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Is Manchester United Truly United?

Manchester United players following their 3-0 loss to Manchester City. From left to right: Sofyan Amrabat (4), Victor Lindelöf (2), Harry Maguire (5), and Raphael Varane (19)

Over the course of the past few seasons, Manchester United has been in an awkward and ever changing situation. What used to once be a dominating side, in both its domestic and continental competitions, has fallen into years of constant limbo between build up seasons and underwhelming ones.

United as a club, have been fluctuating in the standings over the last seasons, from second place in the 2020-21 season, sixth in 2021-22, third in 2022-23 and currently eighth in the 2023-24 season. So what is truly to blame for this horrible streak of performances over the last few years? 

To begin with, United has gone through several different coaching spells throughout the last few seasons. Starting from the 2020-21 season, the side has had four different coaches, ranging from ex-player Ole Gunnar Soksjær to ex-Ajax coach Erik Ten Hag. Although, many of these managers were never going to be the permanent solution for the team. The continuous switching in coaching staff is to blame for the lack of form and consistency in results for the team. 

Soksjær was appointed caretaker coach, during the last matches of the 2018-19 season, after the departure of Jose Mourinho and then later becoming the official coach after the 2018-19 season. Soksjær led United to finish sixth that season, the same position they were in when he took over. He then followed it up with a third place finish the year after in the 2019-20 season, and then a second place finish in the 2020-21 season. Overall, Soksjær finished with 91 wins, 37 draws and 40 losses, taking place over a three and a half year spell with the club. 

Following Soksjær was Michael Carrick, who had been part of both Mourinho’s and Soksjær’s staff. Carrick only lasted for about a month in the seat, during November of 2021 and accumulated three wins, two draws and one loss. 

He was then followed up by Ralf Rangnick, a manager with experience in the Bundesliga; he came into the seat in December 2021, as intermediate coach until the end of the season. During his time, he drove United to 11 wins, 12 draws and eight losses. 

Afterwards, the final and latest coach, Erik Ten Hag was appointed as the official and permanent coach starting from the 2022-23 season. Ten Hag has managed to do a better job than his predecessors, by actually winning the club some silverware, in his first season. He led United to their first trophy since the 2016-17 season, in the form of the EFL Cup, better known as the Carabao Cup, and finished third that same season. 

An overall good first season, however that has now quickly soured as Ten Hag has been unable to replicate that same success during these first few months of the 2023-24 season, with the “Red Devils”, currently sitting in eighth place. 

With all these managerial changes, and subsequent different playing styles introduced by them,  it’s clear that these switches have prevented any real identity to be formed within the team’s performance. This has also not helped the development of proper chemistry between players due to the constant switches. 

This is still not even the surface of United’s problems. Some of it can be attributed to their finances and ownership. With the “Glazers”, taking over the club in May 2005. However, the money used to buy the club was mostly borrowed, leading to the Glazers having a large amount of debt which was subsequently transferred to the club, leaving the club with about $540 million dollars worth of debt, just weeks after the Glazer takeover. This debt has been slowly chipped away by the owners, but due to debt interest and other factors the debt has gone mostly unchanged, with it being estimated that the club now has a net debt of $400 million. 

Additionally, poor management by the Glazers over the club has only worsened the situation for the owners with the fanbase. Overpriced player transfers, such as the signings of midfielder Paul Pogba in summer of 2016 for a record £110 million, defender Harry Maguire in 2019 for the highest signing of a defender at £80 million, and the £95 million purchase of winger Antony in 2022. 

With all three signings happening in the last seven years, and all making up the top three most expensive signings for the club. Meanwhile these signings have only resulted in the club winning three trophies, with two of those being Carabao Cups, with Maguire and Antony only winning theirs with Ten Hag last season. 

While as of now only one of them being considered as a starter with Maguire benched and stripped of his captaincy due to poor performances, and Pogba being sold back to Juventus in 2022 for a complete loss, due to his contract running out that same summer. Resulting in the “Red Devil” fanbase, calling for the Glazers to sell the club.

While financial and managerial problems might seem like the two biggest problems Man United has at the moment, they are still not all of them, with Ten Hag seeming to lose control of his locker room this season. 

The main example of this being forward Jadon Sancho, who cost Man United £72.9 million in 2021, having a public dispute with coach Ten Hag over the past months.. All stemming from Ten Hag’s press conference on September 3rd following a three to one loss to rivals Arsenal, where he stated that he had not chosen Sancho for the game due to Sancho’s, “performance in training,” which Sancho followed up on social media by saying he had been a, “scapegoat for a long time,” nodding that the poor performances of the team weren’t on the team, let alone himself. 

With it being well known that Ten Hag dislikes when players get out of hand or go against him publicly, most notably Cristiano Ronaldo last season, who due to his feud was forced to leave the club midway through the campaign. It comes with no surprise, that just like Ronaldo was exiled from the team just a year ago for a similar public feud with Ten Hag, Sancho is now currently being exiled from the first team as well, resulting in rumors that Sancho will most likely leave during this upcoming winter transfer window. 

All this follows the same chain of events that led to Ronaldo’s transfer to Saudi Pro league last season when he too was fed up with the lack of game time, and subsequently called out Ten Hag publicly for it. Ten Hag’s response to both situations has been that he will not tolerate interdisciplinary. A problem that might continue to affect the squad, considering Marcus Rashford’s recent actions this past weekend. 

According to several reports, star forward Marcus Rashford was seen partying this weekend in a Manchester nightclub, hosting and celebrating his 26th birthday, hours after Man United had been thrashed by archrivals Manchester City, 3-0. A loss that only served to maintain Manchester United in 8th, while pushing City to 3rd, 2 points behind first place Spurs. With Ten Hag’s only response up until now being,” Yes, I’m aware of it. I spoke to him about it.”

All together, these various issues are part of the answer to why a once dominating team in the European scene has fallen so far from its once historical and major role in European competitions. To a club now plagued with managerial, disciplinary and financial issues, that can now only aspire to be a European powerhouse once again.

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About the Contributor
Johan Garcia Rosales
Johan Garcia Rosales, Sports Writer
Hey I’m Johan, I’m one of the Sports writers in The Gallery. I’m Junior, and I enjoy expressing my ideas and thoughts through any outlet I can. I’m a Liverpool fan, I love photography and overall like to have a good time. 
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