Sports Gazette

by sports journalism students at St Mary's University, London

Are Manchester United fans just as complacent and unambitious as their club?

Posted on 4 May 2022 by Yara El-Shaboury

I’m not here to give some groundbreaking opinion on Manchester United and their men’s team.

All of my opinions regarding the club have been regurgitated hundreds of thousands of times by pundits, fans, and analysts. My thoughts would merely just be lost in the void. 

So no, I’m not here to offer an opinion. 

I’m here to pose a question.

A ‘what if?’ if you may. 

What if the fans actually held their owners accountable? 

Manchester United are one of the few clubs in the world with fans who have a voice that can make a difference. A voice that can be heard. 

So what if they used it?

Before we get to that, let’s look at the current state of the club.

Erik ten Hag was announced as United’s next manager two days after conceding four to their greatest rivals, Liverpool. 

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The Ten Hag saga has been dragged out for a while. Initially, it was reported that Manchester United’s board wasn’t all too impressed by his job interview, but here we are. 

Ten Hag is definitely an exciting appointment. He’s often described as a young manager, despite being a year older than Pep Guardiola’s. However, the notion that he’s young likely comes from the fact that he’s only been managing clubs in the top flight for seven years. 

Ajax’s loss to Benfica in the Champions League Round of 16 this season certainly didn’t cover Ten Hag in any glory. But his ability to consistently win the Eredivisie isn’t one to scoff at. And few will forget his 2018/19 team that made an unbelievable run all the way to the Champions League semi-finals. 

That team that turned over both Juventus and Real Madrid had players like Donny van de Beek, Matthijs de Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Hakim Ziyech, youngsters who Ten Hag got the best out of. When they moved on to greener pastures, Ten Hag was able to recover quickly and get his current squad to perform. 

This is good news for United. I’m definitely in the camp that believes that several of the players have been crucified somewhat unfairly by fans and pundits. Over the years, some of these players have endured abuse simply because they weren’t used correctly by the manager or they were simply a bust recruitment, and never fit into the then style of play. They need a manager that can come in, figure out who to keep, and get rid of the dead weight. It’s not like Manchester United don’t have any talent. 

Ten Hag is good, great even. But he can’t just snap his fingers and fix United’s on-field problems with the squad they currently have. He’ll be coming from a team that has one of the best academies in the world, and it is still unclear as to how involved he’ll be in Manchester. Will he get the players he wants in order to play his high line counter-pressing system? Because currently, Ralf Rangnick is attempting to deploy a similar style. And it certainly isn’t working. 

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Reports have claimed that Ten Hag has told the club that he envisions the job as a five-year project. That sounds reasonably fair, but will the board be willing to give him that time and investment of funds? This is the same board that passed on Mauricio Pochettino due to not wanting to buy him out of his Paris Saint-Germain contract. 

When United do decide to spend, it’s often very illogical. There is no doubt that Bruno Fernandes is one of, if not the best signing Manchester United have had in the decade since Alex Ferguson left the club. However, giving him an extension a handful of months before a new manager was to come in was an awful decision. What if Ten Hag doesn’t want him? 

To make matters worse, the Portuguese has been in abysmal form since signing his new contract. After the Arsenal match, where Fernandes missed a penalty and overall had yet another below-average match, someone on Reddit said that they were too upset, and didn’t want to talk about Bruno to which someone else replied that United must now be referred to as Encanto FC. It was the funniest thing I had seen all day. 

There has been no proof that United’s board will change their ways. And if that happens, the cycle will continue. Ten Hag gets the sack, players speak out against their performances, and the system starts all over again. 

But what if it didn’t? 

United are far and away the biggest club commercially in England. Their history guarantees that. Their fans have a voice. And so far, despite the painful mediocrity, that voice has been largely unused. Sure, there have been protests this season, but they are far and few between.

When the protests happened last season, they seemed to be gaining momentum, only for them to die down completely as soon as Jadon Sancho, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Raphaël Varane were brought in. Fans were once again blinded by the commercial-first transfer strategy which has proven to be a complete failure time and time again.

How can I sit here and think that United fans want change when time and time again many show that they’re willing to accept mediocrity? 

Over 70% of United fans who voted in Sky Sports’ poll believe that Scott McTominay, whose first and only successful pass of the second half against Chelsea came in the 84th minute, should be kept next season. Almost 90% believe that David de Gea, a keeper who has failed to adapt to the modern times, is still adequate for their goals. 

Are Manchester United fans just as complacent and unambitious as their team?
Credit: Sky Sports.

This poll will certainly not affect decisions of the higher ups. Fans have to hit them where it’ll hurt – the Glazers’ pockets. 

It seems simple enough United’s merch sales are higher than they’ve ever been. Week in and week out Old Trafford is filled to the brim. Sure fans start to leave at the 75th minute mark, but what’s the point? The ticket has already been paid for. 

Not many clubs have a fanbase as powerful as United’s. If they united together (see what I did there), then something truly extraordinary could happen. 

Accepting that there is a problem means that change can follow, and it’s so clear to see that this club’s ownership needs to change. One starts to ask why Manchester United fans are so hesitant to accept the problems that everybody else can so clearly see?