On a spring night in 2013, a packed Old Trafford stadium roared when the net bulged as Robin Van Persie scored the second of his first-half hattrick in emphatic style, a volley from outside the box requiring outrageous ability and power. Fans across the world wildly celebrated in their living rooms and pubs as United had just sealed their 20th league title, overtaking bitter rivals Liverpool and becoming the most successful English league side ever.
Four games later was Sir Alex Ferguson’s last game as manager for the team which he helped establish as one of the greatest clubs in English football. His words engrossed both home and away fans heeding as they looked on with awe and respect that only sheer fanaticism could craft. He thanked the club, hailed the players, and promised to stay with the United for as long as he could.
It rained that day, an occasion which reminded everyone of Manchester United’s dominance in English football, but also the day this dominance ended.
Almost 10 years on and Manchester United has won nothing to assert their domestic dominance. Not a single premier league title, not even a sniff of this trophy which is the greatest title in club football. It has been a worrying time for United fans under the four managers after Ferguson. A plethora of issues have come to the fore since Sir Alex’s departure: the higher levels of management have been exposed for their lack of knowledge of the footballing world, the biggest team in England lacks a proper Director of Football and the owners have been criticised for their absolute lack of care for the club and its finances.
Protests have occurred in the past of course, even after United three-peated the league. However, the club’s lack of recent success has only ignited the hate for the American owners. Most recently Europe’s elite clubs revealed intentions to create their own league called The European Super League. This was designed to line the pockets of the bigger clubs and had many fans worrying it would suck the life out of the beautiful game. This marked a breaking point for United fans, who stormed the stadium – with flags instead of the classic pitchforks – in protest of the club’s owners. For the first time in the modern era, fans forced a game to be called off. It happened to be one of the biggest games in English football, United against Liverpool. The cancellation garnered attention across the world and resulted in a loss of sponsorship by the HUT group. Since this incident hurt their pockets, the Galzers were forced to pay attention.
Following this fiasco, United had had their greatest transfer window in recent memory. The Red Devils signed young star Jadon Sancho, world cup winner Raphael Varane and reunited with one of the world’s best players in Cristiano Ronaldo.
These signings had their desired effect, initially at least.
Currently United is underperforming in all of their competitions and the firm belief is that they should be doing much better. They sit at 6th in the league after 11 games with disappointing results against the likes of Southampton and Aston Villa, a humiliating 5-0 home defeat to Liverpool, and a 2-0 loss to City in the Manchester derby also at Old Trafford.
Albeit early in the season, general consensus is that with the current set of players United should be nearer the top. Expectations have risen dramatically due to the summer signings and the man to lead the squad is Ole Gunnar Solskjær. Known as the Baby-Faced Assassin in his playing days, Solskjær made English football history by scoring the injury-time goal that won United the Champions League and subsequently the treble in 1999 which led to the famous line “AND SOLSKJÆR HAS WON IT”.
Solskjær reminds fans of a time where they were soaring, exasperated from the feats their team was accomplishing. For a while time, it looked good under Ole’s reign and felt like a fairytale, a club legend coming back to save United and bring them to the top. Ole has built the squad from scratch, moulding it into potential world-beaters and achieving a consistency United has not experienced since Sir Alex. Under Ole United have achieved consecutive top-three finishes for the first time since Fergie’s departure. He has helped bring joy and free-flowing football back to United. Nevertheless, the fans remain divided, is he the man to bring them back to dominance? Can he bring United back to the promised land? Ole has his flaws, he lost a final which the team should have won and he is not doing very well at the moment. It is certain that a lot rides on the results of upcoming fixtures after the international break against Watford, Villareal, Chelsea, and Arsenal. However, for each of these challenges, Sir Alex’s words echo, “stand by your new manager”.
Overall, Manchester United is looking to end their 4-year trophy draught this season. Whether Ole is at the helm or a name like Zidane or Antonio Conte is leading the club, the team and the manager must be backed.
“As long as there are games to play, it is not over” – Sir Alex Ferguson.