After finishing second in the Premier League last season and competing in the Europa League Final, Manchester United have taken a huge step back this season, as they are currently seventh on the Premier League table and are in danger of missing out on Champions League football for the first time since the 2019/2020 season. One huge reason for this step back was their summer transfer window, which at the time dubbed great by many people, myself included. Instead, this transfer window has shed some more light on some of the mismanagement at the top at Manchester United.
This past summer was a fun one in the international football community. The EUROs took place, and many big names moved to new clubs. One club that was in the center of transfer drama all summer was Manchester United. The big name linked to United in the beginning of the summer was English international Jadon Sancho. Sancho, a former Dortmund winger, was one of the biggest stars in the Bundesliga and a player who was linked with Manchester United for a few years. In fact, it seemed that a deal to bring Sancho to Old Trafford would be completed in the summer of 2020, but Manchester United and Dortmund were not able to come to an agreement at the time. However, the stalemate in negotiations ceased this summer as United and Dortmund agreed to a transfer fee of €85,000,000 ($100 million). Manchester United finally got the man that they, and their fanbase, wanted badly.
Manchester United was not done yet, they were trying to assemble a squad that could relinquish the Premier League title from cross city rivals Manchester City. The next move chairman Ed Woodward and former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær made was to bring in Real Madrid defender for €41,000,000 ($48.4 million). The thought process was to make a sort of Iron Curtain in the back. With Varane, who was one of the best defenders in the world during his time at Madrid, and Harry Maguire at the centerback positions, and Luke Shaw and Aaron Wan-Bissaka at the fullback spots, on paper Manchester United had one of the best back lines in the league.
Manchester United had one more big name transfer move in them, and one that shocked the world football community. Cristiano Ronaldo would be returning to Old Trafford as Manchester United on an agreed transfer fee of €15,000,000 ($16.9 million) with Italian club Juventus to bring the Portuguese international back. Ronaldo, a club legend, energized the fan base and it really looked like Manchester United had a super team. On paper, the Red Devils looked much better than they did the previous year, and in the 2020/2021 Premier League season they finished second, 12 points of the champions Manchester City.
Despite the summer looking like a huge success for Manchester United, in hindsight it has been a disaster. Varane has looked like a shell of his former self and at times can actively hurt Manchester United. Ronaldo does not fit the new system which requires intense pressing by the forwards under interim manager Ralkf Rangnick, as at 36 years old he just can’t press as well as he did 15 years ago. In addition, Ronaldo’s distribution also isn’t as good as it was when he was younger. Of course Cristiano Ronaldo is still capable of the incredible, but it doesn’t happen as often and when he isn’t scoring goals (which has dried up of late) he really isn’t helping the team. In fact, some will even argue that he is stunting the growth of Mason Greenwood, Manchester United’s top prospect out of their academy. Finally, the Jadon Sancho transfer looked awful in the first few months of the season. Sancho has since picked up form, but he still does not look like a man worth €85 million. Manchester United management focused on big name transfers instead of the real need for the team: a true “6.”
Under former manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Manchester United employed a 4-2-3-1 system. The problem with this system and the new summer transfers was how to play the midfield. Bruno Fernandes, coming off an incredible season, was going to be the “10.” That was never in doubt. However, behind him, who would pair with French international Paul Pogba? Pogba was coming off a great performance at the EUROs playing his natural midfield position, but with United the previous season, he would be put out on the wing where he saw some success. Ironically enough, when playing the “8” at United, Pogba has not looked his best. Currently, Manchester United does not have an elite defensive midfielder which is something they need with Pogba and Fernandes in the midfield as those are two more attack-minded players. Instead, Solskjær and Woodward were content rolling out either Scott McTominay or Fred to play the “6” a position that is extremely important in giving the defense some cover. However, neither McTominay or Fred are elite at that as both are pretty inconsistent and rarely ever put in great performances.
This has led to Pogba having to take up some defensive responsibility, which is not his strength and has made him look much worse than he did over the summer and last season. In addition, this has left the defense with minimal cover. Recall, after the summer transfer window it seemed that Manchester United had one of the best defenses, but this was not the case. Varane has looked bad, Maguire has regressed after a great season last year, Wan-Bissaka hasn’t take the step forward that has been expected of him and is now looking like a transfer flop, and Shaw looks nothing like he did at EUROs where he was one of the best fullbacks in the tournament. In goals allowed, Manchester United have allowed the 11th most at 30 this season. Their main rivals, Manchester City have only allowed 13 goals all season.
Manchester United are way off the mark where they are supposed to be this season, and it all comes down to poor management from the top. This article hasn’t even gotten into all the problems in the dressing room. United currently sit in seventh and do not look like a team who will be in a Champions League spot at the end of the season. So far they have already canned Solskjær, and Woodward will be stepping down from his chairman role at the end of January. However the poor leadership form both Woodward and Solskjær has already left a dirty stain on the club, and interim manager Ralf Rangick (who will be becoming an advisor for the team at the end of the season) has to clean up the mess. The question is, can he?