It was yet another night when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer attempted to come up with optimistic words that felt far removed from the utter hopelessness of the performance.
Manchester United look like a team that have forgotten how to score goals. Many might say the manager should attempt to come up with some kind of attacking plan.
For his part, no matter what he says in public, Solskjaer is well aware of how bad this is.
He was deeply concerned by the direction of things after the 2-0 defeat to West Ham United, and that night insisted to executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward just how much the club need to invest.
Investment, of course, is really what all this is about. Or, rather, the lack of it, and the major financial elements tied to the club.
It is true that every single United issue ultimately goes back to the Glazer ownership. It remains one of English football’s great tragedies that one of its greatest clubs was allowed to be bought in this way, and by parties whose sole concern is making money, rather than the welfare of a social institution. Protection should long ago have been put in place.
Even allowing for that, however, the very fact the club generates so much money – in part because of Woodward’s genuine genius there – means they should really be self-insulated from such effects.
The bottom line is that, even with the Glazers there, United should still be challenging. They could still be winning. They are big enough.
This is one of the more galling aspects with the club of late, that a series of bad decisions have led to this, to compound the biggest issues; to undercut their own massive size.
Most of those revolve around the managers, who have of course been decided by Woodward… who has been placed in charge of football operations by the Glazers.
It all keeps going back to that, but so much of it could still be better.
The bottom line is that the club have made the wrong managerial decision every single time since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
Neither David Moyes nor Solskjaer were every really up to it. Both Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho were past it.
They haven’t yet appointed one coach definitively at the top of his game, or on that exciting upward curve, as they could well have done with Jurgen Klopp or Mauricio Pochettino.
And this has had further-reaching effects than just the individual managers’ own spells in charge.
It has left them with this moribund, unimaginative squad, that feels like it just needs a total overhaul.
This is the problem when you don’t have a director of football, or anything even resembling that role.
Moyes wasted transfer business because he could never get Everton standards out of his head.
Van Gaal wanted “a squad full of John O’Sheas”, who could play in any position, and just 18 of them so he could then bring through youth.
Mourinho decided almost everything he had was “shit”, and looked to bring in his own, only to feel they were “shit”.
Solskjaer has attempted to redress this and has made astute signings, but even a problem there is that they seem based on reactive rationale – young players, British players – rather than any kind of overall plan or structure.
This, again, is the problem with not having a proper football department.
There is an argument that something is now so broken in the club, and within the squad, that it would be almost impossible for any manager to have positive effect right now. You only have to look at Marcus Rashford. A player two years ago so joyous and expressive now just appears constricted and low on confidence.
Many people might point to how Chris Wilder or Daniel Farke get relatively more out of inferior squads, but one key difference there is that there is a sense of direction and identity about both. They are in a good environment, that suits them.
This is not the case at United. But it still feels it could have been different.
The frankly needless move to permanently appoint Solskjaer in March now feels like a juncture moment for the club, the bad decision that brought so many other bad decisions to a head; the point at which so much began to give way.
It wasn’t like they needed the boost at the time, after all. Things were going well. They had the space to wait, and properly consider.
They instead rushed into a decision with incomplete short-term information, and are now stuck with it for the long-term.
This is one reason why this feels such a juncture decision. It is highly unlikely that Woodward will make any mid-season managerial change, because he is so invested in the Solskjaer pick. He inadvertently put a lot on it, and needlessly.
Imagine an alternative history where United had waited, the 2018-19 season had panned out the same dismal way, and they looked elsewhere. Mauricio Pochettino would have been legally ring-fenced, but a modern manager as accomplished and sophisticated as Antonio Conte was available – and interested.
This is a coach who has a track record in repeatedly taking on basket cases, and having immediate and emphatic positive effect. He could have temporarily suited United in the way they thought Mourinho would, as they attempt to deal with so many other problems.
Those problems have instead compounded, and all are placed at the feet of Solskjaer, whose credentials as a top-level coach remain in great doubt – to say the least.
It by contrast says much that a game against Newcastle United – probably the worst side in the Premier League right now, and the only club that feel more problematic than Manchester United – is so important.
It should be an easy win for Solskjaer. It is currently anything but.
And if United can’t offer a bit of hope and some promising attacking play there, there’ll be no optimistic words possible.
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