The New Year is meant to symbolize hope and a fresh start, but the beginning of 2022 has only presented interim manager Ralf Rangnick with his first crisis within the Manchester United dressing room.
Leaks about players lacking morale, questioning the coaching staff, and wanting to leave the club have dominated the headlines for the last 48 hours following Monday’s 1-0 loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers, which leaves Rangnick with much more to sort out in his six-month tenure than simply fighting for a top-four finish.
The Mirror reported on Tuesday, just hours after the loss to Wolves, that up to 11 players want to leave United “after becoming disillusioned with life at United.” The report stated that cliques are forming within the squad and that Rangnick’s treatment of fringe players who struggled to earn game time under Solskjaer—the likes of Eric Bailly, Jesse Lingard, Dean Henderson, Anthony Martial, and Donny van de Beek—has “led to divisions within the United dressing-room.”
The number of players rumored to be unhappy and wanting to leave United before the summer grew to a whopping 17 players on Wednesday, according to the Daily Mail. Edinson Cavani, who Rangnick said will stay until the end of the season, and Paul Pogba are among the stars said to be frustrated and looking to leave the club on a free transfer when their contracts expire in the summer.
There is also reported to be tension between Cristiano Ronaldo and players like Bruno Fernandes and Mason Greenwood, according to Manchester Evening News, who have seen the club’s focus fall on the Portuguese striker.
It was evident something was wrong on the field from an outside perspective while watching United’s performances against Norwich City, Newcastle, and Wolves, in which the team only secured four of nine possible points. Players were misplacing seemingly-simple passes to teammates, giving the ball away, opting to take players on and shoot from distance rather than finding the open man on either side of them, and growing increasingly frustrated with each other and dropping their heads.
They looked miles apart from the side that was predicted to seriously challenge Manchester City, Liverpool, and Chelsea for the Premier League title after signing Ronaldo, Jadon Sancho, and Raphaël Varane in the summer. Manchester Evening News attributed the players’ body language to their “underachievement” as the team sits in seventh place in the table.
Luke Shaw gave the public its first insight into the issues facing the club from a player’s perspective directly after Monday’s loss. The left back said in an interview with Sky Sports that the team lacks the cohesion and morale necessary to succeed.
“I didn’t feel when I was on the pitch that we were together,” Shaw said. “We felt like we were struggling, and it was tough.”
When questioned about whether United’s struggles are linked to the new manager, the left back directed his assessment toward the players’ attitudes.
“We have great quality, and I think sometimes quality isn’t enough,” Shaw said. “We need to bring the intensity, being more aggressive, and we need to bring more motivation. Maybe from the outside today it didn’t look like we had any of those three, but inside the dressing room we know we want to win.”
The apparent lack of motivation within the squad was explained further in an article from The Athletic, which linked the morale issue to some players’ playing time.
“Rangnick has taken training for 26 players…and he is said to have found motivating them all difficult at times, given in each game almost a third will not be involved,” Laurie Whitwell wrote in the story.
Another reason morale is lacking within the squad, per the same report, is that players have their doubts about Rangnick and his training staff’s coaching ability. Newly-appointed assistant coach Chris Armas is in charge of running training sessions at Carrington, but the American’s background of coaching in Major League Soccer “is yet to convince the players of his pedigree.”
It also states that the players collectively don’t fully understand what to do in possession while playing in Rangnick’s new system. Sky Sports added that players believe the German’s preferred 4-2-2-2 formation is hard to play on the field.
Regardless whether the current state of the squad improves soon, it looks almost certain that multiple players will be on their way out of Manchester this month or at the end of the season.
Anthony Martial has already told Rangnick he wants to leave in January, and Sevilla is the current favorite to sign the French forward. The Spanish club had a bid covering half of Martial’s wages rejected on Dec. 28, but United will only let him leave if Sevilla pays all his wages and a loan fee, per ESPN.
Donny van de Beek, who has only played 69 minutes in the Premier League this season, is weighing his options to leave the club on loan this month in order to regain his spot in the Dutch national team for this year’s FIFA World Cup, per ESPN. Teammates have reportedly said that the midfielder has impressed in training and deserves more starts than he has been allotted this season, according to Manchester Evening News, but The Athletic reports that Rangnick believes the Dutchman “struggles to cover the ground” despite his “pristine” technique.
Jesse Lingard has grown frustrated about his lack of game time after choosing to stay at the club last summer, and he will see his contract expire this summer. The midfielder is linked to a permanent move back to West Ham, according to talkSPORT, where he recorded nine goals and four assists in 16 matches during his loan spell last season.