In the middle of March, Manchester United is out of everything: Premier League, English Cup, League Cup and European Champions League. And there is a serious risk of also being left out of the next Champions League, with an ultra-millionaire squad, full of figures. Dismal failure. It will be tough between now and August 6, when the new season begins and the enthusiasm of their fans is renewed. It will be like spending five months taking castor oil. Above all, for a public accustomed until a decade ago to great conquests.
May 19, 2013 is a dagger stuck in the history of Manchester United. That Sunday, in the 5-5 draw against West Bromwich Albion, he said goodbye forever to the technical management —and to the United bench— Sir Alex Ferguson, the winningest coach of all time in football. He was champion, as was his custom. Thirty-eight times he was crowned at the Old Trafford club. Crazy. His era —almost 27 years— was a patchwork of resounding triumphs. On Monday the 20th the problems of the club with the most titles in the country that invented this sport began: who to choose to succeed such a genius. Coaches began to parade who did not hit the key (David Moyes, Louis Van Gaal, José Mourinho, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the current Ralf Rangnick). And there have been dozens of players who failed to endorse the greatness of the Red Devils.
An investigation by Aritz Gabilondo, from the newspaper Whatrealizes that, in the last five years alone, ManUtd have spent €740m on transfers to not even get a glass of milk. ‘740 million thrown away’, headlines the Spanish colleague. Before that, he did manage to win a Europa League and a League Cup (both in 2017 and with Mourinho as foreman), and an English Cup in 2016 under Dutchman Van Gaal. Minimal and second-order successes, especially for the more than 1,000 million euros spent on players in the last nine seasons. And we are only talking about the transfer cost. Commissions and player’s contract, apart.
Manchester United: 740 million thrown away
The most outstanding reinforcements of these years have been those of Paul Pogba (120 M€), Harry Maguire (88 M€), Jadon Sancho (85 M€), Romelu Lukaku (84.7 M€), Ángel Di María (75 M€), Bruno Fernandes (63 M€), Anthony Martial (60 M€), Brazilian Fred (59 M€), Wan Bissaka (55 M€), Juan Mata (44.73 M€), Nemanja Matic ( €44.7 million), Raphael Varane (€40 million), Donny van de Beek (€39 million), Luke Shaw (€37.5 million), Alexis Sánchez (€34 million) and a long list of others at cost twenty and thirty million, until reaching the last, Cristiano Ronaldo, repurchased for 15 million. The result has been fatal.
The almost brutal contrast between the Ferguson era and the later one leads us to two conclusions that we have been holding for years in our columns: 1) every successful project of a club begins (and ends) with a coach of proven high capacity; and 2) knowing how to buy is the number one premise for things to work in an institution. If 120 million are spent on a slow midfielder, with little leadership and little attachment to the shirt, like Pogba, always threatening to go to another club, waves of glory cannot be expected. They will fare as United do: in the first days of March they were already 22 points behind the leader, which, to make matters worse, is their classic rival, Manchester City. Tons of salt.
The squandering of United, like those of Barcelona, make it very clear that the issue is not exclusively about having good footballers. That too, of course. In the old days, when football was just “give it, give it… and we have to win”, victory was decided by the players. Now football is very different, it requires high preparation and technicians who, above and beyond tactics, know how to put together groups, manage a locker room, make their leaders feel comfortable and generate a climate of harmony, of healthy competition.. Jürgen Klopp is the paradigm of this paternalistic profile, friend of his boys, all the time encouraging, with pats, hugs and taps on the chest. Of course, Klopp is a student of schemes and a tireless worker. But the most important of his virtues is that. At club level, Klopp, Guardiola, Simeone, Tuchel, Flick, Gallardo, Antonio Conte, Ancelotti, the Dutchman Erik Ten Hag are synonymous with reliability, indicated to be at the forefront of an ambitious project. For this reason, they now have contracts at the level of the best star of the team. The cholos He signed with Aleti a salary of 24 million euros per year.
Alex Ferguson was once asked what was the criteria he had implemented in the Manchester club to sign a player: “Character,” he replied. To play for this club you need character”. And he gathered a legion of hungry wolves, like Eric Cantona, Roy Keane, Gary Neville, Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic, Paul Scholes, etc. He then stood in front of them and dominated them with the rigor of an Army sergeant.. And often, when they crossed the line, he punished them with sanctions. He tells it in his book Leadership. But he had established a successful complicity with them and they answered him to the death.
“Those who win and lose are the players”, it was said in the old days. It’s not like that anymore. Of course, if you hire a phenomenon like Mbappé, it is likely to do well; or improve collective performance. But not everything happens to bring a crack or put together a good squad. There is a conductive art behind: choosing, preparing, planning, motivating, harmonizing… Today, an intelligent technician is almost everything. And governance from above is also essential. Liverpool, Bayern Munich, Borussia Dortmund, City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Tottenham, Porto, Atlético de Madrid; in South America, Flamengo and River Plate, to take a few among top clubs, are leading models. Managers are also essential. Who gets the resources to aim high…? Who chooses the coaches and hires the footballers…? When Florentino Pérez let go of Cristiano Ronaldo’s hand in 2018, he received cataracts of criticism, however, he was not wrong: nine years after his arrival and having taken advantage of the winger, he got more than what the club had paid to bring him (105 against 94 million); and Madrid continued to be competitive; Christian, not so much.
We dare to ask: who is more important today, the coach or the scorer…? (OR)