The year ended much as it began: with Louis van Gaal’s side languishing well behind the Premier League leaders, exiled from European competition and out of at least one domestic cup. Plus ça change, Louis. United’s run of eight matches without a victory as 2015 closed helped to end the year with a sense of crisis in the air. The new year begins with Van Gaal under pressure to turn the team around, Ed Woodward to secure the resources his heavily backed manager needs, and the fans to remain positive amid what is beginning to feel like permanent decline.
A year is also a very long time in football, especially if your preference is for watching Van Gaal’s United. After 12 months of stilted progress, stultifying process and soporific football the natives are certainly restless. Yet, Van Gaal’s resources were significantly enriched in 2015, with the club securing Morgan Schneiderlin, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian, and the remarkably talented Anthony Martial during the summer. The excuses for failure are wearing thin; results must be better in 2016.
“When you don’t assess December it was a very good year 2015,” claimed Van Gaal in a typically offbeat fashion. “The way we have played we are more or less always the dominant team. The only problem is that we don’t score.”
If Van Gaal’s review of 2015 is a little odd then United Rant’s foresight for the year ahead is unlikely to be much better – and yet both offer it anyway. Here are 10 predictions for the year ahead. Some a little more serious than others…
United miss out on qualifying for the Champions League for the second time in three years
Although United’s abysmal form of the past month abates the Reds’ inability to score at a rate better than one goal a game means that the Van Gaal’s side is be pipped to fourth spot in the Champions League by Tottenham Hotspur and a resurgent Liverpool. Arsenal and champions Manchester City make up the other two places in a new look top four, with United losing out by a single point on the final day of the season. Leicester City drops out of contention after one of the club’s three key players – Jamie Vardy, Ryad Mahrez and, N’Golo Kante – is injured during the spring, leading to the much-anticipated dip in form. It is the second time in three years that United fails to qualify for Europe’s premier competition – an event that provokes much soul-searching within the club.
Van Gaal retires to Portugal after a hugely disappointing final managerial appointment
After more than two decades at the pinnacle of European and World football Van Gaal calls it a day, taking his wife Truus’ advice and retiring to the couple’s “paradise” on the Algarve. It is a sad end to a landmark career, albeit one that has not always been successful. Indeed, United’s executive vice-president Ed Woodward continues to back the Dutchman to the bitter end, understanding the significance on his own career of Van Gaal’s failure at United – one rooted in Woodward’s limitations as an executive and his paymasters’ under-investment in the club over more than a decade. But Van Gaal’s position becomes untenable as United miss out on the Champions League, lose to
Midtjylland in the Europa League and suffer defeat to Brighton & Hove Albion in the FA Cup fourth round.
Ryan Giggs is appointed United manager; he is far from first choice
Giggs finally gets the job he has been seeking, although only after the club’s search for a “European heavyweight manager” fails to yield results. Pep Guardiola completes football’s most open secret by becoming City’s head coach; the Board, split on the appointment, rejects the opportunity to hire Jose Mourinho, who instead becomes Paris Saint Germain manager; Jurgen Klopp is unavailable after taking Liverpool into the Champions League; Massimo Allegri becomes Chelsea coach; Antonio Conte is deemed too risky; and Vincente Del Bosque takes over from Rafael Benitez at Real Madrid. Giggs signs a four-year contract as United manager, with speculation mounting over the summer that a director of football will be hired. Carlos Quieroz is appointed in August, but too late to have a significant impact on the summer 2016 transfer market. United makes a mixed start to the 2016/7 campaign, leading to a wave of consternation in social media and briefing behind the scenes that “Giggs is the man for the long-term.”
Woodward finally lands the ‘superstar’ he has been searching for, in an otherwise haphazard summer window
After failing to buy Neymar, Cristiano Ronaldo, and James Rodriquez over summer 2016, Woodward finally ends two years of frustration, with a £90 million move for Gareth Bale. The Welshman arrives at Old Trafford on deadline day. But the transfer takes place amid speculation about Bale’s reluctance to move, only for Real Madrid President Florentino Perez to force through the deal after his capture of Paul Pogba as Los Merengues’ new Galatico. In a rare interview Joel Glazer lauds the capture of “Garth Bales” and promises that the winger will drive United towards winning “the English Premier League pennant.” Bale suffers a severe hamstring tear in United’s Premier League defeat at Middlesbrough in October 2016, keeping him out of the team until January. To nobody’s surprise the club fails with a string of bids for players across Europe and the Premier League, including offers of £15 million, £15.1 million, £15.2 million and £75 million for Everton’s Romelu Lukaku.
