Manchester United’s 2023 A-Z

2023 is coming to an end, and it’s time to have a look at what the year has provided in terms of Manchester United. Let’s do it in alphabetical order.

A: Anniversary:

With 30 years passed since the first Premier League title, it feels a bit odd to see and old man with a white-ish hair and beard in the Old Trafford stands when it used to be dark and his name is Gary Pallister. 

It as well marks the 31-year anniversary to Emlyn Hughes’ underquoted prediction, here quoted from Wayne Barton’s Eric The King. Let’s sa the words of the former Liverpool man could’ve been more accurate.

pastedGraphic.png

B: Beckham

The brand new self-titled Netflix series on the former Manchester United no. 7 revealed not much we didn’t know already, but in fairness it would’ve been hard for somebody whose life has been smeared all across front pages since his early 20s. For many it’s still a nice trip down memory lane. 

C: Calamity

pastedGraphic_1.png

Usually reporting on the Tour de France, but still having a vast interest of sports in general, Norwegian TV 2 reporter Marius Skjelbæk last year stated that no side in the world is better at being absolutely played off the park than Manchester United. 0-7 against a highly mediocre Liverpool side, 0-3 against a Sevilla side battling relegation  and 0-3 (should’ve been 0-4) against Bournemouth at Old Trafford are three ugly examples from 2023 on how United fans never can be sure that when their side is collapsing, it doesn’t turn worse every time you think it can’t. The unthinkable calamity is never far away. And this is even written before the Liverpool game of autumn 2023. 

D: Devil

A lot has been said about United’s crest and badge. The removal of “football club” in 1998, probably for commercial reasons, has faced its share of criticism throughout the years, and many fans want it back. This year, howeer, the club (or adidas?) deserve praise for implementing a beautiful detal on Uniteds’s third strip. Let’s look past the awful black and white away shirt for now, the devil literally in the details of the white and red kit used away at Galatasaray is a beaut, and it’s actually kind of weird how United haven’t done this before. Additionally, they hit with the colour; the deep red is perfect, a lighter shade would’ve risked the entire thing looked cheap and fake. 

E: Eric Cantona

The likes of Giggs, Beckham and Ronaldo have tainted their United legacies through poor relational decision-making or selling their soul to sportswashers. Eric Cantona, remains the hero we like to think he is. Speaking up against the Qatari World Cup and for a free Palestine, Cantona is way more than a former Manchester United player; he is a good the society needs. And now he’s even a musician; this isn’t an ad, but I’ll Make My Own Heaven became available on Spotify this year.

F: Fizzle

David De Gea’s United career fizzled out in a way it didn’t deserve to do. No send-off, no round of applause, no proper goodbye to the fans. Everyone was just waiting for a decision to be made and it wasn’t. After 12 years of great service, in many of which he was far superior to his consistently underperforming teammates, he deserved something better. And despite he in the long term wasn’t the one for the future, United still don’t have a keeper for the present, as replacement André Onana’s United career has been a rollercoaster of crucial saves and disastrous mistakes thus far. It really seems like United replaced a great shot-stopper with somebody who can play with his feet, but the side is to poor to play out from the back anyway. And as AFCON is coming up and De Gea is a free agent, it wouldn’t get much more Manchester United than bringing him back into the side to temporarily replace his own replacement. 

G: Gratitude

Manchester United have been an exhibition of Murphy’s Law across the past decade, and the state-of-the-art example on how to absolutely not run a football club. However, we are still not a sportswashing tool for a shady nation state, as Sir Jim Ratcliffe seems to come to the rescue, and we should be grateful for that. Accepting Qatar or any similar regime to take charge of the greatest club in the word would simply mean binning everything that made it great in the first place. 

H: Hat-trick

With Erik ten Hag and Harry Maguire picking up the manager and player of the month awards respectively in the same month Alejandro Garnacho scored the probable goal of the seasons (and of course goal of the month), United made an impressive hat-trick. However, not a single time has a United player scored a traditional hat-trick for United in 2023 (by 11th December), despite great efforts from Marcus Rashford, Carlos Casemiro and Rasmus Højlund, whom all have bagged braces. 

