Manchester United, with their rich and storied history, stand as one of the most illustrious clubs in the annals of the sport. Their past is adorned with a dazzling array of trophies, a tradition deeply embedded in the era when Sir Alex Ferguson was at the helm. However, it’s this storied history that has set such high standards, standards that now seem increasingly challenging to reach amidst the ever-growing competition.
Erik ten Hag finds himself in a fierce competition with Jurgen Klopp’s evolving Liverpool, Mikel Arteta’s vibrant young Arsenal side, and Pep Guardiola’s treble-winning Manchester City. It could be argued that the Premier League is currently experiencing a zenith of strength, making last season’s third-place finish even more impressive.
Despite the expectations to build on that foundation, some may argue that the Red Devils have regressed. While their recent narrow victory over Sheffield United was important, the struggle to convincingly dispatch such supposedly lower-tier opponents underscores the challenges they face.
These challenges are not solely due to the quality of their current playing staff but rather a culmination of years of inadequacy and consistent market failures across multiple managerial reigns.
The task of living up to the legacy left by the legendary Sir Alex Ferguson, who held the reins for 27 glorious years, was always going to be near-impossible. However, the relative ease with which Arsenal seemed to find Arsene Wenger’s successor can be a source of frustration for Manchester United fans. While they swiftly corrected their course after Unai Emery’s tenure, the Red Devils endured a series of transfer blunders over the troublesome 11 years since Ferguson’s retirement.
Notable signings such as Marouane Fellaini, Angel Di Maria, Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial, and Paul Pogba were made during this period, with varying degrees of success. One acquisition that will likely be remembered as a failure is that of Fred, who was brought in by Jose Mourinho from Shakhtar Donetsk.
Mourinho’s initial enthusiasm about Fred’s arrival didn’t translate into success on the pitch. While his transfer excited the Portuguese manager, it was a deal that left many United fans underwhelmed.
Over his five-year tenure at the club, Fred’s performances consistently failed to meet expectations, despite his lucrative salary. Journalist John Deehan’s remark about Fred’s lack of technical quality and tendency to run around aimlessly resonated with his time at Old Trafford. In his 213 appearances, Fred contributed to just 33 goals, reflecting his inability to make a significant offensive impact.
Even in his best year, the 2020/21 season, Fred was dribbled past an average of two times per game, partly offsetting his commendable 2.7 tackles per game. Club legend Roy Keane’s criticism was perhaps the final blow for the midfielder, as he declared that Fred and McTominay were not of the required standard to lead Manchester United back to the top of the football hierarchy.