There are more desperate times ahead for the biggest club in England, with results in a tail-spin and no long-term planning in place off the field
Manchester United are in dire straits. The derby defeat to Manchester City made it seven defeats in nine, with performances under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer at an all-time low.

There will be no silverware, with Champions League elimination following an FA Cup exit, while there is little chance of United making it back to the group stages in Europe next season given their current horrendous form.

Questions are being asked about all aspects of the club, from the players to the coach to the boardroom, but cleaning up Manchester United is going to be no easy fix.

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Below are Man Utd's five biggest problems, with explanations as to why they won't be easy to solve.

There is a vague sense of The Manchester United Way and how best it should be carried out. When Sir Alex Ferguson was there, there was no need for a long-term strategy. Ferguson was the long-term strategy. He delegated some responsibilities, but he had good instincts about what would be best for the club. Whether it was recruitment, a style of play, Ferguson usually got it right, certainly in the last two-thirds of his reign.

The problems came when he left and executive vice-chair Ed Woodward was running the club. That's because Ferguson worked like a contractor. He left nothing behind in terms of strategy of how to run a football club. It was all in his head.

Woodward had a go at replicating it with David Moyes. They changed direction under Louis van Gaal and again under Jose Mourinho. None delivered the same effect as Ferguson and that’s because the game as it existed in the early part of Ferguson’s career doesn’t exist any more.

There is only one way forward for serious clubs these days. They have to be able to answer these three questions: Who are we? What is it that we do? How are we going to achieve it? Woodward, on current evidence, can answer none of them.

Now they’ve got Ole Gunnar Solskjaer harking back to the United Way but it’s not a pre-defined way of doing things. It was a one-man band and it’s gone. There is no going back.

Simply put, too many managers have been allowed in too many windows to recruit too many of their own players. This point ties into the one about long-term strategy. Clubs have got to be in charge of signing players, not coaches. And if the coach doesn’t like the players the club signs, then he’s the wrong coach.

There is a coherent recruitment structure around most of the top teams in England as well as further afield. Players are signed to suit a particular style of play and usually come with a particular mindset. No one can get it spot on 100 per cent of the time – every team has players for whom it hasn’t worked out – but very rarely do top teams make as many mis-steps as United do.

The Moyes players survived a few managers – Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata – but thereafter the signings were hotch-potch and jumbled together. Unless United come up with a way they want to play for the next 10 or 20 years, they have little chance of identifying the right kind of player to bring them success.

Meanwhile, other Technical Directors are finalising deals for this summer and United have yet to finalise the appointment of a Technical Director.

Renewals impossible with Alexis as the benchmark


Since Alexis Sanchez signed for Manchester United, Gabriel Jesus, Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva have all renewed their contracts at Manchester City. Therein lies the reason City stayed well away when it became clear what Sanchez’s contract demands would be.

He is banking an estimated £20.35m salary plus bonuses every season and doing very little to earn it. That means when it comes to the renewal of contracts for players already on the books, United are very much in the weaker negotiating position. Pep Guardiola and City have no such trouble. No players are knocking on Txiki Begiristain’s door and saying if such and such is earning this then I have to be earning that.

There is a structure in place – as in many clubs – and it exists for good reason. Jose Mourinho blew a hole in that structure for Alexis and United are paying the price. While the likes of David de Gea and Marcus Rashford might be sceptical of the long-term benefits to their careers in staying at Old Trafford, convincing them to stay for below their market value is going to be even more difficult.

Until Sanchez is gone, no normality will resume. But who in their right mind is going to take him?

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did nothing in his managerial career to merit a job as big as the Manchester United one. He was appointed as a stop-gap, precisely because the season was lost and no high-class coach was available to fill in for six months.

It was sold well to United fans – a hark back to the United Way and the days of Sir Alex Ferguson. He got a soft landing too in terms of the winnable fixtures with which he started his reign.

