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jB Qp Guardiola failed where Ferguson succeeded and Man United now need to do the same – Man Utd
June 22, 2021

Man Utd

News

Guardiola failed where Ferguson succeeded and Man United now need to do the same

4 min read

One of the more excessive punditry proclamations this season came from Gary Neville when he dubbed Pep Guardiola the ‘greatest manager of all time’ after Manchester City had retained the Carabao Cup against a Tottenham team who flew the white flag days before kick-off.

The standard of punditry nosedived in a season of locked turnstiles, with broadcasters appearing to encourage partisan punditry, as if to offset the absence of paying matchgoers. Neville, otherwise erudite, has often been accused of overcompensating for his red allegiance by overpraising United ‘s rivals.

Guardiola is one of the greatest managers and the game’s current great, but you did not need a coaching badge to conclude he got it wrong with his line-up in Porto. Chelsea’s winner – sprung by Mason Mount pinging a pass through a gap a jumbo jet could have driven through – was a complete condemnation of Guardiola’s omission of a defensive midfielder.


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The choice of the ineffectual Gabriel Jesus as the first substitute was also peculiar and, for a coach who has invested nearly £1billion in five years, Guardiola is still without an expert left-back.

Guardiola seeks to highlight his genius through tactical innovations yet sometimes he is too clever for his own good. He transformed Philipp Lahm, this century’s finest right-back, into a magnificent midfielder yet they did not lift the European Cup together at Bayern Munich. Ederson has evolved into a borderline outfield player under Guardiola but he was culpable again in the finale of City’s Champions League campaign.

Much was made of Guardiola selecting an XI that had never played before when Manchester United’s last European Cup triumph was with an original line-up. Sir Alex Ferguson sprung a surprise by excluding Ji-sung Park from the matchday squad entirely and accommodating Carlos Tevez in a three-pronged attack.

Paul Scholes had been promised a start in Moscow nine years after his suspension in Barcelona. Owen Hargreaves, a European Cup winner with Bayern in 2001, was signed so Ferguson could tie with Brian Clough on two. With Michael Carrick, Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo making up the front six, United were geared for a 4-3-3 formation. The catch was they switched to 4-4-2 and ran amok against Chelsea at a time when encounters between the two were reticent.

“I think sometimes it’s about getting the guys out on the pitch who can impact the game the most,” Hargreaves told the Manchester Evening News . “And that comes down to personality, you want the guys out there that are at their best in a stressful moment and I think Sir Alex was good at putting that together.”

That doubtless informed Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s dicey decision to start Mason Greenwood and Marcus Rashford in Gdansk. Greenwood had the form and Rashford the finals – and big-game prowess. Rashford’s recent activity suggests he is trying to airbrush his erratic evening from memory.

In his first final as a United manager, Solskjaer lacked the personality of players to erect a new plinth in the Old Trafford museum. Harry Maguire’s presence and leadership was missed again and Scott McTominay carried the baton with Paul Pogba affronted by his relocation from the left. David de Gea looked so beaten before every spotkick the ‘penalty goal’ could be specifically introduced to football for the Spaniard.

United’s last European Cup win was underpinned by speedy spending. Tevez, Hargreaves, Nani, and Anderson – the four recruits in the summer of 2007 – all converted their penalties in Moscow and United derived short and long-term success from each player.



United's best transfer window was in 2007
United’s best transfer window was in 2007

Ferguson had just presided over his finest championship triumph outside the breakthrough title in 1993, but 2006-07 ended on the dampener of that rain-sodden night in Milan in the Champions League semi-final before a forgettable first FA Cup final at the new Wembley.

Twelve days later, the Nani, Anderson and Hargreaves deals were announced. The champions of England were bidding to become champions of Europe. In 2008-09, United fans sang ‘Champions of England, champions of Europe’ from Portsmouth to Rome, collecting the world crown in Tokyo.


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United’s best XI in 2006-07 read Van der Sar, Neville, Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra, Ronaldo, Carrick, Scholes, Giggs, Rooney, Saha. Wes Brown offset Neville’s year-long absence but Scholes and Giggs were ageing, and Saha was as durable as balsa wood.

Giggs endured his poorest season in 2007-08 and played just twice more than Nani, entrusted with starting the Champions League semi-final second leg against Barcelona and more effective in extra-time in the final.

United are now seeking three first-team signings after losing a final as they prepare to compete with three domestic clubs coached by Champions League winners. Fall short and they might as well wave the whte flag.

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