Manchester United are sitting in sixth place, four points behind Arsenal, who have two games in hand and have only lost two league games since the start of 2022. Even if the Red Devils were to go head-to-head with the Gunners for a fourth-place finish till the end of the Premier League season, the chances are highly unlikely with the side’s below-par goal difference and difficult run of games.
As the side have dropped crucial points to the likes of Burnley, Southampton and Watford over the last two months, whilst winning just 14 games out of the 29 league games played, United have not shown clear signs of a football team that deserves to finish within the Champions League positions.
However, with the club expecting to appoint their next long-term manager shortly as well as looking to complete a major squad overhaul in the summer, a season without European football may be seen as something that is needed for all parties at Old Trafford. Arsenal have spent this season without taking part in the Champions League or Europa League, allowing them to improve to the standards of Mikel Arteta’s expectations and the squad to progress as individuals and as a collective.
We investigate why no European football for Manchester United could be a blessing in disguise…
To start off with, the board and owners have always spent more money when outside of the Champions League than when inside it, as the club are not able to maximise their financial income without the big European nights at Old Trafford. Also, the sponsors usually have a signed agreement to not pay the full amount to the club, should they fail to finish within the top four positions.
The 2018/19 and 2015/16 campaigns were the last two occasions where the club failed to achieve Champions League football, which resulted in the Glazers to spend just over £200million in the summer of 2019 and just over £150million in the summer of 2016. However, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal were not consistently backed by the board, as the past managers had issues offloading high-paid players whilst not having their requirements met by Ed Woodward.
With either Erik Ten Hag expected to take the reigns at the theatre of dreams in a few months’ time, he is guaranteed to have a budget of £150million to £200million to spend on the areas that need addressing, whilst working alongside Ralf Rangnick, who will take up a consultancy role in the summer and provide the important output on which players deserve to stay and who should leave.
Not only that, but Manchester United have only been in the Champions League to make up the numbers since the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson, failing to show signs of a team that are developing to the next level and are moving into the right direction of competing for the major trophies. Because of the lack of progression and lack of success made by the club, United are no longer a team that are able to convince talented and world-class players to join them besides offering extortionate wages.
Nevertheless, without the presence and hinderance of European football, Ten Hag will have enough time to implement his style of play into the squad, as it can take up to half a season for a coach to have his new club playing the way he wants them to. With only one Premier League game a week, as well as a domestic cup fixture here and there, this will allow the 52-year-old Dutchman to have a lengthy period with the team and his coaches, to ensure the foundations are laid into place.
Given there will be individuals that are not technically complete and may be regarded as a liability within a team that is building towards playing total football, Ten Hag will be able to recognise the situation and make the significant changes that are required. If the side are to experience a busy run of games, with long trips across Europe as currently seen in the Europa League and the Europa Conference League, then the current manager of Ajax would not have the chance to instantly identify the issue and come to a decision of what is needed to overcome the ongoing problem.
It’s a tough pill to swallow, for one of the biggest clubs in England to miss out on featuring in a major competition, but it is the wakeup call that is simply needed. The Old Trafford faithful will be hoping that this allows the owners to put more effort and time into the club, the board listen to the influential advice of Rangnick and the players begin to start fighting for their positions in the team, especially under a manager like Ten Hag, who does not intend on carrying any passengers with him.
Overall, no Champions League football for next season would be the reality check that the Glazers and the current players within the squad need, as a football club requires an effective and proactive plan off the pitch, in order for the team and the manager to show the positive results on the field. Until then, Manchester United will continue to rely on individual brilliance here and there, something that is not sustainable, and it will only lead them to play further catch up to the likes of Liverpool and Man City.