After Monday night’s 2-0 win for Aston Villa over Newcastle United, the focus in the Sky Sports studio turned to the wider Premier League picture, and before long, Manchester United’s woes became a topic of discussion.
Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher gave their thoughts on what’s going on at Old Trafford, just over 24 hours after United had gone 2-0 down to Sheffield United at Bramall Lane, came back to lead 3-2, and then throw it away in the 90th minute.
The 90 minutes was a perfect metaphor for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s time at the 13-time Premier League champions so far. Rollercoaster.
Neville came out with an interesting quote, which I, as an impartial fan still watching the broadcast as I tried to work out why Newcastle were so terrible, agreed with.
He [Solskjaer] must demand it [money to spend]. He’s not going to be around to see the fruits of their labour.Gary Neville
Neville was referring to his comments that his old side hadn’t got enough experience to accommodate the youngsters that Solskjaer is bringing into the first team mix – again, a fair comment. The example of Mason Greenwood being mentored by Marcus Rashford is not similar to Michael Carrick being mentored by Paul Scholes in 2006.
The solution to this problem, according to Neville, was to go and spend money in January, or risk naive performances ruining Man United’s chances of finishing in a top six place, and potentially costing Ole his job.
But there’s something about spending money at Manchester United that doesn’t quite sit right with the powers that be at Old Trafford, if you cast your mind back 12 months, when things started to go pear shaped for Jose Mourinho.
The Portuguese coach was unhappy with his squad, particularly his defence, and wanted money to spend to fix things. He wanted a centre back and clearly wasn’t going to get one (United sacked him, appointed Solskjaer, and then waited another seven months before spending a world record fee on Harry Maguire), and the rumour that simply would not go away was Bruno Fernandes potentially signing from Sporting in Portugal.
The midfield schemer seemed the perfect fit for United, was available, and ready to leave Portugal for a greater challenge in England. The YouTube clips were all over Twitter and Facebook, and fans were salivating at the thought of Fernandes being the missing link in United’s misfiring midfield.
Fast forward a year, and Fernandes is still at Sporting, still scoring goals and making assists (5 goals and 5 assists in 10 games so far this season) and has just signed a new contract at the club, although it’s likely to be a move to bump his transfer fee north of £60m for whenever he does finally leave.
And when he does leave, his destination could be terrible news for the red half of Manchester. The latest headlines are linking Bruno with a move to North London, specifically Tottenham Hotspur. Guess who’s the manager there now?
Now then, imagine Bruno moves to Spurs in January (or even next summer for that matter), to replace the outgoing Christian Eriksen, and reproduces something like his best form at Sporting. He could well fire Spurs to a title challenge, would almost certainly be competing in the knockout stages of the Champions League on a regular basis, and you just KNOW Mourinho would be loving every minute.
And that’s because if this scenario plays out anything like the above, it would prove that Jose Mourinho was right all along. He was right to throw his toys out of the pram when he analysed his squad, realised it wasn’t good enough and demanded a spending spree. He didn’t get it, was then sacked, and the Solskjaer honeymoon soon came to an abrupt end once the airplane wheels hit the tarmac after landing from Paris in February.
Don’t get me wrong, Mourinho’s behaviour at the end of his time in Manchester was a massive problem, and he certainly should have been sacked when he was. But had the board at Carrington been more willing to back one of the most successful managers of the modern era in the first place, then they could have avoided the situation they’re currently in.
This left the board at United exactly where they were before they got rid of Jose. They still needed a defensive rehaul (Solskjaer clearly agreed as Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Maguire signed), and they still needed midfielders. Daniel James has looked promising this season, but the fact that Fred is currently in the United midfield shows that there’s a creative player-sized hole that is still to be filled.
Essentially, they’ve done with Solskjaer what they could have done with Mourinho, but for cheaper. That will please the Glazers and Ed Woodward as it leaves the books in better shape, but the on-field talent is still way off what it needs to be, and signing players like Bruno Fernandes last summer might just have stopped that.
Mourinho meanwhile is in London and has enjoyed early success, showing his undoubted nouse by subbing Eric Dier after 29 minutes to inspire a 4-2 win from a 2-0 deficit against Olympiacos on Tuesday, three days after brushing West Ham aside comfortably.
If Daniel Levy sanctions a move for Bruno Fernandes in the next transfer window or two, Mourinho’s time in the capital is only going to go from strength to strength, and leave Manchester United without any solutions to their mounting problems.