The Green Shoots of Recovery - Pt.2

Lentwood

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I know we don't like bumping old threads here on RedCafe, however, I wrote a couple of posts two years ago about how I could see 'the green shoots of recovery', and that the club seemed to be making a real effort to arrest the ridiculous and self-inflicted decline that we had experienced post-SAF. Instead of bumping them, I thought I would create a new thread analysing our progress. I have linked the older threads below for anybody interested in going back and reading the OPs.

Threads linked here - https://www.redcafe.net/threads/the...y-lessons-learned-patience-imperative.450183/

And here...https://www.redcafe.net/threads/the-%E2%80%9Cole-in%E2%80%9D-brigade.452433/

I wrote the two posts above shortly after Ole's first few months in charge (I think), during his first full season at the club. To summarise, my main points were that -;

- Ole was our first manager post-SAF to put the long-term interests of the club before his own personal, self-interest.

- That mismanagement of the club by Ed Woodward had arguably been more damaging than a supposed lack of spending by the Glazers, which I pointed out was only supported by the numbers up until about 2011. I argued Ed had somewhere, somehow, had a bit of an epiphany and realised his 'Adult Disneyland' approach and his arrogant boasting about our spending power was ruining the club.

- That the club had taken steps to reverse it's image in the transfer market, after years of profligate spending and reckless financial decisions.

- That patience would be required because things were likely to get worse before they got better, as the inevitable clear-out which was so desperately required was going to leave us short of quality and experience going into 2019/20 and 20/21.

Now, I like to think I was right about most of what I wrote. The only part that has taken me by surprise is actually how quickly we have been able to make this transition, whilst actually seeing IMPROVED results on the pitch. OK, we haven't won a trophy under Ole, and until we do, the jury will rightly still be out about whether he's the right man to really turn us into a ruthless, silverware-collecting machine. However, we have now finished 3rd and 2nd in consecutive seasons, the first time we have achieved qualification through the league back-to-back post-SAF. This is very important, because whilst nobody wants to become Arsenal and just qualify year-in, year-out for the sake of it and to line the owners' pockets, it's vital that we do qualify as the commercial revenue and the prestige of playing in the competition are both of huge importance to the club.

In addition, to borrow a phrase from Gary Neville, I actually like this team. Those who read my posts regularly will know that I was a season ticket holder between 2005 and 2017, before giving up at the end of Jose's first season. Now, I have to say, my decision to stop going wasn't solely related to the performance/direction of the team at that time. In fairness, we had just finished 2nd in the league and it would have been quite hard to anticipate the total meltdown that was to come in 2018/19. Part of my decision was based on losing my Dad, as we used to go to games together (he held a ST for 30-odd years in total!) and it just didn't feel the same going without him. Nevertheless, the atmosphere inside OT had become increasingly sterile, whilst somehow at the same time, becoming more toxic. The fans usually sat in silence, almost waiting for the team to fail, and then getting straight on their backs when something inevitably went wrong. Again, I'm not really blaming our fans here, it felt like they were reacting to a team, a manager and increasingly a club that they just couldn't really relate to our get fully on-board with. It felt after SAF that the club had really lost it's connections with the fans, the local area, the Academy and the players/coaches coming through the door only served to exacerbate that feeling.

Nowadays, when I look at the team that has been put together under Solskjaer's watch, I actually feel like I like them as a collective and as individuals. The squad has a large number of Academy graduates, something which, regardless of what some fans believe, is very important to me personally. I have ST-holding friends who don't care if our squad has 23-players who couldn't find Manchester on a map if we win trophies, but personally that doesn't do it for me. Perhaps I'm spoilt, I've seen the club win everything there is to win, however, there is a 'way' to go about winning things in my opinion, and I never want it to be hollow and soulless...cough...City...cough... To be clear, I'm not saying the club has to have 23 lads born in the shadows of OT, some of our best and most iconic players have come from abroad or even Liverpool (!!!), however, when we do sign players, they should fit with the culture and ethos and want to be here for the RIGHT reasons, not just because we've thrown cash at them (Di Maria, Sanchez)

I feel like under Solskjaer, we HAVE built a team that the fans can get behind and connect with, and I only see this developing further in the future as clearly there has been a huge push to sign the best young talent from around the World and help them develop in our Academy. This only bodes well for the future.

