After some mid week European action, the Premier League was back in action and as usual there’s plenty to talk about.
As the dust settles on Manchester United’s failure to capture the Europa League title against a more resolute and determined Villarreal team, the question has again been raised about where this once mighty club are heading?
A club that used to pride itself on playing the United way and capturing the imagination of football fans worldwide has been replaced by a football club that now seems to accept mediocrity at all levels of its organisation.
The loss on Thursday morning stretched United’s trophy wait to four seasons as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side could only muster two shots on target against a Villarreal team that finished seventh in La Liga. The inability for United to break down a packed Villarreal defence and creatively problem-solve throughout the game brought to the fore once again the shortcomings of a team that lacks any identifiable style of play.
United’s expensive squad struggled to impose themselves on a Villarreal team that comfortably repelled United’s attacks throughout the 120 minutes. Solskjaer’s lack of tactical nous was also brought to the fore with changes to formation non-existent and substitutes only used once extra-time had begun.
United’s performance, though, should not come as any real surprise to those that have followed the United journey since Sir Alex Ferguson stepped away.
The managerial carousel that began with the appointment of David Moyes has seen a club that regularly fought for Premier League and Champions League titles now proclaim finishing in the top four and making a Europa League final as a sign of progress.
United’s second place this year, when taken into context, is an overblown sign of progression with many of their top-four rivals imploding, including Liverpool losing key personnel to injury and Chelsea changing their manager.
The rhetoric that has surrounded United is that Solskjaer is the right man to lead the club back to the forefront of English and European football.
This belief though is sorely misplaced as a man who is considered a United legend continues to be given the benefit of the doubt due to his performances as a player.
Reports have surfaced that in fact Solskjaer will be offered a new three-year deal by United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward despite the apparent failings of a squad that is inadequate to perform at the very highest level.
United is a club that is unhealthy from the top to the bottom, led by the Glazer ownership, which continues to benefit financially off the United name despite the lack of success on the pitch.
A club that holds its roots in the working class now reflects a place that has lost its soul and identity, highlighted by the angry fan protest last month, which postponed the Premier League game between United and Liverpool. The leaking roof at Old Trafford acts as metaphor for a club that has been left to decay and rot since the Glazer takeover in 2005.
This is in complete contrast to their cross-city rivals Manchester City, who through the investment from Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi ruling family have been able to build a football club for the future.
City were once the poor neighbours of United, but they have now surpassed their city rivals not in historical records but in the establishment of a modern football club, which in turn has achieved the desired success on the field.
The United name that is synonymous with players such as George Best, Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo now looks across with envy at the dominance the blue half of Manchester has been able to establish over the last ten years.
The need for real and sustained change at United is essential for the club to be able to make real progress and once again dine out with the elite of Europe.
The change that is needed, though, will not occur with the current hierarchy that is in charge, including the manager. United face an uncertain future wherein fan disconnect and big business ownership threaten to create a club in the image of ordinariness.