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Long way back for Man United after Champions League setback

United were knocked out of the Champions League with a 1-0 second-leg defeat to Atletico Madrid at Old Trafford



Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo gestures as he talks to referee Slavic Vincic at the end of the first half of the Champions League round of 16 match against Atletico Madrid. (AP)
Manchester United's Cristiano Ronaldo gestures as he talks to referee Slavic Vincic at the end of the first half of the Champions League round of 16 match against Atletico Madrid. (AP)

By Reuters

Published: Wed 16 Mar 2022, 3:29 PM

Eleven years ago, Manchester United could make a serious claim to being one of the best teams in Europe. Now, after another limp early Champions League exit, that pinnacle has never felt so far away for this directionless giant.

There was no shame in losing to a team widely regarded as one of the greatest ever — Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona — in the 2011 Champions League final, especially as United had just competed in their third European Cup final in four seasons.

Since, things have gone horribly wrong, especially since Alex Ferguson’s departure in 2013. United have been eliminated from six of their last eight Champions League knockout stage ties, having won 13 of their 16 previous such ties.

Their 1-0 second-leg defeat to Atletico Madrid at Old Trafford on Tuesday night meant they were eliminated at the last-16 stage with a whimper, representing a new nadir as it showed just how far they have fallen, and how much there is still to do to turn things around.

“It is too many years without any trophies,” goalkeeper David de Gea said. “We need to be clear, we want to achieve good things.

“We need much more from everyone because this club is too big for where we are now.”

While neighbours Manchester City are eyeing their fourth Premier League title in five years, chased by old foes Liverpool, who have already won the League Cup and are in the running to win three more competitions, United are facing the prospect of a fifth season without a trophy.

The 13-time Premier League champions last went longer without winning a trophy between 1977 and 1983. Another piece of silverware could be a long way off yet, given the problems at the club.

Despite possessing a wealth of attacking options against a typically well-organised Atletico, United did not create enough clear-cut chances to swing the tie back in their favour.

Individual quality is worth nothing if there is no game-plan or direction. The club are still not sure who will be the long-term successor to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer after the Norwegian was sacked earlier this season, with interim coach Ralf Rangnick unable to rouse United.

The German is the third coach to take charge of the team this season, with his next move, whether it be as an advisor to the director of football or as the next permanent coach, adding to the overall feeling of uncertainty.

“Getting a proper coach is massive,” former United midfielder Paul Scholes said. “This is Manchester United, they should be able to get any coach in the world.”

Scholes underlines why United have perhaps struggled to move on from the Ferguson glory years. They have fallen so far from grace they are not even close to being as appealing as they once were.

Plus, there is more to modern super clubs than just a good manager. While Liverpool and City have had clear, successful hierarchical structures in place for a long time, United only appointed their first director of football last year.

The club are also considering revamping their stadium, which has also fallen well behind the standards set by their rivals for modernity, with British media reporting demolishing Old Trafford and starting again is on the table.

A clean slate, in all aspects at this former footballing superpower, might be the most sensible option.


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