romped to the title and as he retired we all thought the foundations were in place for the club to push on and continue to challenge for titles and trophies.
But we were wrong and on that day we suddenly became vulnerable, an easy target, now arguably the biggest team in the world lacked a true leader. We were rudderless, stripped of our man of steel, clueless. The world’s biggest sporting brand was left in the hands of a hobbit looking grinning merchant banker. (That’s not a typo i did mean banker!)
Ed Woodward was now the top dog, king of his domain and about as much use as a chocolate kettle, his lack of footballing knowledge fast became embarrassingly apparent. Sure he could secure lucrative worldwide sponsorship deals with obscure Asian noodle manufacturers but negotiating even a basic transfer seemed beyond him. The rot would soon set in.
It certainly didn’t help Woodward or Utd’s situation when other key staff members departed. Vital individuals who had been integral to the continued stability and growth of the club were either deemed unsuitable and released or decided that without Fergie at the helm it was time to move on.
Individuals like CEO David Gill, a man who had played an important role in the clubs success, overseeing transfers and acting as the ideal buffer between Fergie and the board. A master at negotiation, his high standing in football always helped when dealing with a selling team. His value soon became apparent when realistic transfer targets started slipping through our fingers.
Out went Sir Alex’s brother, Martin, our Chief scout for over 20yrs who decided to retire with his brother. Behind him he left a creaking scouting system that had become outdated and been surpassed by most of our European rivals. Unlike clubs like Sevilla who have over 700 worldwide scouts reporting daily, the United scouting system had been left to decay.
Long serving backroom staff like Mike Phelan and Rene Meulensteen who had played key roles and who had complete knowledge of the team and more importantly held the confidence and respect of the players. Surely keeping such key personnel would have aided in any transition to a new manager but the club decided a clean slate was needed.
Our club was changing rapidly and a storm was coming. It was the chance to overhaul and update. If we didn’t make some tough decisions we risked being left behind and face years without success, a return to the barren days of the 70’s and 80’s. We had the chance to move forward and build on a legacy. Various names had been linked to succeed Fergie. Respected managers like Klopp, Ancelloti, Simone, there was rumours & whispers of failed attempts at securing Guadiola. The club even passed up the chance of employing Mourinho who was club less after his reign had ended at Real Madrid.
The chance for any sort of revolution or evolution ended when for reasons only known to Ed Woodward, he decided to listen to Fergie and appoint a manager who had won exactly nothing in his management career. This would prove to be the first of the many miss steps of the past 3yrs.
The Moyes reign started when he turned up at Old Trafford a mere 54 days after his appointment! Of course it’s natural to go on a holiday when appointed as manager of the biggest teams in the world!
Despite being having unlimited resources at his hands Moyes’s first transfer window only saw a 8ft hairy tree added to a squad that had romped to the previous year’s Premier League title. Results and performances were up and down but allowances were made for the new man.
The cracks soon started to widen though and it was horrible to see a man so clearly out of his depth struggle with the size of the club. You could visibly see him get greyer and more gaunt as if he was slowly being turned into an extra from The Walking Dead.
A January transfer signing of Juan Mata from rivals Chelsea offered a brief uplift to the fans but as results turned so did the atmosphere at Old Trafford. Nine months after succeeding Fergie and with qualification to the Champion League unobtainable, coupled with stories of changing room discontent and Moyes was finally relieved of his duties. An audible sigh of relief was heard over the red half of Manchester as what was clearly a mistake was put out of its misery.
Club legend Ryan Giggs offered a glimpse of a potential future by temporarily taking over as “Caretaker Manager” whilst Woodward assessed his next step. Some would say that at the time Woodward was a man wearing a blindfold throwing darts at pictures of potential managers in the hope of saving face and choosing the right candidate.
Little Ed rolled the dice and in came the respected and proven manager Louis Van Gaal. A man who had won a trophy with every club he had managed. Managerial experience with some of the biggest European clubs like Barcelona, Ajax and Bayern Munich. He had garnered international pedigree after steering the Netherlands to third in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. Rumours of his abrasive nature were apparently ignored as Woodward sort to return us to the pinnacle of European Football.
