Skip to main content

MANCHESTER, UK March 17 Manchester United were an established member of Europe’s top flight ten years ago, but they have been reduced to playing in the Premier League too and even in their own city.

Under Alex Ferguson, the club reached three Champions League finals in four years from 2008 to 2011. Since then, they have won two meager knockout matches in the competition.

United’s 1-0 loss to Atletico Madrid on Tuesday condemned them to a fifth successive season without a trophy and suggested they are further away than ever from finding the key to success.

A return to the Champions League next year looks highly unlikely, with Arsenal in pole position to claim fourth in the Premier League after a strong run under Mikel Arteta.

United, who drew 1-1 with Atletico in the first leg in Spain, started brilliantly at Old Trafford but were let down by familiar defensive lapses and a palpable lack of forward thinking.

Cristiano Ronaldo didn’t have a shot on goal while substitutes Edinson Cavani, Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford failed to make an impact against Diego Simeone’s well-drilled side.

Former United goalkeeper Peter Schmeichel, who won a famous hat-trick under Ferguson in 1999, said United needed to do better but believes their current mess is an opportunity for fundamental reform.

“For a club that claims to be one of the biggest in the world, we have to do better than that,” he told the BBC.

Advertising. Scroll to continue reading.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been great and that’s very disappointing. But it’s also a time of opportunity that we can’t miss.

Manchester United caretaker manager Ralf Rangnick © AFP / Paul ELLIS

“The club is under different management and wants to go in a different direction. It’s a chance to overhaul the whole football department – how we recruit, how we scout, how we educate.

Richard Arnold is the new man at the helm of Old Trafford after succeeding Ed Woodward as the club’s senior manager.

– Hunt for managers –

The chief executive has the unenviable task of finding a new manager – United’s fifth permanent boss since Ferguson’s departure as Premier League champions in 2013.

Schmeichel said that despite the unease at Old Trafford, the world’s best managers would “savor” the chance to replace caretaker boss Ralf Rangnick at the end of the season.

“They will see great potential here,” he said. “If it’s the person doing it right, we’ve seen what that means. I think anyone not at Manchester City or Liverpool would take this opportunity if offered.

Paris Saint-Germain manager Mauricio Pochettino and Ajax’s Erik ten Hag are both among the favorites to be the next manager, even though their clubs were also knocked out in the Champions League round of 16.

Chelsea’s Thomas Tuchel has been linked with the job due to the current turmoil at the Stamford Bridge club following the sanctioning of Russian owner Roman Abramovich for the war in Ukraine.

Former midfielder Paul Scholes, who was part of Ferguson’s all-conquering squad, said United needed to find an elite manager who “sows fear in the players”.

Advertising. Scroll to continue reading.

“They’re not a terrible group of players,” he told BT Sport. “I think if you give this group of players a structure and a way to play, there is real talent in the team.

“The next man may not be the right man, but the people behind the scenes have to make sure he’s the right man,” he added.

“Maybe they need a manager that they are going to be afraid of and who will scare them in performance.”

The problem facing the United hierarchy is that there have been a number of opportunities to reset and rebuild since Ferguson lifted the curtain on the most successful spell in club history.

United have not issued a serious title challenge in almost a decade, watching with envy Manchester City and Liverpool set standards they have been unable to match despite a huge outlay on players.

Few people would bet that this time they will succeed.