It wasn’t too long ago that Manchester United were the dominant force in English football.
The Premier League‘s most successful side, they capitalised on their standing to boss the marketing world. To complete the holy trinity, the Red Devils also seemingly nailed 99 per cent of their transfers. It was a well-oiled machine and there didn’t seem to be an end in sight to their superiority.
Yet the 20-time champions of England haven’t added to their Premier League trophy haul since 2013. And in three of the last four seasons, United have finished outside of the top four and have had to settle for Europa League football.
They’re slipping into mediocrity. In many ways, they seem to be reliving what fierce rivals Liverpool went through during the 1990s.
You could argue United’s bubble burst as soon as Sir Alex Ferguson retired. In many ways it did but the Red Devils were still an attractive proposition to potential signings.
Regardless of what they achieved at Old Trafford, Ángel di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Alexis Sánchez and Romelu Lukaku were coups for a club who couldn’t guarantee Champions League football.
United were still riding the wave of, well, being United.
It initially felt as though this slump wouldn’t last. That sooner rather than later they’d be back at the top. The money they could offer signings helped swing decisions in their favour.
However, this summer has really hit home the fact they’re no longer the force they once were.
The Red Devils have still spent a hefty amount, adding Aaron Wan-Bissaka for £50million and making Harry Maguire the world’s most expensive defender having agreed to pay £80million to Leicester City, but Liverpool did the exact same thing in the past as they looked to claw their way back to the top.
They overspent on homegrown talent believing these English players still bought into the idea that they’re playing for a prestigious club and that would spur them on.
The Reds adopted that approach under club legend Kenny Daglish when they signed Andy Carroll and Stewart Downing even though David Silva and Sergio Aguero were available for a similar price.
The latter two weren’t tempted by the project at Anfield at the time and Liverpool had to pay over the odds to sign inferior, British talent.
What is happening at Old Trafford now is eerily similar.
A club legend is at the helm and the Red Devils are having to pay huge sums of money to convince Premier League clubs to part with their homegrown stars. All because foreign superstars aren’t as interested in what United have to offer.
Paulo Dybala, unwanted by Juventus, turned down a move to Manchester. In the Theatre of Dreams, he’d have been the star yet he opted to stay in Turin as part of the supporting cast to Cristiano Ronaldo.
#MUFC a bigger club than Juventus; won more Champions Leagues than them and play in front of 35,000 more fans at home every other week. If that didn't appeal to Dybala, they were right to walk away and look elsewhere.
— Sam Pilger (@sampilger) August 6, 2019
Football writer Sam Pilger span the story a little differently. He claimed United pulled the plug on a move for the Argentina international and they were right to do so.
He even took to social media to emphasise the point he was trying to make: “Manchester United are a bigger club than Juventus; won more Champions Leagues than them and play in front of 35,000 more fans at home every other week. If that didn’t appeal to Dybala, they were tight to walk away and look elsewhere.”
In the past, it was Liverpool using their history to back up why they should still be considered a big club. Now United fans and those covering the club do the the same thing.
Old Trafford is bigger than the Allianz Stadium, but that is that really going to play a huge role in shaping a players decision? Doubtful.
United have won a single European Cup more than Juventus but since their last appearance in a final, the Serie A giants have appeared in two. Furthermore, if you’re looking to appear in another Champions League final then you need to be playing in that competition – United aren’t.
Since United’s last Premier League triumph, the Bianconeri have claimed six Serie A titles.
The Red Devils should be proud of their history. They shouldn’t, however, try to use it as a selling point to potential signings these days.
Staying with Juventus sees Dybala play alongside Ronaldo, Leonardo Bonucci, Miralem Pjanic and a host of other star names. He’s likely to win another Serie A crown and Juve are one of the favourites to lift the Champions League this season.
United aren’t even favourites for a top-four finish and Ole Gunnar Solskjær is second favourite with the bookies to be sacked; only unpopular Newcastle United boss Steve Bruce is ahead of him.
And a large paycheque isn’t quite as appealing when you go from playing alongside some of the best in Europe to a side with Ashley Young as captain.
United need to accept they aren’t the team they once were and stop pretending otherwise. Tough decisions will have to be made but in the long run, it’ll be worthwhile.
The Red Devils will eventually return to the top. It could well be a slow process but after following the same path as Liverpool into the purgatory they currently find themselves in, they need to take note of what the Reds did to get themselves out of it and replicate it themselves.