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The end of Manchester United as we knew it

Mediocre results and players without conviction have made the Red Devils a team without identity, and now bypassed in the city by City

The end of Manchester United as we knew it Mediocre results and players without conviction have made the Red Devils a team without identity, and now bypassed in the city by City

If the football world reversed its rules and put virtual reality first - I'm now proposing a random name, Football Manager, - Manchester United would be one of the strongest teams in the world. A squad of players like this, however far from the champions of Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain, Manchester City or Bayern Monaco, is hard to find - with Cristiano Ronaldo, Pogba, Sancho, Bruno Fernandes, Varane, Rashford and many other talents from 25 years old down. Yet the team is sixth in the Premier League, has changed coaches (Ralf Rangnick, since November) and lost the derby to City 4-1 - the seventh derby lost in seven years. 

Unfortunately, the team is not only the (lost) siuu of Ronaldo, the marketing allure of Pogba or the beautiful hopes of the talents made in Uk. It is not only the fourth richest club in the world, the fourth for shirts sold, the sixth for player value and the first for titles won in England. Deloitte's recent rankings placed the Red Devils fifth, with 558 million in revenue which is 4% below pre-pandemic levels (2019-20 season). Manchester City, for the first time, is the leader in this ranking with +17% over 2019. United is a club that certainly has as its core business to squeeze money - Van Gaal recently called it a "commercial club, not a football club" - but at its core, no matter how much progress can be made with marketing and social - third in the league for number of followers, 72.1 million - the field remains the central aspect. 

Manchester United is now a club without an identity. And it's a loss, first of all corporate, because there is no longer a linear project that makes economic progress and football development dialogue. If you don't take care of that, you reduce the chances of reaching the sporting respect of other top clubs like the Citizens, Real Madrid or Bayern. But it's been years since there has been technical planning that follows the high level of club merchandising. Not surprisingly, United was one of the clubs most convinced of the Superleague project, with Joel Glazer - the chairman - appointed vice-president of the new tournament. Juventus, Barcelona, United, these clubs have pushed harder than others for the Superleague and are the ones with the most business (and field) difficulties. The Glazers have a money machine they want to ride, but with the fundamental problem they can't solve. The field.  

The narrative on Manchester United has changed completely, from a perfect club to emulate to a disaster to stay as far away from as possible. The interview with which Paul Pogba has displayed up all his malaise, going so far as to say "I've suffered depression, I don't know what my role is", is the synthesis. Paid 150 million, the Frenchman is a toy: marketing, contracts, visibility, but he has no sports label. A player that can play in every midfield role, Pogba represents the difficulty for the club to find a technical channel even to its most prestigious employees. Players' mental health also suffers from their mental management. In Manchester, in this sense, it seems to have been chasing after stickers more than looking for strategies on the field. This causes outbursts such as that of Pogba, or the recent tensions of Maguire (controversial exultation with England in the match against Albania), the annoyances of Ronaldo, the continuous impatience of the players towards the choices of Rangnick

The confusion can also come from the coach, but it is the company leadership that must give a signal. Former player Teddy Sheringham explained it well to Sky Sports UK: "United took an interim manager (Solskjaer, ed), then fired him and took another one", adding: "The players think 'he won't be here next year. So I stop playing, I will resume when a new coach comes". From these propositions arise effects such as the elimination from the Champions League and the zigzagging path in the Premier League of a team that, although with an unclear tactical and technical logic, certainly has a rose and a quantity of talent out of the ordinary. 

A crisis of values on the field that is also reflected on the younger players. United in recent years has brought out many interesting talents, obviously gone out on loan or relegated to second choices in favor of more experienced pretorians. It is no coincidence that one of the recurring controversies of this season concerns the use of Marcus Rashford, class 97 already attested as a senator for prestige and talent, who has gone from being a local boy hero to being an alien entity in this perpetual interim situation. Younger players do not have character references in a difficult emotional situation like the one that comes from playing in one of the most prestigious clubs in the world.

Magazine cover players à la David Beckham no longer exist. Knights just-for-the-shirt like the Neville brothers or Rio Ferdinand are still to be found. And what is missing, despite the important presence of talented players, are classy players like Scholes or Beckham. It even lacks that nastiness that between Cantona and Roy Keane was found in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's screamer at the 92nd minute against Bayern in the Champions League final. Umbro's Manchester United, to be clear, which was in that narrow elite in which today, even at an aesthetic level (no less important for the sporting echo in the world), has been undermined by Manchester City. With the same recipe that was lost at Old Trafford: ideas, talent, courage. 

The blue of Manchester can boast the opposite of their Red Devil rivals. A solid coach and a society with ideas and projects for young people. That does business (and a lot of it), but constantly with its eyes on the field. A system that for years, under the leadership of Sir Alex Ferguson, has been the way of Manchester United.