As Manchester United approach their first summer since restructuring their front office, key lessons need to be learnt to avoid repeating the mistakes made over the last nine or so years.
The 2013-2022 tenure of Ed Woodward had little to no continuity with contradictory managerial appointments, contrasting signings and rash gap-plugging decisions. The result, in the end, was a period of inconsistency for United on the pitch with no clear identity and zero major titles.
United’s new-look front office of CEO Richard Arnold, Director of football John Murtough, Technical Director Darren Fletcher and Consultant Ralf Rangnick, now have the burden of trying to restore the club to its former glory and must stress the importance of having a consistent idea of thinking and operation that runs through the club from top to bottom. Through having this continuity at all levels, the club can hope to have a sporting project that rivals local rivals Liverpool and Manchester City.
With Rangnick as a consultant the club have a source of reference for curating a footballing identity and using it to shape the club. The German’s experience as a director of football with Red Bull Leipzig/Salzburg and his imprint of his ‘gegenpressing’ football philosophy on those clubs will no doubt be called on in certain areas as Murtough attempts to navigate his new role at one of the biggest clubs in the world.
Rangnick may not be at the forefront of United’s front office in the coming years but he will no doubt be an experienced voice in Murtough’s ear when needed. It will fall to Murtough and Fletcher to develop the idea for how they want United sides to look stylistically, setting the footballing identity that will steer key decisions.
Moving forward, United can use their footballing philosophy to guide their recruitment and squad overhaul. In terms of recruitment, the Woodward approach of recruitment based on marketability and prestige will be discarded in favour of signing players based on their suitability for the club’s style of play and the needs of the squad itself.
Rangnick as the current interim manager of the first team has no doubt been using his close position to the squad as an opportunity to carry out a fact-finding mission; identifying which players have the technical, physical and tactical capacity to play in the way desired.
In a similar vein, managerial appointments can then be guided by the same process. United’s past four permanent managers have been a mix and match of styles and philosophies with no sustained approach or signing policy. The results of this approach are clear for all to see with the Reds falling further away from the European elite with every passing season.
Managers must be appointed based on the individual’s compatibility with the club’s footballing approach as well as their CV. Currently, the reported targets fit the view with the Ajax and PSG head coaches Eric Ten Hag, and Mauricio Pochettino being seen as the two front runners respectively. Luis Enrique, Simone Inzaghi and Julian Lopetegui also linked. In this crop of managers, United have a host of options that match the growing demands of the modern game and will bode well with Rangnick’s view for how the side should play.
The club’s decision not to opt for Antonio Conte following the sacking or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is a positive sign that they have learnt from their mistakes and want to appoint a manager for the mid to long term who they can trust with a process.
United have 14 first team players whose contracts are set to expire over the next two summers. Coupled with the fact that interview processes with potential managers have already begun, the club are in a position to get their process underway in ideal conditions granted they set their recruitment strategy right this summer.
A lot can change in two years and the club and fans alike hope that the next two years will be a lot better than the last nine.