In March 2018, 9 months before his departure from Manchester United, Jose Mourinho went on a 12-minute rant to defend Manchester United getting knocked out of the Champions League by Sevilla in the name of ‘Football Heritage’. He explained how poor United had been since Sir Alex retired, and the process of becoming a top team, both domestically and in Europe.
In 3 months’ time, Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer will complete 3 years as the manager of Manchester United. While the club has made steady progress, both on and off the pitch, they are yet to win a trophy to show for the progress they have made so far. There is a stark contrast to the mood off the pitch, and also to the playing style, when compared with the regimes of any of the previous managers since Sir Alex Ferguson, let alone Jose, but the club has not won any silverware since Jose left, and that adds to the ‘football heritage’ argument, that Jose presented in 2018. Is Manchester United not ‘football heritage’ anymore? Was Jose right? And how right was he? How much longer do Manchester United players, coaches, and fans have to wait to see them win the biggest trophies again?
It has been 8 years since Manchester United came close to even challenge for the league. It has been 10 years since Manchester United challenged for the Champions League (lost to Barcelona in the Champions League final in 2011). They have been below par in Europe since 2011 and were even booted out of the Champions League group stages in 2012, and then out of the Europa League knockout stages in the same season by Marcelo Bielsa’s Athletic Bilbao.
One could point out various reasons for United’s poor display on the pitch, but matters off the pitch have also contributed to United’s downfall. Poor management, recruitment, chopping changing of managers, etc. From The Chosen One in 2013 to the Special One in 2016, United tried it all, but no one could mount a title challenge or have United compete for major honors.
Manchester United did win a couple of cups in the process – Louis van Gaal won the FA Cup in his last game as Manchester United manager, and was sacked a couple of days later, as the club decided to go the Jose Mourinho way. Jose was able to manage his side to win the Europa League, and the Carabao Cup (and if you believe him, United won a third trophy – The FA Community Shield). However, Jose Mourinho couldn’t keep the ship afloat and was sacked by the club, who then turned to former player, and club legend, Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer in December 2018.
There’s little doubt that Ole has done a great job in rebuilding not just the squad, but the club in general. There are “good vibes” around for sure, and Cristiano Ronaldo’s homecoming has lifted the spirits around the whole club, and its global fanbase. The addition of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane have addressed two problems in the squad in central defense, and right-wing, and with the level of investment, it’ll be expected that Manchester United can improve on performances, and results from previous seasons. “Good vibes”, yes, but they will only get you so far.
United finished as runners-up by a long short behind Champions Manchester City and lost to Spanish side Villareal in the Europa League final. While they were way behind City in the title race, who was by far the best side in England if not Europe, United were favorites to beat Villareal but fell short.
Ole Gunnar seemed to have brought the squad together, and United do find themselves just 2 points off the top of the table, but recent results raise a big question mark whether United are any close to challenging for the title this season. Even with 2 points off the top of the table, eyes full of scrutiny are on Ole Gunnar Solsjkaer and it will be interesting to see how the players react to the bad run they’ve been on. They’re out of the Carabao Cup already, having lost to West Ham United at Old Trafford. They survived the Villareal scare and managed to come out victorious after Ronaldo scored the winner in the dying seconds of the game, and have only picked up a single point off the last two games at home.
The only thing consistent with Manchester United (and it’s been a thing since Sir Alex retired) is United’s inconsistency. This is how Manchester United’s next 6 fixtures look like, once the teams get back to club football after the current international break:
Leicester (A), Atalanta (H), Liverpool (H), Tottenham (A), Atalanta (A), Man City (H)
Ole would want to refer to his notes that he picked up under Sir Alex, because if his team are to to successfully come out of this run of fixtures, his players would need to do much more than they’ve done. A valid argument could be how the new players are still trying to find their feet, but the recent performances have been sub-par, and United will find themselves far away from the table toppers if they don’t pull themselves together, and the manager and his staff need to get this one right to avoid piling up the pressure on themselves.
It’s been 5 years since United won anything. 8 years since United won the title, and have not come close to challenge for the Champions League or the Premier League. Football Heritage? United do belong to the “Ivy League” of club football, but history and heritage don’t guarantee success in today’s day and age. Recent history is not on United’s side. Neither is the next run of fixtures, and Ole, his staff and players should be well aware of the challenge that lies in front of them, and what they should do to become part of ‘Football Heritage’ again.