The quality of the current Manchester United team is probably somewhere in the middle of the last two seasons.
2012/13 saw Sir Alex Ferguson mastermind a rip-roaring success. His Manchester United team collected more points from losing positions than any other Barclays Premier League team before them. They conceded goals early and allowed teams to come at them; but always threw enough at them to leave with three points. There were memorable comebacks like the one against Aston Villa. There were crazy opening periods like the 4-3 victory over Reading. There was the last gasp victory over Manchester City. The flaws in the team were evident but the goals of Robin van Persie, a gung-ho attitude and the aura of the manager were enough to paper over any cracks.
2013/14 didn’t go so well. David Moyes didn’t react with the same bullish attitude as his predecessor in the face of setbacks. He didn’t throw the kitchen sink at teams after an early goal went in. He waited for the system to pull them round and it couldn’t. There wasn’t the inspiration from the sidelines and there wasn’t a fully-fit Robin van Persie to pop up at the right moment to rescue points.
The quality of the squad is probably worthy of back-to-back top four finishes in the last two seasons but the difference in the managers, and their coaching teams, saw a dramatic swing either way.
Of course, back-to-back top four finishes aren’t good enough for Manchester United. Title challenges, trophy wins and the odd dramatic comeback or two are the expectation around Old Trafford now and as such, the team needs to be improved.
Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra are spent forces without obvious replacements in place. All three are comfortably in their 30s and though their experience is priceless, their abilities have dipped below the standard for a 34+ game season. Vidic is already on his way out. The pace of the Italian game will help him prolong his career for another two or three years.
Ferdinand and Evra, both out of contract in a couple of months, would be well suited to playing mentoring roles for their successorsd. Except both have egos that won’t accept the news from a manager or coach without a winning record that ranks alongside their own. Ferguson or Louis van Gaal, with their names forever linked to the Champions League, have enough authority to suggest such an idea. A proposition that the two decorated players play a back-up role to prepare the next Manchester United side could come from either man; not from David Moyes and his single Division Two title.
That’s probably where Moyes struggled. He took on the elders of the team, assuming that he had Ryan Giggs on his side, and he lost. He arrived at Old Trafford well aware of what needed changing and upgrading, but probably wasn’t the most subtle in his delivery. The midfield and defence unquestionably need an overhaul but that can’t be done smoothly if the existing players are well aware they are on the chopping block.
David de Gea is an established, long-term number one in the Premier League. After a shaky start, he has blossomed into a commanding goalkeeper for Manchester United and is seemingly on course to pick up the number one shirt for Spain in due course. In Lindegaard, there is also a pretty solid back-up; although his own personal ambitions should see him get twitchy feet in about 12 months if opportunities don’t arise.
Up front, United look well stocked. Robin van Persie, when his fragile body is managed properly, remains a world-class finisher and Wayne Rooney is a consistent all-rounder who is starting to close in on a host of club goal-scoring records. He doesn’t have the greatest of relationships with the Old Trafford faithful but his eye-watering wages are unlikely to be matched anywhere else. In Danny Welbeck there also appears to be one of the fans’ own – a local lad – showing prolonged flashes that he will eventually lead the line for United. Plus the predatory nature of Javier Hernandez is useful off the bench.
And so, the new manager of Manchester United has a job on his hands. New players need to be signed and dead weight needs to be cut loose. They are in for a busy summer.
It might of course be just too early for the 41 year-old Ryan Giggs. He is the same age as Brendan Rodgers and four years older than Europa League winning manager Andre Villas-Boas; but he may not be right to make tough decisions on players that he still, technically, calls his team-mates. History suggests that Giggs will struggle to transition from being a colleague to a boss of his team-mates and an initial honeymoon period together will make way for performances similar to the ones that Moyes managed to coax from the squad. History suggests it won’t work right now, and it’ll end with Giggs’ legend forever tainted by the time he tried to move into management too quickly.
But, it could work. And this is the quandary for the decision makers at Old Trafford. Having made the decision to remove Moyes from the job, it’s likely they will have hoped for an old hand of the game – such as Louis van Gaal or Fabio Capello. Comfortable dealing with egos, happy to dump a couple of star players past their prime and capable of winning trophies while knowing they are temporary custodians of a hot seat. Van Gaal has a winning record and may just be tempted by three years at Manchester United to steady the ship and try to win a league title. If reports are to be believed, he has already agreed to take the job after the World Cup.
By that stage, Giggs can have built up his coaching experience with the reserve team and a host of learning trips around the continent. He can be ready to take the top job and oversee a squad with enough new faces that he can instantly command respect as the gaffer and not just “Ryan”. Or the job will be passed to a member of the Klopp/Pep/Simeone pile of possibilities that may just be more available come 2017.
If that new manager isn’t Ryan Giggs then the Manchester United owners would be well advised to make the appointment as soon as possible. The ground swell of support for Giggs is already growing and will only get bigger. It’s not inconceivable that United will finish the season with maximum points from clashes with Sunderland, Hull City and Southampton. Four wins for four, four commanding performances, three clean sheets and a club legend will be hard to say no to; or forever be the “what if?” question when the new man gets off to a slow start.
Manchester United should appoint their new manager this week for fear of Ryan Giggs acing an audition he wasn’t supposed to get.