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Man United: Sportsmail answers the big question: WHO is to blame for a decade of demise?

Manchester United’s decline over the past 10 years hit an astonishing new low at the weekend as Erik ten Hag became their first boss since 1921 to lose his first two league games.

A shock defeat at home to Brighton on the opening weekend was followed up by an even more disastrous performance in a 4-0 thrashing at Brentford, leaving United bottom of the table after two matchdays for the first time since August 1992.

The scrutiny on their sluggish on-field performances has been exacerbated by another shambolic transfer window in which they have so far failed to land their No 1 target in Frenkie de Jong and address other key areas.

Manchester United hit a new low in their decade of decline in their 4-0 thrashing by Brentford

Manchester United hit a new low in their decade of decline in their 4-0 thrashing by Brentford

Ten Hag’s start at United has also been overshadowed by Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been trying to engineer an Old Trafford exit all summer in vain and there are now concerns of the effect he is having in the dressing room.

All the unrest has already seen banners protesting against the Glazers’ ownership, with Gary Neville in particular adding renewed pressure on the American owners to sell up. 

So who is to blame for the glaring and growing nightmare at United, from their inertia in the transfer market to their barely believable displays so far? Sportsmail‘s writers try to answer the biggest question in football…

All the unrest has already seen banners protesting against the Glazers' ownership

All the unrest has already seen banners protesting against the Glazers' ownership

All the unrest has already seen banners protesting against the Glazers’ ownership

Sami Mokbel, Chief Football Writer

Apportioning blame to the fiasco otherwise known as Manchester United isn’t necessarily as straightforward as it would seem.

The answer for a significant bunch of match-going United fans is simple owners: the Glazers. And yes, of course, the Americans should shoulder their portion of blame for the downward spiral of this once great football club.

But as ever with these things, it’s never just a single reason or entity but rather a myriad of factors to explain failure. Perhaps the most overriding reason of them all is the recruitment in the post-Fergie era.

You can’t blame the Glazers for that, can you? ‘We spent a billion pounds on players. We have spent more than anyone in Europe,’ said chief executive Richard Arnold during a meeting with fans earlier this year.

High profile footballers have arrived for big fees and huge wages but haven't worked

High profile footballers have arrived for big fees and huge wages but haven't worked

High profile footballers have arrived for big fees and huge wages but haven’t worked

Of course, supporters will point to the vast sums of money the Glazers have extracted from the club over the years.

But, with that said, the owners have also backed their respective managers with transfer funds without the required reward.

High profile footballers – far too many to name individually – have arrived for big fees and huge wages.

But for whatever reason, far too many of those signings haven’t worked. Those failures lie with the people who identify the talent – not the owners.

Martin Samuel, Chief Sports Writer

For all their faults, it wasn’t the Glazers who failed to deliver football’s basic requirement against Brentford. That was the players.

They might be lacking confidence but run and there’s always hope. There are reams of statistics showing the chance of losing decreases the more a team runs.

Erik ten Hag is failing to extract even the bottom line from his men. This doesn’t absolve the owners from blame, but at United the suits are always the protective shield.

If Lisandro Martinez is being exposed in the air as a centre-half because of his height it is not the fault of the owners. They paid the money for him, at the request of the manager. Blame them for otherwise poor recruitment, for poor planning – but Martinez was the manager’s call.

If Lisandro Martinez is being exposed in the air as a centre half it is not the fault of the owners

If Lisandro Martinez is being exposed in the air as a centre half it is not the fault of the owners

If Lisandro Martinez is being exposed in the air as a centre half it is not the fault of the owners

Not all of United’s problems stem from the boardroom. Marcus Rashford looked a better player in his first ten games for United than at any time since – that’s not down to the Glazers, either. Where are the coaches in all this; where are his team-mates?

Now it is being suggested ten Hag is willing to let Cristiano Ronaldo leave, having spent months resisting and with the campaign now in chaos. Was there no-one to advise or negotiate? 

