Opinion

Taking a long hard look at United, by looking at Liverpool

Sometimes, “unlucky” just isn’t good enough. United were unlucky not to win against Huddersfield today, hitting the crossbar twice. But failing to win at an already relegated team is a total and utter shambles. The Olegarch is convinced that Spurs will drop points at Everton on the last day of the season, so by failing to win today, Manchester United flushed their Champions League hopes down the toilet. Disgraceful. The season finishes with a whimper, and United are at a crossroads yet again. This is the first of a two-part series, in which The Olegarch diagnoses United’s current situation; in the second installment, The Olegarch mumbles incoherently about a road to rebuilding this United team.

The Olegarch’s hypothesis is simple: Manchester United right now are where Liverpool were in October 2015. Both teams had recently finished 2nd in the league. The managers responsible for those finishes – Brendan Rodgers and Jose Mourinho – promised much, but were ultimately exposed.  Both clubs were shorn of their previous identity as iconic figures – Sir Alex Ferguson and Steven Gerrard – grew more distant in the rear view mirror.  Both clubs made managerial decisions – Roy Hodgson and David Moyes – that, with the benefit of hindsight, seem inexplicable. In October 2015, Liverpool appointed Jurgen Klopp. Much like Ole’s appointment, Klopp was hailed by the Kop faithful: the fit just seemed right. The Olegarch wagged chins with his boss, editor-in-chief and dastardly Scouse Danny L., to see how deep the parallels between the two teams ran:

1. Uncertainty on superstars

Liverpool’s title charge in 2014 was heavily dependent on an almost unplayable Suarez and a rising star in Raheem Sterling. They were supplemented by an excellent Coutinho and Daniel Sturridge, who led a charmed life that season in terms of fitness. It was difficult to plan or build a team around these guys who were so keen on leaving for Barcelona and Man City. Rumours about Suarez had been circulated for several seasons, so trying to build on the title-challenging team of 2014 was never really plausible. I think United face the same uncertainty with Pogba and de Gea, which doesn’t help.  

2. The title challenge was a false dawn

You’re right, Olegarch (Interviewer’s note: it’s “TheOlegarch”), that both United and Liverpool (2015) had 2nd place campaigns following some poor finishes in a couple of the preceding seasons. This was a false sense of recovery. The 2ndplace finishes felt like it was “back to the good old days,” only to be brought back down to Earth again immediately after: Liverpool finished 6thand 8thafter that; while United have been hovering around 6thall season. When Klopp came in, he wanted to inject some belief again, but he needed time. I think Ole needs the same: perhaps 3 seasons to show progress, and signs that he is building something. Fans need to be patient; it’s going to be a bumpy ride. I remember, somewhere in the 17-18 season, a small but significant group of fans were even doubting Klopp and were prepared to see him go. That would have been so premature to me. But that title challenge really said nothing about the future of that specific squad: our team now looks nothing like that team. 

3. The team needs a massive overhaul

Comparing the team that Klopp inherited and the team today is like comparing day and night. Sure, there are some players that are still in the squad like Henderson, Milner, Firmino and Joe Gomez. Even Sturridge, who was Liverpool’s top scorer the season Klopp joined, is now a benchwarmer for the benchwarmers – bold move. But everyone else in the squad has been bought under Klopp’s reign, and with his input. He’s used big money when signing world-class players in specific positions, such as Virgil Van Dijk, and Alisson (Interviewer’s note: henceforth known as “the Virgil Mary”, and “Girl’s name”).  Elsewhere, Liverpool have found immense value in players from recently relegated clubs, like Andy Robertson, Gini Wijnaldum, and Xherdan Shaqiri. Ole has to undertake a massive overhaul because at the moment, it doesn’t look like there are enough world-class players in the United team.

4. Resist becoming a Chelsea or Real Madrid 

There was a period when Liverpool were changing managers at a clip unseen in its history. Managers at Liverpool stay for at least 4-5 years.  Running through Hodgson, Dalglish, and Rodgers, we were at risk of losing our culture in pursuit of a quick fix. When we appointed Klopp, fans knew this was an appointment for the long haul – it just felt right. Klopp had the right philosophy, the right attitude, and he really GOT the club. United need to resist pulling the trigger early, even if success doesn’t come immediately, as long as Ole can show that he has a long-term plan. 

The Olegarch’s take:

I think there are real pearls of wisdom in Danny L.’s words. The parallels between United currently and Liverpool in October 2015 are striking. Right now, United do not have a credible claim to a seat at the table of the top 4.  

Ole’s mandate over the next three years should be to build a team that ultimate challenges Manchester City and Liverpool. We’ll explore this mandate in more depth in the second part of the series. For now, The Olegarch intends to quickly survey the battlefield, and evaluate what United has at its disposal.  

We have two world-class players, both of whom are unsettled and may leave. We have some young, talented first-team players who should stay at the club, at the wingback and forward position. It’s hard to figure out who’ll still be at the club in midfield. It’s harder to figure out who you want to see at the club in the heart of defence. And hearteningly, we have some very exciting young, attacking players. In the second edition, The Olegarch tries to figure out what to do with these various parts.

Folks, I get it: it’s disheartening to be at these crossroads again. We have a squad of players devoid of leadership, quality, and identity. We haven’t had a healthy club culture in years. And frankly, the club is falling behind. The Olegarch shares his namesake’s obsession with The Godfather, Don Fergie. The Gaffer always preached of the importance of being ahead of the curve, when it comes to development and infrastructure. United are falling behind, with Arsenal and Spurs both opening new stadiums and City unveiling a new training ground. We, fans, need to internalize that we have fallen behind in terms of squad quality and, indeed, are starting to flag in terms of club quality as well. There’s a long road ahead. But at least we can all get behind this manager for the long-term, and hopefully that means we start this rebuild on the right principles.   

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