Something is wrong at Manchester United

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Something is wrong at Manchester United. That may be the most obvious statement ever made on this blog but it is true. Something is wrong at Manchester United and I don’t just mean on the pitch or even in the boardroom but everywhere.

Is it possible that Sir Alex Ferguson, in addition to the incredible feats that he achieved on the pitch, was doing something even more impressive across the club as a whole?

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We are all aware that the commercial side of football has changed markedly since the inception of the Premier League. We only have to see the crazed reaction of fans across the world when United land at their airports and the clamour to own the latest shirts with their favourite player’s name across the back. This is the realm of marketing and in many respects those fans don’t really care about how and what United achieve on the pitch away at Stoke. They care more about wearing the latest shirt and feeling that they belong to something exciting, particularly if it contrasts with their own cultural base. They have fallen in love with the club, perhaps not with the team.

When the Glazers appeared on the scene we all jumped up and down predicting doom and gloom but instead the team continued to achieve greatness under Sir Alex on the pitch. Admittedly in the background the club itself was put at significant risk through the debt liabilities that were hung around its neck but on the pitch the magic continued to shine through. Enough has been written about the impact of the Glazers on United and I do not intend to go into it again. The best thing that we can say about them is that they appear to have little interest in the affairs of the team, unlike Abramovich at Chelsea who has stuck his oar in over and over again to the detriment of the club and the team.

The Glazers at Old Trafford, home of Manchester United

If I am to give them credit for anything, the Glazers have shown impressive leadership by entrusting the affairs of the club and more importantly the team to professionals with much greater ability and experience than they themselves possess. They did not do what Vincent Tan, Mike Ashley and Roman Abramovich have done… purchase a club to use as their own plaything. They purchased a club to make money, recognising the potential of the commercial side of football, and they hired professionals to drive this forward.

Under Sir Alex, the team itself were largely insulated from the commercial side of the business; perhaps through a strong working relationship with David Gill. As soon as both of them left and David Moyes was appointed we started to see decisions that made a lot of commercial sense but little footballing sense creeping into Manchester United.

Rooney-Captain

The first was the retention of Wayne Rooney following his bust-up with Sir Alex. From a footballing perspective Wayne was not and had not been performing on the pitch. He was alleged to be drinking, smoking and eating unhealthily in the close season. On the pitch he bustled and thugged his way around conning many people, including some well-respected journalists, to conclude that he was somehow the only thing holding United together. From a commercial perspective, his stature on the world stage meant that it made sense to keep him at the club.

Then came the absolute disaster in the transfer market. United went from conducting deals quietly and with dignity to washing all their linen in public and openly leaking targets to the press. That would be fine if they then managed to secure those targets but this was followed by a series of embarrassingly clumsy attempts at getting those players. The highlight of which was the infamous “three unidentified men” farce at Athletic Bilbao on the final day of the transfer window. The signing of Fellaini at the 11th hour was nothing more than a desperation move by Moyes to show that he was dealing with the dearth of quality in midfield.

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Fast-forward to the sacking of Moyes and the appointment of Louis van Gaal and we can still see the leaching of commercial interests into the affairs of the team. Within days of being appointed, LvG was recorded complaining about the commercial demands of the club on the team. I’m not going to recount every single instance of what I believe is a lack of isolation of the team from the club’s commercial affairs but think about the signings that we made: Herrera, Shaw, Di Maria, Rojo, Blind and Falcao. Two of these are “nice to have” but did not directly fix the biggest problems at the club; one of which was created by the loss of Vidic, Ferdinand and Evra all in one go. It’s always nice to have big name players at the club and just think how many shirts the names Falcao and Di Maria allow us to sell. How much more does it allow us to charge TV companies in the middle east for the rights to broadcast our midweek friendlies? I would have preferred us to have fought City to the signature of Mangala but then no-one wants a shirt with Mangala on the back.

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As fans we are easily appeased by someone waving a shiny new signing in front of us whilst being directed away from the functional difficulties of accommodating them into the team. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about us signing Di Maria as I think that we needed something new on the wing but he absolutely doesn’t fit into the wingback system that LvG had spent all summer drilling into the players. Yes I know he has played in other positions but how many attacking midfielders do we actually need? These decisions are not “bad” but they are absolutely incongruent with what the team needs in order to be maximally successful on the pitch.

