Such is the dominance of Pep Guardiola’s City team that for the first time in ages, the league title was effectively sewn up before Christmas. For all the stick and schtick thrown in the direction of Jose Mourinho and Manchester United this season, they couldn’t have been expected to drop less than four points in 22 games so as to be sat above City in the league. Indeed, it remains a mitigating factor that United are currently best of the rest. And whilst that still represents progress from last season, the distance between United and City, well into double figures, remains the stone that can be thrown at Jose Mourinho.
In keeping with the script of Jose Mourinho and his flammable ego, the media has been rife with stories of trouble in the paradise that is supposed to be the Manchester United’s Boardroom. The trigger was the manager’s cry for more financial backing from the Board to the tune that State owned Manchester City enjoy. It was a cry that attracted little sympathy from all and sundry not least because United remain one of the biggest spenders in the market. Indeed, if we excuse United’s results against the top six, the argument can be made that United’s somewhat punctured season is largely because of points dropped against sides whom United easily outspend every year…. the likes of Huddersfield Town, Stoke City, Leicester City, Southampton, Burnley and grand old Bristol City who accounted for their elimination from the League Cup.
That though, is but a symptom. In the wake of Sir Alex’s retirement, United’s diagnosis includes a transfer strategy that is outsourced to a couple of powerful agents looking to earn themselves a decent cut. It’s a strategy borne of initial failures from the scatter-gun approach employed by Executive Vice-Chair Ed Woodward during the tenure of David Moyes. Having failed to keep a manager for more than two seasons, the current agent-laden strategy leaves the club vulnerable to a distinct lack of foresight in regard to player recruitment.
It is the sort of thing a Director of Football is supposed to take care of and yet United have elected to stay true their age old model of allowing their manager absolute freedom and control over his human resource. This model remains attractive to the club because of its success during the years when they never had to worry about who the manager was. Now that managerial certainty is no longer resident at the club, United’s recruitment suddenly looks all over the place. The medium term or long term vision appears blurred by insecurity of managerial tenure.
The understanding from quarters close to the club is that a Sporting Director is going to be employed by the club in the near future but crucially, that transfer activity will solely remain the responsibility of the manager. It remains to be seen whether this move shall aid the club inoculate that facet of United’s current flaws.
And yet, fans ought to take a step back and look at the season as a whole before slumping into a feeling of despair about events in December. Domestically, United have second place in the league to fight for as well as the FA Cup to come. In Europe, a last 16 tie against Sevilla in the Champions League is not beyond United’s means to progress to the last eight for the first time since 2013/14. United are not going to win the league this year, but we’ll slump into despair when the fat lady is done with her thing. There’s little benefit doing so now.