Down The Wings

Manchester United Fan Blog

How the Manchester United players have contributed to an underwhelming season

(Photo by Matthew Ashton – AMA/Getty Images)

Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson in 2013, multiple managers have sat in the Old Trafford hotseat. David Moyes will be remembered for being out of his depth at a huge club, whilst Louis Van Gaal will remain known for his pragmatic style of play. Jose Mourinho will be remembered for his egotistical ways and poor player treatment, with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer renowned for his lack of in-depth tactics. Current interim boss Ralf Rangnick is likely to leave in the Summer, and he always be mentioned as the man who couldn’t get the best out of Cristiano Ronaldo.

Whilst each manager has had their flaws, there is an underlying issue that has infected each man who has taken on the role since Ferguson’s farewell- the players. During the Rangnick era here and now, the players seem a bigger issue than ever before.

Relationship with the fans

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It isn’t outrageous to suggest that the current crop of players at Old Trafford are the most unlikeable collective group in the history of the club. Whilst that seems extreme on the surface, most fans will agree. Some generations of supporters have witnessed the heroics of the 1968 European Cup-winning side, whilst others have seen the double winners of 1994 and the infamous treble winners of 1999. Most are lucky enough to have felt the glory of 2008 team on that famous night in Moscow.

The continuity in each of those squads is not so much the personnel, but the likeability of the players from the fans’ point of view. Fans could always relate to these successful squads because the players knew what it meant to win big things at this great club.

(A video from a few years ago depicting the fragmented relationship between players and fans.)

Nowadays, the relationship between fans and players is sour to say the least. Paul Pogba and Anthony Martial have always been particular dividers amongst the fanbase in recent years, but we now have a United squad where 95% of it could never play again and fans wouldn’t batter an eyelid.

In recent seasons, this group of players have been nothing short of inconsistent. For every emphatic win, there is an underwhelming loss just around the corner. This makes it hard for fans to trust players. Gary Neville described after the Atletico defeat that he never got his hopes up following the Spurs win, and this a common theme amongst lots of supporters nowadays.

When fans don’t trust players, it makes every defeat just that little bit more infuriating.

Social media and player brands

When considering the modern age of social media, coupled with the money in modern day football, it comes as no surprise that footballers have become social media influencers, many of whom have their own individual brands. When the performances are good on the pitch, any off-field antics in relation to marketing and branding is fine; any Manchester City or Liverpool player is a prime example of that.

Although, when you play for a club that hasn’t won a trophy since 2016/17, it isn’t a great look. After every defeat, all fans see is “we go again” and “we will bounce back”, but this isn’t washing with fans anymore.

Marcus Rashford was videoed saying “come round the back” on the way out of the stadium on Tuesday night, aimed at a critical supporter having a pop at the 24-year-old. The Englishman is renowned for having one of the best PR teams in world football, and it failed to disappoint with a long-winded and rather cringe-worthy statement coming out a day later. Perhaps they should have left the rhetorical question out, as it came across a bit cringe to the majority.

Not even two days after the exit from the Champions League, Jesse Lingard was sharing images of him living the life in Milan. Whilst he is leaving in the Summer, this is an academy lad who supposedly has United DNA running through his veins, as the club’s marketing team would put it! He’s evidently disinterested. Harry Maguire was quick to post about his England call-up on his social media accounts on Thursday, despite having had a big part to play in the conceded goal that put his team out of Europe against Atletico.

These are just three examples of many in this current squad. After every poor performance, players feel the need to protect their own brand rather than accept responsibility. It has become clear that certain journalists are wrapped around the little finger of certain players. Just remember – Cristiano Ronaldo being in Portugal unhinged the players for the Manchester City defeat, and that is why they lost 4-1 according to many club-briefed journalists. Seems a convenient story for certain underperforming ‘stars’ that may want to shift the blame.

Talking of Ronaldo, he is the only player who can really get away with the social media side of things. The 37-year-old has endured a glittering career, scoring more goals than any other player in football history. He has won more titles than all of the current crop combined, so fans don’t so much mind seeing videos of him advertising CR7 underwear to his 400,000,000 Instagram followers every other day.

Lack of quality

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Weak minded. Social media obsessed. Inconsistent. All of these are contributing factors as to why many of these players are not good enough to wear the shirt, but they are also simply not good enough with a football at their feet.

In the Champions League last Tuesday, United attempted 23 crosses and only 3 of those were deemed successful. Every player in that team is an international footballer for their country, yet they could only complete 13% of their crosses as a collective. This doesn’t flatter Alex Telles and Diogo Dalot, two full-backs who are renowned for their attacking play. Luke Shaw isn’t boasting good numbers himself for assists, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka is a waste of breath when talking about good crossing. That is way over £100m worth of full-backs in total and none can cross the ball extremely well.

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It appears the only thing that Maguire is actually good at is heading the ball away from goal. He is good in a tackle when the attacker takes a heavy touch, but other than that, he is no better than Michael Keane at Everton; an £80m captain who has poor speed, a bad reading of the game and needs protecting by surrounding teammates – only at Manchester United.

Scott McTominay and Fred wear their heart on their sleeve, but when push comes to shove, they are no better than Southampton’s midfield two of Oriel Romeu and James Ward-Prowse, yet United are supposed to win trophies with these players at the heart of the team.

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Rashford can’t pass a ball five yards at the moment, and even Bruno Fernandes has sunk in his performance levels. There are criticisms of every player in regard to actual footballing ability.

David De Gea has been solid this season, Raphael Varane has looked very tidy, Sancho is finally showing his true self, with Elanga still an exciting prospect. Ronaldo is plodding on, doing his thing. On the whole, these are the only players in the good books of supporters, but even with that said, there are still fans who want rid of the likes of De Gea because he isn’t good at passing, or Ronaldo because he doesn’t run enough. There are much bigger issues than these that need resolving, surely?

The bottom line

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The scariest thing is – many of these players could make up the core of the team in years to come. For example, who will take Maguire at the moment? More importantly, it looks bad for the Manchester United brand if he was sold, so the club won’t make him available to buy in the first place. At 29-years-old, he will only get worse from here. Academy lad McTominay is untouchable in the eyes of club officials. The social media team adore Fred for all his smiles and passion.

The ones that fans want to stay, such as Varane and Ronaldo, will move on to bigger and better things.

The issue of the players won’t change overnight. It is impossible to clear an entire squad out in one transfer window. Fans can only hope that the new manager gets a say in removing the untouchable ones and that the players of quality stick around to see the good times come back to the Theatre of Dreams.

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