Has Manchester United’s Money Gone To Waste?

The work has just begun for Erik ten Hag

Every season is an opportunity to learn, but when exactly this learning curve ends is something that Manchester United fans have been pondering for almost a decade now. Not long ago they bemoaned the lack of vision at the club. The vision came, with Erik ten Hag’s arrival. He came with a definite philosophy and had the audacity to take on football’s biggest prima donna, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Last season, after finishing third, the supporters learned the club was in dire need of investment to challenge for the trophy. Investment arrived; United are among the top three spenders in the Premier League in summer sales. Three games into the current season, they have already learned their first lesson: an investment of over £200 million wasn’t enough to overhaul a squad. They need more investment. Every hope keeps turning into an illusion, like a shape-shifting mirage.

But weren’t we told United has brought pretty good upgrades this season? Mason Mount came with great pomp and fanfare, the relentless presser who is adept in the advanced zone, with a knack for creating chances frequently and coming up with goals occasionally. A significant upgrade over the weary legs of Christian Eriksen. Rasmus Hojlund, a young, raw, and promising talent from Denmark, came in to replace Antony Martial, a striker whose returns have diminished substantially.

A mysterious puzzle named David de Gea was finally solved. United replaced the Spanish goalie with Cameroon’s Andre Onana, and as consensus has it, Onana is more comfortable than de Gea in his distribution and passing, and thus playing from the back is now a genuine option with no liability in front of the goal.

These signings sound good in theory, yeah. But the game has rarely worked in this simplistic arithmetical way, the addition and subtraction of cold numbers can also lead to a bafflingly misleading conclusion. Planning is crucial. But you need a bit of luck too; Manchester United, unfortunately, had none. The season is in full swing, but their business is not done yet, and what’s befuddling is that they still need an upgrade in nearly every department, even in the ones they already added this summer.

Mount blanked the first two games, and while the club was expecting him to pull strings in the midfield, the English midfielder ended up pulling his hamstring. Chances are you might not remember a single contribution from Mount despite watching the first three games in their entirety. Against Nottingham Forrest, Man Utd went back to Christian Eriksen, and though he made the team defensively vulnerable, the Danish showed he still has a lot to offer in the attacking phase. Hojlund is already out due to injury, and his only viable replacement isn’t really viable anymore: he hasn’t scored even ten goals in the past two seasons.

Manchester United has had three games so far, winning two and losing one. Had fortune swung even a bit towards the other side in any of the two matches they won rather unconvincingly, they might have lost all three, instead of one. None of the wins was assuring. Rather than cruising against teams who are likely going to be the relegation contender, they huffed and puffed their way to victory. At this point, the only question worth asking is: How far the team are from reaching their final expression when they can seriously challenge the hegemony of their city rivals? Perhaps a light year behind? Or is it just a matter of time before a grand twist of fate intervenes, everything clicks, and they are good again?

Probably the only lesson here to be learned is that there’s no magic wand that overturns a decade of negligence in a summer or two. And to be honest, Manchester United fans know this better than anyone, or else why would they still unfurl the anti-Glazer banner at Old Trafford after the club spent a record sum this summer? They know there’s no magic cure that will fix the apathy of the owners that has brought the club to this juncture. But do they really think a change in ownership will change their fate? They don’t need to look further than Chelsea to understand it can get worse too.

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