Wayne Rooney is sold to Everton; Juan Mata joins Juventus; Phil Jones joins Tottenham Hotspur; Marouane Fellaini joins Valencia; Antonia Valencia leaves for MLS
In a summer of change some big names leave Old Trafford for pastures new. Rooney’s time is finally up after the Englishman scores just seven Premier League goals in the 2015/16 season. After making nice with the Everton crowd in a summer 2015 testimonial match, Rooney’s move is no longer controversial, with the Toffees paying around £10 million for the striker’s services. United passes on almost all of the fee to Rooney in settlement of the player’s contract – the move almost breaks down at the last moment, with agent Paul Stretford telling The Sun that the player is willing to “see out his contract” at Old Trafford unless he receives a payoff. Mata leaves despite ending the 2015/16 season as United’s second best goalscorer and top assist-maker. Giggs, ever the traditionalist, talks of building “speed and width” into the team. Fellaini ends a disappointing two years in Manchester with a £15 million move to Gary Neville’s Valencia – Neville having been appointed permanent manager at the Mestalla. Valencia leaves United for MLS side Seattle Sounders, where the fans compare the Ecuadorian’s crossing to the distance generated by Seattle Seahawks’ placekicker Steven Hauschka.
David de Gea finally gets the ‘dream’ move to Real Madrid
Having missed out on the Champions League the club is powerless to prevent De Gea finally moving to Bernabeu in a £45 million deal. The Goalkeeper is unveiled in front of more than 70,000 fans in the Spanish capital. Girlfriend Edurne Tweets a series of caustic comments about the Manchester climate, but says in an interview with Cadena Ser radio “Echo de menos el Centro Arndale,” which roughly translates as “I will miss the Arndale Centre.” United acquire Stoke City’s Jack Butland and Crystal Palace stalwart Wayne Hennessey. Victor Valdes remains with United’s under-21 side as ineffective cover for Sam Johnstone.
Memphis Depay storms to a 20-goal second season in Manchester
The Dutchman ends the 2015/16 campaign frustrated and frustrating in equal measure, but responds superbly to a summer lesson in lifestyle from new United manager Giggs. Operating from the left in Giggs’ 4-4-2 formation, Memphis is a constant threat, cutting inside and powerfully shooting in a series of performances that are reminiscent of a younger Ronaldo. Memphis is complimented in attack by new signing Bale, Anthony Martial and the £30 million acquisition of Southampton’s Sadio Mane.
United wins the first derby of the season, but familiar weaknesses persist
The Reds’ 5-0 victory over Guardiola’s side in early September comes after City secures 75% possession at Old Trafford, but fails to convert any chances. United score five from as many opportunities as Depay, Martial, Mane and Bale destroy City in a performance Neville describes as “built on power and pace” in his weekly column for The Times. United supporters rejoice, but it lasts just three days as a full-strength side loses a midweek Capital One Cup fixture to Burton Albion to dampen the mood. United’s newfound riches in attack continue to be undone by gaps at the back, with Woodward again failing to land a new centre back. Some fans are starting to call it the “Liverpoolisation” of the club.
The Glazer family releases more than £250 million of equity onto the New York Stock Exchange – almost 10% of their shareholding
The move prompts speculation during autumn 2017 that the family is about to exit after more than a decade as United’s absentee owners. Valencia owner and Class of ’92 collaborator Peter Lim is rumoured to be the lead investor in a potential $4 billion buyout that will result in the club’s delisting. The club fuels speculation by calling a press conference in early November for what is billed by insiders as “a major announcement.” In a packed event a beaming Woodward unveils China Unionpay as the club’s “official mobile payments partner in North East Asia.” The year ends with the Glazer family still entrenched in power.
The club announces major building works at Old Trafford
In a coup for fanzine Red News, which broke the story in December 2015, the club announces that Old Trafford’s South Stand is to be rebuilt. The new second and third tiers, matching the Sir Alex Ferguson Stand on the north side, add 14,000 new seats, bringing Old Trafford’s capacity to more than 90,000. The FA tries to block the move, with Gregg Dyke arguing that Wembley should be the preeminent stadium in the country. In an off-the-record briefing Woodward says he “couldn’t give a sweet FA” about the game’s governing body. United’s executive vice chairman finally wins a few fans.