Monday 13 May 2019

Manchester United's 2018-19: Reflections on a season in the Red

So another season comes to a sticky and unsavoury end. For us United fans, it has been another unpalatable one and could yet get worse if a certain other side in red end up with the greatest prize of all next month. City winning the league ahead of the Scousers is the smallest crumb of comfort but hardly a cause for celebration.
We haven't even got the pull of a major tournament - World Cup or a Euros - to help numb the pain amidst the wreckage of a car crash campaign that leaves us, again, stuck in the mud and wallowing in treacle at every turn.

 The dye was cast from day one when Jose Mourinho knocked on Ed Woodward's door with a list of five players, including at least top class centre-backs, on his shopping list. He ended up with a 35-year-old Stoke reject, a 19 year old kid from Portugal and £52m Brazilian you got the feeling he never even wanted. From that moment on, it was the beginning of the end - both for the manager and his players. Mourinho, justifiably so, had his critics, but he was the latest in a long line of United bosses to be let down by his board. He said upon his departure that finishing second with this side was the greatest achievement of his long, decorated and illustrious career but you know what, maybe, just maybe, he was right all along. We went into this season with no expectations and that's likely to be the case again in 2019/20.

This term will be instantly forgettable - with the storm clouds of seven soporific months only briefly punctuated by the longest managerial honeymoon in history. For 16 unforgettable games, United were unstoppable - off came the shackles as players, fans and pundits alike were thrown back to the romance of our halycon days of yesteryear as United could not stop winning with a series of performances that were as stunning and as swashbuckling as the next. The ghosts of the moribund Mourinho were laid to rest with his very anthithesis - a club legend by the name of Ole plucked from the Norwegian backwaters - at the wheel in spectacular style. He had us enthralled by the best run of form for many a year.  It could not last and sadly it didn't. How a team can go from the zenith of one of the best nights in our history in Paris to picking up two points from a possible 15 in the space of only 68 days is beyond me.

Having to witness what many will look back upon as the best title race in the history of the Premier League - one contested between the two teams we hate the most - it was almost as if the football deities joined in with the universal mocking of the mess that our club has become. We finished sixth on 66 points, an eye-popping 32 points behind City. Two seasons ago, we finished in the same position and three points better off but with the caveat of winning the Europa League and getting back into the European elite albeit via the back door. This time around, the Champions League campaign offered hope, with excellent wins against Juventus and the history making away goals progress against PSG. We perhaps got further than many expected, only to fall short against the same Barcelona side who were on the receiving end of Liverpool's climb off the canvas Mission Impossible.

Who's going to be our director of football? Which players are going? Who's coming in? Have the board got a strategy and a plan to take us forward? What about the transfer kitty? What about the tour and the Europa League? Where does all of this leave United? For what feels like the umpteenth time, there's more questions than answers and no one to provide them.

Spare a thought for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The United boss faces a hectic summer, sleepless nights and not a moment's rest as he attempts the biggest rebuilding job since Romulus and Remus. Six seasons on from David Moyes avant garde inheritance from the greatest manager there ever was and ever will be, this is a far bigger job. Moyes only had subtle tweaking to do but Solskjaer has open heart surgery. We need ten players in and just as many out but that won't happen overnight. I have heard some fans calling for Ole's head already - that is, to put it subtly, frankly ludicrous. What can he be expected to do with this squad in such a short space of time? We need to give him time to build and put his own stamp on things, a la Jurgen Klopp and Mauricio Pochettino. These two men have been at their clubs for four and five years respectively and only now are we starting to see the fruits of their labour. It is a project but we have to be patient. It could well turn out to be that Solskjaer is not the right man for the job as we thought he was but it is simply too early to judge. Give the man a chance before casting judgement.

None of the players have covered themselves in glory, but Luke Shaw and Victor Lindelof emerge from a troubled campaign with credit, their reputations enhanced. Mason Greenwood and Tahith Chong have shown flashes of their frightening potential, Diogo Dalot has offered promise  and Scott McTominay has continued to come of age. As United embark on a summer of rebuilding, these players are safe in knowledge that their futures lie at Old Trafford.

As the Smiths once sang, there is a light that never goes out. As the sun sets on Manchester United's season, no matter how dark things get, we will always keep supporting. We've deserved better as fans, but we'll keep the faith and keep the red flag flying high. We'll never die!

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