Then came the final turd on top of the mound of growing incongruence: the anointing of Rooney as undroppable captain. In my opinion, not only is Rooney not in our top two strikers at the club he is not in the top three number tens either. So how is he on the pitch every week running around demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the qualities required for leadership whilst simultaneously weakening the team? Was he anointed by LvG or by the marketing department because they like the image of his snarling pugface wearing the captain’s armband? There are not a lot of leaders on that pitch but if RvP is good enough to lead Holland to a third place in the World Cup then he is good enough to lead by example for United vying for 4th place in the Premier League.

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As long as the club continue to allow the commercial interests to poison the interests of the team on the pitch then I think we will see United struggle to reconcile the conflicting demands of each side and ultimately fail on both counts in the longterm.

We have a lot to thank Sir Alex Ferguson for. He may not have been a tactical mastermind and at times his stubbornness impacted upon the team but he protected them from the growing commercial monster rushing into the market created by the Premier League for so many years. I can only hope that van Gaal is willing and able to win that fight for us in the future. If he is not then I suspect that he will become frustrated under which circumstances we shouldn’t expect the team to perform to their best potential.

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29 Comments

  1. Can you do us a favour and go watch “Arsenal 2-4 Manchester United (Invincibles striped in their own backyard)” on youtube. Rooney was outstanding in that game, he’s the only real link to the days of greatness left in the squad. He should be captain, he should be undroppable. He’s a legend. Everyone should get off his case and respect him for the great player he is. Since Ronaldo left it seems the clubs transfer dealings have been directed by a bunch of drunken monkeys, something definitely is wrong. Money.

  2. I can’t believe what I’m reading. I disagree wif every part of this article. I’m really disappointed. I think we should ve bought a defender too bt every signing we made has been key to where we are now due to these numerous injuries n suspension. About Rooney I won’t even go there, what u wrote is absurd.

  3. Well I think this article is a nice piece but lacking merit and giving credit to where it is due. Even though we Manchester faithful’s allow for dissenting views does not mean that we should write anything that comes to mind. United for ever. MAN UNITED ABAA N3k3

  4. Totally agree with regards to Wayne Rooney.
    Yes he has been a big player for us in the past, but the moments of brilliance are getting fewer and farther apart. He is far from the player he was 4 of 5 years ago. We’re is the player who tore Arsenal apart as Rupert said, or the player who scored that ripper against Newcastle all those years ago???
    And as for his appointment as captain, it’s a joke.
    Rupert, you need to watch the last 2 games he played, v Leicester & West Ham. No leadership at all. His panicked clearance which lead to Cambiasso’s goal shows that he has no awareness in a defensive position and his kick-out at Downing is just petulance. If Downing had been baring down on DeGea or if our defenders were outnumbered you could say he took one for the team, but this wasn’t the case at all, we actually had a 4 on 2 advantage.
    My biggest fear is that he has a decent season as captain and holds the club to ransom again. He won’t like Falcao or DiMaria earning more than him.

  5. Signings wise, I agree we needed a top centre-half in the summer and Mangala or Benatia would’ve been great but both wanted Champions League football. And there aren’t that many CB’s that would’ve made a huge difference. The perfect signing would be Hummels and I would spend £50 million on him, but again our lack of Champions League football made his signing almost impossible.

  6. Top stuff. It’s an excellent article, a really interesting analysis. Seeing some other posters’ comments I wonder if they have actually read it and, more to the point, understood it.

  7. Rooney is one of our best players. As you say its your opinion, not a fact, so there’s why he still plays. LvG is a no nonsense coach and he saw Rooney fit to play as a striker and behind the strikers. If he’d been rubbish he would have shipped him of before the deadline. He’s a team player who scores great goals and racks up tons of assists every year. Save for the last year under fergie in which he played out of position a lot of games, he’s been one of the most consistent good players in the league.

  8. Unfortunately the other posters basically made the author’s point on Rooney. Clearly none of the respondents know a damn thing about football, because if they did they’d know exactly why Rooney is such an anchor round the team’s neck, and has been for years.