So, what can, or indeed, should, we expect from 20/21. Now, again, conversely to what some of the Ole-out posters might have said in the past, I have never, ever claimed that Solskjaer doesn't need to have targets. I am a salesman by profession. I work for an excellent company and I have been personal friends of the two owners for a decade. However, if I don't sell, I will lose my job eventually. That is how it has to be. Likewise, Ole can't 'just' be a 'nice guy', who builds 'nice teams' but who never delivers results when it matters. Football management is ultimately a results-driven business, outcomes have to be measured at some point.

Now, I would argue that Ole HAS delivered results to-date. I'm not going to get into it again as I touched on CL qualification and it's importance in the first couple of paragraphs, however, I will simply say that for the first time in a long time, I now go into United games EXPECTING a good performance and a positive result. For a long-time under Moyes, LvG and Jose, that simply was not the case, and I watched as we faced embarrassment after embarrassment on the pitch. The only thing missing has been a trophy, but solely judging a manager on trophies after two years is far too binary. Realistically, could we have reasonably expected to win a major trophy under any manager, given the state we were in post-Jose? I would say 'no'. Plus, we did win trophies under LvG and Jose, and yet arguably, we continued to go backwards on and off the pitch. So in and of itself, only looking at silverware can be dangerous, despite, I am sure, all of us agreeing that we do have to win trophies at some point soon for any of this to be considered a 'success'.

In terms of what I believe would constitute a successful 2021/22, I still feel we are a 'work-in-progress' and I still feel that we're behind City, at least, and therefore, we cannot define success or failure by whether we win the title. Likewise, cup competitions, by their nature, can involve large amounts of luck. Ole got hammered after we got knocked out of the CL in the group stages, but how would Chelsea have coped in that group? I strongly believe they would have been knocked out there and then! In addition, we got knocked out of the FA Cup under ridiculous circumstances after having less than three days to prepare following a European Quarter-Final. I'm sure we win that game 8/10 on a more level playing field. So, whilst excellent teams don't need excuses, sometimes teams in transitional phases do ultimately need the cards to drop right for them. They didn't drop for us at times last season, and they might not next, but that doesn't mean we should fail to acknowledge the progress we have made.

For me, in order for next season to be determined a 'success', we have to mount a proper title-challenge. We don't have to win it, by any means, but we do have to be close in April/May, putting the pressure on. If we add Varane and Trippier, as looks likely, we can genuinely start to claim we have two players for every position who are capable of winning a title, with CM being the obvious outlier. That means we really have no excuses for not at least being in contention. I would also like to think that qualifying from our CL group is an absolute must this year. Again, I think it's highly unlikely we actually win it, but not getting out of the group would be inexcusable. We have to start going deep in the biggest and best competitions if this group of players and coaching staff is going to evolve, and really that needs to start from this season.

Aside from results, I would like to see progress in certain areas. I would like us to settle the debate about who our #1 GK is, as I believe the current situation is untenable. I would like us to stop conceding ridiculous goals from set-pieces. A team with players with the height and physicality we have should not be conceding 1/3rd of all of our goals from corners and free-kicks, it's amateur-level stuff really. I would like to see Hannibal and Amad steadily introduced into more 1st-team games, as I think they have proven themselves to be too good for u-23s football. I'm not saying they have to play every week, but they should start to be present in most match-day squads now and be getting the odd few minutes here and there. I would also like to see some tough decisions be taken on players who have value. What are we doing with James, Dalot, Bailly, Lingard, Williams, Tuanzebe, Garner, Laird, Pereira etc...? I'm not going to offer my opinions here, I'm simply stating we need to decide 'are they likely to be contributing or should we thank them, cash in and move on?' Other teams are much more adept at maximising value for unrequired players, and this is an area we need to improve in. I would also like to see Solskjaer be more bold and more pro-active with his substitutions. I'm not a fan of hauling two players off at half-time, Jose-style, I'm not sure that makes much sense. What I would like to see is better use of substitutions from 55/60-minutes. Far too often, Ole leaves it until the 75th/80th minute to make serious changes, and in my opinion, that doesn't give the lads coming onto the pitch much time to get into the game and make a difference.

In conclusion, the progress we have made to-date has been excellent. The squad Ole is building has a clear identity and is 'likeable'. We don't HAVE to win a trophy, but we DO have to be competing deep in big competitions. We do still have plenty we can work on and improve. Overall, I am very positive about our chances of having a good season, let's have some patience from the fans, let's not get on the back of the manager and the players when things don't go to plan (it can't always!) and let's remember - we are supposed to ENJOY watching Manchester United, it's meant to be a FUN activity! If you're finding yourself not having fun and needing to hammer the team on a regular basis.....maybe consider doing something else?

