All things considered, it’s been quite a month. The remarkable upturn in form since Solskjaer took the wheel reached an almost otherworldly level on that incredible night in Paris. A fortnight later and the giddy thrill of victory still hasn’t fully subsided. It doesn’t matter if we lose the next round 10 nil on aggregate, the fact we unexpectedly made it through to the quarter finals will remain the overriding memory of this season and a fabled moment in the club’s entire history.
Only time will tell if the likes of Tahith Chong and Mason Greenwood will play major roles in attempts to return United to the game’s pinnacle in future years, but they will always have that night to look back on whatever happens. Whether they retire as MUFC legends or as mere footnotes with half a dozen appearances each, what an amazing experience for them to have been a part of so early in their careers. Titles and medals are one thing, but those rarefied moments of pure, unadulterated glory that football can deliver are far more precious. Memories, innit? Absolutely priceless.
With all this overachievement and cavorting going on, it’s not surprising that performance levels took a bit of a nosedive post-Paris and we came away from Arsenal and Wolverhampton empty-handed. The players rightly deserved all the plaudits coming their way after a stellar couple of months during which they managed to salvage a season that was looking like a complete write-off, but let’s keep things in perspective here. This whole period since Christmas has been enormously good fun but Solskjaer isn’t actually a real-life, miracle worker.
This is still the same squad containing several players who stunk the place out completely between August and December. Yes, we all know that relations between key dressing room figures and the previous manager had gone toxic, but as convenient as it might be to lay all the blame squarely at Mourinho’s feet, that isn’t a particularly accurate reflection of what was going on and nor does it tell the full story.
Numerous players were culpable of consistently failing to perform for the previous managerial regime(s), so it figures that they are still likely to post a sudden, unexplained leave of absence now. It’s not all doom and gloom, far from it. It’s just a reminder that we’re still dealing with a couple of larger than life, hugely-revered ‘personalities’ who are eminently capable of going completely awol and failing to reach the most basic level of performance when pitted against bang-average, journeyman opposition.
To put it another way: most of the complaints aired over the last 2-3 years about the make-up of the squad and the need for further upgrades are still completely valid. 3 months of improvement and a renewed sense of optimism about the place doesn’t solve all the problems that need to be addressed. On face value, a pair of full-backs, a central defender and a wide player are what’s required at the very minimum. You could add a deep-lying midfielder and a world class striker to that list if you were going all-out and trying to fix everything at once.
Obviously, any spending spree is fraught with difficulty and doesn’t guarantee much at all. A player like McTominay has grown immeasurably in recent weeks, revealing himself as a genuine contender despite barely anyone rating him as any kind of prospect previously. If he gets a run in the side and continues to progress rapidly it could negate the need for a big money acquisition. That’s just another ‘if’, however. United aren’t in the business of ‘ifs’ and this era of football demands instant results. Solskjaer, regardless of the incredible start he’s enjoyed, won’t be granted the luxury of 12-18 months treading water. Short-termism rules so the current upwards trajectory simply has to continue.
Half the problem comes from the online fanbase United are so desperate to keep entertained. It’s mad to think that the club only opened a twitter account as recently as 2013 given their breathless enthusiasm for pumping out relentlessly banal video-clips and boasting about ‘engagement’ numbers. The Sanchez signing was a classic example of trying to make a huge statement regardless of the player’s suitability. I guess it’s easy to criticise in hindsight but was there ever any kind of plan in place to try and integrate him into the team and play to his strengths? We’ve certainly never seen any evidence of one.
Only a few years ago, United’s transfer policy wasn’t influenced by attempts to generate memes and create a splash on social-media; everything was focused on making improvements to the team. I know that post-Ronaldo we were often frustrated by the parsimonious budget in place and Fergie’s risible attempts to seek ‘value in the market’. On the whole however, this mindful approach paid far better dividends than the scatterbrained recruitment strategy we’ve witnessed in the years since his retirement.
Given there’s evidence to suggest Ole favours a more level-headed style of management than either Van Gaal or Mourinho, it would be nice to see a more focused, coherent approach to squad-building and recruitment from now on. The twitter hoards might crave blockbuster signings and massage Woodward’s ego whenever he manages to land a big fish, but this calibre of player hasn’t done us any favours in recent times. Falcao, Di Maria, Sanchez, Pogba and Lukaku arguably… I’m struggling to see how any of these have had an entirely positive effect on the team’s progression.
Football remains a very simple game that has been over-analysed and needlessly complicated over the last decade. If the last couple of months have shown us anything, it’s that Manchester United are in a far better position doing what Manchester United have always done. Keep it simple, play attacking football and always trust in youth. If we stick to the path laid out by Sir Matt Busby and followed by Sir Alex Ferguson, history shows us everything should work out just fine.
Copyright Red News – March 2019