How has ten Hag not seen an inevitable denouement in unhappy superstar, failing club? Let’s hope the coach has kept all the favourable write-ups he received pre-season; they could be the best reviews he ever gets at United.

Joe Bernstein, Mail on Sunday Sports Reporter

Fingers have been pointed at owners, players and managers but the single biggest factor in Manchester United’s decline has been the club’s executives.

Ed Woodward’s judgement and decision-making stunk from the moment he took over from David Gill in 2013 and it’s hard to see Richard Arnold, part of the failed regime, being any better.

Yes, the Glazers have taken money from the club but they’ve still provided substantial funds not too dissimilar from those used wisely by Klopp and Guardiola.

Yes, the players are accused of shaming the shirt but most of them just aren’t good enough to be title winners, rather than a lack of application. Most of them would struggle to have gotten into Fergie’s squads let alone starting XIs.

Ed Woodward's judgement and decision-making stunk from the moment he took over

Ed Woodward's judgement and decision-making stunk from the moment he took over

Ed Woodward’s judgement and decision-making stunk from the moment he took over

I feel David Gill’s departure in 2013 was as significant as Ferguson’s. Woodward talked a good game about United remaining a manager-led club but really he thought he could run the show on and off the pitch.

He ignored Ferguson’s advice to cash in on a declining Wayne Rooney and instead gave him a bumper new deal that sucked resources from elsewhere.

That car crash first season under Moyes turned out to be a template for the next decade. Woodward was obsessed with the global brand so hired Mourinho, Pogba and Alexis Sanchez when they weren’t what United needed.

He tried to be ruthless like Abramovich’s Chelsea, firing van Gaal minutes after winning the FA Cup, but lacked the expertise.

United have lurched into a nosedive. Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial and others were given world-class salaries to stay when their performances were average.

Luke Shaw and others were given world-class salaries to stay when their performances were average

Luke Shaw and others were given world-class salaries to stay when their performances were average

Luke Shaw and others were given world-class salaries to stay when their performances were average

Boasts were made about the exhaustive recruitment process before paying £50million for wan-Bissaka. Laughable. So was last season’s decision to appoint an interim caretaker (Carrick) before a caretaker (Rangnick) who was given a long-term role that was never fulfilled.

Woodward has now gone but those he worked with remain in senior position. It’s the blind leading the blind.

The Glazers should sell because unless they realise the people they’ve entrusted are hopeless, their asset is going to decline in price. No wonder they want the Super league – It’s their only salvation.

Having burned through a billion, the money is now gone. Just like 1986, United need to find a new manager with the energy and long-term commitment to start again from the bottom.

Mike Keegan, Sports News Correspondent

We can now call it Manchester United’s decade of misery. Why? Because, after just two games, it is fairly safe to say there is going to be no dramatic upturn in fortune before the end of the year.

Who is to blame for the terrible ten? Take your pick. Since Sir Alex Ferguson called time on an era of glittering success in 2013 much has changed.

Five permanent managers have been installed. If you include caretakers and interims, that figure rises to eight. And yet one thing – along with pathetic underperformance on the field – remains the same. The owners. The Glazer family. 

The group who borrowed money to buy the club and then stuck that debt onto the club. The group who take dividends when creaking Old Trafford is in desperate need of investment. The group who continue to leave around £500m – their stinking legacy – on the red section of the club’s accounts.

It would be wrong to say they have not spent. At times they have gone big. Managers have been backed. Hundreds of millions wasted. The lack of off-field leadership and expertise has killed them and the blame for that lies at the feet of the Glazers. Take, for example, the case of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. 

Five permanent managers including David Moyes (left) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) have been installed

Five permanent managers including David Moyes (left) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) have been installed

Five permanent managers including David Moyes (left) and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (right) have been installed

The Norwegian should never have been given the job in the first place but those upstairs, giddy after a camouflaging unbeaten run, jumped the gun and gave a man who should have been nowhere near the dugout at a club the size of United the gig full-time. How the rest of the Big Six laughed at that one.

