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Manchester United is a dreary and listless place at the moment - the hierarchy need to take action

The club’s decision makers need to convince fans they are on the road to somewhere.

IT’S EARLY IN the Sopranos’ first season when Christopher endures what (given the average life expectancy of the mob) can be cast as a mid-life crisis. 

Source: oyinladethapimpwith9/YouTube

Gloomy and struggling with the movie script he is trying to write,  is confronted amid his slough of desolation by Paulie Walnuts. 

I don’t just want to survive. It says in all these movie-writing books that every character has an arc. Where’s my arc?

We turn now to another institution that enjoyed roaring success around the turn of the millennium thanks partly to the maniacal control of the man at its apex: Manchester United. 

In the wake of Tuesday’s wretched defeat to Manchester City, United fans would be forgiven for asking the same question as Christopher: what, exactly, is the club’s arc?

Where are Manchester United going? 

These are existential crises that are usually fixed by changing the manager, as Everton and Arsenal have done lately. It’s why the general job description for a football manager is largely just to be different to the previous guy. 

What are United going to do? 

All fans want their clubs to be successful, but given the paucity of silverware available, most settle for an identity and the prospect – if not illusion – of progress; the idea that they have a purpose and are at least going…somewhere.

This has probably been most pronounced at Chelsea this season: the bulk of their supporters last season took against Maurizio Sarri – in spite of his experience and success – and have instead embraced the highly inexperienced Frank Lampard, singing of how “we’ve got our Chelsea back.” 

It’s a counter-intuitive glee only if you see football as purely about winning trophies, but club football is about local identity too. 

The thrill of the early days of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s caretaker reign at United was rooted in this idea.

Sure, the results were good, but there was an exuberance at a ground that had long fallen listless in the vacuum left by Alex Ferguson. The harking back to 1999 has become an old joke at this point, but it served a very useful purpose in jolting the club from the dreary end of Jose Mourinho’s reign: it gave United an identity. 

Now, however, that chants of Ole’s at the wheel have become muted and replaced by the stolid hope that instead he may be about to turn the corner, United have become rudderless once again.

They are giving youth a chance, but as the months pass and the injuries mount, this is being exposed as less a rigid principle than a manager’s resort amid the chronic understaffing of the first-team squad. 

Solskjaer has brought United to a certain point: he re-energised the club and developed an effective counter-attacking game, but he has shown few signs of being able to bring them any further, particularly against obdurate, lower-class opponents who refuse to give United the space into which to counter. 

Pep Guardiola’s systems tweak on Tuesday night was mainly employed to prevent United from counter-attacking, and the lack of a response from United exposed the poverty of Solskjaer’s tactical abilities. 

Of course, this isn’t all his fault: no man should be expected to out-manoeuvre Pep Guardiola with a midfield of Fred and Andreas Periera, the equivalent of arriving at the OK Corral armed with only a spud gun and a prayer. 

The lack of a response from supporters at half-time on Tuesday to United’s defenestration told a story: they could hardly even be bothered to muster sustained booing. 

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manchester-united-v-manchester-city-carabao-cup-semi-final-first-leg-old-trafford David De Gea, dejected during United's hammering against City on Tuesday night. Source: PA Wire/PA Images

United are dreadfully unreliable, and haven’t won three consecutive league games since March, but this is an inconsistency consistent with a mid-table squad under a mid-table manager, which is what United currently are. 

Something needs to happen to zap the club from their current stasis, and the easiest way to do so is by either changing the manager or by investing in the squad. They won’t want for candidates for the former, and have plenty of money to press forward with the latter. 

Failing that, they could also promise progress by overhauling the structure at the top of the club, specifically by hiring the Director of Football they have been promising for more than a year. 

Old Trafford is a deeply jaded place at the moment, and the club’s decision-makers need to take some kind of action to at least convince fans that United are going somewhere.

The Sopranos expertly punctured Christopher’s grand notions with a joke – “You know who had an arc? Noah” – showing that visions of progress and purpose are often illusionary, but when it comes to football, it’s often merely the belief in them that matters: the feeling that the club is going somewhere and doing something is enough to energise supporters and inject some of the purpose of watching football. 

The good ship Manchester United is currently drifting aimlessly: when are the club’s hierarchy going to steer it back on course? 

Premier League fixtures (Kick off 3pm unless stated) 

Friday

Sheffield United v West Ham (8pm)

Saturday 

Crystal Palace v Arsenal (12.30pm) 

Everton v Brighton 

Leicester v Southampton 

Manchester United v Norwich 

Chelsea v Burnley 

Wolves v Newcastle 

Spurs v Liverpool (5.30pm) 

Sunday 

Bournemouth v Watford (2pm) 

Aston Villa v Manchester City (4.30pm)

About the author:

Gavin Cooney

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