It was not too long ago that Manchester United was regarded as the dominant force in English football. Under the guidance of veteran manager Sir Alex Ferguson, The Red Devils won pretty much every trophy there is on offer at club level, including 13 Premier League titles and 2 Champions League titles.
However, that all changed following Ferguson’s retirement in May 2013, after he had served the club for 26 years. The United team had just won the Premier League title for a record 13th time, finishing above runners-up Man City by an impressive eleven points. It was said that whoever would go on to succeed Ferguson as the new United manager would be faced with an almost impossible job. Step forward, David Moyes.
As Alex Ferguson had actually recommended Moyes to the board, United fans remained hopeful that he would bring success to Old Trafford, despite him having no Champions League experience and boasting his highest Premier League finish of fourth with Everton. However, concern began to grow when Moyes failed to deliver in the transfer window, his only recruitment being Marouane Fellaini from his former club, for a staggering fee of £27.5million. Perhaps this was due to Ed Woodward’s reluctance to spend money, but nevertheless United went into the 2013/14 Premier League season with an ageing squad that needed reinforcements in many areas of the team.
It was no surprise then that Moyes guided the team to their worst ever Premier League finish of seventh, and was sacked in April 2014 after less than a year in charge.
After an embarrassing campaign, United needed to ensure their next recruitment had the expertise required to guide the team back to glory again. Their appointment of the former Netherlands manager Louis van Gaal seemed to fit the bill, as he has experience managing at the top level and winning titles across Europe with the likes of Ajax, Bayern Munich and Barcelona. It was no secret that United had to bring in several stellar players to strengthen the squad that had under achieved so much under Moyes. A major rebuilding process was set to go on throughout the transfer window this summer, with United busting the bank to bring in the world’s best.
Now, here we are, just a few days from the end of the transfer window and the season already two games in. United have spent over £100million on left-back Luke Shaw, defender Marcos Rojo, central midfielder Ander Herrera and the record signing Angel di Maria. Although these players are undoubtedly good additions to the squad, United have seemingly signed luxury players and not gone for the players who are most needed to strengthen the team as a unit. The prime example being Angel di Maria, whose extortionate transfer fee of £59.7million made him the most expensive buy in British transfer history. However, with di Maria’s best position being on the wing or in a more central midfield role, it is difficult to see where he will fit into van Gaal’s 3-5-2 formation. This is because in this formation, there are no wingers as such, but wing-backs instead. If van Gaal utilises him at right wing-back, his attacking threat would be wasted, as he would have to partake in defensive duties frequently which is not his greatest asset. If he is used more centrally in midfield where he can create chances, then this will mean leaving out either Juan Mata or Ander Herrera. If they changes to a 4-3-3 with Di Maria playing in the front 3, then this will likely result in van Persie or Rooney being left out, or one having to play at left-wing; a position they do not like.
Before the window opened, defence seemed to be the main priority for United, with Evra, Ferdinand and Vidic departing. However, the only player that seems to have been replaced is Evra, as Luke Shaw is set to be his long-term replacement at left wing-back. Although Rojo is also a defender, he seems to be at better use at left-back than where he is needed to play at centre-back. The defence as a whole is still worryingly below par and has been exposed in the first three games of the season, where they have lost to Swansea and drawn to Sunderland in the Premier League, while losing to MK Dons 4-0 in the Capital One Cup. More signings are needed before the end of the window, with two centre-backs needed and another central midfielder. The club has persistently been linked with holding midfielder Arturo Vidal and defender Mats Hummels; both would be perfect signings. However, with Juventus demanding around £40million for Vidal, and Hummels being unlikely to leave Dortmund after being named captain, it does not look promising.
With the club currently in large amounts of debt, it remains unseen whether or not they are willing to submerge themselves further by paying big for two or three more players. Should they choose not to, the fans’ hopes of finishing in the top four and retaining Champions League football look pretty slim.
While the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal have strengthened wisely and early on in the window, United have arguably overspent on players and have not replaced those who were so pivotal in their success under Alex Ferguson. Maybe this is due to the club no longer being able to attract top players to the club with them not being in the Champions League this season, and having to pay over the odds to do so. Either way it is a worrying prospect for United fans.
Although they have acquired an immensely experienced manager in van Gaal, the future still looks pretty bleak for United. With them not featuring in the Champions League or Europa League this year, and also being out of the League Cup already, it is unlikely that van Gaal will win any silverware in his first year in charge, unless they triumph in the FA Cup. Winning the Premier League title is also pretty much ruled out, as Chelsea and City look far too strong for other opposition. Even achieving a top four finish, which is expected of van Gaal, seems to be a difficult task. This is because Chelsea, City, Liverpool and Arsenal all appear to have better and more in-depth squads than United currently have. Another season of failure would surely result in fans growing even more frustrated, but this time around van Gaal needs to be given time for his philosophy to rub off on the players, and for them to adapt to the 3-5-2 formation before they can revert back to winning trophies like they used to.
A club that was once feared by teams all over Europe, United have now become a laughing stock that most teams would now fancy their chances against. It is sad to see one of the most popular clubs in the world that is synonymous with success fade into darkness, paving the way for the richer clubs to triumph in its place.