United politics killing a football club
The Glazer family grip on the Manchester United 'business', and not Jose Mourinho, is ruining a once great football club28 August 2018 | Matthew Galea
For all the troubles that Manchester United have faced in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era, the sight of an opposition team dismantling the home side at Old Trafford has remained a rarity.
But while Tottenham’s 3-0 rinsing of United in Manchester on Monday night (UK Time) was spectacular for the sheer disparity in quality and effort between the teams – particularly in the second half – it also revealed a spectacularly harsh reality for United manager Jose Mourinho and the executives above him.
The club is in a state of true turmoil. The owners, the American Glazer family, whom Ferguson did so well to keep away from the footballing arm of the club, have well and truly swallowed it whole.
Few men could produce and lead competitive football teams in such a ludicrous environment as Manchester United other than Ferguson.
David Moyes certainly couldn’t come close. Louis van Gaal fared little better and while Mourinho has enjoyed the greatest success of anyone post-Ferguson, the mountain now seems far too big for even him to climb.
While all three had, and have, their faults, the continued failure to genuinely challenge for a Premier League title or Champions League honours goes far beyond the man in the hot seat.
Ferguson’s success in the Glazer era hinged largely on him, and only him, holding absolute power over all things football at Manchester United. The owners trusted Ferguson with that power because of his time in the job and the ludicrous amount of success he had managed to achieve before and after their take-over.
His chief executive officer, David Gill, was a mere 'yes' man who bridged the gap between Ferguson and the Board.
Mourinho has not been afforded a similar amount of control.
Despite the ongoing success of the club commercially, Mourinho remains restricted in what he can or can’t do as the club’s football manager.
He is accountable to his chief executive, Ed Woodward, and works within the limits set by his boss.
In his time in the role, Woodward has overseen a range of different transfer policies. From his failure to deliver a much-reported deal for Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona in his first window in 2013, instead delivering Marouane Fellaini, to the happy-go-lucky signing of big names for big fees irrespective of the team’s needs, such as the deal which brought in Alexis Sanchez last January.
This summer, value for money was the name of the game and suddenly Woodward no longer seemed willing to back Mourinho in the market, failing to deliver any of the central defenders he so desperately needed.
No one can say that Mourinho’s transfer record is flawless. That he has spent circa £60 million on central defenders, namely Eric Bailly and Victor Lindelof, is fair cause for concern. But which manager does have a perfect transfer record?
Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola signed Claudio Bravo before he signed first-choice keeper Ederson.
Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp learned the hard way that signing Lloris Karius wasn’t the best decision he’s ever made in the transfer market, only to be given double the budget by his board to fix the problem and sign Allison from Roma.
Should the fact that Mourinho got it wrong with two of his signings mean he isn’t allowed to go and sign the replacements he needs to make United competitive again?
And who is Woodward, a man whose expertise lies in the commercial operation of the club, to deny the football manager he recently signed to a five-year deal?
Is he really the best person to pass judgement on the players Mourinho has identified as necessary for improving the club’s chances of success?
The reality for Manchester United is that any time it knocks on another club’s door to inquire about a player, the selling club will immediately be inclined to knock an extra £10, £20 or even £30 million on their price tag.
And sure, anyone could potentially understand why someone as commercially tuned as Woodward might baulk at spending £50 or £60 million on a 29-year-old Toby Alderweireld, particularly if the defender is hardly the most marketable player in the game.
But anyone who watches football – and in particular anyone who watched Alderweireld’s outstanding defensive effort against United in comparison to the floundering performances of Phil Jones, Victor Lindelof and to a lesser extent Chris Smalling and Ander Herrera – would be able to tell the difference the Spurs defender would have made had he been playing for United and not Tottenham on the night.
What the saga – and indeed United’s broader dealings in the transfer market since the departure of Ferguson – demonstrates is that there needs to be a conduit between the club’s football department and board.
It’s clear that the club has no interest in handing complete control to the manager, Mourinho or otherwise, and it is increasingly clear that the man holding the keys to the transfer kitty is not aligned with the footballing interests of the manager.
The obvious answer would be a Director of Football-style appointment, someone who would be trusted by the board to protect the club’s commercial interests while ensuring the manager or coach has the players they need to be competitive.
Failing that, United needs to make a choice about the direction it wants to take moving forward.
Does it want the old-style manager of Mourinho? A man who needs to have complete control over the squad to shape it as he sees fit?
Or does it want a new-age coach? A coach who, much like Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino, gets the best out of the players available to him and is not overly fussed with what the club does in the transfer market.
Tottenham has enjoyed continued growth and improvement under Pochettino with minimum investment in the squad. His name has been linked with United several times, but his lack of silverware is so often held against him.
Failing to back Mourinho in the transfer market is a cardinal sin by a club who so recently renewed his deal for a further five years, however it’s hard to escape the feeling that even if his squad does not boast Premier League winning quality, it should be at least well placed to make the top four.
A coach like Pochettino would arguably do a better job of maximising the talent already within the squad.
Given the club has cornered itself thanks to the new deal it handed Mourinho last season, perhaps it’s time to give the reins back to the manager so Manchester United can get back to being what it’s supposed to be above all else: a football club.
manchester united, premier league, jose mourinho, glazer family