Saturday 7 December 2019

'United shouldn't be relying on kids' - Old Trafford stalwarts offer differing reasons for club's dire straits

Manchester United players after their defeat in Denmark
Manchester United players after their defeat in Denmark

Tom Rooney

Ray Wilkins and Owen Hargreaves both believe they know why Manchester United have plummeted to the depths they have, and the management of Louis Van Gaal does not figure in either man’s thinking.

On Thursday evening United possibly arrived at the nadir of the post Alex Ferguson era, when losing by 2-1 to Danish side FC Midtjylland in the first leg of their Europa League last-32 tie.

The defeat was the latest in a long line of inert and vapid showings this season, and only added volume to outcry for Louis Van Gaal to either be relived of his position or to step down. What's more there have been numerous reports that United's more seasoned campaigners have lost faith in the Dutch coach.

United, having been dumped out the Champions League in the group stages, now lay fifth in the Premier League, six points behind local rivals City. Furthermore, there are 13 front line players on the injury list and, all the while, the club’s commercial sheen is steadily fading.

The FA Cup remains an outside hope for United and, on Monday, they face a Shrewsbury side hovering just above the relegation zone in League One. Anything other than a resounding win should, even now, be considered a sure thing.

Ray Wilkins played from United when times were relatively lean, from1979-84. While at the club he won a single FA Cup medal, after a replay in the final against Brighton and Hove Albion. 

Having watched them slump to defeat in Denmark, it was the players’ lack of determination and pride in the jersey that struck him most. He centred out one in particular.

“The tackle from (Juan) Mata, and I love Mata as a footballer, and I couldn’t tackle my way out of a paper bag; but that challenge he put in for the second goal was non-existent,” he said this morning on BT Sport’s Fletch and Sav.

“You don’t only have to be a good player to play for this club, but you have to be mentally tough. And I looked at that team the other night and thought, wow.

“I talked to the chairman of Midtjylland the other week on Talk Sport, and he’s the chairman of Brentford, and I said where are these guys at? And he said probably the middle of the Championship. 

 “I think some of these young men have to realise what club they’re playing for. There’s ways to lose a game, and that’s not the way you lose a game playing for Manchester United,” he said.

When Owen Hargreaves arrived at Old Trafford in 2007, Alex Ferguson was in the process of building what some have called the Scot’s third great side.

The team featured attacking players such as Cristiano Ronaldo, Carlos Tevez, Dimitar Berbatov and Wayne Rooney. The zenith of United’s success in that era was their 2008 Champions League triumph.

For Hargreaves, it is a sign of the times that the club no longer possess that sort of fire power and, regardless of who the manager is, results on the pitch will not improve unless the talent deficit is redressed.

“It’s easy to blame the manager, but you can change the manager next week but what’s going to change next season when it’s still the same players there,” he said on the same programme.

“Manchester United used to have the best players in every position, but I think they don’t have them now, like in the past when they won the Champions League.

“Look at the front three; Martial, Memphis and Lingard. What are they 21, 22? Manchester United used to have a front three of Ronaldo, Tevez and Rooney.

“Look at the front three of Barcelona, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich; they’re all world class players. Manchester United shouldn’t be relying on kids to win them decisive games.”

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