David de Gea was voted Manchester United’s Player of the Year for the third straight season… and that’s a problem.
Renowned Manchester United manager Sir Alex Ferguson retired as a champion in 2013, leaving behind a legacy of 13 Premier League titles and an almost unmatchable powerhouse in England. After such a long and successful run, it was obvious that Fergie’s absence was going to cause trouble in the seasons to follow, though no one really knew how much.
Now we know.
For the third straight year, Manchester United finished the EPL season in disappointment, following an anticlimactic 3-1 win over Bournemouth on Tuesday. The triumph put the Red Devils in fifth place, good enough for a spot in the Europa League but short of the always expected goal of participating in the UEFA Champions League.
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Louis van Gaal’s men still have a chance to finish their season with some silverware as they are set to play the FA Cup Final against Crystal Palace on the weekend. Still, even if they win it, it will be little consolation for Manchester United supporters, who are used to the unparalleled levels of success they enjoyed in the good old days of Sir Alex.
And who can blame them? After all, Manchester United was a consistent top finisher in the years Ferguson was around, right until his retirement.
In his last four seasons as manager, Ferguson never dropped lower than second place or below the 80-point mark, winning titles in 2010-11 and 2012-13. When his teams lost, they did so fighting through to the end, losing the 2009-10 season to Chelsea by one point and the 2012-13 season to Manchester City by goal differential. In contrast, the “Ferguson-less” Manchester United squads of the past three seasons have been fighting – mostly unsuccessfully – for a fourth place finish.
Van Gaal’s teams over the past two seasons haven’t been the complete disappointment that David Moyes’ squad was in 2013-14. However, that’s hardly a compliment as none of those teams have come close to 80 points. Van Gaal’s best tally occurred last season, when Manchester United finished fourth with 70 points.
“We knew it would be tough after the Ferguson era but we have not managed to keep the enthusiasm and the entertaining, attacking football,” Ole Gunnar Solskjaer
“I am very disappointed in the quality over the past few years,” said former United attacker Ole Gunnar Solskjaer earlier this year to Swedish outlet Fotbollskanalen. “We knew it would be tough after the Ferguson era but we have not managed to keep the enthusiasm and the entertaining, attacking football.”
Solskjaer himself is a good example of the drastic changes that have happened with United over the seasons. A winner of six titles during his 11-year stay at the club, Solskjaer was never considered one of the team’s leading players. Instead, he was a reliable member of squads overflowing with top talent. From Eric Cantona, Ryan Giggs and Paul Scholes to David Beckham, Cristiano Ronaldo and Ruud van Nistelrooy, the talent in Ferguson’s teams was infinitely better than today’s United. That premise is fully exposed by the fact that goalkeeper David de Gea has been voted Manchester United’s Player of the Year for the third consecutive season.
It’s difficult to argue against the Spanish goalkeeper as he has been in outstanding form and no one else really stands out. Chris Smalling and Daley Blind enjoyed good seasons, but they were bailed out by De Gea himself in plenty of moments. Memphis Depay has been laughable, while Wayne Rooney is adapting to a different role in the team.
There is hope for the future, however, and it comes in the form of three young players that emerged this season. If van Gaal leaves this summer, he should be at least credited with the rise of Anthony Martial, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard. The attacking trio offered glimpses of greatness at times, but the pressure on them will only increase. After all, it will be in their young shoulders to build a team worthy of the legend created by Ferguson and his men.