Are Manchester United 'tanking'? - It sure feels like it

Manchester United appear to be committed fully to a ‘rip it up and start again’ policy this season.

That is why calls from some fans for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s head will be ignored, The Guardian report, with United focused on a long-term vision.

In American sports, United’s strategy would be more extreme, known as ‘tanking’.

It’s where teams sell off their prize assets to receive future drafts picks to be invested in top talent. For reference see this season’s NFL team the Miami Dolphins, or the NBA’s Phildelphia 76ers from 2013-2016, who coined the phrase ‘Trust The Process’.

The Premier League has a different set up. There is relegation, and money is exchanged for top talent instead. But United appear to be pushing the boundaries as much as possible.


Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images

What have United done?

Many of the moves made by United this season have been sensible. High earners have been shifted, with Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Ander Herrera allowed to leave.

Deadwood and ageing stars like Matteo Darmian and Chris Smalling have also left. More are expected to follow next summer, like Marcos Rojo and Nemanja Matic.

United bought in three players, all of who are going to be key investments for the club’s future, Harry Maguire, Dan James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka.

But it is who was not signed which has caused the biggest controversy. There are no strikers, no midfielders and no right-winger bought in.

United are taking a wait and see approach, hoping the young talent in the academy can fill the gaps. If just one of Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes or Tahith Chong can become a superstar, that aspect of it will be deemed a worthwhile strategy long-term.

Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial are being given the chances they have not had up front on a consistent basis for years, and for their sakes, they have to grab it.

Photo by Henry Browne/Getty Images

Painful process

By making these choices, United have set up to take a lot of losses this year. Already the club have suffered two in six league matches. For context City lost just four all season last year and Liverpool just one.

The benefit of United’s painfully thin squad is that the players can be assessed under the microscope. Rashford and Martial’s excuses will be gone if they cannot step up.

If Fred can’t establish himself as first choice with no new midfield signings, then there is not much hope for him beyond this season. Same too for the likes of Andreas Pereira, while this has to be Jesse Lingard’s final season as a starter barring a truly dramatic turnaround.

United are mid-process. Mid-rebuild. The club won’t admit to ‘tanking’ because they are not trying to lose. Woodward says winning silverware is the goal, but these feel like hollow words.

They are trying to win with one arm tied behind their backs. And it really is unclear whether it was really necessary to do it this way.

Why not just pay up for a midfielder, striker, and a winger this summer?

It is an odd choice, especially with a rookie manager in charge. United aren’t ‘tanking’, but it sure feels like it.

United are saying don’t judge us now, wait until the end of the 2020/21 season. In the age of modern football, social media, fan cams, its an unhealthy strategy, with supporters just not conditioned to tolerate losses.

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