By Joe Harker
Manchester United beat West Ham United 2-1 at Old Trafford but the manner in which they won was anything but convincing. With a crucial Champions League game against Barcelona tomorrow the United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer admitted his side were lucky that their opponents weren't swapped around.
When the Norwegian was first appointed as caretaker manager he led United on a stunning run of wins with exciting performances but since an incredible effort to overcome PSG in the Champions League the team has struggled to win or play well.
United's squad looks tired, thin and every inch in need of the expensive rebuild it so constantly appears to need. Since Sir Alex Ferguson retired the club has been in several "transition" periods, code for needing to bring in new players to improve the squad but being let down by poor recruitment and a lack of direction.
Former United midfielder Paul Scholes believes United needs a major rebuilding job during the summer transfer window because he can't see them challenging for the title any time soon otherwise.
A transfer kitty in the region of £200 million, bolstered by the sale of some players who have been at the club far longer than they should, would be a dramatic but arguably necessary strategy in the summer. While you can look at the United squad and say they have players good enough to compete with the best in the Premier League they are not enough and the other players around them do not measure up.
The positions identified as most needing reinforcement are right back, centre back, midfield and right wing. The club could also perhaps do with a striker, another centre back and another midfielder but a rebuild could take more than one transfer window. Young English players like Jadon Sancho, Declan Rice and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been identified as desirable targets.
The departures of certain players and the offloading of others will free up some funds and necessitate replacements but United has been here before more than once and splashed a lot of money on players who themselves have either been moved on or are part of the category of squad members who aren't good enough.
The need to rebuild the squad is one thing, the competence to do so properly is quite another. An attempt to refresh the squad when David Moyes took over fell flat, many of the players signed for Louis Van Gaal are already gone, the same can be said for Jose Mourinho's signings. Hundreds of millions in transfer fees have been wasted and hundreds of millions more will be needed.
The Counter Claim:
Rome wasn't built in a day and a football club isn't rebuilt in one transfer window. While a number of players need to be brought in as soon as possible more needs to be done to improve the squad as question marks over certain players still persist and depth is needed in some areas.
Writing in December last year, former Liverpool star Graeme Souness argued that a proper rebuild to turn United back into a team capable of consistently challenging for the Premier League would take five years.
Positions stocked with players ageing, declining or simply forced out of position for years. A deficit of quality, particularly in defence where David De Gea has needed to bail them out for years. A stilted attack that is particularly lacking down the right hand side. These issues are rarely solved in one transfer window, let alone one season of playing together.
As time passes new problems will sprout up and need fixing. It looks like the club are going to lose Ander Herrera on a free transfer and De Gea's contract situation will be a major issue next season. With the high wages of Alexis Sanchez more players are asking for big pay rises, United are a rich club but they cannot set a precedent of offering astronomical money for benchwarmers and backups, otherwise they will find their budget increasingly consumed by wage demands.
It has been almost six years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired and the club have failed to find a direction out of their muddle. It has been left up to the managers, none of whom have lasted three seasons, when clubs are increasingly appointing directors of football to avoid the problem. No longer subject to the whims and decisions of a manager who might be gone quickly, clubs with someone overseeing the recruitment and overall direction of the club are finding greater long term success. United need more than Solskjaer on the staff to rebuild.
The Daily Express reports that Solskjaer will be handed a "record" transfer budget with which to overhaul the squad and shoo out a number of players.
United will not be appointing a director of football, but will be going for a "technical director" who would handle similar responsibilities but have a lower rank in the hierarchy.
Executive vice chairman Ed Woodward has been in charge for years and it has been a common accusation that business has come before football at the club under his reign, a director of football could challenge that but the club needs someone who knows how to negotiate contracts and deal with players. Woodward can't do that, the last few years of failed rebuilds have proven that.