OLIVER HOLT: Manchester United will be stuck with a mindset that failure is tolerated until they get rid of the Glazers… their was no hunger in their Europa League final defeat – the way they shrank from the prize was dispiriting
- There were so many poor aspects about Man United’s Europa League final loss
- The squad showed no hunger and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer failed to seize the prize
- If the Glazers were ambitious, they would see the manager has run his course
- Until the US owners leave, United will have a mentality that failure is tolerated
In the wake of Manchester United’s defeat in the Europa League final in Gdansk last Wednesday night, many identified the gloom that had suddenly descended upon the club’s prospects as a sign of how fickle fans can be and said that if David de Gea had saved just one Villarreal penalty, United’s triumph would have been hailed as a clear sign the club were on the brink of a new era of greatness.
But De Gea didn’t save a penalty. And United didn’t lift the trophy. And it is pointless to speculate about counter-factual situations. And if my aunt had . . . And, yes, sometimes judgment of a club or a manager or a player can appear fickle. But the history of clubs can hinge on isolated moments that either create momentum or sow doubt. Just ask Sir Alex Ferguson, who was watching from the stands in Poland, and Mark Robins.
It was not just the way United shrank from the prize in Gdansk that was so dispiriting. It was not just the way United boss Ole Gunnar Solskjaer failed to seize the opportunity. There is a wider context here, too: the disastrous attempt to form the European Super League refocused attention on the fact that United under the dead weight of the ownership of the Glazer family are a club trying to roll a stone uphill.
Manchester United may have been close to a trophy, but they ultimately failed to seize the prize in their Europa League final defeat to Villarreal
Victory in Poland would have been a vote of confidence in Solskjaer, who is yet to win a trophy in his time in charge at Old Trafford. It would have bestowed upon him the legitimacy his critics still withhold. It would have been a symbol of progress and growth. It would have been another indication the manager had turned United round after Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho took them backwards.
None of those things applies now. Instead, there are only questions. Lots of questions. Why did Solskjaer not feel able to turn to his bench until extra time? What does that say about the strength in depth of his squad?
Why did so many big players disappear on the big occasion? What does that say about their hunger? What does that say about their ability? If United cannot beat the seventh best team in Spain, is it realistic to think they can dethrone Manchester City next season?
If David de Gea saved one penalty, United’s triumph would have been hailed as a new era of greatness, but he didn’t
United’s big players shrinking on the big occasion was dispiriting as they passed up glory
I don’t think it is realistic. I don’t think United will get any closer to City than they were this season. I’m not sure, either, that they will even be City’s closest challengers next season. Liverpool will not be as depleted by injury as they were this season. Chelsea are on an upward trajectory. My best guess is that United will finish in the last of the Champions League places.
I hope I am wrong because I think Solskjaer has done a good job at Old Trafford. I think he has been — how best to put this — necessary. After the upheavals and the unhappiness of the reigns of Van Gaal and Mourinho, yesterday’s men, United were in desperate need of some stability and some recovery time. Solskjaer has provided that. He has restored morale. He has given United fans their pride back.
But I think he’s done his job now. He’s repaired the damage. He’s taken the club as far as he can. There is talk that he will soon be offered a new three-year contract but that feels like a mistake. It feels as if he has reached his ceiling now, partly because the Glazers do not appear inclined to back him properly in the transfer market.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has stabilised United but he has taken the club as far as he can
If the Glazers had any ambition, they would sack the Norwegian in a bid for more silverware
Once, not too long ago, United would have noted Harry Kane’s dissatisfaction at Spurs and made him their statement signing this summer. Kane would make a big difference to United.
They need to sign another top-class central defender, too, and a right-sided midfielder, but Kane would be a step in the right direction to turning them into title challengers. There is, however, little confidence that United will make a concerted effort to sign him.
Think about the difference between the level United are operating at compared with Manchester City. Edinson Cavani exudes class, just as Sergio Aguero does.
Cavani is 34, Aguero will be 33 this week. Both are coming towards the end of their careers. United are increasingly reliant on Cavani and begged him to stay for another year. City have shown Aguero the door. United are still ruled by short-termism. By papering over the cracks. City think differently.
But as long as the Americans stay, United will always have a mentality that failure is normal
Solskjaer is hampered by the essential lack of ambition that comes from the top but he is also its beneficiary.
If the Glazers were ambitious, if they were driven by the desire to win the biggest trophies in the game, they would see that Solskjaer has done a good job and they would offer him their gratitude and they would choose this moment to make the tough decision to appoint somebody who can take them to the next level, the level where they start winning the big trophies again.
But it is not about glory for the Glazers. It never has been and it never will be. Until the club are rid of them, they will be stuck in a holding pattern where mediocrity is tolerated, failure is normalised, criticism is frowned upon and finishing runners-up in the Europa League to the seventh best team in Spain is recast as an augury of triumph.
Will Southgate stick with Sterling?
When Gareth Southgate names his final England squad this week, we will get more clues to his thinking.
But once the speculation over whether Trent Alexander-Arnold has been included in the 26 or not has ended, attention will quickly shift to which players will make Southgate’s starting line-up for England’s opening game against Croatia.
Southgate’s recent predecessors in the job have tended to make their team selections on reputation, rather than form, however much they have protested to the contrary.
Gareth Southgate is not afraid to make big calls, and faces a huge decision on Raheem Sterling
As this tournament approaches, form would dictate that neither Raheem Sterling, who had fallen out of Manchester City’s first-choice starting XI before Saturday night nor Marcus Rashford, who is playing through pain and had a miserable night in Gdansk, would be selected in the first team.
Southgate is not afraid of making tough, sometimes unpopular, choices, as his treatment of Alexander-Arnold attests. Sterling and Rashford, however, have always been two of his stalwarts. Whether he sticks with one — or both — of them could be the most important decision of England’s tournament.
Bitter duo are just what golf needs
The leaked television footage of Brooks Koepka expressing his disdain for Bryson DeChambeau after the final round of the PGA Championship last week went viral, partly because it was amusing to witness the depths of Koepka’s scorn for his rival and partly because it is so unusual in these meticulously manicured times to see sportsmen — apart from Nick Kyrgios — ready to be openly critical of an opponent.
DeChambeau’s emergence as a major winner and leading contender can only be good for golf because his idiosyncrasies, as well as his talent, add colour and variety to a sport that is often accused of being monochrome.
We can only hope that the US Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker will try to do what one of his predecessors, Hal Sutton, did with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson at Oakland Hills in 2004 and pair them in the opening foursomes at Whistling Straits in September. Now that would be box office.
The spat between Brooks Koepka (L) and Bryson DeChambeau (R) is great for golf as a whole
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