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Iain Macintosh
Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014

Sports

EPL: Why United won't win

The New Paper | Iain Macintosh | Tuesday, Jul 22, 2014

Harry Redknapp has declared that Manchester United will not win the title next season, and it's a point that's hard to argue.

New manager Louis van Gaal is good. But he's not that good. No-one is.

But, while the Dutchman issued typically forthright soundbites at his unveiling this week, it's highly likely that even he would doubt his ability to perform such a turnaround.

In the history of the Premier League, no team have ever leapt from seventh place one season to become champions the next.

The priority is simply to return to the top four.

The team that have come closest to a jump from seventh to first are, of course, Liverpool, and there is much that can be learnt from their return to the big time.

Lesson No. 1 is that it is not an immediate recovery.

Under Rafa Benitez, the Merseysiders crashed to seventh just a year after running United to the wire for the title.

CLEAN SLATE

In an effort to wipe the slate clean, Liverpool sacked the Spaniard in the summer and hired Roy Hodgson. By the time the leaves fell from the trees that year, they were in the relegation zone.

Kenny Dalglish turned the ship around, scooped up a League Cup, but was then himself dismissed after erratic spending led to a disappointing league performance.

Even Brendan Rodgers, now rightly credited as the visionary behind the resurgence, required a difficult transitional season to lay down foundations.

The idea that van Gaal could repair the damage at United in a single summer and take the club straight to the title is, when you think about it, absolutely ludicrous.

There are issues that need to be resolved at the club.

There are whispers about an academy in a state of decline, of a scouting network that was little more than handwritten notes in a box.

David Moyes hardly covered himself in glory, but his dark hints at challenges across the club should still be noted nonetheless. And then there is the state of the team.

Van Gaal's decision to leave Anderson out of the US tour party is a reminder as to the folly of some of Sir Alex Ferguson's latter signings.

Anderson is £25 million ($53m) worth of wastrel and the man brought in alongside him for £17m, Luis Nani, hasn't done much better.

David de Gea, fortunately, was one of Ferguson's better acquisitions. He is the only man who can be proud of his efforts last season.

In defence, Jonny Evans, Chris Smalling and Phil Jones all hope to prove themselves as top-class defenders. None has, so far. In midfield, there has been a gaping abyss for years. Up front, self-interest rules supreme.

MUCH WORK

This is not a terrible squad by any means, but without Ferguson to hold it together, it seriously under-performed last year. Van Gaal has much work to do.

There are external issues as well.

Manchester City have a bottomless pit of resources to create a club for the future, investing heavily within and without in their quest for global domination. They will not be shifted easily.

Chelsea, so transient and chaotic for so long, now have Jose Mourinho and clear leadership. Last season was just his warm-up.

Arsenal and Liverpool are settled and capable of playing excellent, exciting football with a host of new signings itching to show what they can do.

And then there are Everton and Tottenham, both ambitious outfits with designs on the top four.

Van Gaal is an excellent manager, he's proved that at club and international level, winning titles in Holland, Spain and Germany and leading the Dutch national team to third place in the World Cup.

He has the force of personality required to bring a fractious dressing room into line. He has the tactical acumen required for a league that has never been more challenging.

He, more than his predecessor, really knows what he's doing.

But this is not an easy mission and Redknapp is right: It will not be completed in a single year.

npsports@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on July 20, 2014.
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