ITT is easy to criticise Manchester United for what is going wrong at Old Trafford.
The tougher bit is coming up with ideas of how to put it right. How to get back to being the club and team the fans loved?
Rene Meulensteen was at Old Trafford in the glory days but doubts whether today’s Man Utd stars fully know their rolesCredit: Getty
Jurgen Klopp wouild have given Man Utd a clear direction, says Rene MeulensteenCredit: Rex
Pep Guardiola is another rival boss who Rene Meulensteen feels would would have provided the Red Devils with the right developmentCredit: Kevin Quigley-The Daily Mail
Coach Rene Meulensteen was part of that set-up for 12 years, first in youth development and then with the first team for six years until Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
Now the assistant manager of Australia, the Dutchman looks back with fondness and a certain amount of disbelief about life at United.
Meulensteen said: “When I am away with the Australian side they say to me, ‘It must have been so much pressure at United’.
“You know what? It actually wasn’t. We had a great manager in Sir Alex — a plan, an identity, a belief and it worked. It never felt like pressure.”
So what was that United identity opponents grew to respect and fear?
He said: “It’s about pace, power, penetration, unpredictability, when attacking and that was what we wanted from our teams.
“That is what United was all about. The difficult bit was always balancing the need to win and entertain. There were times when we knew against a certain side that we had to battle out a 1-0 win but we could do that too.
“What it was about was having that confidence, belief and authority to carry it out. Any United team needs that.”
United need desperately to rediscover that. What about this pressing game, though?
Meulensteen said: “You know what, it has become a very popular word. Like it was never being done before.
“We would do it, but not for the sake of it. Not when the team was facing forward or coming to you.
“It was when they turned and faced to their own goal, that was when you pressed and forced the mistakes.
“You know where it all comes from? Your own back four. They need to study the opposition back four, see if they are moving forward or going back and react and move to the spaces they leave in behind or in front.
“People think you need to have players full of energy, running non-stop, to make this work.
“You don’t, you just all need to do your job and do it together.
“It’s not about one player running at someone who has the ball, because if the two players alongside you aren’t doing their bit it’s not going work.”
He added: “United missed a trick not getting either of them. They both have such a presence and influence at their clubs.
Interim manager Ralf Rangnick and legend Cristiano Ronaldo have seen Man Utd eke their way back up to fourth in the PremCredit: AFP
“If you ask a Liverpool player ‘Do you know what you are doing?’, they will all say ‘Yes’.
“You ask City players, no matter how Pep might change things around, ‘Do you know what you are doing?’, they will all say ‘Yes’.
“Ask United players and I don’t think you get such an assured answer.
“Mind you, if either club does not prepare properly for when they leave, they’ll end up in the same position.”
So how do United reboot? He said: “What you have to do — and what you should always be doing — is looking at the team you’re going to have in two or three years. That’s how a club gets stability and continuity.
“I’m not sure that has happened in the last eight years.
“Are we looking for the next De Gea, Maguire, Matic, Cavani and even Cristiano Ronaldo? The club should be looking now at how United will look in two or three years’ time.”
Meulensteen, having worked with Ronaldo at his peak, is not one of those who believes the legend’s return has been a mistake.
He said: “You look at what he has done in his career and continues to do. If he gets four chances he will score one or two, how many players can you say that about?
“So what do you do? You find a way to supply him the chances.”
(Pogba) has been a major disappointment. Maybe because he was in a great Juventus team it was easier to shine but he hasn’t been able to lift United.
One of the big problems that Meulensteen sees is that United don’t have a midfield to work around — and Paul Pogba is a big let-down.
He said: “I don’t know what has gone wrong there. It has been a major disappointment.
“Maybe because he was in a great Juventus team it was easier to shine but he hasn’t been able to lift United.
“It needs someone like him in the midfield as I don’t believe Scott McTominay and Fred have all that United need to be challenging again.”
In Meulensteen’s time, they always thought about the present and future.
He said: “We always had two watch-words — ‘being’ and ‘becoming’ — when identifying players.
“For example, Robin van Persie was ‘being’ as he was the present, the here and now.
“But you were always looking for the ‘becoming’ who would take their place.
“You look at how Guardiola has handled Phil Foden, he was being told he was the ‘becoming’ and, once David Silva left, there you go — that’s what I’m talking about.”
Meulensteen looks back to the transition from Ferguson to his successors as the root of the United’s problems.
He said: “People talk about having a base, a foundation and a vision, so there can be continuity.
Paul Pogba is the type of midfielder Man Utd need, says Rene Meulensteen, but he believes the Frenchman has failed to deliverCredit: Getty
“Well, we had that. We had that with Mike Phelan, myself, goalkeeping coach Eric Steele, Tony Strudwick which was all taken apart.”
While Phelan and Steele were shown the door, Meulensteen’s influence was diminished as David Moyes brought in his own team.
He felt he had no choice but to go. Ten months later, so did Moyes.
So why haven’t United been able to get back on an even keel since?
He clearly has little time for his fellow countryman Louis van Gaal, who replaced Moyes in the hotseat. He said: “I dislike the way he talks to people, it can be demeaning at times. It’s mostly about Louis van Gaal and his way.
“He actually underestimated the Premier League if you ask me. He thought he could go to places like Stoke and just win in third gear.
“He didn’t realise how intense the league is and what the Manchester United fans want to see. It was all about possession, which was too slow and players weren’t really creating anything through that possession.
“You can have 85 per cent possession and pass it sideways. It’s about doing something with it.”
Jose Mourinho was never one for possession stats either but after 2½ years he was gone, too.
Mourinho did win some silverware but found it hard to find the magic formula of getting results but also playing attacking, attractive football.
Meulensteen said: “As soon as he didn’t get a player he wanted in the summer before his last season you could tell it was going to go wrong.”
You should always be given around 18 months to put your plans in place and then see the progression, much like Klopp did with Liverpool and Guardiola at City.
Meulensteen is all about a manager being able to have time to put a plan in place and see it come to fruition.
So what went wrong with Ole Gunnar Solskjaer? Meulensteen said: “He’s a lovely guy, maybe TOO nice.
“You should always be given around 18 months to put your plans in place and then see the progression, much like Klopp did with Liverpool and Guardiola at City.
“Two different styles, both successful, but it also took them around 18 months before it all clicked.
“Ole had that time and there were periods when you could see progression, like when they went on that unbeaten away run.
“But it needed to kick on, with more consistency in their performances. Instead it was starting to dip. The long-term plan was no longer working and he had time.”
Fergie had plenty of time. Meulensteen was part of it and what a time it was. But back to the present as Ralf Rangnick tries to manoeuvre his way through the rest of this season.
He said: “The thing is he is caught between having to get results and getting the players to buy into his ideas at the same time.
“United have given themselves a bit of a safety net in that they can replace him and move him upstairs after six months or keep him on if it all goes well.
“As it is right now, the club is like a car in the sand with the wheels spinning but the car going nowhere.”
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