Sport Manchester United

Saturday 24 August 2019

Stephen Hunt: 'Manchester United are going to find themselves fishing in a crowded pool'

Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty
Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty

Stephen Hunt

Manchester United will pay over the odds for players again this summer - and they know it already. Why is this so?

Well, the answer is obvious: they are way off where they need to be in terms of having a team that is capable of being something, of being a team again. Loose lips sink ships and it's obvious there is too much coming out right now in the media about the dressing room at Old Trafford. We are hearing about fitness levels and bad attitudes. True winners don't turn up for matches at such low levels - they train every day like it's a cup final, and that's why I think Roy Keane's heart rate was going up on Sky last week.

Manchester United are in danger of being the new Liverpool of the 1990s, with old players pretending to be still great, trying to play like it's still the same game. It's not the same, because football moves on all the time.

Still, as Keane was trying to say, some things don't change, like basic levels of hard work.

The United team as it is now shows the failings of the club since Alex Ferguson retired. Take right-back as an example. United could end up paying well over £20m this summer for Aaron Wan-Bissaka, the impressive Crystal Palace right-back, or our own Matt Doherty. For me, they have been the stand-out players in that position in the Premier League this season. If United had a proper scouting system - as they once had - these are players who could have been identified and picked up for a lot less money before now.

That's the difference. Now United are in the same boat as so many other clubs, following the fashion, all wanting the same player at the same time because they are in vogue and all driving the price up. They haven't been able to go out and identify players before they become chart-toppers. That's a big failing.

They are not alone. Liverpool, for example, needed a centre back and goalkeeper and went and spent big money to get them, but now they are crying out for a midfielder and a centre forward. Arsenal will need to spend a lot also, but it depends on the owners, who appear very indecisive in the market, and if you're slow in today's world you're in trouble

Good scouting can save you a lot of money. It can make you money in fact. Riyad Mahrez, when he was at Leicester, is a good example of a club doing a good job. And what about Mo Salah? Getting him back to England where he had already failed was also a job well done. It would have been easy for Liverpool to say, 'Nah, he can't play in England'.

There are players out there who could play for Manchester United and who could be winners, but you have to go around the world now to find them .

Rio Ferdinand is being linked to a director of football role at the club and in my view that is outrageous, downright silly in fact. It's ok turning up at a few Champions League games and seeing the players on show, but when you are working on tv as a pundit you cannot be paying attention to players in that kind of detail. You have to watch a player live five or six times, study them, before you get the feel you want for them. And it can be more important sometimes to see him play a bad game, and how if affects him and his team, because a bad performance from a key player can hurt a team more.

Scouts from all over the world will be in Ireland this week to watch young players at the UEFA Under 17 Championship. Many will leave making plenty of noise about player x or player y, who they've been watching all along anyway. That keeps them safe in their jobs. But the good scout will spot a talent and stay quiet, and believe he will be a fantastic player, and sign him now while others wait until he gets to the next level.

As an aside, it made me laugh seeing all the opinions being offered on the under 17 squad after one game on Friday. It struck me people don't realise how good they are and the level they have been at in the last year. They are all on a pathway to different levels and some will surprise us. That's the best thing about football - it's always full of surprises

I was home for two weeks and took in a couple of League of Ireland games. I saw talented players and some good football. Yes, there's still a lot of work to be done developing players and building the league, but my recent experience has reaffirmed my belief that good facilities is the way to go for the League. More education and better quality football is the key to attracting and keeping our players in Ireland.

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