I: Injuries

With André Onana, Rasmus Højlund and Harry Maguire being some of the few exceptions, more or less every United player has been injured after the summer. Louis van Gaal criticized the club for being too commercial during his tenure, and it’s hard to think the charismatic Dutchman was in the wrong. God knows what United were doing in pre-season, but it apparently had nothing to do with getting the players fit for fight.

J: Jack in the box

The headlines are never far away when United are playing, and just like a jack in the box, you never know what you are going to get. The one week it’s goal of the season, but the manager might as well be on the brink of getting the sack. Or win the Carabao Cup. 

K: København

The biggest city in Scandinavia might just have exported the best striker as well. Rasmus Højlund only played 31 games for FC København (19 of which were in the league), but still went to Sturm Graz and then Atalanta. United, however, made him the most expensive Danish player ever, and particularly in the Champions League he has produced some memorable goals already. If only United ended the habit of conceding a number of goals when he scores and started creating chances for him in the league… 

L: Losses

Back in the day journalists used to have a field day when United dropped points, as the shock was massive no matter what sort of team that came out victorious. That, however, is no longer the case. In the spring, United lost seven out of 38 games (a mad amount of games ifself), and after the summer, Erik ten Hag’s men have brought nothing on 11 occasions, after 23 games played (before Bayern in the final game of the CL group stages.) That means a loss percentage of a staggering 29,5 across 2023, which will increase to 31,7 if Bayern and Liverpool beat United across the upcoming week, which is not unlikely at all. That’s nearly one third of the games lost; a disastrous number for any club. For comparison, Ralf Rangnick lost 8 of his 29 games in charge, which equals 27,5 percent. Additionally, the Bournemouth loss means United have lost more home games after Sir Alex Ferguson than under him. 

M: Martial

Eight and a half years after his magnificent debut goal against Liverpool, Anthony Martial is still yet to go beyond seventeen league goals, which he did in the 19/20 campaign. A surprising stat coming next to it was that manager at the time Ole Gunnar Solskjær decided to substitute him on seventeen occasions, just in the league. Could you imagine some talismanic scorer of goals like Ruud van Nistelrooy or Wayne Rooney to find himself in such a situation? 

Anthony Martial will never be the consistent and reliable elite centre forward he once looked like he could become. Despite he’s be able to dribble a couple of players inside a phone box, he would probably not be bothered or fit to call somebody from there, which is why the box is there in the first place. For all his talent and flair, the Anthony Martial ship has sailed, and I’ve come to the conclusion that a Martial goal might be bad for United in the long run: United do absolutely not need to be fooled into handing him a lengthy contract on high wages. Sorry, Martial.

Update: As we speak, David Ornstein (See O further down), is just reporting that the club will not trigger an extension of Martial’s contract, which means he’ll by all likeliness leave in the summer 2024 as a free agent.

N: Newcastle United

The relationship between the two clubs have been an interesting watch during this calendar year, and perhaps none of the clubs are happy with the outcome. Newcastle lost the match they were desperate to win – the Carabao Cup final at Wembley – which means their 1969 Inter-cities Fairs Cup final victory against Hungarian club Újpest remains their most recent major trophy. Manchester United, on the other hand, are desperately lacking the commitment, team spirit and work rate Newcastle have been showing in the three games between the clubs after Wembley, which have given the Toon Army six points in the league and a cup advancement. Maybe both would’ve been better off with swapped roles?

O: Ornstein

David Ornstein is perhaps the very best Twitter account to follow for football news, United or not. And unlike Sam Luckhurst, he has the right access. 

P: Player Power

In the wake of José Mourinho’s first stint at Stambford Bridge, the strong personalities of the Chelsea dressing room tended to get any manager the sack – even Mourinho himself – once they turned on him. Despite a big difference in silverware output, similar patterns could be seen at United. Hopefully Erik ten Hag gets to put things straight and show merchants of unhealthy player power the door at Old Trafford. Nemanja Matic has been among those who have spoken about poor standards in terms of basic discipline, and if the players continue to rule without consequence, United will continue to struggle.

Q: Question: 

To score or not to score? That is the question. And for Marcus Rashford, the answer and outcome haven’t gone in his favour after the summer. Hopefully the return of Luke Shaw will aid his fortunes, but has Alejandro Garnacho already taken his place in the side?