To be fair, Solskjaer initially made a decent fist of it. United, we were told, were going back to what made them great. A commitment to youth, with exciting young players. And then they signed 36-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo, presumably to stop him from going to City, and it all fell apart.

These people flip flop. They panic. They make poor decisions. Incompetence is now the United DNA. A manager needs so much more. Ask yourself – why did Jurgen Klopp turn them down, only to surface later at Liverpool a year later?

The disease has spread. There are concerns over a serious lack of discipline and direction in the once-admired academy. Last time out the Under 23s lost 5-1 at home to Crystal Palace. Come on.

We have been told a number of times over the years about how the top brass are revamping the scouting network, how they have hurled resources at scouring the globe. And then they go for Marko Arnautovic before the inevitable latest flip flop. Other targets all seem to have close links to Erik ten Hag. So much for helping him out, as another shambolic window draws to a close.

We have heard from the top brass that they have hurled resources at scouring the globe only for them to go for Marko Arnautovic (front)

We have heard from the top brass that they have hurled resources at scouring the globe only for them to go for Marko Arnautovic (front)

We have heard from the top brass that they have hurled resources at scouring the globe only for them to go for Marko Arnautovic (front)

I am an Oldham fan. Mark Hughes’s volley in the 1994 semi-final triggered close to three decades of misery at Boundary Park but I am infuriated for my friends and family who have spent fortunes following United. 

My fellow Oldham supporters very recently played a huge role in changing things at their club. They made the point to their own useless custodians that they would not be getting another penny from them. 

Suddenly, they were willing to sell – and now they are now gone. On Saturday, a crowd four times that of the one the old regime would have expected gathered for the first match under their new owner. It was euphoric. They got their club back.

While it is easier to have one voice at a lower league side with less than a tenth of United’s matchday attendance, the principles are the same. The only way these people can be hurt is financially. A United front from the United fans is the only thing that will prevent another wasted decade at Old Trafford.

Rob Draper, Mail on Sunday Chief Football Writer

There’s a huge debate regarding Manchester United and it seems to be distilled into two contrary positions: ‘This is all the Glazers fault’ against ‘You can’t keep blaming the owners, players need to step up.’ This was pretty much the Jamie Redknapp v Gary Neville discussion on Saturday night.

Let’s be clear: Joel Glazer isn’t responsible for David de Gea chucking the ball in his net. Nor is he to blame for Erik ten Hag signing a 5′ 9′ centre half, or playing Christian Eriksen as a false 9. These are individual errors and coaching mistakes.

However, leadership is about the culture you create and here are some observations on Joel Glazer’s leadership culture.

1. It’s opaque and unaccountable

No-one ever has to answer for the numerous errors. He never does media, the Glazers abolished the AGM. He rules like an absolute monarch, with divine right. And pretty much everyone who deals with corporate culture would agree that’s a recipe for failure

Joel Glazer's leadership culture has seen him rule like an absolute monarch, with divine right

Joel Glazer's leadership culture has seen him rule like an absolute monarch, with divine right

Joel Glazer’s leadership culture has seen him rule like an absolute monarch, with divine right

2. It has no clear understanding of football

Funnily enough, this doesn’t necessarily matter. Nor does John W Henry and look at Liverpool. The key is delegating well. So Michael Edwards, and Ian Graham as your key decision makers against John Murtough and Darren Fletcher. There’s no contest. Have the Glazers ever made a smart appointment, other than leaving Sir Alsx Ferguson well alone, which wasn’t an active decision

3. It has no vision

In 17 years of ownership, the area around Old Trafford remains an industrial wasteland. and the stadium is in disrepair Compare with Manchester City, Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool in the last 15 years, who have all made significant investment either in their stadium or surrounding are

4. It’s happy to spend money

They invest in players, which is how Redknapp defends them. But almost always badly, which comes back to point 2. If your delegation is bad, then you’ll fail. United are comfortably the worst major club at recruitment in Europe. That’s down to Ed Woodward and now Richard Arnold and Murtough.

