Forget Fred, Manchester United’s problems run deeper than any one player

The main issue facing the club isn't one of tactics, rather personnel: Jose Mourinho.


(Photo credit: Aleksandr Opisov)

As we linger in the limbo between the end of the domestic season and the prelude to the Russian World Cup, Jose Mourinho is making practical use of his time by attempting to conclude deals for his transfer targets.

Manchester United have reportedly begun negotiations with Premier League rivals Tottenham for centre back Toby Alderweireld, whilst Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder Fred is in advanced talks with the club ahead of a £50 million summer transfer.

Players aren’t the solution to Manchester United’s problems, however. The issue runs far, far deeper.

A poor workman

Solely watching the football United played without taking notice of the table would be conclusive enough evidence that the Red Devils finished outside the top four. In fact, they finished second, arguably the worst-ever team to do so in the Premier League.

Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford. The list of talent within the squad is simply endless.

The expression goes that a poor workman always blames his tools, an expression that epitomises the situation Mourinho has created at Old Trafford. Rather than taking a long hard look in the mirror, the Portuguese publically criticises his players and consistently lays the blame at their doorstep.

No single player can solve the unfurling crisis. There’s no problem with the tools. It’s the workman using them that’s the issue.

Free Paul Pogba

The logic behind bringing Alderweireld to Manchester is that his commanding presence will aid in Mourinho’s strict defensive organisation, but this is a back four that conceded just 28 goals in the Premier League, only one more than champions Manchester City.

That’s not the record of a defence in dire need of revamping.

Admittedly the Red Devils did struggle to dominate the middle third in the weekly battle for control, but a midfield three of Nemanja Matic, Ander Herrera and Paul Pogba shouldn’t theoretically struggle.

Will Fred significantly improve United’s ability to control the midfield? Will his presence finally free Pogba?

The solution to antifootball

The issue isn’t the midfield, it’s not the defence, it’s not even Luke Shaw, as Mourinho so frequently loves to point out. It’s Mourinho himelf.

The Portuguese perpetuates a bland brand of antifootball, relying on defensive solidity and individual moments of brilliance from the likes of Sanchez, Lukaku and co. This in itself is problematic. There’s no structure, no plan and no system to the way United attack. It’s a case of simply getting the ball into Lukaku for knockdown and subsequently hoping the forwards can collectively work their magic.

The biggest issue that needs solving, therefore, isn’t who United play, rather how.

Mourinho must first devise a coherent system and structured pattern of build-up play when in possession that doesn’t revolve around individual brilliance. He needs an identity that goes beyond just epitomising everything Pep Guardiola stands against.

Until that happens, a Brazilian named Fred isn’t the answer.

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Oli Stein

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Oli graduated from the University of Bristol with a degree in History and has worked with RealSport since September 2016.

Currently assistant football editor and Tottenham correspondent.

Follow him on Twitter: @steinoliver_

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