Don't want to end on a negative so I'm going to finish with an arbitrary prediction...we come 2nd in the league, we win the FA Cup and we get knocked out in the CL Semi-Finals. All of which would make for another positive season in my book!

How do other fans see it? United fans...do you think we have made progress under Ole? Are you optimistic about our chances for 21/22? What can/should we realistically expect? Non-Utd fans, what is your perception of our progress under Ole?
 

sugar_kane

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Enjoyable post and I agree with almost all of it.

I still think right now Ole is the perfect man for the job because someone with vision is the most important thing for us currently, he just needs to ensure he surrounds himself with the right people and has the right players.

If he is strongly backed this window - and it is looking like he will be, I feel like he really needs to prove himself this season.

As with the OP I don’t necessarily think this means win the league as City are still incredibly strong and have deep pockets, but we need to run them right to the wire while playing entertaining football.

Essentially he needs to prove with everything increasingly in his favour he can get us playing excellent football and competing.

Progress is key, he’s shown that so far but it has to continue and it has to accelerate the longer he is in the role.
 

MadDogg

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I'd agree with pretty much everything you wrote.

I like Ole and while there are definitely question marks over whether he's the man to take us all the way back to the top, he has certainly improved us each season since taking over. We're now in a position where we really should be looking to be in contention for the top trophies at least until towards the end. Even if we don't win them, that would still be a significant improvement over where we've been since Fergie retired.

One thing I do hope we improve further is our teamwork and interplay. Which comes back to coaching, which isn't directly on Ole himself but if things continue like that it ultimately comes back on him. He should be in charge of who the coaches are and what they are mostly focusing on. The new coach we recently announced is hopefully a sign that this is being focused on. If we can improve that to go with our individual quality, it'll go a long way to breaching the gap between us and the absolute top.
 

Gator Nate

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And a partridge in a pear tree...

Seriously, though, nice little write-up. The coach in me likes the way Ole is going about his business. I do hope for bigger things this year, but we should expect bigger things. The fact he's gotten us two consecutive top-4s for the first time since SAF does show improvement, regardless of the lack of trophies. Those will come. Stability is important. But that's just my opinion.
 

Iron Tulip

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And a partridge in a pear tree...

Seriously, though, nice little write-up. The coach in me likes the way Ole is going about his business. I do hope for bigger things this year, but we should expect bigger things. The fact he's gotten us two consecutive top-4s for the first time since SAF does show improvement, regardless of the lack of trophies. Those will come. Stability is important. But that's just my opinion.
My thoughts exactly, I'd rather have 3 or 4 years of stability with no trophies as long as that progression is being made in the correct way.

However, I think next season has to be a turning point though, we must compete for either the PL or get to the latter stages of the UCL and also win a trophy at the minimum. The way we've been going I can imagine these targets are probably already set or something very close.

The squad is maturing well together and they have gained some valuable experience through some big games.

With the addition of Sancho, Tripper, Varane and possibly 1 more signing of the correct character (CDM?!) we will be a force to be reckoned with next year.



I hope..

Also, OP - Fantastic summary and one which I believe many of us can agree with.
 
Last edited:

anant

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I think realistically we need to be in actual title challenge till GW32-34 atleast, not a side with an outside chance.

In CL, as long as we don't get eliminated to a side we should be beating, I'm ok - and genuinely with the current United side under Ole ( I felt the same last season as well), I do fancy us to beat close to every side over 2 legs barring City, Bayern, PSG and maybe Pool
 

Lost bear

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I know we don't like bumping old threads here on RedCafe, however, I wrote a couple of posts two years ago about how I could see 'the green shoots of recovery', and that the club seemed to be making a real effort to arrest the ridiculous and self-inflicted decline that we had experienced post-SAF. Instead of bumping them, I thought I would create a new thread analysing our progress. I have linked the older threads below for anybody interested in going back and reading the OPs.

Threads linked here - https://www.redcafe.net/threads/the...y-lessons-learned-patience-imperative.450183/

And here...https://www.redcafe.net/threads/the-%E2%80%9Cole-in%E2%80%9D-brigade.452433/

I wrote the two posts above shortly after Ole's first few months in charge (I think), during his first full season at the club. To summarise, my main points were that -;

- Ole was our first manager post-SAF to put the long-term interests of the club before his own personal, self-interest.

- That mismanagement of the club by Ed Woodward had arguably been more damaging than a supposed lack of spending by the Glazers, which I pointed out was only supported by the numbers up until about 2011. I argued Ed had somewhere, somehow, had a bit of an epiphany and realised his 'Adult Disneyland' approach and his arrogant boasting about our spending power was ruining the club.

