As seasons go, things couldn’t get much worse for Manchester United and their fans. Not only are they on track to achieve their lowest points total 1990-91, but they are also watching on as their two biggest rivals – Liverpool and Manchester City – fight it out once again for the Premier League title as well as pushing for European honours.
This is starting to become a familiar story for United fans. Watching on and wondering which of their two rivals they would least like to win the league. City and Liverpool have been dominant forces over the past four seasons with City winning the league three times and Liverpool once during that period. When this season’s champions are crowned in May, there will have been nine names etched on the famous trophy since United last claimed the title and on current form, there is no sign of that drought ending any time soon.
Liverpool famously went 30 years between title wins and this is something everyone connected with Manchester United will be keen to avoid. The appointment and announcement of Erik Ten Hag as their next manager should at least bring some stability to the club and allow them to plan accordingly for next season, however, with no Champions League football, they may well struggle to compete in the transfer market this coming summer.
To rub salt into the wounds, it seems likely that long-term target Erling Haaland is set to join city rivals Manchester City at the end of this season, further strengthening their squad whilst underlining the recruitment issues that have plagued United since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped down at the end of the 2012-13 season.
United had the chance to sign Haaland before he joined current side Borussia Dortmund, leaning on the relationship Haaland has with then-manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. According to reports, United’s recruitment team, led by Ed Woodward, stepped in at this point and Haaland instead opted to join Dortmund and the rest is history.
Haaland is one of the most exciting footballers in the world, having scored 92 goals in 121 league appearances for Molde, Red Bull Salzburg, and Dortmund and will step in to fill the boots of Sergio Aguero who left City at the end of the 2021-21 season.
Where did it all go wrong for United?
It’s unclear when or where it all started to go wrong for United.
Some point to the final years of Ferguson’s era when the team appeared to be in decline. It was felt that Ferguson pulled a rabbit from a hat when he led United to their last title victory in 2012-13.
The signing of Robin Van Persie from rivals Arsenal was seen as a masterstroke and he was outstanding that season, scoring 30 goals in 48 games as they wrestled the title back from City that season.
Following Ferguson’s retirement, they have been through four permanent managers and a further three caretaker managers including the current interim boss, Ralf Rangnick.
On top of a revolving door of managers, United’s recruitment policy since Ferguson’s departure has been a major topic of conversation, with a number of high profile flops failing to perform under any of the managers post-Ferguson. Perhaps the biggest disappointment has been Paul Pogba. Signed for a then world-record £89.3 million, Pogba looks likely to leave United this summer for a second time, once again, on a free transfer after his contract runs down.
Pogba has shown rare glimpses over his six years back at the club of the player they hoped they were signing, however, inconsistency, injuries, and issues with his manager, most notably, Jose Mourinho, means he will leave having failed to live up to the hype when United signed him.
Where do they go from here?
This season can be classed as nothing short of a disaster. With rumours of discontent in the dressing room, it is possible United might miss out on European football altogether this season and a recent 4-0 defeat at Brighton underlines just how far they have fallen this season having finished runners up to Manchester City last season.
Incoming manager Ten Hag certainly has his work cut out, although it would appear that he has at least brought some optimism back to United fans.
He has been exceptional at Ajax since joining as their manager in 2017 and two years later, he led the side to the semi-finals of the Champions League, narrowly losing to Spurs on away goals.
He has claimed the Eredivisie twice with a third title looking likely this season with just two games to go. He has a win percentage of 74% during his time at Ajax and on average, his teams have scored nearly three goals per game.
Whilst he will have work to do when he takes over in the summer, he does have the bones of a strong squad and if he can bring in 4-5 players that he thinks will fit with the style of football he wants to bring to Old Trafford, as well as bringing through some of the burgeoning talent in the youth teams, it might not take as long as many United fans fear to turn things around.
Despite their struggles this season, Betway Sports still has United as fourth favourites for the title next season behind Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea and ahead of Spurs and Arsenal.
United’s future does look bright as well. Their U18 team has reached the FA Youth Cup Final for the first time since 2011 when they face Nottingham Forest in front of a record crowd of more than 60,000. If Ten Hag can bring through some of these youngsters alongside the more established names in the squad, the future could look a lot brighter for United fans.