They got that new manager bounce. There were smiles, a feel-good factor, and positivity. The players – Rashford, Anthony Martial and Paul Pogba in particular – were liberated and performed better. But ever since that 2-2 draw with Burnley in January, Solskjaer has been worked out.

He does not have the tactical solutions to solve games. His style of football is reliant in the extreme on the form of his goalkeeper and his centre forwards. It is percentage football.

There is little difference in how Solskjaer sets up in the big games and how Mourinho would. Look through the fixtures against Tottenham, Liverpool and Manchester City in the league plus PSG and Barcelona in the Champions League. You’ll see blanket defence and occasional threat on the break. The difference between “parking the bus” under Mourinho and Solskjaer is that Mourinho actually has a successful career behind him.

United were hasty in giving a three-year contract to the Molde manager, coveted by exactly no other team in Europe. He’s still got the benefit of the doubt; for example Mourinho was seen widely as the problem before his sacking but now it’s the players’ fault. These, however, are the same players.

It’s only a matter of time before United will have to hit the reset button all over again.

This mustn’t ever be forgotten. Whether the ball strikes De Gea’s leg and goes into the goal - or whether Pogba could try harder - are very, very small issues when the overall health of Manchester United is considered.

The responsibility for this mess begins and ends with the Glazer ownership. But do they care? Probably not. The six children of Malcolm Glazer, who completed the takeover of the club in 2005, continue to reap fat dividends along with other major investors.

A total of over £1bn has been taken out of Manchester United to pay those dividends, fees, costs and interest since that day the club was delisted in 2005. Money that could otherwise have been spent on strengthening the football operation has instead ended up in Florida.

Since then, Manchester City’s owners have spent around the same sum on their club and other European super clubs like Juventus, Paris St-Germain and Bayern Munich have zoomed by.

And still, as of last summer, the total indebtedness stood at £495.8m. And, right there in black and white in United’s latest annual report, is written the following:

“[Our indebtedness] could… require us to dedicate a material portion of our cash flow from operations to make payments on our indebtedness, thereby reducing the availability of our cash flow to fund the hiring and retention of players and coaching staff… limit our flexibility in planning for, or reacting to, changes in our business and the football industry… affect our ability to compete for players and coaching staff.”

That indebtedness stems solely from the takeover, when the Glazers took out £275m worth of loans secured against the club’s assets. Those loans demanded around £60m per annum in interest alone. Some of those loans were sold onto American hedge funds with interest rates running as high as 16.25 per cent at one stage.

At a time when United continue to record all-time high revenues, it is incomprehensible that they are not the strongest club in the world. What the hell has been going on?

Sir Alex Ferguson was a dream of a coach for the Glazers. They sold Cristiano Ronaldo, he brought in Michael Owen on a free transfer and United still won the league. No other manager in the world could have done what Ferguson did and that is something that the Glazers themselves foresaw in a 2010 bond prospectus.

"We are highly dependent on … our management … including Sir Alex Ferguson. Any successor to our manager may not be as successful as he has been."

And so it’s proven.

To visit Old Trafford these days is to visit a relic. There is a stench of neglect about the whole thing.

Rain water was gushing through the roof before kickoff on Wednesday night, an absolute embarrassment to an institution this size and no laughing matter.

The place is suffering from a rodent infestation going back years. The land around the ground has not been developed and it took the Class of '92 to capitalise on the potential for a hotel practically on site.

Look around the rest of the country and indeed the continent. Real Madrid? Barcelona? Redevelopments this summer. Atletico Madrid? New stadium. Juventus? New stadium. Bayern? New stadium. PSG? Massive redevelopment. Liverpool? Massive redevelopment. Manchester City? New stadium. Arsenal? New stadium. Tottenham? New stadium.

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The Glazers? Either can’t or won’t do it.

There have been reports that Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia might come in with a bid and rid United of the Glazers once and for all. Quite what United fans would make of the new owner is another matter.

The 14-year ownership of Manchester United by that family has sent United spinning back decades. It’ll take more than a sudden cash injection to sort it out.