    Nothing was more on the nail than the point in the article about how ludicrous it is that Rooney should have been made captain, not only because he’s utterly bereft of any leadership skills (ranting and raving like an ill-tempered brat doesn’t cut it – nor was his cause helped by the deplorable incident that got him sent off!) but because he really doesn’t merit a position in the starting 11, and the fact that LVG has given him the arm band and basically stated that Rooney is a permanent fixture in the side will prove to be the kiss of death to any serious ambitions the team may have this season. It took Fergie years to realize how limited Rooney really is, at which point he basically benched him and brought in a true goal scorer, RVP, who proceeded to have a stellar first season with Rooney out of harm’s way. Moyes didn’t heed the lesson, brought Rooney back, and both RVP and United suffered for the decision. Against common sense LVG has done the same, but as the author pointed out, commercial considerations may have been behind it. One can only hope someone does the team a favour and break his foot again to put him out for the season – United will be the better for it.

  9. Crazy article………..I’ll defence is great, we don’t need a “mangala” or anyone else, have u even seen rojo play in CB, he’s gr8! Jones and smalling and wonderful players, no doubt, blackett is a gr8 lad, mcnair is fantastic, (pocketing lukaku), if we had bought a defender! Den nobody would have heard or blackett or any academy graduate, and den we’ll all complain about english cluns not grooming young talents, LEAVE OUR DEFENCE ALONE, ITS FINE!!! No need 2 talk about our midfield and striker, if manutd wanted 2 sell shirts den we would av bought vidal or kroos instead of blind, so stop ur nonsence, d glazers av tried, so leave dem out of dis, ROONEY IS A GREAT CAPTAIN, RVP IS OLD AND CAN’T EVEN HOLD DA BALL, MATA SWITCHED OF AGAINST EVERTON APART FROM THE “ASSIST” (which was a normal sensible pass)…..4rm my own point of view, manutd is OKAY THIS WAY, SO STOP CRITISING AND START SUPPORTING!!!!

  10. As a lifelong United supporter from abroad, I find your comments about foreign fans condescending and annoying. Plenty of supporters love United more than they love anything else in their lives despite never having been to Old Trafford in their life or even having been to England, and the supposition that only people from Manchester truly care about United is the sort of narrow minded dross that should be beneath you as a journalist.

    Now I’m an avid reader of the site, and a keen listener of the podcast and this is possibly one of the worst articles I’ve read here, and shocking that it is happening on the day that we have just secured an important win and witnessed a performance that further vindicates the sense of progress in our squad and in our performances. Sure, you make some good points that the level of commercialism around the club is a alarming, but your inability to recognise the changes that are happening at the club as positive beggars belief. Let’s look at the facts shall we?

    1. Regardless of what went on before LvG’s reign, results have improved this season. that’s 10 points out of 12, 3 home wins in a row, 4th place for the first time in over a year.
    2. Performances have been positive, both in how electric we look going forward and how we have coped defensively despite all the setback – injuries and suspensions. Leicester game, and maybe the Swansea one aside, United have put it good defensive shifts and have not conceded more than once in a league game.
    3. Granted we all wanted to see a world class defender bought, but the manager had his reasons. Maybe he believes in the players we have, maybe he has a specific target he wants in the next transfer window or two, we don’t know. In any event, we did buy 2 defenders – the best young left back in the game, and an accomplished international centre back. We’ve also seen 3 academy defenders make debuts and do well for the club.
    4. Speaking of signings, the 6 you’ve derided include the two defenders I’ve mentioned, a solid skilful utility player, a proper ball playing Scholes-esque central midfielder (we’ve all been begging for one), a skilled world class playmaker who is one of the world’s top 5 players, and one of the world best striker who has 2 assists and a goal for us in 3 games. That’s a new player, a new top level player in every major area of the field!
    6. As for Rooney, if we can accept that United need time to learn the new system and bed in the new players, and that LvG needs time to get his ides across, doesn’t Wayne deserve to be allowed time to grow into the captaincy role? What’s he done wrong so far as captain that Roy, Nemanja or Eric didn’t do? And for all the criticism anyone can have of him, his form has actually quite good this year.

    So is United perfect? Not at all, there’s work to be done, there are players to come back and one or two can possibly raise their game a bit. And sure, not everything happening administratively is of the integrity we expect, but, for the first time since May 2013, there is actually something to be excited about at United. We haven’t seen that kind of quality on the pitch representing United in ages.