- That the club had taken steps to reverse it's image in the transfer market, after years of profligate spending and reckless financial decisions.

- That patience would be required because things were likely to get worse before they got better, as the inevitable clear-out which was so desperately required was going to leave us short of quality and experience going into 2019/20 and 20/21.

Now, I like to think I was right about most of what I wrote. The only part that has taken me by surprise is actually how quickly we have been able to make this transition, whilst actually seeing IMPROVED results on the pitch. OK, we haven't won a trophy under Ole, and until we do, the jury will rightly still be out about whether he's the right man to really turn us into a ruthless, silverware-collecting machine. However, we have now finished 3rd and 2nd in consecutive seasons, the first time we have achieved qualification through the league back-to-back post-SAF. This is very important, because whilst nobody wants to become Arsenal and just qualify year-in, year-out for the sake of it and to line the owners' pockets, it's vital that we do qualify as the commercial revenue and the prestige of playing in the competition are both of huge importance to the club.

In addition, to borrow a phrase from Gary Neville, I actually like this team. Those who read my posts regularly will know that I was a season ticket holder between 2005 and 2017, before giving up at the end of Jose's first season. Now, I have to say, my decision to stop going wasn't solely related to the performance/direction of the team at that time. In fairness, we had just finished 2nd in the league and it would have been quite hard to anticipate the total meltdown that was to come in 2018/19. Part of my decision was based on losing my Dad, as we used to go to games together (he held a ST for 30-odd years in total!) and it just didn't feel the same going without him. Nevertheless, the atmosphere inside OT had become increasingly sterile, whilst somehow at the same time, becoming more toxic. The fans usually sat in silence, almost waiting for the team to fail, and then getting straight on their backs when something inevitably went wrong. Again, I'm not really blaming our fans here, it felt like they were reacting to a team, a manager and increasingly a club that they just couldn't really relate to our get fully on-board with. It felt after SAF that the club had really lost it's connections with the fans, the local area, the Academy and the players/coaches coming through the door only served to exacerbate that feeling.

Nowadays, when I look at the team that has been put together under Solskjaer's watch, I actually feel like I like them as a collective and as individuals. The squad has a large number of Academy graduates, something which, regardless of what some fans believe, is very important to me personally. I have ST-holding friends who don't care if our squad has 23-players who couldn't find Manchester on a map if we win trophies, but personally that doesn't do it for me. Perhaps I'm spoilt, I've seen the club win everything there is to win, however, there is a 'way' to go about winning things in my opinion, and I never want it to be hollow and soulless...cough...City...cough... To be clear, I'm not saying the club has to have 23 lads born in the shadows of OT, some of our best and most iconic players have come from abroad or even Liverpool (!!!), however, when we do sign players, they should fit with the culture and ethos and want to be here for the RIGHT reasons, not just because we've thrown cash at them (Di Maria, Sanchez)

I feel like under Solskjaer, we HAVE built a team that the fans can get behind and connect with, and I only see this developing further in the future as clearly there has been a huge push to sign the best young talent from around the World and help them develop in our Academy. This only bodes well for the future.

So, what can, or indeed, should, we expect from 20/21. Now, again, conversely to what some of the Ole-out posters might have said in the past, I have never, ever claimed that Solskjaer doesn't need to have targets. I am a salesman by profession. I work for an excellent company and I have been personal friends of the two owners for a decade. However, if I don't sell, I will lose my job eventually. That is how it has to be. Likewise, Ole can't 'just' be a 'nice guy', who builds 'nice teams' but who never delivers results when it matters. Football management is ultimately a results-driven business, outcomes have to be measured at some point.

Now, I would argue that Ole HAS delivered results to-date. I'm not going to get into it again as I touched on CL qualification and it's importance in the first couple of paragraphs, however, I will simply say that for the first time in a long time, I now go into United games EXPECTING a good performance and a positive result. For a long-time under Moyes, LvG and Jose, that simply was not the case, and I watched as we faced embarrassment after embarrassment on the pitch. The only thing missing has been a trophy, but solely judging a manager on trophies after two years is far too binary. Realistically, could we have reasonably expected to win a major trophy under any manager, given the state we were in post-Jose? I would say 'no'. Plus, we did win trophies under LvG and Jose, and yet arguably, we continued to go backwards on and off the pitch. So in and of itself, only looking at silverware can be dangerous, despite, I am sure, all of us agreeing that we do have to win trophies at some point soon for any of this to be considered a 'success'.

