Post Alex Ferguson era: Analyzing Manchester United’s failures, struggles, and hope for the future
May 19, 2013, was the day the Post Alex Ferguson era officially began at Manchester United, as the legendary manager departed the Old Trafford dugout after spending 26 years with the Red Devils.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure as United manager brought unparalleled glory to the club and with 38 trophies won, the Scotsman is the most decorated coach in the club’s illustrious history, as well as one of the greatest coaches of all-time.
It did not start all brightly for the former Aberdeen manager and he was in real danger of being sacked after five trophyless years but winning the FA Cup in 1990 and European Cup Winners Cup a year later kept him in the job and the rest as they say is history.
Manchester United won the first Premier League campaign in 1993 and over the next 20 years, a further 12 were won, with the final one coming in Ferguson’s final season as manager.
There were also several other trophies won in other competitions as well as the treble of League, Cup, and Champions League in 1999.
The first wave of Manchester United’s success came with a core made up of academy products, with the ‘Class of ’92 being the most famous proponents. Players like David Beckham, Ryan Giggs, Nicky Butt, and Paul Scholes were collectively known as ‘Fergie’s Fledglings’ (a throwback to the ‘Busby Babes’ in the 1950s) and led the charge.
A new generation of players led by Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney helped continue the Red Devils’ dominance into the new millennium and the result was that Alex Ferguson ended his managerial tenure having achieved his promise some three decades earlier of ‘knocking Liverpool off their perch.’
However, things have since turned and Manchester United have themselves been knocked off their perch and clubs like Tottenham, and two heated rivals in Liverpool and the ‘noisy neighbors’ Manchester City have usurped them on the hierarchy.
Having not failed to finish outside the top three in the first 20 years of the Premier League, the Red Devils have finished second just once since 2013, while they also suffered the ignominy of finishing outside the Champions League League places four times in the last seven years.
It has been a progressive decline that has seen Manchester United become the butt of jokes for rival fans all over the world and beyond their history, there has not been much else to celebrate in recent years.
This was what Liverpool fans were once accused of and slowly, United supporters are becoming what they once criticized and more damningly for the club, there are no signs of the rot stopping anytime soon.
It has been seven years since Manchester United last won the Premier League and as things stand, the club is not in any position to challenge for the title in the nearest future.
Of millions spent on transfers for little returns in the Post Alex Ferguson era
Since Sir Alex Ferguson left Manchester United, the club has spent almost a billion pounds on transfer fees in seven years, with a total of £375.3m spent on defenders alone.
The first marquee arrival came when the club broke its transfer record to sign Angel di Maria from Real Madrid in the summer of 2014 for the sum of £59.7m.
The Argentina international started brightly but ended up being an expensive flop and spent just one season at Old Trafford before completing another mega-money move to Paris Saint-Germain – where he has once again rediscovered his best form.
This set the template for future big-money signings to follow and since then, several players have been signed for huge sums only to fail to deliver at the levels expected.
Since 2013, Manchester United has signed 34 players but it says a lot about how bad things are that less than 10 of these players made a genuine impact on the club.
Two years after the Di Maria experiment, the club once again dug deep into their pockets to sign Paul Pogba for a then-world record fee of £89m.
The France international had earlier been discarded by the Red Devils before going on to showcase his abilities on a regular basis with Juventus.
It was expected that he would be the figurehead to help United ascend back to the summit but four years down the line, the World Cup winner has been plagued by inconsistency and accusations of unprofessionalism.
Other big-money signings who failed to justify their transfer fees include Alexis Sanchez, Memphis Depay, Harry Maguire, and Romelu Lukaku (who was unfairly booted out).
Beyond the big-money flops, Manchester United are also losing their allure and there have been high-profile misses in the transfer market, with the Jadon Sancho transfer fiasco this year just the latest in a long line of high-profile transfer targets who were not signed.
The failure to get a cohesive transfer plan in the last seven years has played a major role in the struggles of the club and this is a bitter pill to swallow for a side who were once used to winning everything.
Rapidly changing managers and the loss of the United identity
Sir Alex Ferguson retired as the longest-serving manager in United’s illustrious history, spending all of 26 years in the Old Trafford dugout.
Before him, another revered and ‘knighted’ manager Sir Matt Busby spent a total of twenty four-and-half years at the helm of Manchester United and these two legendary managers were a source of pride for the club.
While they looked around them and saw teams like Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham rapidly change managers before you could say, Jack Robinson, fans of the Red Devils prided themselves on the fact that they had stronger values and could not tow that path.
However, this is no longer the case and no fewer than six managers have occupied the manager’s position at United since Fergie retired.
They have all been as diverse in their methods as they are in their appearance and the result of this is that Manchester United has become a hotch-potch of different players with different identities lacking in a clear-cut system of play.
Alex Ferguson self-appointed David Moyes to be his successor, but the tenure of the ‘chosen one’ did not go according to plan, while Louis Van Gaal, Jose Mourinho, and now Ole Gunnar Solskjaer have all contributed to United’s slide into mediocrity.
What is the hope for the future?
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr,’ We must accept finite disappointment but never lose infinite hope.’
Hope is the big driving force of the human race and it is why fans of Manchester United look to the future with optimism that they could get back to where they belong. But exactly how feasible is this hope?
For starters, Liverpool and Manchester City have a clear superiority over the rest of the Premier League, and the difference in quality between these two sides and others is best exemplified by the points gap between the two and the rest of the table in the last two years.
Manchester United has shown marked improvements in recent seasons but they have lacked the consistency to push the top two all the way.
They have shown the ability to go toe-to-toe with the top guns on their day but can also suffer embarrassing losses to smaller sides in almost the same breath.
The arrival of Bruno Fernandez has helped rejuvenate the team, while the frontline of Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood, and Anthony Martial is dynamic and has room for improvement.
The failure to land Jadon Sancho could harm the side’s ambitions, while they continue to be plagued by defensive susceptibility.
In many ways, Sir Alex Ferguson himself is not totally absolved of blame from the current malaise suffered by the club.
He left a lopsided squad behind that left United severely handicapped, his overreaching style of management was also out-of-tune with modern methods, while his self-appointment of David Moyes also set the club back.
However, it has been seven years since the great Scotsman left and the club should have properly moved on in the last seven years.
The ever-increasing power wielded by club CEO Ed Woodward in the post-Alex Ferguson era has also been counterproductive and while the investment banker might be savvy in getting endorsement deals and boosting the revenue of the club, he is not properly grounded in football matters.
If Manchester United can sustain the momentum they have built in the last two years and augment a few deficiencies in the squad, there is no reason why they cannot soon start challenging for top honors once again and this is the hope that fans of the club cling on to.
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