It was a tumultuous summer for Manchester United with a dreadful pre-season outing in America as well as a troubled time in the transfer window. After failing to get their top targets to the club, the Red Devils have started the new Premier League campaign without players that José Mourinho made abundantly clear he wanted.
You need to go back five years to understand where the chaos behind the scenes has started from. When Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down, the club were always going to be appointing a manager that was inferior – there was no getting away from that. But where United have struggled so much is the fact that they never truly replaced David Gill’s role at the club. Gill, who now is the UK vice-president of FIFA, ran his post as the club’s chief executive so excellently and quietly that not many knew who he was; he was always a peripheral figure at Manchester United that excelled in tandem with Ferguson, working side by side.
Since Ferguson and Gill’s departures at United, the club has, quite devastatingly, taken a downturn in overall performances. Whether it is David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Mourinho, managers are finding it increasingly difficult to get United back to the top of the football food chain – a place where Ferguson dominated from.
Ed Woodward, the current executive vice-chairman and person who runs the day-to-day operations, has perhaps bitten off more than he can chew. Overseeing recruitment and personnel, Woodward is also tasked with managing the job he is best suited to: bringing in commercial partners and sponsors to further revenues of the club. There are few in world football who can do what Woodward can do commercially, but that does not mean he can build and mould a world-class squad.
Last summer can only be described as a farce. After bringing in just three players: Fred, from Shakhtar Donetsk, Lee Grant, from Stoke City as a third choice goalkeeper, and Diogo Dalot, from FC Porto and a right back for the future, United have left themselves short going into this season. More was needed to be done.
Mourinho wanted an experienced centre back to partner with Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelöf throughout this season. Bailly and Lindelöf, both 24-years-old, are still relatively inexperienced operating at the highest level.
With the Ivory Coast international’s injury problems, he cannot be trusted to complete a full season and become the rock United so desperately need in the heart of their defence. Lindelöf, who had teething problems last season, is a great talent, but certainly needs to be playing in a defence where there is a natural born leader to guide him. None of this is rocket science, given their still youthful ages for the position they play in, but Woodward was reluctant to give the green light to who the Portuguese manager wanted.
Mourinho, quite clearly, wanted Toby Alderweireld from Tottenham all summer long. Given the Belgian’s contract has a clause in it which says he can leave for £25 million next summer (2019), Spurs were open to negotiating a fair price for the world-class centre half. That quoted fee was around £50 million for one of the best defenders in the world. Woodward, in the end, made the decision that, given he was turning 30 throughout the season, Alderweireld would not be worth the money.
Alderweireld was not the only candidate for the position, but Woodward decided against bringing in another central defender until Mourinho moved one of his four on. The position was integral to Mourinho’s plans this season, but it was not the only area that was in need of strengthening. Left back remains an issue given Luke Shaw’s inconsistency and Ashley Young’s longevity, but a move for Juventus’ Alex Sandro was abandoned early on in the summer.
The other position was right wing. Possibly the perfect target for United was Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez, who was eventually snapped up by Manchester City instead. The Algerian possesses the qualities that United so desperately long for: a player who can remain on the right and not constantly cut inside and take up space from the midfielders and strikers. Mahrez is a fantastic dribbler and has the speed needed to give the left back a troublesome time – something Juan Mata, who has been forced wide ever since joining the club in 2014, does not have in his locker.
With tensions rising between Woodward and Mourinho, the need for either a Director of Football or a Technical Director has never been higher. The executive vice-chairman has briefed to the English press that the club are searching for someone to fill the void, but it seems slightly bemusing that they had the perfect candidate in Javier Ribalta, who has just joined Zenit Saint Petersburg as Sporting Director, and yet decided to let him go.
Perhaps it is a PR stunt from Woodward to ease the pressure off him and get fans to focus on that, but the decision, if they go through with it, seems to have been made because of public pressure rather than Woodward coming up with the idea himself. Everything at the club seems reactionary right now and without prior thought.
Manchester United simply have to bridge the gap between Mourinho and Woodward. The likes of Monchi, of Roma, Edwin van der Saar, of Ajax, and Andrea Berta, of Atlético Madrid, have been talked about, but United need to make the right decision and get them on board as soon as possible.
It is testing times for the the Red Devils at the moment, but the season has just begun and there is still plenty of positives out there. United fans have to keep the faith and hope the board come to their senses and start resolving some of the problems.
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