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Manchester United's five biggest mistakes since the David Moyes era

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The Chosen One lasted after just ten months in the job after succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson at Manchester United. While he did make some pretty grave errors - Marouane Fellaini, anyone? - the shambolic reigns of his successors paint him in a far better light. Here’s where they’ve gone wrong since. 

1. Not appointing a Director of Football

Sir Alex Ferguson’s influence at Manchester United was always going to be tough to replace. In Moyes, they appointed someone to take on his day-to-day managerial duties, but they failed to replace him in any of the other roles he’d slowly taken on over the years.

Ferguson was involved in boardroom decisions, player and staff recruitment and ensured a clear playing philosophy was implemented from youth level to the first team. These are all roles a modern Director of Football oversees and United would have fared far better under Moyes - and his various successors - had one been brought in immediately after Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. Moyes was the acid test, so why didn’t they do something about it when Van Gaal replaced him?

They’ve made no secret of their recent desire to hire one and are often linked with some of the best operators in world football, from Ralf Ragnick at RB Leipzig to Ajax CEO and former United star Edwin van der Sar, but the search inexplicably goes on. It’s time the club got with the times.

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2. Failing to get the best out of Paul Pogba

The prodigal son’s return to the club from Juventus in 2016 was meant to be the turning point for United after three years of poor results under Moyes and Louis Van Gaal. He arrived during Jose Mourinho’s tenure for a then-world record fee of £90m, and was already considered one of the world’s finest midfielders at the age of just 23. 

It’s been almost nothing but disappointment ever since. Pogba is clearly a phenomenal talent, and his consistently excellent performances for France - including his crucial role in his nation’s triumphant  2018 World Cup campaign - only adds to the frustration fans and pundits feel watching him blow hot and cold at club level every week. 

He’s still Manchester United’s most talented player - as 31 goals and 31 assists in 150 games testify - but it’s pretty clear he wants out of England and hasn’t even pretended to try this season in particular. It’s time United cut their losses.

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3. Disastrous transfer business

Even without a Director of Football, United’s hit rate in the transfer market has been largely shambolic since Moyes' departure. United fans questioned whether the Scot had the pulling power to attract big names or if he even understood how to spot elite level players.

Van Gaal and Mourinho had no excuses on this front, and while even Fergie signed the occasional duffer - who could forget Djemba Djemba? - there at least appeared to be some method behind his poorer signings. 

Four of United’s top ten most expensive transfers were Mourinho picks: Pogba, Romelu Lukaku, Fred and Nemanja Matic, arriving for a combined fee of £252 across two transfer windows. Add Alexis Sanchez, Victor Lindelof and Henrikh Mkhitarayan for another combined £101m and you’ve got a pretty damning charge sheet. 

Van Gaal, meanwhile, brought in Angel Di Maria, Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian and Bastian Schweinsteiger for a combined £158m - and the less said about that Falcao loan the better. 

United do appear to have turned a corner under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's stewardship, though the Norweigian’s decision to let Lukaku leave for Inter last summer - at a significant loss - without finding a replacement first has seriously hampered them this season.

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4. Alexis Sanchez

So bad he needs his own section. This was a catastrophe of a transfer launched on nothing more than stopping Man City getting what they wanted. 

Sanchez had been a revelation at Arsenal, scoring 80 goals in 166 games for the Gunners across a sensational four-year spell. He was available at a cut price fee for a player of his quality, and Red Devils fans were licking their lips when the infamous piano video went viral in 2017. 

The problem was, United didn’t need him. In fact, the left side of their attack - which is where Sanchez wreaked havoc for Arsenal - was about the only position in the team the Red Devils didn’t need to replenish. 

Sanchez did nothing but hamper the progress of Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial and, when form and injury issues surfaced after only a few weeks, it became clear he didn’t want to be there at all. 

It takes some doing replacing Marouane Fellaini as the poster boy for United’s failings since Fergie, but the Chilean achieved it. And that’s about all he achieved at Old Trafford. He was loaned out to Inter last summer, with United continuing to pay him £300,000 a week not to play for the club.

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5. Not getting Jurgen Klopp

The various failings of Van Gaal and Mourinho are well known by now. They each achieved some success - an FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League triumph combined over four seasons - but overall they appeared past their sell by dates, and negative in style as they repeatedly fell out with players and the media.

It could have all been so different. Indeed, Jurgen Klopp could still be in the United dugout to this day had a meeting with United Executive Vice Chairman Ed Woodward fared better.

With the sun coming down on Moyes’ spell in charge, Woodward flew to Germany to try and tempt Klopp to take over. What followed was the weirdest sales pitch since Nissin convinced Woodward United needed an official global noodle partner.

“'Manchester United is just like an adult version of Disneyland,” said Woodward, according to Raphael Honigstein’s fascinating biography of the German Bring the Noise. “It’s a mythical place where entertainment is world class and dreams come true," he added.

Klopp was quite understandably weirded-out by the whole thing and chose to remain at Dortmund. He later told friends the offer had been ‘unsexy’ - possibly the most accurate description of Woodward ever put into writing. 

Liverpool have since become the most feared team in European football, reached two Champions League finals, won one of them, and come agonizingly close to sealing a first league title in 30 years - all while playing some of the most exciting attacking football in British history. Oh, what might have been.

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Ed McCambridge
Ed McCambridge

Ed is a staff writer at FourFourTwo, working across the magazine and website. A German speaker, he’s been working as a football reporter in Berlin since 2015, predominantly covering the Bundesliga and Germany's national team. Key FFT features include an exclusive interview with Jude Bellingham following the youngster’s move to Borussia Dortmund in 2020, a history of the Berlin Derby since the fall of the Wall and a celebration of Kevin Keegan’s playing career.