This summer has been calamitous. Let’s say they get their desired transfer targets by the end of August. By September 1st, United will have played 5 games (13% of season). Assuming new signings need a couple of games to settle, that takes you to mid September, when 18% of season is done. And it’s then then the international break. 

If Frenkie de Jong does sign, he might not be settled until mid-October, by which point 25 per cent of season is gone

If Frenkie de Jong does sign, he might not be settled until mid-October, by which point 25 per cent of season is gone

If Frenkie de Jong does sign, he might not be settled until mid-October, by which point 25 per cent of season is gone

So, in reality, even if they got Frenkie de Jong, he might not be settled until mid October. By which point 25 per cent of season is gone. City and Liverpool will be 12 points clear by then, maybe more. Chelsea, Arsenal, Spurs will be 6-8 points clear and that’s assuming United form picks up.

The window has been a disaster already whatever happens now. They can’t redeem it. They will be fighting for 6th at that point. At best.

Proper clubs like City, Spurs, Liverpool and Arsenal knew that this season of all seasons (with its early start) you needed a squad in place for June and you needed a flying start. Even Chelsea, who were sanctioned, are miles ahead. This is totally on Arnold and Murtough. And thus it’s on Joel Glazer. They’re his men.

Woodward was said to have pitched United to Jurgen Klopp as an ‘adult Disneyland’ (He denies it but the story is extremely well sourced in Bring The Noise) Well, it is Disneyland. A place where celebrity and superficiality trumps reality

That’s United’s culture and Joel Glazer needs to own it. Poor culture, creates poor appointments and poor decision making which delivers poor performance on pitch. A team without clear direction from top plays like this United team. That’s the owner’s fault

This disastrous United transfer window is totally on Richard Arnold (above) and John Murtough

This disastrous United transfer window is totally on Richard Arnold (above) and John Murtough

This disastrous United transfer window is totally on Richard Arnold (above) and John Murtough

In all this, we haven’t mentioned Erik ten Hag. There’s no need. It seems as though he’s making the club worse, adding to its decline. But he is just the logical outcome of a failing culture which is unaccountable and consistently makes bad decisions.

He already doesn’t look like right coach but that’s also a function of a leadership that left him totally unprepared for biggest professional challenge of his life. Yes, he should have asserted himself more. But he got the job partly because he’s compliant. Again, bad culture.

At the end of it all, if what you have is a constantly-failing leadership culture, then look to the top. Don’t pick at the tangential issues, caused by poor decision making. Look to the decision makers. Ultimately that’s Joel Glazer.

Craig Hope, North East Football Correspondent

How has it all gone wrong?

Just because you have bad owners, it does not mean those in football positions have to do a bad job.

Yes, the responsibility for all appointments falls on the custodians of the club, but they have also been let down by a succession of executive, recruitment, managerial, coaching and playing staff, who should have performed far better in their roles. It is not as if they haven’t been given the financial resource.

When Gary Neville and Jamie Redknapp rowed on air following United’s 4-0 defeat at Brentford, they were both right. Neville blames the owners for the club’s demise, Redknapp believes players and management should also be accountable.

Steve McClaren was supposed to guide ten Hag during the early months of his time in England

Steve McClaren was supposed to guide ten Hag during the early months of his time in England

Steve McClaren was supposed to guide ten Hag during the early months of his time in England

The Glazers have no feel for football or Manchester United and their decision-making has been flawed. Until they sell up, a toxicity is likely to remain.

But that does not mean Erik ten Hag has a free pass to send out a team so clearly disorganised and demotivated as they have been so far this season. And what is Steve McClaren doing, the assistant who was supposed to guide the Dutchman during the early months of his time in England?

The whole club, it appears, has long been plagued by incompetence, and that shows no sign of changing any time soon.

Kieran Gill, Football Writer

You need only have watched Monday Night Football and seen Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher’s traffic light analysis of Manchester United’s acquisitions since 2013 to know one area where they’ve consistently failed in. 

