Are Manchester United in terminal decline?

by Graeme Wallace

Sitting four points clear at the top of the Premier League and looking likely to secure progress to the quarter finals of the Champions League isn’t exactly the hallmarks of a club in crisis. Manchester United are on course to secure their 19th league title and perform respectably in the Champions League. The immediate future is very bright for United.

Upon closer inspection, however, it could be reasonably suggested that Manchester United are a team in irrevocable decline. A number of people, including a reluctant section of United fans, are beginning to call their dominance into question. Tuesday night’s defeat to Chelsea was yet another reminder that Manchester United could very well be a club in terminal decline despite their league dominance.

The first port of call in this line of argument is the boardroom politics at the club. United are owned by American businessman Malcolm Glazer, who purchased the club for £800 million in 2005. Opposition to his ownership (first seen in an attack on a van carrying the American that year) has burgeoned in the past 12 months. Many disgruntled United fans now lend their support to the “LUHG” (Love United, Hate Glazer) campaign.

Their anger is quite justified, as it is a visible indicator of the argument that United are in decline. Fans are furious with the seemingly dire financial state of affairs at the club. Glazer is believed to have amassed debts of over £1 billion due to relatively unsuccessful investments in American shopping malls. United’s debts are believed to be in the region of £750 million, with interest payments on such debt crippling the club’s financial capacity.

Number crunching isn’t a particular skill of mine, but it is clear that United’s financial position is untenable. In terms of this article, United’s lack of money severely hampers their capacity to invest in their playing squad. With each transfer window that slips past, United are mere spectators. Ferguson has been forced to watch rivals Liverpool, Chelsea and City invest heavily in their playing squads whilst contenting himself with bargain players like Chris Smalling and Gabriel Obertan.

United risk looking increasingly ordinary if they have no means of investing in their squad. In their current squad, there are a number of players who can be classed as being “on the way out”. Gary Neville has already bitten the bullet, with Giggs and Scholes, despite their fantastic service to the club, definitely in the closing stages of their careers. There will be no transfer reward for such players, and money from the Glazers does not seem to be forthcoming.

Indeed, the issues there are with the squad require strong and decisive financial investment. Fans have been tearing their hair out with the ineptitude of Michael Carrick for quite a while now, and permanent residents of the treatment room like Owen Hargreaves will eventually have to be booted out. Darren Fletcher, whilst a good player, last night showed again that whilst having all the heart, he often lacks ability.

Question marks will always linger over players like Park Ji-Sung, Wes Brown, and John O’Shea. They are the sort of players who receive the often wooly “good squad player” judgement without doing much to ever inspire confidence. As for younger players, the jury is still out on the likes of recently signed Smalling (who conceded last night’s penalty), Fabio, Gibson and Obertan.

As for the rest of the squad, only a fool would deny there is some real quality there. Wayne Rooney, for all his disciplinary issues, is one of the best strikers in the world when on form. Dimitar Berbatov is a poised yet frustrating forward. Players such as Nani and Valencia may not be world class, but they can be effective if used properly. In terms of defence, United are still strong with the solid duo of Ferdinand and Vidic being shadowed by the talented Ulsterman, Jonny Evans.

Whether these type of players are enough to arrest United’s apparent decline, I am not so sure. The match at Stamford Bridge highlighted how Manchester’s most famous club are no longer the unbeatable behemoth they once were. In seasons gone by, United throwing away a lead was unthinkable, but to lose from a winning position would have been unheard of. United looked distinctly ordinary, and the lack of options on the bench was apparent. Ferguson’s decision to bring on Fabio when the team was 2-1 down was mystifying, to say the least.

So, is there anything we can conclusively say about United’s decline, real or otherwise? There is certainly no doubt that United’s financial position will check their future ambitions if not rectified. Liverpool’s recent ownership crisis has shown that club progression fits hand in hand with a stable set of owners. If United want to continue their trophy winning form, they will need to be run by somebody with the capacity to invest in line with their ambitions.