R: Redemption

Not a single player has faced more online abuse over the past years than Jacob Harry Maguire; after he became a laughing stock who lost his armband and performed poorly for a long time, the Manchester United centre back really has bounced back in an impressive manner. Injuries and chaos has surrounded him, but the former Hull City man rolled his sleeves up and put more than a shift in. Player of the month in the entire Premier League for November was a statement clear as day: Harry Maguire isn’t as bad as many might be deluded to think. (With that said, he will never win the league at the club, or anywhere else.). The mental strength to come back from the dead has been one of the greatest comebacks in modern days and deserves applause anyway; Maguire stands where others fall. 

S: Sir Bobby Charlton

Generations of United fans have never seen a game without Sir Bobby Charlton being in the Director’s box at Old Trafford, and we probably didn’t know how fortunate we were to have such an ambassador both for the club and the game around. Time, inevitably, caught up with the great man, as the club legend above all sadly passed away, but thankfully he got to see the South Stand named after him, as well as getting a respectful farewell. We will never see anyone like that ever again in English football. 

T: Timing

This could’ve been put for transfers as well. Across the past decade, United have been well known for signing the right players at the wrong time. Bastian Schweinsteiger, Radamel Falcao and Alexis Sanchez all would’ve been top tier signings at some point, but every single one of them saw their arrivals way overdue. Sadly, the injury-prone Raphaël Varane and the once-so-great Carlos Casemiro seem to fit the bill as well, despite we at least got to see some of their glory. Imagine if they had been signed maybe five or ten years earlier, like when United were choosing between Varane and Phil Jones in 2011. Now both need replacing, relatively shortly after their arrivals. 

U: Under investigation

Mason Greenwood and Antony has faced unfortunate headlines in recent times, which hasn’t helped the club at all. Although they might not have reached Ryan Giggs levels, let’s just hope United can evade such attention from now on. 

W: Wigan

Where Arsenal and Liverpool will face each other in a giant clash for tickets of the FA Cup fourth round, United will revive a former relation from a few years back. Generally speaking United enjoyed some great successes against Wigan during their time in the Premier League, and picked up two trophies against them as well: 4-0 in the Carling Cup final 2006 thanks to goals from Wayne Rooney (2), Louis Saha and Cristiano Ronaldo meant United avoided a two-year trophy drought. Two years later, Ryan Giggs and Ronaldo’s goals at Wigan’s DW Stadium on the final day of the season meant Chelsea could forget about winning the league under interim manager Avram Grant; United won the trophy for the second year running. Hopefully facing Wigan in the third round of the FA Cup can revive some silverware attraction as well.

X: X

Or Twitter, if you’d like. For many years, United were the only club without a Twitter account, because Sir Alex Ferguson didn’t fancy it. Quite remarkable for a club of such a stature, and in a time where the club can’t even post a line-up without advertising for the latest warm-up strip or whatever. This year, however, United could celebrate the ten-year anniversary of their own presence at the social media which used to have a bird in its logo.

Y: Why?

That must be the question Donny van de Beek asks himself every week. Two minutes of football against Palace is his only outing this season, and in the previous one it wasn’t much better.  294 minutes, just above three full games, with no goals and no assists to show. His final Premier League goal game on the loan spell at Everton, scoring on the final day of the 21/22 season, when the Toffees were slaughtered 5-1 by Arsenal. His final United goal didn’t come at a happier occasion, scoring the final goal for the man who brought him to the club (or did he?), as Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s side lost 4-1 at Watford in the final game for the Norwegian at the club.  So why on earth is Donny van de Beek doing at United and how did he end up here?

Z: Zaha

Five goals and an assist in the Turkish Süper League is what former Red Wilfried Zaha has been up to this season after the summer transfer from his boyhood club Crystal Palace. A better output than all of United’s attackers, and it wouldn’t it been typical if he was the guy to win Galatasaray the game(s) against United? He can still play his part in sending United out though; imagine if we had more than one winger who could provide goals or assists. God knows what was going on behind the scenes during this guy’s time at the club, losing game after game but not picking him to play. 

 

Written by Nicolas Berg.

Leave a Reply

Previous Story

Stand By Ten Hag

Latest from Columnists

Stand By Ten Hag

Two wins, three losses, negative goal difference, and 13th in the league. That was the state