Injuries, transfers, manager: Unpacking the crisis at Manchester United

Al Jazeera breaks down the most urgent issues plaguing one of the world’s most powerful and influential football clubs.

Erik ten Hag
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag could be asked to walk away in the summer after one of the club's worst seasons in decades [Carl Recine/Reuters]

For Manchester United fans, another season of failure has swept through the creaking ship at Old Trafford.

Their Champions League hopes ended two weeks ago, and now their Europa League aspirations hang in the balance.

Manager Erik ten Hag remains in the spotlight despite Wednesday’s 3-2 win against Newcastle United. But the FA Cup still represents the chance of silverware this year.

Al Jazeera takes a look at the top five issues facing the fallen giants:

In defence of Manchester United’s injuries

Injuries have caused Manchester United to name 32 defensive lineups this season – enough to wreak havoc on any football team in the world.

Ten Hag has understandably not failed to cite the inability to name a settled side as his number one problem. The Dutchman described it as a once-in-a-decade issue, one that’s akin to swimming with “hands tied behind your back”.

It’s at the back where United have been hit hardest with Lisandro Martinez’s absence being the most severe blow. The Argentinian World Cup winner has started only nine times this season due to injury despite starting the campaign as first-choice centre back alongside French international Raphael Varane, who will leave the club in the summer.

When United crumbled to a 4-0 defeat at Crystal Palace on May 4, only 12 senior outfield players were fit enough to be named in the squad, of whom Jonny Evans started despite not being fully fit.

Casemiro, Rashford, Hojlund and a case of misfiring cylinders

One player encapsulating the season of underachievement is Casemiro. The Brazilian holding midfielder impressed greatly in his first year after joining from Real Madrid, but the five-time Champions League winner’s slide has perhaps been even greater than the club’s itself.

After the match at Crystal Palace, Casemiro had the second worst record of players dribbled past this season: 42.3 percent of the occasions he was attacked.

Despite his troubles, which have led to his ouster from Brazil’s squad for Copa America, he’s among the top 10 players to have started for United this season.

Marcus Rashford, once a proud academy product, has scored only eight goals in 40 appearances. The burden of leading the line was placed on the young shoulders of Rasmus Hojlund, but the Dane has returned only 15 goals in 41 appearances.

United’s only other senior option to lead the line is Anthony Martial, but the Frenchman’s exit from Old Trafford now seems assured. The striker scored only two goals in 19 appearances.

One big positive for United has been the form of captain Bruno Fernandes, who seemed to have ended speculation about his future at the club by pledging to stay “until the club doesn’t want” him.

Bruno Fernandes and Erik ten Hag
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag, right, has had to rely heavily on the performance of captain Bruno Fernandes this season [Molly Darlington/Reuters]

Which players will leave Manchester United?

Unsurprisingly, several names have been linked with a move out of Old Trafford. Some of these are:

  • Harry Maguire
  • Christian Eriksen
  • Sofyan Amrabat
  • Casemiro
  • Anthony Martial
  • Rashford

The takeover and lack of transfer news

Jim Ratcliffe’s purchase of 25 percent of Manchester United in January came after years of protests against the ownership of the Glazier family.

The Americans bought United in 2005, and through the end of Alex Ferguson’s tenure as manager, it was seen as the beginning of a dramatic slide from one of the world’s premier clubs.

Ratcliffe’s purchase hands him significant control of footballing matters at Old Trafford, but the January transaction came too late for the club to make any moves in the mid-season transfer window.

The profit and sustainability rules that Premier League clubs must now balance each year pose another challenge.

Casemiro was handed a four-year contract with the potential for a further year’s extension. The Brazilian’s wages will make it difficult to sell him while his value ($81.5m when signed) has all but disintegrated. His compatriot Antony has struggled for the entirety of his tenure since his $102m signing from ten Hag’s former club Ajax.

Profit from any of United’s deals in recent years seems impossible as the decline of the club has mirrored that of its players.

Despite Ratcliffe’s takeover, it seems implausible that the club could make a significant impact in the summer transfer window while minding the new financial parameters.

Sir Jim Ratcliffe outside Old Trafford
Ineos Chairman Jim Ratcliffe has purchased 25 percent of the Old Trafford  club [File: Phil Noble/Reuters]

How long until ten Hag is sacked as Manchester United manager?

Ten Hag arrived at Old Trafford in July 2022 after a four-year stint in charge of Ajax in Holland. The Dutchman ended a six-year wait for silverware by lifting the EFL Cup last year but missed out on a second piece of silverware three months later in the FA Cup final against Manchester City.

With one year to run on his current contract, speculation is rife that ten Hag’s time is already up with only a stirring win against Manchester City in the FA Cup final on May 26 likely to save him.

Nine home defeats in the league have hurt the fans’ pride.

The victory against Newcastle in United’s final home game of the season has patched things up, but defeat at Brighton on Sunday could leave the rumour mill with more leaks than Old Trafford’s rickety old roof.

Former Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney, however, believes United must stop the managerial merry-go-round.

“The club has been in transition for 12 years,” the former England striker told Sky Sports.

“A lot of players will leave this summer, but they can’t keep changing managers.”

Soccer Football - FA Cup - Semi Final - Coventry City v Manchester United - Wembley Stadium, London, Britain - April 21, 2024 Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag reacts Action Images via Reuters/Andrew Couldridge
Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag’s future hangs in the balance [Andrew Couldridge/Action Images via Reuters]

Who could take over as Manchester United manager?

If ten Hag is sacked at the end of the season, it is speculated that there are three initial leading candidates for the managerial job.

Bayern Munich’s former Chelsea manager Thomas Tuchel is the frontrunner. The German was criticised for his withdrawal of Harry Kane in the defeat by Real Madrid in last week’s Champions League semifinal while Bayern also lost out in the defence of their Bundesliga crown this season. Tuchel won the Champions League in his debut season with Chelsea, and it was a huge surprise when the Blues pulled the plug the following year.

England manager Gareth Southgate’s contract expires at the end of Euro 2024. He and fellow Englishman Graham Potter, another former Chelsea manager, are also regarded as serious replacements for ten Hag.

Source: Al Jazeera