In terms of what I believe would constitute a successful 2021/22, I still feel we are a 'work-in-progress' and I still feel that we're behind City, at least, and therefore, we cannot define success or failure by whether we win the title. Likewise, cup competitions, by their nature, can involve large amounts of luck. Ole got hammered after we got knocked out of the CL in the group stages, but how would Chelsea have coped in that group? I strongly believe they would have been knocked out there and then! In addition, we got knocked out of the FA Cup under ridiculous circumstances after having less than three days to prepare following a European Quarter-Final. I'm sure we win that game 8/10 on a more level playing field. So, whilst excellent teams don't need excuses, sometimes teams in transitional phases do ultimately need the cards to drop right for them. They didn't drop for us at times last season, and they might not next, but that doesn't mean we should fail to acknowledge the progress we have made.

For me, in order for next season to be determined a 'success', we have to mount a proper title-challenge. We don't have to win it, by any means, but we do have to be close in April/May, putting the pressure on. If we add Varane and Trippier, as looks likely, we can genuinely start to claim we have two players for every position who are capable of winning a title, with CM being the obvious outlier. That means we really have no excuses for not at least being in contention. I would also like to think that qualifying from our CL group is an absolute must this year. Again, I think it's highly unlikely we actually win it, but not getting out of the group would be inexcusable. We have to start going deep in the biggest and best competitions if this group of players and coaching staff is going to evolve, and really that needs to start from this season.

Aside from results, I would like to see progress in certain areas. I would like us to settle the debate about who our #1 GK is, as I believe the current situation is untenable. I would like us to stop conceding ridiculous goals from set-pieces. A team with players with the height and physicality we have should not be conceding 1/3rd of all of our goals from corners and free-kicks, it's amateur-level stuff really. I would like to see Hannibal and Amad steadily introduced into more 1st-team games, as I think they have proven themselves to be too good for u-23s football. I'm not saying they have to play every week, but they should start to be present in most match-day squads now and be getting the odd few minutes here and there. I would also like to see some tough decisions be taken on players who have value. What are we doing with James, Dalot, Bailly, Lingard, Williams, Tuanzebe, Garner, Laird, Pereira etc...? I'm not going to offer my opinions here, I'm simply stating we need to decide 'are they likely to be contributing or should we thank them, cash in and move on?' Other teams are much more adept at maximising value for unrequired players, and this is an area we need to improve in. I would also like to see Solskjaer be more bold and more pro-active with his substitutions. I'm not a fan of hauling two players off at half-time, Jose-style, I'm not sure that makes much sense. What I would like to see is better use of substitutions from 55/60-minutes. Far too often, Ole leaves it until the 75th/80th minute to make serious changes, and in my opinion, that doesn't give the lads coming onto the pitch much time to get into the game and make a difference.

In conclusion, the progress we have made to-date has been excellent. The squad Ole is building has a clear identity and is 'likeable'. We don't HAVE to win a trophy, but we DO have to be competing deep in big competitions. We do still have plenty we can work on and improve. Overall, I am very positive about our chances of having a good season, let's have some patience from the fans, let's not get on the back of the manager and the players when things don't go to plan (it can't always!) and let's remember - we are supposed to ENJOY watching Manchester United, it's meant to be a FUN activity! If you're finding yourself not having fun and needing to hammer the team on a regular basis.....maybe consider doing something else?

Don't want to end on a negative so I'm going to finish with an arbitrary prediction...we come 2nd in the league, we win the FA Cup and we get knocked out in the CL Semi-Finals. All of which would make for another positive season in my book!

How do other fans see it? United fans...do you think we have made progress under Ole? Are you optimistic about our chances for 21/22? What can/should we realistically expect? Non-Utd fans, what is your perception of our progress under Ole?
I think that this is an excellent, fair and thoughtful post. I agree with all of your broad points .

The thing that has worried me the most this year is Ole’s lack of judgement (or confidence) to change a game through the effective use of substitutes. There seems also to be an element of, perhaps, favouritism in the way he continually plays people who are obviously stale or injured and in need of a rest. Again, this may be a confidence issue, though the brief cameo of Hannibal inspired considerable confidence in me, at least. Why not build on that with a few more minutes?
I’m sure he will, given time, but I personally would like to see that move a little quicker (same with Amad).
Overall though, the strong fears I had about Ole have been largely allayed, and my reading is substantially the same as that of the OP. To whom thanks are due, I feel.