If not, Manchester United may find themselves scrabbling for fourth place whilst better funded clubs surge ahead.

10 Responses

  1. steve says:

    as soon as United is in Ferguson’s hands,United fans have nothing to be afraid of..united have lost the “exciting” factor since Cristiano Ronaldo left (consider having Nani-Rooney-Ronaldo-Tevez-Berbatov up front!!) and they are in a rebuilding process..yes i agree with the article as Giggs is 37,Scholes is 36,Van der Sar is 40,Ferdinand is 33(and if you put Rooney,Nani,Vidic on that list,that’s the best players United have) but i’ve seen great things from Alex Ferguson and i wouldnt be surprised if he made the new ones(new Giggs,new Scholes..etc)..i am a Liverpool fan btw but i gotta say that Alex Ferguson is the best manager in my opinion..the stability and work he has done for the club is why united fans must s**t up their mouth and listen to him..

  2. Red Ben says:

    I’m worried, like all of our fans, that we could well be on the way out, but a lot will depend on what happens when Scholes and Giggs go. Will Fergie stay on board to oversee the rebuild, or will it be with a new man at the helm? I actually fear more for the former, because if Fergie goes, I imagine Jose Mourinho would be the man to step in, which would be amazing.

  3. Redrose says:

    “to bring on Fabio when the team was 2-1 down was mystifying” – nonsense.
    It was obviously due to the injury to Patrice Evra.

    As to a posible terminal decline, United have a seamless replacement for Ferdinand in the impressive Smalling and the basis of a top class back-four.

    Midfield is creatively weak without Scholes and needs to be addressed soonest. A defensive MF replacement for Hargreaves is also a must.

    Strikers are ok, both current and potential. Wingers without Giggs are Park, Nani, Obertan and Valencia so another top out-and-out winger would be ideal.

    Goalkeeper could be a problem if a quality replacement for van der Sar is not forthcoming.

    So, that means a goalie, defensive MF, creative MF and a winger.

    Maybe the long-term MF replacements are there in lads like Cleverly, Pogba, Morrison and Petrucci but there is a short-term need, I’m sure.

    But terminal decline ? Wishful thinking methinks !

  4. Cfinn says:

    This is an absolute rubbish article that could not be further off the mark. Whilst clearly it is not the greatest united squad ever, it’s position in the league does not lie. Yes there are a few players that are “not united players” as Roy keane pointed out, but to base a whole viewpoint on a defeat that has been quiet commonly agreed was not justified, due to some horrible refereeing decisions, is madness! United have lost 2 league games all season, both by the huge margian of one goal, both away from home, one of which the team clearly played below their standards ( all credit to wolves) and the other which they dominated at least half the game but were outdone due to poor refereeing decisions. I’m sorry but I used to have to have huge respect for this page but lately it seems to have lost it’s plot. Good night and good luck

  5. Ad says:

    I sincerley hope they’re not in a terminal decline and I am a strong believer that Manchester United will be in the hunt for the biggest honours at home and abroad for many years to come.

    It has to be said that it’s been a strange season. United’s away form has not been as formidable as past seasons and some unusual results have sprung up away from Old Trafford this season and elsewhere for top flight teams in the Premier League.

    In my opinion, United’s failures this season are down to a number of factors:

    * Rio has been injured intermittently this season and although Smalling looks a fine prospect, the Rio-Vida partnership is the best in the league

    * Rooney hasn’t been his influential and free scoring self this season and that has had a noticeable impact. Having watched season reviews of the last two seasons for United on DVD recently, the Rooney of old won games on his own and this season he hasn’t quite reached the same heights.

    * In relation to the last point, United have missed Valencia and so too has Rooney. He was immense in feeding Rooney with cahnces last season.

    * Berbatov has finally added more goals to his game but isn’t always guaranteed to score when United need to pinch a closely contested game.

