How many more times have Manchester United got to be embarrassed?

MANCHESTER United are in danger of sinking into a prolonged era of mediocrity in much the same way that AC Milan and Inter Milan did before they rediscovered their mojo in recent years. Some might say they are already at that level.

That has to be the conclusion after the latest setback to United’s recovery under Erik ten Hag. The sight of their fans leaving the Etihad at half-time as they went in four goals down to their fierce local rivals indicated that their own people have had enough.

Admittedly, United were up against a Manchester City team that was on fire and their latest acquisition, the extraordinary Erling Haaland, looked like he was going to score every time he approached the penalty area. It did look as though United had got over their early season jitters with four consecutive wins, but against City they were exposed once more.

It has not been a good couple of weeks for the club, with a huge financial loss in 2021-22 and now this humbling at the hands of Pep Guardiola’s side. It’s hard to blame Ten Hag, because he has inherited a team that has been constructed over a period of time and has the influence of half a dozen managers. The problem at United has been brewing over nine years and owes as much to poor transfer market activity as much as anything else. The 11 players that started the Manchester derby cost the club around £ 350 million compared to the £ 460 million City spent on their line-up. Although £ 100 million is a big difference, one look at City’s team and it looks like fair value, as opposed to United’s, which resembles an exercise in overspending.

The problem is also not a question of poor team managers, either. They’ve tried highly respected people like David Moyes, track record coaches in José Mourinho and Louis van Gaal, “one of our own” in Ole Gunar Solskjaer and a left field approach in the form of Ralf Rangnick, who was a wrong fit right from the word go. Now they’ve gone down the list of the most successful coaches in Europe and arrived at Erik ten Hag. They have tried almost everything except lure Klopp or Guardiola to Old Trafford. In fact, the presence of these two characters clearly gnaws at United on a daily basis. They have lost substantial ground to City and Liverpool as well as Chelsea over the past decade. And yet, Manchester United has enormous cache and greater natural cash generating potential than almost all of their domestic competitors.

Of course, they were impatient, but now United are desperate. They’ve gone from Champions League certainties to Europa League strugglers and this has clearly affected the club’s income. It’s a vicious spiral and with each blow, the confusion grows and confidence erodes. Naturally, the owners get the blame and there’s some justification in that, but there’s been no shortage of cash spent on new players, but United have not spent wisely. The apparent obsession with veteran superstars is not something a club of their status should be focused on. At the moment, they have 37 year-old Cristiano Ronaldo sitting on the bench – this is not only something of an insult to CR7 but is also a waste of money.

You only need look at the grim faces of United’s c-suite seating to see the disappointment and dismay at the club at the moment, but the most telling scene is that of the fans leaving their seats and exiting the stadium in a display of disgust. It is arguably time for United to reinvent themselves and to realise they are no longer the powerful force they once were. They have a problem and the sooner they realise it cannot be solved by the transfer market or by continually changing coaches, the better. This really is a bad time for their colossal empire to run into trouble.

The crisis baton passes to Leicester City and Brendan Rodgers

LEICESTER CITY’s latest defeat,  at Tottenham Hotspur by six goals to two, underlines the crisis that is unfolding at the club. It also highlights the plight of their manager, Brendan Rodgers, who will be only too aware that he has a big hole to quickly dig himself out of. In the Premier League, there is always a “crisis club” and this season, the baton has passed from Manchester United to Liverpool to Chelsea to Leicester City. The moment a club dips into the crisis zone, they are rarely left alone to work themselves out.

The media, the owners and the fans start to analyse the situation and the answer is invariably a demand for drastic action. It is difficult for any club chairman not to do anything and it usually ends in the manager getting the sack, either by “mutual consent” or “in the interests of the club”. The future of Brendan Rodgers is now the most talked-about topic in the city of Leicester, aside from the death of Queen Elizabeth.

Leicester’s situation is not good, the results speak for themselves, played seven, lost six, one point, 22 goals conceded. Admittedly, they have had three very difficult away trips and in their seven games, four have been against the “big six”. But from the corresponding fixtures last season, Leicester picked up 10 points, so a decline has clearly taken place – in 2022, Leicester’s win rate in the Premier is 25%, in 2021, it was 45%.

This is arguably the biggest crisis of Rodgers’ career, his statistics are actually very healthy, with an overall career win rate of 52%. It is doubtful that Leicester would get a better coach in terms of his track record. He led Leicester to the FA Cup in 2021, beating one of his former employers, Chelsea, in the final.

The current position is such that a section of Leicester’s support turned against Rodgers and are calling for his dismissal. These days, it doesn’t take much for the dial to drift into the red, even if you did win the only FA Cup in the club’s history. Rodgers, as he said in his post-match interview, knows the score.

Rodgers has spoken of a chaotic summer at the King Power, with the club investigated by UEFA concerning Financial Fair Play and understandably cautious around transfer market activity. Fortunately, they escaped any sanctions from the governing body.

Leicester did lose two key players in Kasper Schmeichel (to Nice) and Wesley Fofana (Chelsea), which yielded a considerable amount of cash. Although pressure must be growing, Rodgers said before the game with Spurs that he has good backing from his board. “They have been very supportive, but I am not daft. I understand football but their support probably shows the level of work we’ve done here and the work behind the scenes.”

Leicester have a reputation for being well run and people consider they have very committed and reasonable owners. In 2020-21, the most recent financials released, the club generated £ 226 million in revenues, a 51% increase on 2019-20, but 85% of income is spent on wages. The club has more than £ 230 million of net debt, with over £ 200 million owed to the owners. Leicester made a profit of £ 44 million on player trading, an important part of their business model. Leicester is a club that does sell its top players from time to time and they do have talent that other clubs would willingly acquire for large sums of money. James Maddison is one such player and there was considerable interest from Newcastle United, among others, in the summer window. If they need to raise money to strengthen in the new year, a big fee could be received for the England international.

Reports suggest that Rodgers appears to have been dissatisfied with the club’s recruitment system. Since the last window ended, Leicester have hired a new head of recruitment, Martyn Glover, but the full benefit of his arrival won’t truly be felt until 2023. He has also spoken out about the need for fans to encourage players as the anxiety generated from the stands can affect the team. His comments were not appreciated by some of Leicester’s supporters and “Rodgers out” banners started to appear among the crowd.

Such is the short-termism of football, and that doesn’t just include boards and owners but also supporters of most clubs, the temptation will be to replace Rodgers. The days when chairmen take a chance that things will turnaround seem to have gone. However, will Leicester City actually get someone better and is nobody given the benefit of the doubt anymore?