A Little Bit of History…
Manchester United might be the most successful club in English football history, but there’s been more than a few sleepless nights recently at the Theatre of Dreams.
Through the 1990’s and 2000’s, Manchester United was the dominant force in English football. Season after season, they would sweep aside everyone in front of them. While they would occasionally take a stiff uppercut from a title challenger (Arsenal, Chelsea), they essentially ruled supreme under the 26-year management of Sir Alex Ferguson. The played a dynamic, often cut-and- thrust brand of football.
They had a perfectly tuned squad across the entire pitch; a commanding goalkeeper, a rock solid defence, creative midfielders, speedy wingers with pinpoint crossing and lethal strikers. They were the total package. United often pulled victory from the jaws of defeat (witness the 1999 UEFA Champions League final), never knowing when they were beaten.
But it’s a different story today as a cloud of uncertainty hangs ominously over the club. Former player Ole Gunnar Solskjær (below) is in the dugout, the fourth full-time manager in the eight years since Ferguson’s retirement, and while a second-place finish in 2020/21 looks impressive on paper, a growing storm of dissent is beginning to swirl. Many fans are deeply unhappy with the direction the club is taking. Witness Joel Glazers attendance at a recent fans’ forum meeting, where one long-time supporter told the co-chairman directly that the club has ‘become a laughing stock’.
There are questions about the clubs’ transfer policy and their playing style. Once lethal, United are often lethargic. Is Solskjær the right man for the job? Is he on the same level as Guardiola, Klopp and Tuchel?
The Season Ahead…
2021/22 will be a pivotal season for Manchester United. They have been overtaken behind by Manchester City, Liverpool and Chelsea, and are facing stiff challenges from ambitious clubs, such as West Ham United, Aston Villa and Leicester City. For Solskjær too, this is such an important season. Like Arteta at Arsenal, there needs to be significant signs of progress on the pitch. He begins his third season as the full time manager, so the honeymoon period is well and truly over. This is his team now, and, in the fans eyes, he’ll quickly need to start justifying the three year contract he signed in July that will keep him at the club until at least 2024.
They’ve made a great start with the $101 million signing of Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund. The 21-year-old has all of the tools and the talent to become one the the worlds great players. He fits the classic United player blueprint; lightning fast, dazzling dribbling skills, quick passing and great finishing ability. The transfer fee may actually turn out to be a bargain. At the time of writing, defender Raphaël Varane was also set to sign from Real Madrid, but nothing has been confirmed yet.
Club captain Harry Maguire and Luke Shaw are strong parts of the defence, while Bruno Fernandes (below) has been a wonderful addition to the squad since arriving from Sporting CP in January 2020. Both Daniel James and Scott McTominay continue to develop as potential stars of the future, while Marcus Rashford and Mason Greenwood could make for a dynamic pairing in front of goal.
But there are concerns within the United squad, and most seem to revolve around Paul Pogba. The France international is always linked with a move away from Old Trafford, and his form has been highly disappointing since his return to the club in 2016. He has never achieved the heights that his talent promised – we see it with the France national team, but not with Manchester United. Going into the 2021/22 season, rumours are circling again that he wants to leave, with PSG being an often named destination. There are a few United fans who have grown tired of the drama surrounding the player, and would be happy to see him move on.
Location Trafford, Greater Manchester
Stadium Old Trafford (74,140 capacity)
20/21 Final League Position 2nd
Opening Game of 21/22 Season home to Leeds United
21/22 Predicted final League Position 5th
There’s no doubt that Manchester United will find their way back to being Premier League title challengers, but this isn’t the season. Doubts over the whether they have the right man in charge, the will he/won’t he Paul Pogba show and a raft of teams that are gunning for the top spots, means that United will find themselves fighting for the top four. It’s a fight they will probably lose.