Manchester United struggle to restore former glory

After retirement of legendary manager Alex Ferguson, Red Devils fight for success they were accustomed to

Selcuk Bugra Gokalp   | 30.04.2022
Manchester United struggle to restore former glory


English football club Manchester United seem to be struggling to restore their former glory as they are ranked sixth in the English Premier League with four games left in the fixtures.

The Red Devils, who have 54 points in 34 games, may well be left out of UEFA qualifications for the next season in case they drop two more spots.

The 13-time Premier League title winners have not secured a league win for nearly 10 years. But how did they come to this point?

A team of railway workers

Manchester United was formed in 1878 as Newton Heath LYR Football Club by the Carriage and Wagon department of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway (LYR) depot at Newton Heath in 1878.

The name was changed in 1902 after team captain Harry Stafford found four local businessmen to invest and run the club.

Rise to success: Busby era

After the World War II, Matt Busby, who demanded an unprecedented level of control over team selection, player transfers and training sessions, appointed as manager of the club.

Busby's successful era started with FA cup win in 1948, then continued with three league titles in 1952, 1956 and 1957.

In 1957, Manchester United became the first English team to compete in the European Cup, and reached the semifinals which they lost to Real Madrid.

But catastrophe struck on Feb. 6, 1958, the air crush known as the Munich air disaster, claimed 23 lives, including those of eight players – Geoff Bent, Roger Byrne, Eddie Colman, Duncan Edwards, Mark Jones, David Pegg, Tommy Taylor and Billy Whelan – and injured several more.

After the tragedy, Busby rebuilt the team, with squad including players such as George Best and Denis Law, and through the 1960s, the team's successful trail continued with FA Cup in 1963, and league titles in 1965 and 1967.

In 1968, the Red Devils marked another historic moment by becoming the first English club to win the European Cup after beating Benfica 4-1 in the final.

Between Busby's resignation as manager in 1969 and Sir Alex Ferguson's appointment in 1986, Manchester United won two FA Cups in 1983 and 1985 with head coach Ron Atkinson.

Ferguson era: Manchester United reign in English football

Ferguson's performance in his first years with the Red Devils was deemed below par. In fact, he was rumored to be sacked until their 1990 FA Cup final victory over Crystal Palace, but Ferguson finally established his game plan and carefully built squad.

The first landmark of the United reign was 1991 UEFA Cup Winners' Cup title with 2-1 victory against Spanish powerhouse Barcelona.

The Red Devils did not stop there and also claimed their maiden European Super Cup by defeating European Cup holders Red Star Belgrade 1-0 at Old Trafford.

After two league cups in 1991 and 1992; in 1993, the team won their first league title since 1967.

Next season, United won their second consecutive league title – alongside the FA Cup – to complete the first "Double" in the club's history until they do it again in 1995–96 season.

After getting another league title in 1996–97 under their belt, Manchester United reached their historic peak in 1998-1999 season.

The Red Devils managed to clinch a "Famous Treble" – winning domestic title, domestic cup and European cup in the same season – with the help of famous "the Class of 92" – squad including David Beckham, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes.

Despite starting the season at a reasonably low point, after their 2-3 loss to Middlesbrough in the 18th week of the Premier League, Manchester United forgot losing until the end of the season.

After finishing the Premier League race in one point front of Arsenal after their 2-1 win against Tottenham on May 16, 1999, in the last game of the league; just six days later, United won the FA Cup final 2-0 against Newcastle United.

On May 26, 1999, in one of the most memorable finals in football history, Manchester United won the 1999 UEFA Champions League, with the goals of Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the 91st and 93rd minutes respectively. This was despite the team playing almost all game behind and Bayern Munich leading since the sixth minute.

Ferguson got knighted by the queen of England in 1999 after this historic success.

In another historic moment, in November 1999, United became the only British team to ever win the Intercontinental Cup by defeating Copa Libertadores winners Palmeiras.

Ferguson won four more Premier League titles (in 2001, 2003, 2007, 2008) and one FA Cup in 2004 until winning the European football's greatest trophy for a second time.

Manchester United took on rivals Chelsea, and won the match 6–5 on penalties following a 1–1 draw after extra time, and bagged their second UEFA Champions League title on May 21, 2008.

In December 2008, the club marked another historic first as they became the first British team to win the FIFA Club World Cup by defeating Ecuadorian club LDU Quito 1-0 in the final.

After winning three more English Premier League titles in 2009, 2011 and 2013, on May 8, 2013, Ferguson announced his retirement at the end of the season.

Besides being one of the best football coaches in history, Ferguson was also an amazing talent scout. He helped many players to reach stardom including Beckham, Giggs, Ruud Van Nistelrooy, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo.

Fall from grace

The club board, left with the enormous gap after Ferguson's departure, appointed Everton manager David Moyes as the replacement.

But Moyes was sacked just after 10 months for poor results, and Giggs took over as interim player-manager until Louis van Gaal's official replacement of Moyes in May 2014.

The Dutch manager won the 2016 FA Cup with the Red Devils, but was sacked on May 23, 2016, just two days after the cup final due to his poor league performance.

Jose Mourinho was then appointed as the head coach. He won the FA Community Shield, EFL Cup and UEFA Europa League in his first season in 2017. But no one knew then that the 2016-17 season will be the final showdown.

Mourinho was sacked in December 2018, and the team have not won any domestic or international trophies since then, despite working with three different managers: Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Michael Carrick and interim manager Ralf Rangnick.

It is believed that the reason of this fall from grace is the club's change in transfer policy after Ferguson's departure.

Overpriced signings, and the lack of a dependable squad are said to have diminished the Red Devils' diminishing success.

In the 2013-2014 season, they paid over €77 million ($81 million) to Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini. In the 2014-2015 season, the club spent €195 million ($205 million) with just €75 million ($79 million) of the budget spent on the transfer of Angel Di Maria.

In the 2016-2017 season, they signed former Manchester United player Paul Pogba for a record fee of €105 million ($110,5 million).

All in all, Manchester United spent €903 million ($950 million) in the last 10 seasons, becoming the top spending football club on transfers during this time, but have not won any trophies for five seasons.

What's next?

On April 24, the club's board announced they reached an agreement with Ajax manager Erik ten Hag as head coach for the next season.

The 52-year-old manager, who has two Dutch Premier League (Eredivisie) titles with Ajax in 2019 and 2021, will replace Rangnick by the end of the current season.

But can he bring back the good old days? It depends on player selection and transfer policy rather than coaching abilities of the new manager.

Ten Hag seems promising in this matter as his team, Ajax, gained $250 million from player sales in the 2019-2020 season, and $122 million in the next.

Restless Manchester United fans cannot seem to wait for the next season to see how the Red Devils manage under the helm of Ten Hag.

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