It's April 22nd, 2013 and Manchester United have won their record 20th Premier league title. Of course, this was nothing new to the club or its fans at that point in time. After all, they'd been doing this almost every season for the past 26 years under manager Sir Alex Ferguson. Having just beaten cross-town rival Manchester City to secure the championship, fans were at an all-time high; however, less than two weeks later, things would quickly start to change. It was then, much to the shock of everyone, that Sir Alex announced his retirement. Considering his age, it shouldn't have been too surprising, but for someone who had been dominating the sport at a single club for 26 years, coming out with this news so suddenly at the end of a season completely dominated the headlines. The club announced his successor, David Moyes, in the summer of 2013; this was the event that began its downward spiral.
Under Moyes, the club finished 7th in the league the following season, which was its lowest finish ever in the Premier League era. The club announced that it would be firing Moyes in April of 2014, before the season had even concluded, due to its poor performance to date. This would begin a painfully familiar process for the club over the remainder of the decade. During the offseason Moyes had been brought in, it was reported that many of the players he suggested for Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward to bring in to improve the squad were ultimately not signed, as Woodward himself couldn't secure the deals; this would begin a familiar annual trend for United. This left the club struggling to improve and, along with Moyes' coaching style and horrible results, eventually led to a total house cleaning.
After this, the club hired manager Louis Van Gaal in the summer of 2014; at the time, Van Gaal was managing the Netherlands in the 2014 Brazilian World Cup. He had won many trophies as a manager all across Europe, so fans were much more excited by this hire than they were the Moyes appointment. While the season started out slow (much like the one before), results eventually picked up as time went on and United finished fourth, securing a spot in next season's Champions League competition. During his tenure with the club, Van Gaal stated that "it would take a few years of rebuilding" to get United back to the top. He also stated that he would play many of the club's youth prospects to help set up a foundation for the future by the time he left (he believed his departure would be due to retirement).
The club managed to sign a few more players, including French youth prospect Anthony Martial, resulting in a high transfer fee. Martial, along with other young players like Marcus Rashford, who had come up through the club's youth system, were seen as bright spots and showed flashes of great potential for United over the course of the season. However, this wasn't enough to keep Van Gaal; after finishing fifth in the league, which didn't qualify United for the following season's Champions League, the club sacked its manager just 2 days later. This was done despite Van Gaal winning the FA Cup with the club -- news of his potential dismissal came out hours after the Cup victory, all across the country's top news outlets.
Following yet another manager dismissal in such a short time span, Woodward knew he had to get his next hire exactly right. As such, he managed to land noted winner Jose Mourinho, who is viewed as one of the best managers in the history of the game. Mourinho has led multiple teams to Champions League glory and won League titles with teams like Real Madrid and Chelsea. United's fans knew that, wherever he went, immediate success would follow; in his first offseason with the club, Mourinho was able to get players like Paul Pogba and Zlatan Ibrahimovic to follow him there. United finished 6th in the league that season, but also won the Europa League, thus granting them direct qualification to the Champions League. That, along with winning the League Cup that season, caused Jose's first season to be largely considered a success by United's fanbase.
The following season, United finished 2nd, its highest finish since the retirement of Ferguson. As a result, things appeared to be looking up. Despite so much success all around the game in multiple countries, Mourinho actually declared this second place finish with the squad he had that season to be the most difficult achievement of his career. The following summer, Mourinho, like others before him, wasn't given the players he had suggested to Ed Woodward to help improve the squad. This unsurprisingly led to friction between the manager and Woodward, as Mourinho would point out in press conferences on multiple occasions the problems caused by the lack of incoming players. This, combined with a poor start to the next season, eventually led to the dismissal of Mourinho in December of 2018.
The club announced its former striker and fan favorite Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would serve as interim manager following the midseason dismissal of Mourinho. At the time, Solskjaer was managing a club in Norway and was truly only meant to lead the club on a temporary basis while United searched (yet again) for a long term solution. However, the hiring of Solskjaer seemed to boost the club's morale immensely, as United went onto win their next 8 games in a row, despite the struggles that had plagued them all season. The club also managed to beat Paris Saint-Germain in tremendous fashion in the Champions League, in what many fans and analysts viewed as a massive upset. All of these factors eventually landed Solskjaer the job on a full time basis. United finished 6th, which was not good at all, but salvaging the season following a very poor start gave many fans optimism about what was ahead.
With the club actually managing to secure some of its manager's transfer targets, the 2019-20 season began with somewhat higher expectations. United ended up finishing 3rd in the pandemic shortened season, an improvement over the year prior. In the offseason, however, the manager was (yet again) not given the players he deemed to be best suited to help the club improve upon the prior seasons finish. This included the fizzling of a multiple year pursuit of England youth sensation Jadon Sancho, who was seen by many as a lock to sign with Manchester United during the transfer window. Talks ultimately fell apart when Ed Woodward refused to pay Borussia Dortmund, Sancho's current club, the fee at which they valued him.
Following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United have only finished in the top 3 of the league two times and haven't won it once, which is something they did almost at will from the 90's through the early 2010's. A massive part of this problem, as I have highlighted many times throughout this piece, is the constant failures of club Vice Chairman Ed Woodward. While he's brilliant in the commercial aspect of his job, which is to bring revenue in for the club, he's severely lacking in the actual "football department." Woodward has consistently failed to secure the top talent that it takes to win in today's game of football. Going through multiple managers throughout the 7 years since the retirement of Ferguson shows that the club has no real plan and that its management has no idea what's needed to run a professional franchise in the first place. Though Woodward has stated they're working on hiring someone to focus on the football aspect of the club, this same empty promise has been told to fans for many years. The fact that it hasn't come to fruition shows that, once again, there's no real long term plan to get United back to its familiar spot at the top.
The club has crashed and burned in European competition on multiple occasions over the last 7 years, to the point where it's almost a given each season. The real problem with the club, as mentioned before, is the lack of a foundation or long term plan to get back to success. Ownership has shown that it doesn't care to improve the team unless it is doing so poorly that it causes them to lose out on revenue and sponsorship money. Then, as soon as things start to improve just a tiny bit, they step away once again and do nothing. They have hired 4 managers in this 7 and a half year span and haven't fully backed any of them, nor have they given them the power needed to succeed in today's version of the sport.
To put it best, it's always one step forward and two steps back with Manchester United. Just when it seems they have a foundation to build upon into a new season, the club does nothing to help improve the product on the pitch, thus getting another manager fired and a new one appointed...only to experience the same process all over again. Maybe things will get better one day, but until then, United seems to be going through a never-ending cycle, with no improvements made in an entire 7 year span. Fizzling out in the Champions League on 12/8/2015, while in a group they should have easily advanced out of, and then experiencing the same exact scenario on 12/8/2020 (five years to the day) is the perfect reminder to us all that United haven't made any progress at all in that span. That's a scary thought and realization for fans of the club. United must do better -- will they? Only time will tell.
- Cameron (@Cameronv1124)