April 22nd, 2013. A day remembered for one of the greatest goals of all time from Robin Van Persie, but also the day Sir Alex Ferguson and Manchester United secured their 13th Premier League title.

Ferguson would retire that year a champion and a legend. That year was the last United fans saw in a dominate team and a dominate manager.

Manchester United

A day after Ferguson announced his retirement, United announced that current Everton manager David Moyes would take over the following season. Expectations were high but with a large budget and a team that relatively stayed together, Moyes was expected to do just fine with the team. Title expectations were expected, but as long as United finished top four and remained in European football, Moyes would have no problem running the team. Moyes had many high valued targets including Cristiano Ronaldo, Gareth Bale, Cesc Fabregas, and Toni Kroos. In the end, United settled for an overpriced Marounane Fellaini and a little too late to help Juan Mata. The two remain with the team today but not Moyes. United were knocked out of every cup competition but their most embarrassing statistic was failure to qualify for European football of any sort the next season. That saw Moyes get the sack with assistant manager Ryan Giggs taking over for the reminder of the season. United finished 7th at the end of 2014.

Next season, United hired former Netherlands boss Louis Van Gaal to run the team. Van Gaal was regarded for his run with the Dutch national team, his persistence into developing the youth squad into the first team, and bringing a positive atmosphere into any team he worked with. He started his season by keeping United fan favorite Ryan Giggs as his second in command. He heavily used the transfer budget, buying Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Angel DiMaria, and loaning in Ramadel Falcao. All these players were coming off hot performances in the 2014 FIFA World Cup or domestic competition. They were proven and promising first team players. United had a squad on paper that could beat any team. However, the struggles started at the top. Van Gaal started using a 3-5-2 formation that just didn’t suit the players he had and their skills. He tried a 4-4-2 diamond but that failed, a 4-2-3-1, 4-4-2, 4-3-3, before finally settling on a 4-1-4-1 that helped to get United to a fourth place finish and secure Champions League football. Injuries, indecisive tactics, and a lack of showing from the players both bought and current residing showed United still lacked the means to dominate any competition. The two most high-profile players in DiMaria and Falcao were abysmal in their performances overall, and neither remained with the club. This was the start of the exposure of United as a team that wasn’t prepared for continued success and didn’t put the pieces in place to have that chance.

Next season, Van Gaal began the year naming Wayne Rooney captain, which pleased the fan base. He spent heavily again, buying Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmian, Sergio Romero, and Bastain Schweinstieger. Only Darmian and Romero remain with the team. The season was simply put, a lack of goals. United were increasingly inconsistent with their goal scoring and in the end they finished once again outside the top four with only a fifth place finish, Europa League, and an F.A Cup victory to boast about.  Winning silverware couldn’t save Louis Van Gaal’s job as he was sacked after the season ended. Some bright spots found in the team were young striker Marcus Rashford, winger Jesse Lingard, and David DeGea choosing to remain with the team despite being 99.99% close to a Real Madrid move that was thwarted due to a fax machine error. United played the season on the ropes, teetering on the verge of a complete squad collapse due to an ineffective manager, devastating injuries to their starters, and lack of confidence from the fans and a clamoring throughout the second half of the campaign for Van Gaal’s firing.

United are currently running under the direction of Jose Mourinho. “The Chosen One” currently has United in 5th position, four points off 4th placed Manchester City and a Champions league spot. United have won two pieces of silverware this season beating defending Premier League champions Leicester City in the F.A Community Shield, and Southhampton in the English Football League Cup Final. One statistic that has always followed Mourinho is that in his first season with any club he’s managed, he’s won the league title. Mourinho’s former club Chelsea have all but wrapped up the Premier League title. At this point, all Manchester United have to play for is Champions League football, and worn the Premier League table not showing promise for that accomplishment, Mourinho is putting forth his best team sheets in the Europa League matches for a chance to make the final, win, and get automatic qualification for Champions League.

What’s troubling is the team Mourinho put together at a cost of around $200 million. He brought back Paul Pogba at a record fee making the French midfielder the most expensive player in the world. Coming along with Pogba were Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ibrahimovic came on a free transfer and has been the best player for United this season as their leading goal scorer. Mkhitaryan has been good when he’s healthy. Where Paul Pogba is concerned, the midfielder has been abysmal. He hasn’t lived up to his price tag and not enough criticism from Mourinho has fallen on him. The criticism has been toward the players he already had who are either coming off injury, minimal appearances, or haven’t lived up to their own talents. A glaring example is left back Luke Shaw who suffered a gruesome leg injury last year. Fit yet still getting into a full level, Shaw hasn’t featured much in the Manchester United team, and in the times he has, Mourinho has gone as far as to blame the player for specifics moments of the game where the team lost in the end because of it. Why isn’t the criticism on Pogba? Simply put, its to keep Pogba at United without a hitch, because what Manchester United can’t afford is to lose him now when they know the value he has now is nowhere near what they spent.

Three and a half years have passed since Ferguson left the club. In the wake of that departure, United went from a team with stability, identity, and strong leadership, to a farce. The club has spent millions upon millions without being able to take starting to world-class talent and convert it to trophies. Their youth academy is budding with talent yet it’s kept on the bench, or giving minimal starts, or to the extent of harsh criticism where it’s not warranted. Going through three different managers has brought Manchester United three identities that have made the club change the atmosphere to chaotic. Fans clamor for results, and even Mourinho hasn’t delivered. Much is yet to come but as things stand, Manchester United lack the will to dominate the competition. The biggest dilemma is, no one, not board director, nor manager, fan or player can figure out why. Was Sir Alex Ferguson so incredible, so deep within the heart of this club, that his very presence was the means of success of this club? Was Alex Ferguson just a successful employee of the Manchester United or was Manchester United…Sir Alex Ferguson?

Dillon Davis-Tirado covers soccer for MFST, follow him on Twitter @thedavistirado for more coverage. 

 

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