After Manchester United lost at home to Burnley on Wednesday – in an Old Trafford atmosphere described as “toxic” by their former midfielder Darren Fletcher – we asked for your questions about the club.
We had hundreds of responses.
Here, I answer a selection of them.
Richard: Do you think that once Champions League qualification becomes impossible, the writing will really be on the wall for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer?
It is true David Moyes and Louis van Gaal were sacked as soon as it was practical after a failure to finish in the top four. But a failure to get there with this squad could not be viewed through the same prism. Hardly anyone in the game thinks it is a ‘top four’ squad. And Paul Pogba, Marcus Rashford and Scott McTominay – who are three of the most important players in it – are all injured. I think deciding Solskjaer’s fate on a top-four finish would be unfair – and is unlikely to happen.
Faisal Khan: Is Mauricio Pochettino likely to take over at the end of the season?
It is possible – whether it is likely, I don’t know. Clearly, if United are looking for a manager, Pochettino would be high on the list. My understanding is Pochettino was interested when Jose Mourinho was sacked, although not so interested he was willing to make himself available by leaving Spurs. Clearly there is no vacancy at the moment, so it should be filed in the ‘could’, not ‘will’, folder.
Steve: If Jurgen Klopp had taken charge of United instead of Liverpool, five years ago, would United be where Liverpool are now?
‘If’ is a big word. I always felt Jurgen Klopp was the right man to follow Sir Alex Ferguson because of his personality and managerial ability. But Manchester United spoke to him and he didn’t want to leave Dortmund at the time. How he would have done at Old Trafford is impossible to say but United’s loss is very much Liverpool’s gain.
Matthew Dodd: What is the likelihood of United making signings this window? If so, who is it likely to be?
Manchester United would like to make signings this month. Solskjaer repeated that in his news conference on Friday. The problem is that finding the right players at the right price is notoriously difficult in January. There is a clamour on social media for United to sign Bruno Fernandes from Sporting Lisbon. But while it is fine for supporters to demand something, the people running the club must decide whether the price is worth paying. At present, they feel it is not.
Mannie Gill: Do United actually have the money available for transfers/investment or is the money tied with the debt?
Manchester United do have money. But not so much they are willing to spend it without thinking of the consequences. A lot has been made of United’s debt – the payments associated with it and additional share dividends are cited by many fans as a reason for their anger at the current ownership, as they see millions of pounds going out of the club that could be used to buy players. Yet, money – lots of it – has been spent in the transfer market. The truth is, much of it has been spent badly.
James Hilton: I was surprised to see they let Ashley Young go; the exodus of the old guard leaves the team pretty limited. How many years will it take to rebuild? Is this simply down to Ole?
Young’s departure is in line with the decisions to let go Ander Herrera, Romelu Lukaku, Alexis Sanchez – albeit on loan – Matteo Darmian and others. I don’t think most fans have an issue with that. The problem is a lack of replacements. Brandon Williams has done really well. I would regard him as United’s first-choice left-back now. But he is 19 and in his first year of senior football. You cannot expect consistency – United need experienced reinforcements.
Stephen Reid: What will it take for the Glazer family to turn on [executive vice-chairman] Ed Woodward and replace him? Manchester United to cease being the Premier League’s richest club?
If that was the case, it would be fairly soon because Manchester United’s status is under threat from Liverpool and Manchester City. However, I don’t think it is the reality regarding Ed Woodward’s position. Woodward was a key figure in getting the Glazer family takeover through in the first place. He has presided over the rise of the club commercially and it means the Glazers now own an extraordinarily valuable asset. I think the issue is more about whether Woodward reacts to the criticism being aimed at him. I have met him. He is a warm, friendly, likeable person. I don’t think anyone would like the stuff being sung about him at the moment.
Ben Flanagan: What is the reason behind the non-appointment of a director of football when it is clear for all to see we badly need one?
I do think Manchester United have tied themselves in knots over this one, Ben. When Jose Mourinho was sacked, the club said the priority was a director of football and gave the impression an appointment would be made before Mourinho’s successor came in. That narrative changed – and not just to the media. People they spoke to about the role were given the impression the club were moving down a certain path and then it all came to an end. Where we are now just leaves United open to criticism as most people think they need a director of football. That is not necessarily true. What they need to do is get their recruitment right. That may involve a director of football, it may not. But without the right players, the situation will not improve.
Andy Haigh: Is there any possibility of a takeover of ownership in the foreseeable future?
Not hearing anything on that one. The only definite is it would cost in excess of £4bn and not many people have that money. I was told by someone I trust there is interest from Saudi Arabia but that would come with significant baggage in terms of human rights. Right now it is a moot point anyway as the Glazer family don’t seem as if they want to sell.
Luke Foley: Why is Mason Greenwood not starting now Marcus Rashford is injured?
I go back to the point I made earlier about Brandon Williams. You cannot expect young players to be consistent. There are other examples – but if I exclude Wayne Rooney, who physically was beyond his years at 18, the last forward I remember playing every week for a top club at such a young age was Michael Owen, who was one of the best England has ever had. I don’t think Greenwood is at that level just yet.
Chiadikaobi: What is making Manchester United hold on to David de Gea and Paul Pogba rather than cash in and save money in wages as their overall sporting contribution wanes? Dean Henderson, on loan at Sheffield United, is a good goalkeeping option.
The goalkeeping situation is an interesting one. Dean Henderson could yet end this season as England’s number one goalkeeper and the Premier League’s Golden Glove winner. And yet, come summer 2020, United could be letting him out on loan – again – to Sheffield United, while keeping Spain’s number two, who has just signed a contract to 2023.
I assume United’s hierarchy thought about this scenario when they gave De Gea his new contract. I don’t see any way Dean Henderson is coming back to Old Trafford as a second choice.
Tom Gold: Can you explain why Manchester United gave Phil Jones a new deal? I feel bad for him but you have to question that decision. Would the team miss him if he was sold?
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I can’t really explain it, no. The expectation was United would trigger the option on his contract and then sell. I am still surprised they didn’t.
Anonymous: How can such a globally successful football club continue to decline? Surely the sponsors will leave.
United will always be attractive as they are one of the leading clubs in the world. But I suspect the club are selling themselves commercially in a slightly different way now, a ‘be part of the rebuild’ rather than ‘join the success story’ kind of thing. The commercial department may have to work hard to renew some of the deals they have done.
Douglas Smith: What is the long-term plan that keeps getting thrown up as an explanation as to why we are not investing in any quality?
I don’t think anyone has said “we have a long-term plan so we are not investing in quality”. I think the club want players who fit their image of what a Manchester United player should be – quick, good on the ball, prepared to take risks. It is taking time, that’s for sure.
George: What were the first years under Sir Alex Ferguson like? Were fans and pundits as critical of United then as they are now? If not, why?
It is hard to compare. Sadly, I am old enough to remember it. There was definite criticism – the team were booed off at times, crowds went down and there was suspicion Ferguson wasn’t going to pull the situation round.
But the media wasn’t the same. Now everyone has an opinion and has a platform to express it. The more outrageous the comment, the bigger the audience.
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