(Photo Courtesy of Michael Regan/Getty Images)
By Charlie DeMatteo
Rotting, in need of a teardown, and surviving on achievements of the past. This description applies to both Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United, and the very club itself. When it looked like a takeover was on the cards and the end of the Glazer era was finally coming to an end, continued greed by the American business family priced out even the wealthiest of suitors. Now, with management in the front office a circus, United face a steady uphill battle to remain competitive this year.
After a promising first season under Dutch manager Erik ten Hag, Manchester United have hit a roadblock just four games into the new season. Between off-the-field allegations, ten Hag calling out underperforming players, and cracks beginning to show in the team’s style of play, major doubts over the future of United are beginning to appear.
For starters, the club’s handling of the Mason Greenwood situation was an embarrassment. Greenwood has been out of the public eye for over a year now with serious domestic violence allegations coming to light. The charges were eventually dropped in court due to a key witness withdrawing from the investigation, so Greenwood was not found of any wrongdoing.
Manchester United were then planning to bring back Greenwood into the team, but when word of that got leaked to the public, widespread anger in response led to United changing their position. United got to the correct end result in not bringing Greenwood back, but their insistence on retaining the financial value of a player is a bigger indicator of the issues going on at the club.
Further, Brazilian winger Antony, who was bought for 95 million euros last summer, finds himself in off-the-field controversy after multiple women have come forward with domestic violence allegations. United have removed Antony from training for the time being while investigations in Brazil take place.
After their recent loss to Arsenal, English winger Jadon Sancho was nowhere to be seen. Upon being asked about his absence, ten Hag said Sancho was not up to the standard required in training and therefore was left out of the squad. Hours later, Sancho took to social media and defended his name, claiming he was being scapegoated and had been training in a professional manner.
Regardless of who is right and wrong in this situation, this matter should have been resolved privately, not in the public eye.
Another glaring issue thus far for United has been the implementation of new signings into the team, specifically, Mason Mount. Now Mount only played a few games before going down with an injury, but the games he did play didn’t look great. The midfield balance between him, Casemiro, and Bruno Fernandes was out of sorts and looked nowhere near convincing against Nottingham Forest and Wolves.
While these issues seem unrelated and separate, there is an underlying common denominator: Manchester United’s main priority is not success on the pitch, but rather the financial security of the club and its bottom line.
It doesn’t take much to work out that the Glazers goal in taking charge of United 18 years ago was solely to make money. By loading the club with debt when purchasing it, the Glazers made sure they would profit from any sale, and their actions since then have only reinforced that notion.
Back to their current problems, the Mason Greenwood situation is clearly financially motivated. As an academy graduate, Greenwood had massive potential not only in the form of goals for the team but a potential sale that would go down as pure profit on the balance sheet. While it remains unclear whether Greenwood will ever play for United again, the loan move to Spanish side Getafe is clearly a move to reignite some of Greenwood’s value in hopes of selling him.
Onto Antony, United overspent by about 30 million euros when buying him last summer and he has failed to make a lasting impression thus far. Poor negotiating tactics have been previously noted by Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp, and by overpaying for the Brazilian, they needlessly added pressure to a young player.
Further, the temperament and attitude of Antony is a serious question mark. Whether he is sulking, complaining, or about to start a fight, he is not a steady personality. Concerningly, the allegations that have come out about him off-the-field sound suspiciously similar to the character we see on it week in and week out.
Whether it’s Greenwood or Antony, maybe United and the Glazers should spend a bit more time developing and analyzing the characters and humans they are buying, as opposed to just looking at them as a piece of financial value.
With Sancho, similar issues have arisen. United spent two summers dilly-dallying over the price tag but seemed to have failed to do their homework on the player. Sancho left Manchester City with question marks over his work ethic, but those concerns were ignored after his scintillating performances in the Bundesliga for Borussia Dortmund.
Even after many praised United for the signing, fans and pundits quickly recognized Sancho’s style of play did not fit United’s, and three years in, nothing seems to have changed. Now, his personality and work ethic are causing issues both on and off the pitch. Maybe it is harsh on United, but if they had spent a bit more time looking into the player they were actually buying and were not so focused on getting the next best English talent, this issue could have been avoided.
The signing of Mason Mount this year, while still early, seems to be following a scarily similar pattern to that of Sancho. United overpaid for Mount who had a poor season last year at Chelsea and had just one year left on his contract. Spending close to 60 million pounds was a huge gamble. And further, it just does not look like he fits into the personnel and identity of ten Hag’s squad.
In reality, Mason Mount is a player who still has a lot of upside but has failed to produce for a few years now. In the eyes of the United board and the Glazers, however, Mount is an English superstar who will bring in loads of shirt sales and maybe improve the team. Improving the team first should be United’s goal, but the Mount signing doesn’t immediately do that necessarily, and for 60 million it really should.
Whether it’s troubling off the field issues, or poor recruitment, Erik ten Hag has been dealt an incredibly difficult hand while the Glazers remain in charge of United. As long as financial security is prioritized over footballing success, the glory days of United will remain where they have been for years, in the past.