Manchester United need real change under Sir Jim Ratcliffe – there can be no hiding place (2024)

It is five years since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer first talked about the need for a ruthless cull at Manchester United but supporters are still waiting for one worthy of that description to materialise and, over time, the scale of the overhaul required has only mushroomed.

Too many substandard players have subsequently been added to the ones the club have habitually failed to move on – often at great expense and without total clarity about the areas that need plugging and the type of football they want to play – and the cumulative effect has been deepening mutation of a Frankenstein squad.

What is clear, then, is that the new Old Trafford hierarchy Sir Jim Ratcliffe and his Ineos team are pulling together are not going to fix all of United’s historic problems in a single summer, all the more so with the purse strings expected to be so tight. The challenge ahead is huge.

But what they can do is set the tone for things to come by reminding everyone that there is no place to hide at Old Trafford, that underperformance will not be indulged and that no one who falls below the standards expected is safe – and raise vital funds in the process.

The news that United are prepared to listen to offers for the majority of their first team squad bar rising talents such as Alejandro Garnacho, Kobbie Mainoo and Rasmus Hojlund does not mean 20 senior players are suddenly about to be funnelled through the Old Trafford exit door.

Given there is a limit to how many players of the right quality, profile and character the club can realistically sign in one window, there is a balance to be struck on outgoings and there will have to be compromises.

Yet by adopting what is expected to be an ultra-flexible approach to the summer window, and potentially cashing in on some big names such as Marcus Rashford if the right offers arrive, the Ineos led United can start to draw one line under one of the anchors of the recent past while looking ahead with purpose at the same time.

For a while, there were attempts to argue that the 2022 summer window showcased a greater ruthlessness with the departures of Paul Pogba, Jesse Lingard, Nemanja Matic, Juan Mata and Edinson Cavani but they all left as free agents, in many cases having been kept on long after they should have been sold.

Last summer represented a small improvement in that regard, with the likes of Dean Henderson, Anthony Elanga, Fred and Alex Telles all sold when in previous years they might have been kept on to swell the ranks of the disillusioned, stale or inadequate.

All in all, though, it has not been a club that has sold well or sold boldly in the decade or so since Sir Alex Ferguson retired. Changing that approach will be one of three key pillars Ratcliffe, incoming chief executive Omar Berrada, new technical director Jason Wilcox and sporting director in waiting, Dan Ashworth, must correct if United are to think about being very successful again, beyond any considerations over the identity of the manager.

Firstly, they must be very clear about United’s style of play going forward and, secondly, they must recruit according to that coherent identity so there are no more square pegs in round holes. Selling well will naturally help facilitate tasks one and two.

Erik ten Hag is firmly of the view that United have been working to a clear identity under him, and even used his programme notes for Saturday’s game against Burnley to explain how he has consulted closely with Darren Fletcher – now succeeded as technical director by Wilcox – and academy director Nick Cox to “develop a shared game model, with consistent training methods and playing styles”.

Ten Hag wants United to be “the best transition team in the world”, a concept that he believes – probably rightly – chimes with the club’s history of fast and furious attacking football. But it is also true that the best transition teams are compact out of possession and do not have the giant spaces between attack and defence that United’s opponents have frequently exploited this season, which is why Ten Hag’s vision has often felt hard to discern even accounting for all the injuries.

With Anthony Martial, Raphaël Varane and Brandon Williams out of contract this summer and expected to leave, a hefty wage saving there could create room for substantial investment in a new player.

In the main, though, the success United have buying this summer may be largely dictated by what joy they have selling after counting the cost of too many years doing neither particularly well, and with the Premier League’s profit and sustainability rules now biting.

Manchester United need real change under Sir Jim Ratcliffe – there can be no hiding place (2024)


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