    Sure, not everything is rosy at the club, but your gloomy article and it’s flimsy reasons are a massive buzzkill at a time when the we are noticing so much improvement and resolve from the team – and getting good results! Focus on celebrating that, for goodness sake.

  11. Okay okay, so Rooney is no good? he didn’t play against Everton, tell me, did his replacement. Mata, do a better job .. . . ?
    I think Rooney is a very good number 10 and SURELY if your logic of RVP being good enough to lead his national side makes him suitable to be Man U captain, should you use the same logic of Rooney captaining his national side. You know, that one . . . . . . ENGLAND?

  12. Bitter and pathetic article. Selectively choosing all the negative perspectives regarding the club. I’m wondering whether this shit is written by an ABU in a fan’s disguise.The only point I agree with is Rooney being made the captain. Seriously this blog wants to post an article that is an insult to millions of fans worldwide,I mean who the fuck are you to assume that fans across the world wont bother about a game at stoke. Just to let you tiny shitty brain understand, we stay awake at the most weird tines of the day just to watch those 90 minutes. By the way most of us love the badge not the name on th back

  13. Rooney captain is jst logic…nithing more..highest paid at the club,scored the most goals at the club,longest serving at the club,most capped at the club,n possibly won most medals n trophies at the club…so to look past all that n give it to some one else would just be unfair…period.

  14. I cannot believe what I’m reading! You are abviusly not a realistic football fan but a blind short visioned club fan! I agree with everyone that LVG signed, has make the team better and he has adjusted his system to suit! Rooney is the perfect example of a player that was a has been! He should be sold for the better of the club!

  15. I keep hearing how we should have concentrated on buying defenders instead of forwards, but fail to realise that the whole team was poor (Ashley Young). Of course United needed defenders as a priority, but when the best on offer is Arsenals fourth choice centre half you know the pickings are slim.

    It’s almost certain that United pushed to bring in a center half without success, but what you certainly cannot do is miss out on bringing in quality in other areas when the opportunity presents itself and the need is there.

    Were we supposed to wait until we buy a decent defender, before strengthening the dire attack (Ashley Young).

    We would have still missed out on Mangala and Benatia for the same reasons and would have had to rely on our mundane and pedestrian forward line (Ashley Young).

    And if you want to know why we needed to strengthen our attack watch virtually any United game since Ronaldo left. Too many times have I been to matches where mediocre teams have bossed our midfield, only for Fergie to pull a rabbit out of the hat to paper over the cracks.

    The fact that we no longer hear the names Cleverly, Anderson, Nani and Young sully the the hallowed turf at OT is worth the fees alone.

    As for the captaincy- Yes RVP did lead Holland to third in the world, but he also went missing for most if last season with a self diagnosed “injury” when we needed him most. Despite the obvious problems the club has had with Rooney (and I have to admit that I did jeer him at OT following his last bust up with Fergie). I have never see him put in less 100% effort. So while his ability may be debatable if not unjustified, his committment on the pitch is not, which was more than could be said for most of the team last season apart from a handful of other players (De Gea, Evra). That alone puts him ahead of every other player at the club for the captaincy.

  16. Rooney has a ton of ability but actually rarely ever shows it. What does he do in games? Gets the ball, turns around and plays a long diagonal ball to the wing. It’s no wonder that when Rooney plays, the players in front of him rarely see the ball. Top players are consistent. Add to that his age, where he should be in his prime, players are usually consistent and you can see how detrimental of a player he has become. Although Mata didn’t have a great game yesterday, RVP and Falcao both had more touches on the ball in good areas because of him.
    As for Rooney getting assist, like someone mentioned, if you take pretty much every corner and free kick you’re going to get assist. Charlie Adam gets bucket loads of assists and goals because he is very good at set pieces. So Rooney is essentially our very own Charlie Adam.

  17. The artical is a fair assesment of United.The brandname is bigger than the football quality.Fergie did give it something and he had names like Ronaldo and co. ,not really football quality at the end but still knew most of the time how to win it in a British way.David Moyes was more of a PR man for United,than a good tactition.Rooney probably is,nt a good choice as captain but the manager is giving him a go..It,s true there is a huge expectation at the club.The rather odd dutchman is slowly getting more flexible as he is learning the premier leages toughness.Maybe he is slowly making a change for the good even though mistakes have been made in buying players, he likes youth and he is a team player,probably more than Fergie ever was.Think he might just make it, if allowed to get the huge aura off of his shoulders but it can go either way.

