When Manchester United fired David Moyes just before the end of last season, the prevailing thought amongst Red Devils supporters was that their beloved club had bottomed out.
In their eyes, and seemingly in those of the Glazer family, Moyes was solely responsible for bringing down the empire that Alex Ferguson had established over his 26 years at the helm of England’s most glamorous sports franchise. In retrospect, those sentiments appear to as off the mark as one of the current squad’s defensive clearances.
Manchester United are no longer Manchester United. Forget all the honors brought home by the likes of Ferguson, Ryan Giggs, Peter Schmeichel, Paul Scholes, David Beckham, or any of the other famous stars who have performed at Old Trafford in recent years. The simple fact is the Red Devils are in a state of rebuilding that could last a while.
Even as his team breezed its way through an unbeaten preseason, new coach Louis Van Gaal apparently saw danger on the horizon. Known for his strategic brilliance, Van Gaal has already began pleading for patience as his squad is winless through three regular season matches in 2014-15.
A home loss to Swansea City and a road draw against Sunderland in their first two league games was cause for concern. But the Red Devils’ 4-0 whitewashing at the hands of third-division club Milton Keynes Dons on Tuesday has plunged the faithful into full-blown panic.
Granted, Manchester United relied heavily on unproven reserves against the Dons. Still, when recognizable names like Danny Welbeck, Javier Hernandez, Shinji Kagawa, Jonny Evans and stalwart goaltender David De Gea find themselves the victims of a sound beating against a squad two divisions below Van Gaal’s, it’s a sure sign of big-time trouble.
As the season began, a sense of hope and renewed confidence seemed to percolating around Manchester United. It was thought that Van Gaal had reinvigorated a shaky team behind strong showings from Wayne Rooney and Juan Mata during preseason. While those two players certainly possess enough individual quality, the Red Devils need more. As it turns out, they need a lot more.
Perhaps signing Angel Di Maria from Real Madrid will represent a necessary step forward. One of the world’s premier wing players, Di Maria has proven to be a versatile and explosive force when he’s able to receive the ball in attacking situations. Di Maria can’t solve all of the Red Devils’ problems, however, and based on what’s transpired through three games, the problems are longer and more varied than originally thought.
Defense appears to be a full-blown issue as Manchester United have surrendered seven goals in three games. Giving up multiple goals to two Premier League also-rans and a third division side doesn’t inspire confidence, especially with Manchester City, Arsenal, Liverpool and Chelsea looming on the horizon.
For now, Van Gaal seems content to reform the team into a new style of play. After their loss to the Dons, he openly discussed the need to continue moving forward, regardless of on-field performance. Reflecting a lack of surprise, the Dutchman mentioned the possibility of months or even years before his team is ready to compete for titles again.
The full realization of Manchester United’s true circumstance is no doubt a shock to the system for Red Devils loyalists. In the past, there was always the comfort of Ferguson working his magic whenever the club appeared on the cusp of failure.
Manchester United may be beyond magic this season. The transfer market is beginning to close after a disappointing run that saw Van Gaal and the Glazers strike out on almost all of their targets. For better or worse, the roster is basically set, and more struggles appear to be in store the rest of the way. Red Devils supporters would do well to listen to Van Gaal when he talks about rebuilding. It appears much of it will be taking place on the turf at Old Trafford for the foreseeable future.