At first most fans loved how LVG handled the English press, they were impressed when the cheque book was opened and the new manager was backed in the transfer market. Marquee players like De Maria and Falcao joined and fans were licking their lips at a forward line containing Rooney, Mata, Di Maria, RVP and Falcao. We all thought exciting football would return. What we got in LVG’s first season was not exactly what we expected. RVP gave up and looked like he had stopped playing for his manager. Falcao proved to be more El Mouse than El Tigre and was a total shadow of the beast of a player who had terrorised defenders across Europe. Di Maria failed to settle and LVG played him in every position available including strangely as a holding midfielder? After deciding that due to an attempted robbery at his family home in Manchester he no longer felt safe he requested a move to the terrorist capital of Europe. PSG welcomed him with open arms and proved that if you play an attacking player with incredible skill in an attacking role he stands a better chance of success. United finished the season limping to a 4th place finish. With Champions League football returning to Old Trafford any major flaws were overlooked and LVG set about planning his second year of his “philosophy”.
Again Woodward worked his reverse magic in the transfer market selling players well below value whilst ignoring huge gaps in the squad. Alarms bells should ring when you sell “Little Pea” for a miserly £8m and keep Ashley Young!!!!
The 15/16 season saw a threadbare squad reinforced with youth, playing some of the most mediocre football to grace the hallowed turf of Old Trafford. The home crowd becoming ever disillusioned with the boring and dull performances began to turn and questions began being asked about our place at the top table of European Football. Attacking players suddenly became ineffective as LVG’s possession based philosophy ground out the odd 1 nil win. We as fans had feasted on attacking football for as long as we had been called United. Attacking football is in our DNA and here we were watching a team barely able to fashion a shot on goal. Life after Fergie was proving to be tough for any United fan. Still LVG continued to baffle us with his strange tactics. Ashley Young at Centre Forward and Phil Jones on corner duty are two moments in football i hope no fan ever has to endure again. An awful run of form stretching from November to January and the critics started sharpening their knives in anticipation of a change in management. When Chelsea sacked their “Special One” Jose Mourinho it only exacerbated the pressure on LVG and his relationship with the media began to fracture. Defeats to teams at the lower end of the table such as Norwich and Bournemouth had fans calling for the removal of LVG, in the hope that the season could still be salvaged.
Excuses, injuries, poor man management, and a yo-yo season ended disappointingly with us finishing 5th behind our local rivals Man City. A 5th place spot meaning we had again failed to qualify for the Champions League and faced the ordeal of Thursday night slogs around Europe’s second tier competition.
The season ended with a much welcomed FA Cup Final win over Crystal Palace at Wembley. The first post Fergie trophy had been won but even as the team climbed the steps to collect the famous old trophy, rumours circulated that the axe had already been sharpened and would soon fall.
LVG had lived with the media running reports of his sacking everyday for nearly six months and it came as no surprise that 2yrs into his 3yr contract his philosophy was halted. He had steadied the club when the flood waves were at their highest point and he had built a solid base for whoever succeeded him. The green shoots of recovery were apparent with the emergence of Marcus Rashford and Timothy Fosu Mensah from the Under 18’s. Added to the newly purchased talent of Tony Martial and a legacy of youth was LVG’s footnote in United’s history.
So in the three years since Sir Alex departed Woodward has had three managers, countless staffing changes, spent £250m and the fans have survived some very turgid, dire performances. Some would say that most of the foundations left behind by the great man has apparently been reduced to rubble.
Woodward was finally finding his own position being questioned. Sure the club was still churning out huge profits but it was on the field where the team would be judged.
Luckily for Woodward who has a remarkable resemblance to a leprechaun he hit his own pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, out of the darkness came a shining light. The only man with the experience and personality to handle the job, “The Only One” Jose Mourinho. Like a phoenix rising from the white hot flame, the greatest team on earth, Manchester United rises again. A new dynasty and legacy of attacking, entertaining, exciting football. With the arrival of a new manager and new signings comes the chance to not only rebuild but to strengthen the foundations even more.
Woodward is on his third strike and yet again has the chance to build a new dynasty. It is my belief that contrary to what the press and rival fans will have you believe, we are at the beginning of a new era, a beautiful era, an era dominated by Manchester United.
A new world class manager is in charge and a new dawn full of hope and optimism fills our heart. A new manager who has asked us to forget the last 3yrs and remember the great history of the club…..
Join me for Part Two where i will be examining our new manager, his legacy, his coaching staff, academy and scouting structure set-up.
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