By Tony Attwood
Consider Manchester United. Once they had Matt Busby as manager and he won five league titles, two FA Cups and a European Cup over a period of 24 years. And then years after crowing it all was Alex Ferguson with his 13 titles and five FA Cups and three European trophies in 27 years. It took him seven years to get going but once he did he was quite hard to stop. Since he left they come in the top seven, but that isn’t quite the same. True they have won the FA Cup, the League Cup and the Europa League but nothing for the last five seasons.
And surely part of the problem must be that since 2013 they have had eight managers including two caretakers and an interim (I’m not sure what the difference is between them, but that’s what it says).
So nine years, eight managers, one FA Cup, one League Cup and a Europa League.
And therefore it is interesting to compare the approach of Manchester United with that of Arsenal. Both teams had very long term managers who were successful. And then struggled somewhat to fill the gap with someone who could do the job as well as the departing hero.
In the league since Ferguson, left Manchester United have finished 2nd (twice), 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th (three times), and 7th. It’s as if they know that there is a top of the league up there somewhere, but they don’t quite know how to get there. Hence eight managers in nine years (1 year six weeks each).
It is interesting to compare this with Arsenal. Since Wenger left in 2018 the club has finished 5th twice and eighth twice. The number of managers has been three (Emery, Ljungberg and Arteta). Three managers in four years (average 1 year and four months each).
So in the post-Ferguson era of nine years Manchester United have won three trophies – one every three years. In the post-Wenger era of four years Arsenal have won one trophy. – obviously one every four years.
On that basis one might suggest that Manchester United have been doing slightly better than Arsenal since losing their long-term manager, but what it feels like is that Arsenal have secured a new direction for the future with a clear long-term policy that the whole club, from the owner downwards, buys into.
And this lack of long-term policy is what scuppers a number of clubs once they lose a dominant manager who gets his own way. What Manchester United seem to be doing is stumbling on from one month to another, hoping to pick up the odd cup along the way while wondering how long this manager might last.
Meanwhile, to the outsider, the club itself radiates a sort of sense of privilege and indifference. “We are Manchester United” almost seems to be enough for them, with the expectation that such an announcement should send the opposition scurrying for cover.
Managers come and go delivering meaningless soundbites from the football management consultant’s training manual, and quite obviously an awful lot of spectators are not listening. Whatever happens, the response of Manchester United is pretty much expected to be wrong.
As a result somehow Manchester United, has managed to turn itself into a club that is basically semi-detached from the Premier League. Striding forth as if to say that “we are actually of course top of the league, this being 5th, 11 points off the leaders with over a third of the season gone, may look a bit off, but we’re Manchester United so don’t you worry.”
But as their supporters are telling the club, they are worried. There is talk of enlarging the stadium. There is talk of selling to club to a group of American investors for £5bn, give or take the odd billion.
Yet for something like that to happen takes time, and itself causes a huge amount of disruption, usually including lots more coming and going of players and more seasons without trophies.
For just as changing managers over and over doesn’t by itself bring success, nor does buying lots of players. Quite often it just creates turmoil. Just look at the clubs that have spent the most…
|Net Spend last 5 Years
|Brighton & Hove Albion
As we can see spending money isn’t enough. If it were, Bournemouth, Everton and Wolverhampton wouldn’t be worrying about relegation.
Of course when spending reaches the Manchester City level there is not much any other club can do to keep up with it. And as Arsenal have shown these last two seasons, spending on the right players can help enormously. But as Everton, and Manchester United have shown (and Aston Villa even more so) just spending and spending doesn’t guarantee success.
“Spend some fucking money” used to be the chant against Wenger. Man U and Everton look like they heard the chant and followed the idea. And it hasn’t really worked for them.
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