Does Ole Gunnar Solskjaer need years to fix Manchester United?
By Joe Harker
Provided you don't watch past the first 15 minutes you could be forgiven for thinking Manchester United were doing a rather good job of trying to overturn a 1-0 aggregate deficit against Champions League favourites Barcelona.
Through on goal more than once in the opening stages of the game and pressing the La Liga leaders well, it looked like manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had done his homework and come up with a decent plan.
Then Ashley Young made about four mistakes in the span of 30 seconds, letting Barcelona have the ball back and opening the door for a Lionel Messi wonder goal. Another Messi goal soon afterwards put any hope for United into doubt and a long range effort from Philippe Coutinho put the matter beyond all doubt.
Solskjaer was left with no illusions as to the magnitude of the task facing him. The objective for any Man United manager is surely to win the Premier League and compete in the Champions League, the defeat to Barcelona and other recent results showed them just how far from that level they are.
The manager said he had a "massive" rebuilding job on his hands that would take years to complete. Rome wasn't built in a day and a squad in as poor a state as United's won't be overhauled immediately.
United are a rich club, one of the wealthiest in the world, but players are getting more expensive and they have spent hundreds of millions already without improving the team much. Their recruitment has been utterly abject for the better part of a decade, millions wasted with only a few transfers being successful.
It has resulted in a squad that has a handful of top quality players, a smattering of good ones and plenty who are either too old or nowhere near good enough. Would centre backs like Chris Smalling, Phil Jones or Marcos Rojo be on the shopping list of any of the Premier League's top six clubs? No chance.
For a club that wants to be playing at Barcelona's level and meet them on the pitch with equal quality they are a long way off. A busy summer transfer window is needed and after that more investment to fix the problems the squad still has. They lack quality and depth in so many positions.
The Counter Claim:
Yes, it's a huge ask to expect United to have a good transfer window, or at least one where the initial excitement doesn't fall away to disappointment, but if they can bring in the right players in the right positions the team could be greatly improved in a short span of time.
It's more difficult that it sounds, this isn't a game of FIFA where one can assemble a star studded team with relative ease provided the money is there. Negotiations will be tough and the club needs to shoo out a lot of players too, not easy to do once they've spent years on expensive contracts no other club in Europe would offer them.
United could start by taking the advice of Independent chief football writer Miguel Delaney and treat no player as safe. It doesn't matter how experienced, how good, how vital they are, each player in the squad should be put under the spotlight and judged.
Are they good enough? Do they want to stay? Do we want to keep them? Only if all three of these questions can be answered in the affirmative should a member of United's squad consider their position secure. The club should also have a bit more sense when doling out contracts, several players to sign extensions recently aren't good enough for the squad but now will be difficult to get rid of.
One surprising fact that perhaps sums up the state United's squad is in is that of the defence and goalkeeper that played against Barcelona this week, that is to say five players, only Victor Lindelof did not play for United in 2011 when they were knocked out of the Champions League at the group stage.
Jones, Smalling, Young and David De Gea were playing for United eight years ago, a more ruthless and efficient club would have kept De Gea and moved the others on several seasons back. Instead they are first team regulars because the club hasn't got many other options.
War chests of around £200 million have been mentioned, possibly bolstered by player sales and taking some stars off the wage bill, but the club could do with appointing a director of football or technical director first. Executive vice chairman Ed Woodward has handled player recruitment for years and player recruitment has been awful.
Most of all United need someone with the footballing knowledge and authority to overhaul the team, someone who isn't going to be booted out after a run of bad results. Otherwise all the years left in time likely won't be enough to get United back to where they want to be. Chronology is not enough, what the club really needs is competence.