It is hard to believe it was only seven months ago that Manchester United completed a miraculous 3-1 comeback against heavily favored Paris Saint-Germain to advance to the quarterfinals of the Champions League. Since then, Manchester United has gotten worse at every turn and is now a far cry from its standing less than a year ago.
Following the dramatic comeback, interim manager Ole Gunnar Solskjær was awarded the full-time position, as he seemingly rejuvenated a Manchester United squad that looked thoroughly unmotivated under previous manager José Mourinho. All of the issues with management paying the wrong players, as Mourinho had complained about in the weeks leading up to his dismissal, seemed vastly overblown, and critics were letting the controversial manager hear about it. Seven months later, it seems that Mourinho has been vindicated.
Manchester United was thrashed 4-0 by Barcelona in the next round of the Champions League and has played woefully in the Premier League ever since Solskjær’s interim tag was removed. Manchester United sits in 12th place, with only nine points through their first eight matches, despite spending significant transfer fees to bolster their defense with Harry Maguire from Leicester City and Aaron Wan-Bissaka from Crystal Palace.
The acquisitions were intended to not only bolster Manchester United’s chances of success but to also weaken some of their competition within the English Premier League in the same transactions. United has spent similarly to rivals Liverpool and Manchester City, yet has not had nearly the same success as their two rivals.
The main reason for this is a lack of a coherent transfer structure, resulting in them consistently acquiring players who do not fit the system or playing style which their manager tries to implement. In recent years, Manchester United has proven this by spending massive sums of money to bring in forwards Anthony Martial, Alexis Sánchez and Romelu Lukaku. The latter two did not last more than two seasons at the club, while Martial has been a fringe starter for his time in Manchester. Martial was a last-minute deadline day signing seemingly made more to appease the fans than to fill a significant need. Lukaku was signed after negotiations stalled with their main target at the time, Álvaro Morata, who went to Chelsea instead.
Meanwhile, Sánchez was all set to be a Manchester City player, until United hijacked the deal by offering to make him the highest paid player in England by offering Sánchez wages he no longer deserved following a clear decrease in production after moving from Arsenal to United. In contrast, clubs like Liverpool and Manchester City have generally completed their business far earlier in the summer, gotten the players they wanted and, in the cases when they could not, waited until January to get their player, as Liverpool did with Virgil Van Dijk, as opposed to trying to appease fans by signing a last-minute alternative.
During his time as manager, Mourinho constantly complained that management was not properly supporting him in the transfer market and was heavily criticized for doing so. Critics cited the money that Manchester United spent as well as the short-term success of his replacement, Solskjær, as proof that Mourinho was wrong.
With each passing match, however, Mourinho seems vindicated. The issues at Manchester United extended beyond the club’s managing with Mourinho at the helm, and Solskjær can only do so much with the players on the roster. The responsibility lies with management and ownership to have a more cohesive transfer strategy, and do it soon, or else risk compounding their struggles.
Despite their current situation, Manchester United can look at the recent turnaround of their bitter rival Liverpool as a sign that things can turn around quickly with a strong manager and a sound transfer plan, as it was only three seasons ago that Liverpool finished eighth in the Premier League. Since the appointment of Jürgen Klopp, Liverpool has won the Champions League and is currently the strong favorite to win the Premier League after narrowly missing out on last season’s title. However, as long as the status quo remains the same for Manchester United, it is hard to say there is reason for optimism in the near future.