Behind the Struggle: Manchester United
This article aims to take a closer look behind Manchester United’s struggle to make an impact in the Premier League this season despite spending large sums of money in the recent summer transfer window, and despite making managerial changes inside the club.
Summer of 2021
After arriving second in last year’s season in the English Premier League, it was obvious to the club’s board that big spending in the summer was needed to try to win the world’s most prestigious league in the next season. This resulted in the following three major signings: Jadon Sancho from Borussia Dortmund, Raphael Varane from Real Madrid, and, least but not last, Cristiano Ronaldo from Juventus Torino. Players with such high profiles rarely come without a great price tag along with their name. The transfer of Jadon Sancho cost 85M Euros, Raphael Varane’s came for 40M Euros, and Cristiano Ronaldo arrived for an initial 15M Euros (plus bonuses). That is around 140M Euros being spent for only 3 players.
It is fair to say that none of these signings fulfilled their extreme expectations. Maybe the player struggling to find his form the most is Sancho, who scored an exact number of 2 times in 23 appearances since arriving from Germany, without making any assists so far for his new club. Varane showed a bit of what he is capable of already but could not reach more than 14 appearances due to constant injury problems. Along with playing too few times, he has not found his favorite partner in the centre-back position, with having already partnered up with all the other defenders, like Eric Bailly, Phil Jones, Harry Maguire, and Victor Lindelof. A clear favorite to this partnership has yet to be found.
Although Cristiano Ronaldo’s tally does not look too disastrous (14 goals and 3 assists in 22 games), his arrival somehow managed to negatively impact the dressing room’s morale so far. Apparently, not everybody is happy about such a leading figure arriving to a team that is trying to find its identity on and off the pitch. Reports have claimed that at the end of November 2021, Ronaldo invited all his teammates to a gathering at his house, but only several players made an appearance. Since then, the team has been divided into cliques: a Portuguese/Brazilian, an English and a Spanish group have been created, which has split the team’s spirit even more.
High Market Value, Low Performance
According to Transfermarkt, Manchester United is currently the 4th most valuable football club in the world with having an accumulated 869,25M Euro market value. It is hard to believe this statistic when we take a look at the present Premier League table, where the Red Devils currently sit in seventh place. Teams like West Ham, Tottenham Hotspur, and Arsenal have all surpassed United on the table not because they have better players at hand, but because all these clubs have a team building philosophy, and somewhat function well on the football pitch as a team. Manchester United currently lacks these qualities. So far, the Reds scored only 32 goals, and have given up 29, making a positive goal difference of just 3 goals.
Behind all these statistics, there is one that stands out the most: Manchester United has the highest payroll amongst all the Premier League clubs, exceeding a total 270M Euros in wages per annum. This huge payroll makes it into the top 5 of any sports club worldwide. So, the real question is: Why does a team with such an enormous wage bill struggle to perform on the highest level?
Managerial Changes and Inconsistency
After spending 3 years as head coach, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had been released from his duties at the end of November 2021. His successor, Ralf Rangnick, has a very challenging task now to manage an unmotivated and a very divided team to some silverware until the end of the season. He is altogether an experienced coach, but he has never managed a club of Manchester United’s caliber ever before. Getting his ideas and playing styles through a team filled with superstars is something he did not have to deal with yet. Some reports say the players had trouble understanding and implementing Rangnick’s new and unusual system of 4-2-2-2. The only problem is, the implementing phase only goes until the end of June, since Ralf will leave the head coach position by then.
Apart from the head coach position, Ed Woodward will step down as CEO to make way for Richard Arnold, who will overtake the position from the 1st of February, causing even more instability at the club. To make it even more difficult, the United players and fans do not know who the next head coach will be, since there is only a very limited number of available top managers at the moment. It looks like spending a lot of money on new transfers and on players’ wages does not equal success. Perhaps we as fans must be patient and trust the process of rebuilding the club. Real success and silverware are yet to arrive to Old Trafford once again after the glorious Sir Alex Ferguson period.
Losing against Wolverhampton and playing a 2-2 draw against Aston Villa (while leading the game 2-0 for most part of the match) just was not a proper start to the new year in the Premier League. Even though Ronaldo was absent during these games, the depth of the squad should have managed to perform better. The vision for an exciting attacking football were nowhere to be found, just like under the management of Solskjaer. But we cannot be too harsh to the new coach, as he did not have enough time to prove his worth. The two most recent Premier League fixtures last show some hope for a promising future, when the Red Devils won 3-1 against Brentford on January 19th and 1-0 against West Ham on January 22nd. Rangnick will have a chance to gain important points with his team in the next fixtures against Burnley, Southampton, and Leeds United, before appearing in the Champions League against Atlético Madrid.