Neville and Carragher separated the club’s biggest signings into green (success), amber (so-so) and red (not a success). Of their 33 arrivals, only two were green and even they were debatable, given how Zlatan Ibrahimovic departed and Bruno Fernandes having been substandard for the last year. 

I look at what Liverpool and Manchester City have done by comparison and they’ve bought with a clear vision in mind. Luis Diaz looks like a Jurgen Klopp player, for example. They sign to suit their managers’ styles of play. They do their homework. But United have adopted a stopgap strategy. 

Even now, they’re being linked with 35-year-old striker Jamie Vardy, and this follows the angry backlash to their interest in 33-year-old Marko Arnautovic. Their incomings have long been below par, and once they’re in the building, the players don’t seem to get better. 

Bruno Fernandes has been substandard for the last year

Bruno Fernandes has been substandard for the last year

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's success is debatable given how departed

Zlatan Ibrahimovic's success is debatable given how departed

Sky rated Zlatan Ibrahimovic (right) and Bruno Fernandes (left) as successful signings but even that is debatable

Whether they sign and think ‘I’m at the world’s biggest club, I’ve made it’ and suddenly drop their standards, I don’t know. But that’s when you need a manager who doesn’t accept anything less than their all. Five have tried and failed since Sir Alex Ferguson left, and United are now on to their sixth head coach in Erik ten Hag. 

He dragged them in for a running session the day after that 4-0 defeat by Brentford. Sports science repercussions aside, I rather admire that. He needs to be strict and strong if he’s to turn this group around. 

But first and foremost, United need to make signings that take them forwards, because they’ve been going backwards since Ferguson left in 2013.

Daniel Matthews, Sports Writer

Where to start? A rot has set in and it appears to have spread to every corner of the club.

There are, though, two obvious areas which, from the outside at least, seem fundamental to United’s malaise.

The first is coaching. Jose Mourinho and Louis van Gaal were both well past their best before joining United. More recently, there was very little evidence that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer did what the best managers do: make players better.

United have good footballers. But how many signings over the past half-decade have gone there and kicked on? Not many. Christian Eriksen is the most recent example of someone who looks lost after leaving a well-drilled, well-oiled unit.

Former Man United boss Jose Mourinho

Former Man United boss Jose Mourinho

Ex-United manager Louis van Gaal

Ex-United manager Louis van Gaal

Jose Mourinho (left) and Louis van Gaal (right) were well past their best before joining United

The contrast is stark when compared to the rest of the top six, where Jurgen Klopp, Mikel Arteta, Antonio Conte et al have all swelled several players’ value.

At Liverpool, for example, let’s pick three: Sadio Mane, Andy Robertson, Gini Wijnaldum. They all played a vital role in a title-winning campaign, but would United supporters have been happy to sign them when Liverpool made their move? Their quality has been developed by good coaches working under a clear plan.

And herein lies the second hole in United’s model. Over the last decade they have signed plenty of very good footballers. They have spent plenty of money. Too often, though, the problem has been who United buy. But why they buy them.

A smart, sensible club signs players that fit into a wider plan. The best teams are greater than the sum of their parts. 

United are the opposite: Erik Ten Hag has inherited a lopsided squad with few obvious connecting dots. Football, research has shown, is a weakest-link game: a team is often as vulnerable as its worst player. United’s gloss cannot cover the glaring holes elsewhere.

Christian Eriksen is the most recent example of someone who looks lost after leaving a well-drilled, well-oiled unit

Christian Eriksen is the most recent example of someone who looks lost after leaving a well-drilled, well-oiled unit

Christian Eriksen is the most recent example of someone who looks lost after leaving a well-drilled, well-oiled unit

So what now? If they believe in Ten Hag, they must give him the time and players to succeed.

Take one glaring example from the defeat by Brentford: the Dutchman wants to play out from the back. So he needs a goalkeeper with better feet and a holding midfielder who can receive the ball under pressure. 

Or he needs to soften his principles. Klopp had to wait and tweak his philosophy over several years before everything clicked.

So either way, it will take time, there will be more pain. But the alternative is more change, more jolting in different directions. More of the same then.

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