Manchester’s Red Devils in desperate pursuit to reignite lost magical aura

Manchester’s Red Devils in desperate pursuit to reignite lost magical aura
Rasmus Hojlund of Manchester United (centre) attempts to score against Bayern Munich during the Champions League on 20 September 2023 in Munich, Germany. (Photo: Marcio Machado/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Manchester United’s 4-3 defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday is yet another setback for a team that is still trying to recapture the magical aura created by Alex Ferguson, a decade after his departure.

There was a time when Manchester United had one of the most intimidating auras in the sports world. Especially on their home ground of Old Trafford. Think Muhammad Ali in the boxing ring. Or Rafael Nadal at Roland Garros.

This was heightened under legendary manager Sir Alex Ferguson, who held the reins in Manchester for 26 years, before calling time on his decorated career in 2013.

Since then, the Red Devils’ X-factor has continuously waned. Managers such as David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Ole Gunnar Solskjær and even proven winner José Mourinho have come and gone.

However, none have been able to recapture the magic created by Ferguson during his time. Since 2022, the onus has been placed on Dutchman Erik ten Hag.

Promisingly, he led the team to two domestic cup finals during his first season in charge. Winning the Carabao Cup and losing the FA Cup, the team’s first piece of silverware since 2017. 

However, early in the 2023/2024 season, the team is once again struggling.

Sir Alex Ferguson

Sir Alex Ferguson, former manager of Manchester United. (Photo: Sam Tabone/Getty Images)

The wrong recipe   

A combination of factors has been touted as being responsible for this lack. Central to this are the owners of the club, the Glazer family.

The fans have accused the Americans of not caring about the club, and only holding on to it because it remains a financially viable commercial powerhouse. Despite unfavourable results on the field.  

This has led to a scattering of protests against the owners (who acquired the club in 2005) in recent seasons. 

In fact, when United secured a come-from-behind 3-2 victory against Nottingham Forest at the tail-end of August, the supporters staged a sit-in protest after the game, to express their dissatisfaction with the hierarchy of the club.

Outside of the owners, the current crop of players have also been placed under the microscope. In the past, the Red Devils could call on players such as Bobby Charlton, George Best, David Beckham, Eric Cantona, Nemanja Vidić, Wayne Rooney, Patrice Evra and Peter Schmeichel. Just to name a few.

All those players were leaders and fighters. They knew what it meant to wear Manchester’s red shirt. It ignited the flames of passion within them.

The current collection of stars has been accused of not understanding just what playing for the club means.

Bruno Fernandes, Red Devils

Bruno Fernandes of Manchester United competes with Kingsley Coman of FC Bayern Munich on September 20, 2023 in Munich, Germany. (Photo: Christina Pahnke – sampics/Getty Images)

Former goalkeeper David de Gea winning the club’s player of the year award for three successive seasons immediately after Ferguson’s departure was telling.

The Spanish glovesman became the first goalkeeper to win the award in the club’s history. In spite of goalminders such as Schmeichel and Dutch great Edwin van der Sar having previously kitted up for the Manchester outfit. De Gea’s success was a damning indictment of the club’s trajectory.

Of course, at the time, it was said that the team was in natural transition after the curtain came down on the Ferguson era, which saw the Scottish tactician collect 38 trophies.     

That bounty included 13 Premier League titles and two Champions Leagues. In recent years though, they have fallen back when it comes to the discussion of league winners.

Instead, it is neighbours Manchester City that have grabbed the baton and run rings around their rivals since Ferguson’s retirement. The Citizens have clinched six league titles, while Chelsea, Liverpool and Leicester City have been left to lick the crumbs from the floor. There has been nothing for United.

As for the Champions League, the team’s status as a force in the continental competition has been significantly reduced over the last 10 years. Whereas under Ferguson in the Premier League era (from 1992) they qualified for every single edition, in the subsequent seasons, their participation has been far from guaranteed.

Even on occasions where they’ve made the cut, they have been also-rans, as opposed to being one of the genuine contenders.

Victor Lindelof, Danny Welbeck,

Danny Welbeck of Brighton & Hove Albion is challenged by Victor Lindelof of Manchester United at Old Trafford on 16 September, 2023 in Manchester, England. (Photo: Michael Regan/Getty Images)

Long road ahead

Judging from the performance against Bayern — who themselves are far from being the superpower they’ve been over the years — it will likely be some time before they can contest for the European crown.

“We are in a period where a lot is going against us. But we have to make our own luck. We can’t keep going [like this]. We can’t keep consistent in doing the rules and the principles of our game, then you concede goals,”

In a group with Bayern, as well as Denmark’s Copenhagen and Turkish side Galatasaray, they should qualify for the knockout phase. In spite of their struggles. Then from there on, in knockout football, anything can happen. Regardless, no one will be betting on them to win the whole thing.

They will have an opportunity to bounce back from the three straight defeats suffered in all competitions when they tackle Premier League side Burnley on Saturday, 23 September. The Clarinets are in pursuit of their first league win from four matches played.

United have not fared much better in the early stages of the domestic league. They have won twice and lost thrice from their five games to date.

With sports being cyclical, the Red Devils’ faithful will hope that they can eventually rediscover their aura again. Whether it will come from new owners, another manager change or group of players that are deemed worthy of the United shirt remains to be seen. DM


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