In The Pulpit: Manchester United need a sporting director

I was listening to a radio show on a local station here in Bury which featured ex-United midfielder, Mickey Thomas. He and the guest representing City were talking about United’s future transfer business this summer. Both agreed that United needed, at the very least, four or five new signings to compete with Manchester City next season. This week there have been stories in some papers stating that Mourinho will be handed £200m. This way, he’ll be able to sign six new players for the first team. Six! That’s more than… half the team!

This got me thinking, do United really need such a massive overhaul? On this site, Andy Warrant has written a piece looking at who needs to come and who needs to go. In fact, I myself wrote a two-part article discussing the players who should leave and those that should stay.

But I think I’m starting to change my opinion. I’ve discussed before on this site that I think that Mourinho’s style of football and his inability to get the most out of his attacking players are the biggest reasons that United are so far behind City. When you compare the individuals in both teams, I don’t think there’s too much in it. Simply, Pep is getting his players to perform at their maximum whilst Jose isn’t.

However, I have no doubt that United will have a massive squad overhaul in the summer. United are likely to finish at least sixteen points behind City. If Mourinho didn’t bring in any new players, that would show that it was all his fault. So those that have ‘failed him’ will be moved on and a whole new host of players will come in to make us better.

What if these players don’t work? What if these new signings can’t hack it? Well, we’ll just move them on and find some more players. There’s enough money sloshing around to just keep refreshing the squad every time the manager isn’t happy with the player’s output.

Since Ferguson left in 2013, United have signed nineteen first team players. Seven of those players have already left and another nine are in a precarious position going into this summer. That’s not good business in my book. It’s likely due to having three different managers in that time who keep getting rid of the previous manager’s signings. A few of those disposed of players have gone on to be impressive at their new clubs as well, making us look even more stupid. This sort of short-termism is very much the way of the modern Manchester United

For me (Clive), this shows that United need a long-term plan. They need to revitalise their transfer department. At the moment, their transfer strategy seems to be waiting for Mourinho to identify targets then going out and getting three quarters of them. There’s possibly a backup plan for each type of player, but we haven’t really seen any evidence of that yet. It seems that if United miss out on a player, they just don’t sign someone in that position.

I think United need a sporting director. Someone who could work outside of the manager for the good of the long term future of the club. Their full time job would be identifying targets that fit the characteristics of a Manchester United player, rather than the type of player the manager wanted. They would be able to identify multiple targets, so if a primary target was missed, a secondary target could be approached. If a player needed to leave the club, there would already be replacements lined up and ready to be purchased.

This should insulate United from manager after manager having to overhaul the squad every summer. Over the last few years, buying a whole host of new players hasn’t exactly improved United’s fortunes. Rather, most of United’s key players this season have been those signed by Ferguson or brought through the youth academy.

However, this would mean that United would need to have a manager in charge who would focus on coaching and would be happy not being able to sign players. They would also need to have a tactical philosophy that mirrored that of the sporting director. For example, if the director likes technical, skilful players, you will need a manager who plays a possession based style of football.

We’ve seen this sort of transfer approach work well at teams across Europe, such as Juventus, Sevilla, Roma and Dortmund. Whether it would work in this country remains to be seen. Southampton and West Bromwich Albion are two teams that publicly stated they would use this method and look how they turned out. Hopefully, a club of United’s size and resources would be able to use this method more successfully.

United may well go on to spend another £200m on four or five players this summer. Maybe it will finally work and the gap between them and City will close. But rather than splurge another war chest on a myriad of players, it might be better for the long term future of the club if Ed Woodward invested in the scouting department instead and hired a sporting director.

About the Author

Bob Priestley
Manchester United fan and writer of 'entertaining articles' or 'a collection of words' depending on who you listen to