Every year that has gone by without a Premier League title win gets more concerning for Manchester United.
The first season or two after Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure was put down as a blip, a transition period in which the club just had to regain some stability under the right manager.
No quick fix
The job proved to be too big for David Moyes, who was soon let go despite having signed a six-year contract. Louis van Gaal had the experience and personality for a club of United’s stature but his style of football did not excite.
And his honesty about the amount of work needed to get the club back on track did not wash with the club. He wanted more time but the fans and the club’s hierarchy wanted an instant fix.
Jose Mourinho was meant to provide that fix but If anything, his arrival only highlighted what van Gaal had warned: there were some fundamental problems at the club – both on and off the pitch – which needed addressing.
The Portuguese boss managed to claim some silverware but the club no longer looked the powerhouse of days gone by, despite some heavy spending in the transfer market.
Another year goes by
At the end of the coming season, it will have been seven years since the Red Devils last won the Premier League and no one is expecting them to compete for the title this term.
The job that Ole Gunnar Solksjaer has on his hands is enormous and there is already some concern that, once again, he might not be the right man for the job.
The Norwegian had the perfect start to his tenure at the helm of Manchester United, guiding the team back in contention for a Champions League place.
The players looked to be liberated from the shackles of Mourinho’s tactics and were having fun on the football pitch. An impressive run during his first 19 games in charge saw the new boss handed a permanent contract.
But just as it appeared the glory days might be returning, the wheels began to fall off.
(image courtesy of Arbeiderpartiet via Flickr, with thanks)
United won just two of their last 12 games in all competitions, losing eight and drawing twice. Suddenly, the alarm bells were ringing louder than ever.
Now, some bookmakers on the Oddschecker website have the club at 50/1 to win the Premier League next season. So what do Manchester United need to do to get back to the top?
It is clear that the advantage of any continuity the club retained from the Ferguson years has now gone.
The structure that was left in place has been dismantled piece by piece by each manager that has walked through the door. The recruitment of Solksjaer seemed like a desperate last-gasp attempt to rekindle that link to those glory years, but it came too late – that legacy is beyond repair.
The only way forward for United is a fresh start. A new approach where the manager is given the time and infrastructure to create his own legacy.
It was only by indulging Alex Ferguson desire for total control that the club was able to enjoy the years of success that followed. And it took the Scot nearly five years to get it right.
It should be remembered that Ferguson was not considered a great coach or tactician but he was able to organise and motivate a team around him to implement his vision.
He was able to create a culture of success, a model of excellence that players could buy into. And that model was also reflected at the boardroom level.
Trouble at the top
The current situation in the club’s boardroom is also a cause for concern. As well as Ed Woodward and his team have done on a commercial level, they must take some responsibility for their fall from grace on the field of play.
And it is surely only a matter of time before the poor performances start to have an impact on their commercial prowess. As history fades so will the status of the club especially if they are absent from the European stage.
There is a desperate need for the recruitment of a top-level sporting director at the club. Someone who knows what it takes to put a structure in place for elite managers to thrive.
Someone who understands how to create a scouting network, how to recruit the right profile of players and who can work alongside a manager and his coaching team to achieve a vision. Ed Woodard is not that man.
Until the right pieces are in place at the top of the club, those working below will always be left feeling frustrated and like they are working with their hands tied.
It was clear that both Van Gaal and Mourinho had a problem working under the current structure. And both are managers who have the first-hand experience of what it is like to work and succeed at a well-run football club.
As things stand, Manchester United fans can expect another season of frustration. With no Champions League, it will be hard to attract big-name players.
Some current players will be forcing their way out of the door and the teams above them in the league will only get stronger. Each year that goes by, the task of salvaging the sinking Red Devils ship gets tougher.
And still, there is no solution in sight.