  18. First of, Mangala is error prone, he still makes lot of mistakes and for 32 million pounds I would rather have Hummels. Signing of centre backs would have not let McNair and Blackett to come through the academy, which would have been a travesty. Rooney is top notch player. His aggression is very useful and is a better captain than RVP for me. I don’t think the commerical interests have nothing to do with lack of availability of a top notch centre back in the market. I’m happy with Blackett and McNair playing than Garay or Mangala.

  19. Fuck you really.. To tell u sumthng which u dnt knw.. I haven’t missed a match since like last 7 years come what may! I am an Indian,… To watch these matches at those absurd timings are simply what u can’t imagine…. The second thing u got wrong is d name on d back.. Dude we all celebrate like crazy evn if Anderson scores … So period! Wayne Rooney… Let’s take ur perspective into play here.. Let’s suppose Rooney was given d armband by d marketing team.. But then sum1 please explain me why the fuck was he handed England’s captaincy?!???!! Are u fucking kidding me ???!! Dude apart frm de gea he was our best player last season n evn aftr missing almost half d season he was in top 5 assists and scored some 15 odd goals (idk d exact figure)… RvP was uninterested.. Why?? Coz moyes had dis philosophy of putting Rooney first?? Then he shud hv scored and made his point no sit like a scum.. He shud hv scored… And it’s very very ironic that u want to gv captaincy to a guy who has been 2 years at d club only.. Agreed Mata’s touches are delightful but Rooney.. U just can’t compare him.. Ill tell u tons of incidences involving keano ,vidic n cantona losing their temper n making foolish mistakes.. But no if Rooney does it he’s wrong.. Ok then fuck u! Coz it was a mistake he committed and he agreed to it!! Mistakes happen.. And it’s unfortunate that it hapnd when he was trying to prove his worth(not that he’s doing that spectacularly since past 10 years),… U guys hating him are nothing but a bunch of sadists!!

  20. Who is the only United player in living memory to refuse on several occasions at the beginning of last season to celebrate a goal with his team-mates because he was sulking?

    300K a week and he was sulking. Unbelievable lack of club loyalty and respect for team mates and fans

    .Great captaincy and leadership potential. Yeah right!

  21. dis article is wack nd so uncalled for…can U̶̲̥̅̊ all let rooney be already!!!!!!??…he’z a fantastic player nd always been

  22. A fair assessment on what has been happening. Even though I don’t agree with everything written, I do feel United has become to commercialized and has begun a fracture that splits it from it’s roots and community all for the riches of creating a global brand. Rooney is for me an overweight, overrated disgrace and naming him captain was a mistake. RVP however, is too old, too slow and too injury prone to be a reliable captain also. The lack of a true candidate for captain speaks volumes over what is ailing United. No leadership on or off the field. That is why I pray everyday that Mats Hummels changes his mind and decides to come to United eventually. That is a great player, a great leader and my idea of what a real captain looks like.

    Give LVG time. He has done well ridding the club of all the cancerous underachievers who had dragged this club down to mediocrity. Time and a few more good defensive signings and this article will seem like total BS. But for now I’m afraid that much of it rings true. And too most die hard United supporters, the truth hurts and denial is a river that runs through Egypt. United is no longer just a club for the red supporters of Manchester. It is a worldwide entity that has global support and therefore it must appease all these supporters. Football after all, is a money making venture and United is no different to the other big names in world football trying to get a dollar from anywhere they can.

  23. Thanks to all of you for your comments on this piece; particularly those who managed it without resorting to abuse.

    Firstly I would like to apologise to any overseas fans whom I offended. I wasn’t suggesting that you’re not real fans at all and I completely respect you for getting up at crazy times to support your team. It was simply a poor choice of words on my part and for that I apologise.

    I should also say that I’m as excited as anyone about our attacking options these days. I was simply trying to point out the incongruence of some of the decisions from a footballing perspective and the resulting imbalance within the team.

    I’m not going to respond to every post made on here but if anyone wants to talk to me then feel free to come find me on Twitter at @doctoradamj

  24. First I must thank the writer for a job well done.. “writer” u’ve done well; but Mr. writer next time u discern united qualities properly before publishing ur article.. for Rooney, he merit the captain to the core..

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