May 19th, 2013. It was the last match of probably the greatest football manager ever. Sir Alex Ferguson. West Bromwich Albion vs Manchester United. United had already romped to their 20th top-flight title. It was a fitting farewell to a living legend.
The successor had already been announced. David Moyes of Everton — another Scotsman — was hailed by the gaffer as the man to succeed him. Expectations were soaring through the roof. And Mr. Moyes surely had a huge reputation to live up to.
A key point to note was that David Gill, Manchester United's chief executive was also leaving the post. He was to be replaced by executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward. It was a tumultuous time, and the summer would be an indication of the times to follow. The Thai tour was a disappointing outing, but it was pre-season, and all was well. Having won the FA Community Shield and then the season opener against Swansea City, hopes were up. But they quickly dried up.
An aging team, the weaknesses were hopelessly exposed. United had a pathetic transfer window — chasing fancy targets and missing out on achievable ones. Moyes was ultimately sacked and replaced with Ryan Giggs in the interim before being replaced by Louis van Gaal.
While there was a good pre-season and LvG met the expectations of qualifying for the Champions League, transfers were still a mess. It defied logic why somebody like Falcao — who never really recovered from that major injury or Ángel di Maria — who always had his sights set on Paris were even bought. Next season's transfers were even more befuddling. While strong reinforcements for the midfield were bought (finally), selling someone like Robin van Persie did not make much sense.
In the meanwhile, the commercial juggernaut of Manchester United was on a roll. Esoteric sponsorships were signed, a new blockbuster jersey deal with Adidas was the talk of the town and the money was flowing in — despite the disappointing performances on the pitch. It seems to be the case that there is more focus on marketing than on the football within the club. And this is worrying.
Yes, Manchester United has a large fanbase. However, if the results keep following this disappointing trajectory, it won't sustain. Legions of young new fans don't wish to follow United anymore. History is immaterial. Continued success is the only way to keep attracting those new generations of fans. The club needs to set its priorities straight. Marketing is successful only when there is a valuable product to boot.
Manchester United is risking becoming the next Liverpool. The talk always seems to be how the club was so great under Sir Alex Ferguson and how the glory days were. Yes, those were heady days, but it is time to move on. The club needs to strategize efficiently how to take the club into the future. The first team still needs plenty of fixing in defense and on the wings. At the same time, even the youth team needs attention. It is well-known by now that even the "noisy neighbors" have a better youth set-up.
In hindsight, it seems that appointing Louis van Gaal was not such a wise decision. He seems to be a footballing dinosaur who is out of touch with the times. While he did drag the team out of the rut Moyes left them in, it still hasn't been very encouraging.
The top management at Old Trafford need to sit up and take notice. Stop this obsession with sponsorship and first, fix the issues with the team. The team is rotting and a wholesome overhaul of the team and how it is managed with a clear vision is needed. Years of neglect have led to deep-seated issues and just papering over the cracks.
Sir Alex Ferguson had a glorious tenure of a quarter-century and transformed Manchester United into a force to be reckoned with. While the Glazers have made a mess of the transition so far, it is time to set right the mistakes. The club is no less in potential than the likes of Real Madrid or Barcelona and it is time to reach those dizzying heights.
Foundations and sustainability are the need of the hour. The revenue will follow when success is guaranteed.