Old Trafford

Manchester United’s Identity Crisis and Lack of Consistency

The day was May 19, 2013, then Manchester United Manager Sir Alex Ferguson called it quits, thus leaving behind nearly four decades of managerial experience after managing St. Mirren, Aberdeen, and Manchester United. He also accumulated countless number of trophies. Most notably, thirteen Top-flight trophies, five FA cups, four League cups, ten Community Shields, and two Champions Leagues with United.

Since Ferguson’s retirement, Manchester United’s sense of identity and direction have seemingly been lost. This in addition to the mishandling of transfer deadlines, player personalities, demands of the fans, and the hiring of four managers since 2013 has caused unrest.

Edward Woodward

Woodward is an accountant and investment banker, who is sitting as Manchester United Chairman and Chief Executive overseeing the club’s operations.

Woodward’s main success came in 2007 when he was responsible for commercial and media operations. Here, he tied up sponsorship deals and increased the club’s commercial revenue by 241% from 2005 to 2012.

His success lies with branding and increasing money but he has some shortcomings in a football sense.

As an investment banker, his ability to conduct transfer negotiations lacks clarity and efficiency. The strong presence brought by Ferguson and David Gill has been forgotten.

For someone whose background is in finance, he has not handled the money well. Getting out done in many dealings such as Jadon Sancho (not willing to pay the price) and Erling Haaland (who chose Dortmund). You can even then toss in the expenditures of Harry Maguire, Paul Pogba, Marouane Fellaini, Ángel Di María as overpriced.

“Ed Woodward probably has some qualities and was great in the finance world, but this is not his job, he’s out of his depth, he’s incompetent”, European football expert Julien Laurens told ESPN FC. “That’s why this team hasn’t really moved forward in the last seven years because the squad hasn’t been built properly, cleverly, with a proper direction, with a name, with a target.”

This past off season was not the first time Woodward has failed to bring in the players his manager requested. Back in 2013, knowing full-well that after Ferguson’s retirement the team needed a healthy overhaul, Woodward only brought in Felliani. Under Mourinho, the squad required a centre-back and never received one. This season, Ole provided a list of players to Woodward and no one was acquired from that list.

For Woodward, he has placed more emphasis on the brand. His intentions are less so on the success of the team on the field and in the eyes of the fans.

Let’s put it into perspective, if you are a free agent player and Ed Woodward is sitting across you on the table, how serious do you take him? The individual would more so appreciate having only the manager there or a legend of the club to make the final dealings.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer

Ole was brought in to bring back the original identity of Manchester United—the winning mentality and the hunger that was instilled by Ferguson.

As a manager, including his time as caretaker, he has so far averaged 1.83 points per match (PPM). His best PPM output was as caretaker manager at 2.32, followed by 2.12 when he was manager of United’s U23 team.

The club extended Ole after his time as caretaker manager, but since his caretaker days, his sides haven’t been as convincing.

Seemingly when the fans believe Ole Gunnar Solskjaer will lose, he finds some magic to pull through with a win. When fans believe it’s a game to win, the Red Devils drop points. Unfortunately, consistency under Ole is missing.

The Good Stuff

After this weekend’s result, a 3-1 win over Everton, Ole has matched the great Scot’s record of seven consecutive away PL wins.

And, in terms of manager win percentage after 100 matches, the Norwegian has surpassed Sir Alex Ferguson, Sir Matt Busby, and Ron Atkinson.

RankManager NameWinsDrawsLossesWin %
1Ernest Mangnall64231364%
2Jose Mourinho62231562%
3Ole Gunnar Solskjaer55212455%
4Louis Van Gaal52252352%
4Sir Matt Busby52272152%
6Ron Atkinson51282151%
7Sir Alex Ferguson48312148%
The top 7: Win percentages for United Managers after 100 matches.

In fact, only Jose Mourinho has amassed a better win percentage since the great Ernest Mangnall. Mangnall coached United from 1903-1912 and eclipsed a 64% win rate.

Van Gaal and Mourinho had decent win percentages and were still dismissed. The problem might not lie at the Manager level, but rather at the man who’s unfortunately behind the metaphorical wheel: Ed Woodward.

Affording some time

Mauricio Pochettino may be currently waiting in the wings, similarly to the way Mourinho was available even with Van Gaal’s FA Cup win, Ole might not have time.

However, as Sir Alex struggled in his first couple of seasons at United, Ole will need to be afforded time to grow as a manager. He needs to work on finding more consistency with his formations, shape, and player personnel. We might forget he is still a young manager, managing one of the biggest clubs in England. It will take time but Ole could be the correct person in the driver’s seat.

Additionally, the short leash attached to David Moyes, must not be the same leash on Ole.

Results speak volumes but so does the inevitable fact that this team is ways away from their previous glory. To ever reach that epitome, United will need to find a balance between new and old principles.

They must define what is important moving forward: the brand or the club’s reputation? Arguably both of these aspects could be considered the same thing. On the other hand, the brand refers to the money and the reputation refers to the status that is on display to the footballing world.

Ole is the correct foundational piece. The board needs to make a decision on Woodward’s future. Should Woodward be allowed to continue in his current role, especially after seven years of inconsistency and destruction of the club’s world football image?

The way United have played since Ferguson’s retirement has fans in disarray. The club was not expected to continue to dominant at that rate. New managers and players have since joined the league, thus increasing competition. There are no longer one or two major clubs, rather four to eight well balanced rosters that can surprise anyone and win. Look as recently as 2016 with Leicester City.

Just as the water is calm before a storm, United are in that calm phase. Give it time and a more terrifying storm will blow. Soon, they will be able to challenge the likes of Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, Arsenal, Leicester City, and Tottenham once again.

Showing some heart

Ole has shown to have a calmer demeanor than his predecessor Mourinho, but his recent outburst showed he cares about his boys, that he wants to stick around, and his willing to fight it out. He did focus on a small matter, albeit rather insignificant matter in the grand scheme of things, but who else is he going to snap back at?

What’s next for Manchester United?

If you have been a fan during the glory days, supporting your team during the losses and poor performances is another facet of being a fan. The fault cannot solely be placed on the manager, but you can pinpoint player malfunctions, player personalities, transfer buys, and mishandling of situations by the club, as other factors.

Before relieving Ole of his duties, Woodward is the next logical dismissal. The manager cannot continue to be blamed for misfortunes or because a brand-new toy is now available, i.e. Pochettino or Mourinho in the past.

Identity and consistency were pillars built by the Ferguson, David Gill, and the old guard. The times have changed and inflation in player cost and COVID-19 have played a role, but without an identity, who are you?

The brand will grow by itself. But the ability to place a team on the pitch that is competitive is what will drive in the fans, new and old.

You want to see heart? Take a look at the model being developed for the Manchester United Women’s team. They now currently sit first in the FAWSL after defeating Arsenal 1-0. The additions of Christian Press and Tobin Heath have worked wonders. Their jersey sales have surpassed any United player, male or female this year.

This WFC team knew that they are ways away from competing with the likes of Manchester City WFC, Chelsea FC Women, and Arsenal WFC. Nevertheless, each year they have made monumental strides to be taken seriously.

It is time for the men’s team to follow the blueprints laid out by the WFC side.