After Fergie left, Man Utd lost their identity… According to Meulensteen, they missed a trick by not hiring Klopp or Guardiola.
ITT It’s easy to point the finger at Manchester United for the problems at Old Trafford.
Coming up with suggestions about how to fix it is the more difficult part. How can the club and team that the fans adored be resurrected?
Coach Rene Meulensteen worked for Sir Alex Ferguson for 12 years, initially in youth development and then with the first team for six years until his retirement in 2013.
Now the assistant manager of Australia, the Dutchman remembers his time at United with fondness and a sense of wonder.
“When I’m away with the Australian team, they say to me, ‘It must have been so much pressure at United,'” Meulensteen said.
“Do you want to know something? It wasn’t the case. Sir Alex was a fantastic manager who had a plan, an identity, and a belief system that worked. It never felt suffocating.”
So, what was it about the United States of America that opponents grew to admire and fear?
“It’s about pace, power, penetration, unpredictability, and that’s what we wanted from our teams,” he said.
“That was the whole point of United.” The tricky part was always matching the drive to win with the desire to amuse. There were occasions when we knew we had to fight for a 1-0 win against a certain opponent, but we knew we could achieve it.
“Having the confidence, belief, and authority to carry it out was what it was all about.” That is something that any United team requires.”
United urgently needs to rediscover this. But what about this frantic game?
“You know what, it’s become a really popular word,” Meulensteen added. It’s as though it’s never been done before.
“We’d do it, but not just for the purpose of doing it.” Not when the rest of the team was facing you or approaching you.
“When they turned to face their own goal, that’s when you pressed and caused the errors.”
“Do you have any idea where it all originates from?” Back four of your own. They must observe the opposition’s back four, determine whether they are moving forward or backward, then react and move accordingly.
“Many people believe that to make this work, you need high-energy players who can run nonstop.
“You don’t have to; all you have to do is perform your job and do it together.”
“It’s not just one person charging at someone with the ball; it’s not going to work if the two players around you aren’t doing their part.”
Liverpool and Manchester City are regarded as the best at regaining possession, and Meulensteen holds the highest regard for Klopp and Guardiola.
“United missed a trick not acquiring either of them,” he continued. They both have such a strong presence and clout in their respective teams.
“Ask any Liverpool player if they know what they’re doing, and they’ll all answer yes.”
“No matter how Pep shuffles things about, if you ask City players whether they know what they’re doing, they’ll all answer ‘Yes.’
“Ask United players, and I doubt you’ll get such a confident response.”
“However, if either club does not properly prepare for their departure, they will find themselves in the same situation.”
So, how does United relaunch? “What you have to do — and should always be doing — is look at the team you’ll have in two or three years,” he said. That is how a club achieves consistency and stability.
“I don’t believe that has occurred in the last eight years.”
“Are we looking for the next David De Gea, Harry Maguire, Nemanja Matic, Edinson Cavani, or even Cristiano Ronaldo?” United should be thinking about how they will appear in two or three years.”
After working with Ronaldo in his best, Meulensteen isn’t one of those who thinks the legend’s comeback is a mistake.
“You look at what he has done in his career and what he continues to do,” he remarked. How many players can you say that about if he gets four chances and scores one or two?
“So, how do you make a living?” You figure out a way to provide him the opportunities.”
One of the major issues that Meulensteen sees is that United lacks a midfield to work with, and Paul Pogba is a huge disappointment.
“I’m not sure what went wrong there,” he remarked. It has been a colossal letdown.
“Perhaps it was easier for him to shine since he was part of a strong Juventus squad, but he hasn’t been able to boost United.”
“Someone like him is needed in the midfield because I don’t feel Scott McTominay and Fred have everything United requires to be competitive again.”
They always thought about the present and future in Meulensteen’s period.
“When identifying players, we always had two watchwords — ‘being’ and ‘becoming,'” he remarked.
“For instance, Robin van Persie was ‘being’ in the moment, in the here and now.
“However, you were always on the lookout for the ‘becoming’ to take their place.
“Look at Guardiola’s treatment of Phil Foden; he was told he was the ‘becoming,’ and then David Silva went, and there you have it – that’s what I’m talking about.”
The shift from Ferguson to his successors, according to Meulensteen, is at the root of United’s issues.
“People talk about having a base, a foundation, and a vision so that there may be consistency,” he remarked.
“Well, we’ve dealt with that.” That was pulled apart with Mike Phelan, myself, goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, and Tony Strudwick.”
While Phelan and Steele were sacked, Meulensteen’s influence waned as David Moyes assembled his own squad.
He thought he didn’t have a choice but to leave. Moyes followed suit ten months later.
Why hasn’t United been able to get back on track since then?
He certainly has little time for his countryman Louis van Gaal, who took over as manager after Moyes. “I loathe the way he speaks to people; it can be degrading at times,” he remarked. It’s primarily about Louis van Gaal and his method of doing things.
“If you ask me, he actually underestimated the Premier League.” He believed that if he went to places like Stoke, he could win in third gear.
“He had no idea how competitive the league is or what Manchester United fans desire to see.” It was all about possession, which was too slow and didn’t actually result in anything being created by the players.
“You can have 85% possession and pass the ball sideways.” It’s all about what you’re going to do with it.”
Jose Mourinho was never one for possession statistics, but he, too, was gone after 212 years.
Mourinho did win several trophies, but he struggled to find the right combination of results and forward, attractive football.
“You could tell it was going to go wrong as soon as he didn’t acquire a player he wanted in the summer before his last season,” Meulensteen remarked.
Meulensteen is all about a management having enough time to devise a strategy and see it through.
So, where did Ole Gunnar Solskjaer go wrong? “He’s a great guy, maybe TOO polite,” Meulensteen stated.
“As Klopp did with Liverpool and Guardiola did with City, you should always be given roughly 18 months to put your plans in place and then watch how they progress.”
“They had two distinct approaches, both of which were effective, but it took them about 18 months to get it all together.”
“Ole had that phase, and there were times when you could see growth, such as when they went on an unbeaten away streak.”
“However, they needed to step up their game with more consistency in their performances.” Instead, it was beginning to fall. He had time because the long-term plan was no longer working.”
Fergie had lots of time on his hands. It was a moment when Meulensteen was a part of it, and what a time it was. Returning to the present, Ralf Rangnick is attempting to navigate his way through the remainder of the season.
“The trouble is, he’s caught between needing to generate results and convincing the players to buy into his ideals at the same time,” he explained.
“United have a safety net in that they can replace him and relocate him upstairs after six months, or they can keep him on if everything goes well.”
“Right now, the club is like a car stuck in the sand with its wheels spinning but no else to go.”