Manchester United fans have watched enviously as Klopp masterminded Liverpool’s rebuild, and now the Red Devils must embark on a similar journey back to the top
There is no quick fix: Manchester United fans may have to suffer in the short term before glory is restored to Old Trafford.
Liverpool identified Jurgen Klopp as the man to bring success back to Anfield back in 2015, gave him time and resources to implement his culture – and look at them now. They waited 30 years on the Kop between Kenny Dalglish delivering the title in 1990 and Klopp masterminding the next one in 2020.
I’m not suggesting United fans will have to wait three whole decades, but it’s already nine years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired on the back of his 13 titles (plus three at Aberdeen). And after their Champions League exit against Atletico Madrid – where it looked like all the best players were on the pitch with no clear structure – they may have to go through a bit more pain before the good times return.
After five years without a trophy, another two or three will be worth it if United rebuild by sticking to a long-term, sustainable strategy. I do not wish to join the chorus line of angry voices rubbishing the club.
It is time to be constructive, honest and take a broader view instead of looking for instant solutions. Liverpool have shown the value of identifying a manager as the leader of a rebuild, sticking with him and reaping the rewards of that loyalty.
Now it’s time for United to follow suit. The first thing to do is to accept that, for the next three to five years, Manchester United may still be a leading global brand commercially, but they may not be the market leaders on the pitch.
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Then there is no escaping the importance of getting the next appointment as manager right. Will it be Mauricio Pochettino? He has long-term admirers at Old Trafford, and he may even be able to renew his old Tottenham alliance with Harry Kane, but Paris Saint-Germain’s collapse against Real Madrid in the Champions League was not a great job interview.
When Karim Benzema turned up the heat for Real, PSG looked a team short of structure. They were all over the place. Erik ten Hag is also in the frame, but Ajax got knocked out of the Champions League by Benfica in midweek. Again, is he flavour of the month or the long-term answer?
Thomas Tuchel has done a great job at Chelsea, and there is speculation he could leave Stamford Bridge if the fall-out from owner Roman Abramovich being sanctioned is not resolved. Interim manager Ralf Rangnick will move to a consultancy role at the end of the season, and his input will be crucial. United simply have to get the right man and stick with him.
Then player recruitment has to be right. Instead of hand-picking the world’s best players and trying to shoehorn them into the team, the profile of new signings has to be a good fit in terms of age, ability, hunger, fitness and ambition. Heaven knows how bleak this season would have been for United without Cristiano Ronaldo’s encore, but his return was only a sticking plaster to cover the wounds of them going without a trophy since 2017.
Now Ronaldo is going to finish a season empty-handed, with no winner’s medals, for the first time in 16 years. And unless Arsenal, Tottenham and West Ham all implode in the race for top-four football, United aren’t going to be back in the Champions League next season.
It’s not a question of ripping up everything and starting with a blank sheet of paper. New chief executive Richard Arnold will be a safe pair of hands, and the youth development structure at United is still in good order.
Head of academy Nick Cox is a top guy and there are more talented kids in the pipeline where Marcus Rashford, Anthony Elanga, Scott McTominay and Paul Pogba came from. Rashford has endured a tough season, which has never got going since his shoulder operation last year. He looks short of confidence and as if he is playing in pain, with too much responsibility on his shoulders.
But he is still a young man, and I would tell him the same thing as I tell our youngsters at Macclesfield: Don’t forget, you play football because you love it. I have absolutely no doubt that Manchester United will rise again, just as Liverpool are born-again under Klopp.
So let’s have no more social media statements from players apologising for setbacks and ‘we go again’, and let’s get real. Manchester United is a monster global brand, and that won’t change. But on the pitch, there is probably more pain ahead before recovery takes root.