    * United’s midfield has scarcely looked so average. On their day all the United midfield options are top players (that’s why they play for United) but Carrick, Fletcher and (maybe less so) Anderson have not been consistent and make a habit of losing possesion.

    * Genuine goal threat Javier Hernanadez seems to be kept on a leash as the manager favours Berbatov and Rooney up front.

    * Perhaps the United fringe players don’t quite cut the mustard. Players like Obertan, Gibson, Evans and Bebe haven’t taken their chance this season and it is looking that perhaps beyond 15 or 16 players, United’s depth doesn’t look as great as it once was.

    * And last but not list, for reasons unknown, United have been unable to finish off opponents this season and have dropped points because of it.

    Recent history suggests that United have the pedigree, hunger and personnel to challenege for honours and I can’t see that changing anytime soon.

    Although this season has not been United’s greatest, they are still sitting pretty at the top of the Premier League and they are still in the latter stages of the FA cup and the Champions League.

    I don’t think it is time to panic just yet, but if United end up trophyless this season then perhaps significant investment will be required.

    That’s my thoughts anyway. Agree or disagree as appropriate.

  6. MHA says:

    As a Liverpool fan, I want Man Utd to be as strong as ever, and I want the same for LFC to; nothing compares to our clashes (maybe the el classico). Man Utd have been the best team this season in the EPL no doubt, Vidic and Rio are the best CB pair in the land, Rooney is not revving to the redline of old, and Scholes and Giggs cannot be relied upon no more; but the cracks have been appearing for a while now – it all leads back to the powers that be: the boardroom. The first sign of stagnation is the resources that you guys have in midfield and the lack of muscle in the transfer market to replenish a much needed midfield and other parts of the squad. If one compares the squads from the 90′s and the 00′ – 05/06/08 years your club was a lot stronger compared to the current state of affairs. Your midfield looks flat and lacks a spark or that killer edge. After Rooney, Berbatov, Nani, there isn’t much in terms of creativity or finishing – I mean no disrespect – some of the team seems pretty pedestrian in comparison to CFC, Arsenal, Man City and dare I say it LFC (I am being objective here, not trying to offend). Ferguson has been amazing with rebuilding squads over the past decade or two, big players come and go but there was always this primordial fear that used to send shivers down the rest of the EPL’s spines – that no longer is there. I am not writing Man Utd off by any means, as anyone does sooner or later realizes that was somewhat a mistake. The fear factor, in a way the prestige that you once held is no longer there and I think it all boils down to your lack of financial clout in the transfer market at this very moment of time. Who knows it may all change this summer with big buys, but this is what it looks like at present. Man Utd need a playmaker.

  7. Nikki says:

    What a crock of shite!!! Sorry but your article holds no weight at all. Complete rubbish.

  8. Man U 4 Life says:

    Its dying of slow painful death in hands of Glazers. I still don’t understand how Glazer can buy a club without paying a single cent. I want to own a club like Man U too without paying a single cent and hope its revenue is enough to pay its interests.

    What Man U need is some Arab royalty to buy them! Forget the Asians billionaires they are pure businessmen, American? Not again.

    While still in hands of Glazer they will suffer.

  9. Ash Robbins says:

    I don’t understand the fans’ fury with the Glazers. Sure, we’re in a terrible state financially, but since they took over the club we’ve won the league 3 times, the Champions League and a couple of Carling Cups. Not bad for 5 years I’d say.

    “The match at Stamford Bridge highlighted how Manchester’s most famous club are no longer the unbeatable behemoth they once were.” – To be fair, we’ve not won at Chelsea in 9 years, so losing there is nothing unusual.

    I do have to admit to some worries over the squad though, mainly in central midfield. I think we’re ok around the rest of the pitch, maybe another top class winger as someone mentioned before.

  10. Legend-11 says:

    02/01/2013

    I’m quite enjoying this “terminal decline” of ours, it’s quite agreeable really…. what with us sat 7 points clear of that lesser known local outfit who have splashed half a billion quid in an attempt to kill us off, nearly two years since this article was written.

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