2019 was a turbulent year for Manchester United, to say the least. It saw the highest of highs like that night in Paris, and the lowest of lows as recently as late December with the abysmal defeat at Watford. While the end of the year—and in this case the decade—has people reminiscing and racking their brains to pick a best XI and best player of the last ten years, it’s also a time to look towards the future. With 2020 having officially arrived, here are five things Manchester United supporters will want to see over the next 12 months:
Manchester United is far from a rounded, well-oiled machine. Transfer failures from the past managerial regimes are still lingering throughout this disjointed squad, albeit less so than last January. Marouane Fellaini, Romelu Lukaku, Ander Herrera, Matteo Darmian, Antonio Valencia, Alexis Sánchez and Chris Smalling were all moved on before the current campaign. The club has made progress in this department but the clearout has to continue, with Marcos Rojo, Phil Jones, Nemanja Matić, Ashley Young, and potentially others now sitting atop of the chopping block.
Once players are sold they need to be replaced...and with upgrades! The current squad is already paper thin, and has been left even more exposed by a host of untimely injuries. United fans are crying out for the club to address shortcomings in nearly every position, with two midfielders, one forward, one right winger, and one defender the bare minimum needed to compete for major titles again. And if Ed Woodward and co. have set the bar so low that five players sounds like a lot to you, consider that Summer 2019 saw Bayern Munich sign six, Juventus sign seven, and Atletico Madrid sign nine players in a single window. No excuses; sign players.
A Mean Streak from Ole
Do the players fear Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Robin Van Persie doesn’t think so. After watching his two former employers go to bat this New Year’s Day, the Dutchman said the following on United:
“They need...a bit of fear for the coach. You know if you don’t make those runs or make that pass, you will be punished and you won’t play the next game. Are the players lacking fear? Probably. By the looks of things, I think so.”
Ole doesn’t need to turn into José “Oscar the Grouch” Mourinho, but for the love of Zlatan (cue pity laughs for the God pun) stop being so positive ALL the time! We did not “look OK,” against Arsenal. We’re over halfway through the season, “the boys” should not still need “time to settle.” Nobody knows how he speaks in the dressing room, but he needs to publicly make it clear to the players and the fans that he will not put up with these poor performances. It’s time to ruffle a few feathers, make big calls, and show everyone who’s in charge.
Manchester United will lose games in 2020, and they will play poorly. When that happens, Solskjaer needs to be blunt and call out the poor performers in his pressers—and, conversely, praise strong performers when deserving as well. Nobody wants to be put on blast to the media in front of the whole football world, but by publicly holding players accountable Solskjaer will expel the complacency over playing time and force them to work hard and actually perform if they want to earn minutes. The bottom line is the current levels are unacceptable, so Ole has to make sure they are not accepted.
Clarity on Pogba
Pretty simple really: will he stay or will he go? Either make a £100m impact on the field, or raise £100m and buy players (plural) who will; but pick one and commit to it. Piggybacking on the last point, Solskjaer has been less than assured in his recent assessment of Pogba’s stance on the club and injury status. When commenting on Pogba’s absence against Arsenal, Solskjaer said that “his people” have advised him to have an operation. “His people?” Intentional or not, Solskjaer appears to have revealed that Pogba is running this circus, and that the manager has lost control of his star pupil. Solskjaer needs to be honest with the player, honest with himself, and honest with the fans. If Pogba wants to stay, have him make a public statement and get him back on the field ASAP—we’ve heard enough from the club and we’re unconvinced. It’s time to hear from Pogba himself. However, if the player wants to go, Ole needs to make it clear that he is no longer part of this team and cut him out like he did with Lukaku. No player is bigger than the club.
Spelling Bee: “Your word is consistency.”
MUFC: “Uhhh...can I have the definition please?”
Spelling Bee: “Consistency. Since Ferguson retired, Manchester United has lacked consistency. Consistency.”
Have you ever repeated a word so many times that it stops sounding like a word? Well, after the past two months, it’s happening again. How can a team beat Tottenham Hotspur and Manchester City, followed by a draw Everton and loss to Watford, then put four past Newcastle and earn a brilliantly comfortable two-nil victory at such a difficult ground as Turf Moor, only to faceplant against Arsenal? It’s really mind-boggling stuff, this.
But there’s hope. After selling the dead wood, replacing them with motivated new talent, ruthlessly demanding quality performances, and resolving the internal drama, Manchester United fans will be desperate to see the club place the final piece in the puzzle by regularly stringing together wins. Nobody can argue with the fact that United has potential, and with a little more talent and structure United can go on a run, and maybe even win a trophy.