What went wrong at Manchester United? Gary Neville posed this question to his studio colleagues during Monday night football as Jamie Carragher and Roy Keane discussed the ‘catastrophic downfall’ and how long it would take Erik ten Hag to turn the club around.
“It’s really a question for guys, I’ve been asked it a number of times and I said I had no idea what was really wrong with Manchester United this season. The first task for me is really to know what went wrong.
“Why did this catastrophic fall happen?
“Why did this team that finished second last season, 10-12 points behind City, end up where they are? I still can’t put my finger on it. Surely it’s something that Ten Hag must manage above all?” “
Carragher pointed to the noises coming out of the locker room.
“I think it’s really interesting to hear stories about dressing room toxicity. Under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer there was something about Manchester United. They were nowhere near as good as Liverpool or City, but they looked like decent guys, decent band.
“But the things that keep coming out about what’s going on inside the club, who is it and where does it come from? It doesn’t seem like these things have come out in the last couple of seasons under Ole The fans were behind him.
“He was never at the level of Jurgen Klopp or Pep Guardiola and was never going to overtake them, but it felt like something was building. He was getting closer to the semi-finals.
“Roy keeps talking to me about dressing rooms. We haven’t talked about it for the last two seasons. I feel like we’ve talked about it a lot this season.”
Keane reiterated the importance of character.
“If you don’t have a decent dressing room, forget it, you’re in trouble anyway,” said the former United captain.
“It doesn’t matter the talent and the boardroom and who the manager is, you have to have a decent dressing room, decent personalities, decent characters.
“We’ve seen Manchester United throughout the season, when things have gone against them, that’s all, they throw in the towel. It’s a bad reflection on the players – the senior and younger players who think they have succeeded and are players.”
Cristiano Ronaldo, Raphael Varane and Jadon Sancho were signed last summer and many expected to see an improvement. Instead, the opposite happened.
Was their arrival part of the problem, perhaps?
“That’s the only thing you can point out,” Neville said. “You can tell Ole is reaching his height and they couldn’t go any further and they were fed up with the message, but he had become stale and they didn’t think he could get past Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola.
“Or something had disrupted that dressing room. They had put the wrong ingredient in the dish and it made it completely sour. That’s the bit that needs to be dealt with because these players aren’t as bad as the points tally which is on this board.
“They’re better than that. There’s something deeper wrong in this dressing room that makes them play the way they are and get the results they get.”
Can Man Utd close the gap to the top?
The task ahead of Ten Hag is not just to climb the table, but ultimately to close what has become a vast gap with teams chasing the Premier League title.
For the third season in four, United are set to finish more than 25 points behind the champions. Going through the list of deficits since Sir Alex Ferguson won the title in 2013, Keane pointed out that the quality of opposition is a big problem for United.
“That’s ugly,” Keane said. “Anyway you look at it, it’s not good. We know it’s a long way back for Manchester United, but of course there is a way back. Maybe the arrival of the new manager is a good time because I always think, you can’t get any worse.
“It’s the point tally that worries me because they’re so far behind. Even last season Ole finished second and you think he’s fine, there’s such a big gap. The biggest problem for Manchester United is where Manchester City is, where Liverpool is.
“We talk about rebuilding Manchester United as if Liverpool and Manchester City are going to relax this summer. They’re going to invest, they’re going to bring in players, they’re going to get stronger. Klopp stays, Pep might stay.
“When he comes, they have to recruit well, he has to bring in the players and the good players because the last few years just haven’t been good enough.
“The biggest disappointment for me when they had those disappointments is the reaction. I don’t think they showed leadership. No matter how talented, there aren’t enough characters in that dressing room.”
Is Klopp the model for Ten Hag?
Could Jurgen Klopp’s example at Liverpool provide the template for Ten Hag in terms of expectations and when the new man could challenge United again?
Carragher believes him.
“I think it’s very similar, it really is,” he explained. “I think it was maybe a harder job for Jurgen Klopp because the funds are there for the next Manchester United manager. We’ve seen that over the last 10 years and going forward it will be much more than Klopp had when he first arrived.
“People talk about how long it should take Ten Hag or any top manager at a top club. We talk about Liverpool and Manchester City maybe five years ahead, I I even heard 10 years ahead of Manchester United I think that’s rubbish, I really do.
“I think a top manager puts a top club back on track in a few years. That doesn’t mean winning the title or the Champions League, but they put it back on track where it competes. .
“Liverpool arrived in November and they finished eighth in his first season. In some ways it would probably be better for United if they finished eighth and there was no European football.
“But they still reached a Europa League final, beat Manchester United on the way, some top teams, Villarreal, Borussia Dortmund, you thought there was something going on.
“In that second season, the first full season, he got the Champions League. That must be what Manchester United will get next season under Ten Hag. He has to.
“Liverpool were back on track in this third season. All the big clubs should be judged on the Premier League and the Champions League. Not necessarily winning it, but with a shout.
“That’s where Liverpool come in, they were Champions League runners-up in the third season. They keep winning and then winning the Premier League, but they’re back to partying in the third year. That’s why I think the talk of five years or more is nonsense.”
Neville dismisses the idea that Klopp had it harder than Ten Hag.
“I don’t think so. Jurgen Klopp did the most outrageous job at Liverpool, he was exceptional. But there were no real set winners at that time when he arrived.
“I would liken the work of Ten Hag to the arrival and taking over of these two exceptional managers who laid the foundations of their clubs for five more years as the work of Gerard Houllier when he arrived and Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger have been set up.
“You arrive when there are two or three managers – because I could also put Thomas Tuchel in there – are fixed in their work and have this base. I think Ten Hag’s work is absolutely huge.”
But Neville agrees to Carragher’s suggested schedule.
“I don’t disagree with Jamie’s schedule in the Champions League [qualification] in the first two seasons while he sorts through recruitment and gets used to the club. The third season is getting closer to the point where the club have confidence and maybe win a trophy.
“And that fourth and fifth year is where you want to win a title, that’s what we realistically envision. We all hope he comes along and wows everyone and Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola explode with joy. one way or another. But they don’t explode, do they?”
Even so, Keane believes Ten Hag will back each other up to make a big impact.
“Any top coach would come in with a bit of ego and think he can make a difference – certainly for this group,” Keane said. “They can’t get worse next season, surely? Maybe they can win a cup or whatever and rebuild the club.
“Any top manager will believe he can get a reaction from the players and he will be supported. It may take a few windows, but a good manager will believe he can turn things around fairly quickly. Not in terms of trophies won, but in competition.
“The fans and the club have to trust this new manager. In recent years there have been doubts about the style of Mourinho, Van Gaal, David Moyes, Ole. When he comes in, he needs a proper support and that power he deserves to get.”
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