Manchester United’s struggles have been well documented and their wait for silverware goes on for the sixth season running. Manchester United is one of the most decorated teams in English football, with a reputation as one of the biggest clubs in the world. However, ever since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, silverware has been hard to come by.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer went close to securing a trophy in 2021, but his Red Devils side ultimately lost out to Villarreal in the Europa League final and the club legend departed his post without securing any honors.
Manchester United is facing a dire end to another mediocre season, with no Champions League football and silverware a distant memory, Erik ten Hag faces a huge rebuild this summer. United are expected to once again throw money at their problems this summer and are bracing themselves for numerous first-team players to leave.
When did Manchester United last win a trophy?
Manchester United last won a trophy in May 2017, when they lifted the Europa League. Then managed by Jose Mourinho, the Red Devils defeated Ajax in the final of the UEFA competition, winning the game 2-0, with goals from Paul Pogba and Henrikh Mkhitaryan sealing silverware.
It was the first time they had won a competition in the club’s history. Winning the Europa League granted the club a route into the following season’s Champions League, something which would otherwise have eluded them after they finished sixth in the Premier League that year.
Who was in the Manchester United team when they last won a trophy?
The Manchester United squad in the 2016-17 season, when they last won a trophy, featured legendary players such as Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Wayne Rooney. Bastian Schweinsteiger was also on the books before he left for Chicago Fire in March 2017.
It was Paul Pogba’s return season, after he completed a big-money transfer from Juventus, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan joined from Borussia Dortmund. Memphis Depay began the season on United’s books but departed in January 2017, leaving for Lyon. Only two players from the starting 11 in the final are still on United’s books i.e Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford.
Reasons for such a drastic demise
Manchester United’s drastic fall from grace is a combination of various on and off-the-pitch reasons.
Haphazard Transfer Policy
Manchester United have spent over half a BILLION pounds since they last lifted a trophy, 611.1 million to be precise. During the same period, of the Premier League’s so-called ‘big six’ clubs, United has spent the second-most, behind only Manchester City with 818.5 million.
However, Manchester City has won eight major trophies in that time, including three Premier League titles, while Chelsea has the Champions League, FA Cup, and Europa League crowns to their name.
What will sting the most is that they’ve spent over £150m more than Liverpool (£470.09m), who won the Premier League, Carabao Cup, FA Cup, and Champions League in that time. Even Arsenal has won more (FA Cup) and spent less (£443.1m) than Man United. Interestingly, Tottenham is the only ‘big six’ club not to have won a trophy, but have spent close to £300m less (£322.3m).
Ed Woodward, United’s former vice-chief executive, was the most unpopular man in Manchester for a number of years due to his various transfer blunders. But his contractual policy of offering new terms to players who had no future in an attempt to increase their value has been one of his biggest failures.
Woodward has given fresh terms to Phil Jones, Eric Bailly, and Nemanja Matic, and will likely lose all three this summer without any significant money coming in.
Losing their Identity
Former Manchester United coach Rene Meulensteen, who worked with Sir Alex Ferguson for over a decade, claimed that his old club has lost its identity. He went further by suggesting that moving away from Ferguson’s approach has led to the club’s downfall since 2013.
In the football industry, you have to be willing to evolve and adapt your style in order to suit the changing climate. The real reasons for United’s failings have been their unwillingness to stick to a new style of football and give it the chance to eventually flourish.
Neither David Moyes, Louis van Gaal or Jose Mourinho were fortunate enough to be shown the same faith even though their pedigrees deserved it more than Solskjaer. United’s eagerness to chop and change when things do not go right straightaway has hindered them severely.
Reviewing ever manager tenure since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement.
David Moyes (July 2013 to April 2014)
David Moyes inherited the biggest job in the world when he replaced Ferguson and was never likely to succeed immediately. Having been unable to sign his top transfer targets, he was left with an aging squad stuck in their ways.
He was sacked just ten months after inheriting the hot seat at Old Trafford, and there’s no way of telling if he’d ever be a success in Manchester. But sacking him so early never gave him a chance to do things his own way, and was just an indication of United’s new-found ‘hire and fire ‘ policy.
With a likely smaller budget, Moyes has managed to gain relative success at West Ham – just think what he could have done at Old Trafford with the rarest of commodities and more importantly, time.
Louis van Gaal (July 2014 to May 2016)
One of the most decorated Dutch managers of all time, Van Gaal made it his business to arrest the slump at United and tighten them up defensively. Despite being popular due to his beguiling and charismatic personality, Van Gaal’s overly cautious approach soon began to frustrate fans.
Louis Van Gaal tore into Manchester United on a number of occasions, leading Van Gaal to accuse the club of putting commercial interests above results. That claim has become a widely-held opinion by fans and pundits alike, and it’s hard to argue they were right to ignore his cries of frustration.
Highlight: Winning the 2016 FA Cup final by beating Crystal Palace in extra time at Wembley.
Jose Mourinho (May 2016 to December 2018)
The most successful Manchester United manager of the post-Fergie era, Mourinho did at least deliver silverware even if it wasn’t any of the game’s biggest prizes.
United have lifted five pieces of silverware in the nine years since Ferguson’s retirement, one of them was Moyes’ Charity Shield in his first competitive game and the other was Van Gaal’s FA Cup triumph. The other three all came in Jose Mourinho’s second season at the club, with the serial winner collecting the Charity Shield, Europa League, and Carabao Cup.
His third season, however, started horribly, and United officials acted quickly to pull the trigger, despite United still being in the Champions League and FA Cup. Reports suggested players and staff were unhappy with Mourinho, but the truth remains that they’re yet to win a trophy since his departure.
Trophies won: League Cup (1), FA Community Shield (1), Europa League (1)
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (December 2018 to November 2021)
In the immediate aftermath of Mourinho’s dismissal, United officials looked to get the fans back on side by bringing Ole Gunnar Solskjaer back to the club. Things went well immediately for the interim head coach, who oversaw a heroic win away at Paris Saint-Germain in the Champions League.
But inevitably, United got it wrong yet again and gave him a lengthy contract as permanent head coach despite having very little experience in management. Not going all-out for Mauricio Pochettino – who was sacked by Spurs just months later – is a mistake they’re still paying the price for now.
He departed without a trophy to his name but there were still enough sporadic moments of greatness during his tenure to ensure he can leave with his head held high.
High point: Solskjaer can be rightly proud of reaching the Europa League final in 2020-21, improving United’s league positions and the atmosphere within the squad, and embarking upon several impressive unbeaten runs. However, THAT special night in Paris is the one that will live the longest in the memory of most fans.
As a result, Manchester United is facing trouble both on the managerial and players’ ends. Having not made good transfers in the last five years, it will be intriguing to see how they perform under their new manager, Erik ten Hag.