It’s a mess and one that does not reflect well on anyone connected with Manchester United. Certainly not the players. Not the Old Trafford hierarchy or Ole Gunnar Solskjaer either. Not even Ralf Rangnick.
When Luke Shaw spoke about a lack of togetherness in the wake of Monday’s hopeless defeat by Wolves, he was chipping away at the facade that has crumbled since Solskjaer departed in November.
The Norwegian was popular but the notion of him as some kind of Pied Piper who led United back into the light after the dark days of Jose Mourinho, leaving behind a better club for his successor, can be dismissed now.
More questions have been raised about Manchester United after their woeful loss to Wolves
It was such a happy camp that the first thing Rangnick did was to hire a sports psychologist and then warn the players to sort out their awful body language after Gary Neville branded them ‘a bunch of whinge-bags’.
And as soon as the January transfer window swung open, players such as Anthony Martial, Edinson Cavani, Donny van de Beek, Dean Henderson, Juan Mata and Jesse Lingard were looking to escape through it.
They are among a fringe group who cannot understand why they have not played more when the team have been so bad. Solskjaer is said to have made it worse by putting an arm around their shoulders and making promises he could not keep. Players prefer to be told straight.
Rangnick is a cooler, more distant figure but there is still frustration that he continues to pick from largely the same pool.
The mood at Carrington is so bad it has been described as oppressive. Up to half the squad are said to be unhappy. Senior players talk openly about this being the worst group and atmosphere they can remember. They are a disparate, divided bunch split into cliques.
When Cristiano Ronaldo organised a team-bonding dinner in November, there were some notable absentees.
Sportsmail revealed that he was shocked by the drop in standards when he returned to the club. Zlatan Ibrahimovic felt the same when he joined United in 2016, and the Swede says so in his new autobiography, Adrenaline.
It’s a mess and one that does not reflect well on anyone connected with Manchester United
Claims Ole Gunnar Solskjaer left United better off than Jose Mourinho (R) can be dismissed
‘Everyone thinks of United as a top club, one of the richest and most powerful in the world and seen from the outside it looked that way to me. But once I was there I found a small, closed mentality,’ wrote Ibrahimovic, while revealing that he was once docked £1 from his £367,000-a-week salary for taking fruit juice from a hotel mini-bar on a club trip.
It is easy to point the finger at the club and the managers or the suits who have appointed them and overseen such a poor transfer strategy over the last decade, but the players must surely take responsibility for this mess too.
Many of them have been at Old Trafford for years now as part of a hugely expensive squad who have not won a single trophy since 2017. How many managers must fall before the buck stops with them?
Roy Keane accused them of throwing Mourinho under the bus and little seems to have changed. Paul Scholes didn’t hold back after the Wolves defeat, posting a since-deleted message on social media. ‘F****** joke,’ he wrote, branding them ‘s***houses’.
Sportsmail revealed in November that Cristiano Ronaldo was shocked at the state of the club
Players like Edinson Cavani would leave the club in January if they were able to do so
In America, they have a different term for these athletes: coach killers.
On Solskjaer’s final day, after he had cleared his desk at Carrington, he was asked by some members of staff why he hadn’t done more to expose the players who let him down so badly by criticising them in public. The question was met with a rueful smile and shrug of the shoulders.
Rangnick has inherited that problem now and the scale of it is becoming clear to the interim manager.
He arrived with a reputation for pressing and although the players stuck to the game plan for the first half of his first game against Crystal Palace, we have seen precious little of it since. United were fortunate to take seven points from games against the bottom three before Wolves gave them a painful reality check. You can’t be too critical of Rangnick after one defeat but Jamie Redknapp accused him of ‘making up systems’ when he switched from 4-2-2-2 to a back-three.
More questions will be asked if things don’t improve and not just here. Rangnick is held in high esteem in Germany, but there was surprise when he landed the United job. The feeling was that, at 63, his days of coaching in Europe’s top leagues were probably over and there was a reason United found him working as head of sport and development in Russia at Lokomotiv Moscow.
He has cut a rather detached figure since arriving in Manchester, happy to leave his new first-team coach Chris Armas and psychologist Sascha Lense to try to lift the mood around the club. It will not be an easy task.