The similarities between Manchester United rebuilds of Sir Alex Ferguson and Solskjaer – 30 years on – Manchester Evening News
It was a summer of renewal at Old Trafford, with new faces arriving at a significant outlay, and the season began with a thumping victory against a major rival, but soon the wheels were off.
That opening day success, considered a statement of intent at the time, was soon a distant memory, as United failed to beat teams they were expected to see off and the momentum was lost.
The early stages of 2019/20? Yes, but this is actually a description of United’s season 30 years ago, the 1989/90 campaign when Sir Alex Ferguson was beginning his own rebuild of the squad.
Like many shrewd judges have warned of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and United this summer, it got worse before it got better, but boy did it eventually get better.
In 1988/89 United had finished 11th and Ferguson had seen enough. That summer, in the days before the transfer window, Ferguson spent over £7million – a significant sum at the time – in signing six new players, breaking the British transfer record in the process.
That included Mike Phelan, Neil Webb, Gary Pallister, Paul Ince and Danny Wallace. They had varying levels of success, but between them they won seven league titles. It was the start of a rebuild that would lead to a golden era for United under Ferguson.
But in 1989/90 those glory years under the Scot looked a long way away. Indeed that summer of investment looked like yielding very little once the opening day thrashing of Arsenal – by four goals to one – had been forgotten.
United then failed to beat Crystal Palace, Derby County, Norwich City and Everton, before demolishing Millwall 5-1. That result was soon forgotten a week later when United were beaten by the same scoreline – by Manchester City.
In that season United lost 16 league games – three more than they won – and could finish only 13th. The first stage of the rebuild appeared to have been a disaster, although crucially the FA Cup was secured, perhaps the silverware that began to ignite the Ferguson era.
There was gradual improvement to follow. A year later United finished sixth. In 1991/92 they came second. A year later the 26-year wait for a league title was over.
Now, just under three decades on, United are on their longest drought since 1992/93, having failed to win the title in six years since Ferguson retired.
Having squandered those years with little forward planning, lurching from one managerial style to another, United have now turned to Solskjaer, a Ferguson disciple, to restore some sort of order to Old Trafford, but the rebuilding job, as it was in the late 80s, is a significant one.
While there are undoubted similarities between that campaign three decades ago and now, that is all they are. Modern football is a very different beast and the grim reality is that if Ferguson had invested those sums now and taken United backwards in a season he would be fired. If Solskjaer’s £140million investment this summer only takes United out of the top six then he will find it almost impossible to keep his job, and the task of rebuilding United will fall to someone else.
Unfortunately for United it did get worse before it got better after a summer of investment in 1989. Solskjaer is planning for his version of United to get better for the arrivals of Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Daniel James, but as Ferguson proved, splashing the cash isn’t always a quick fix to solving long-standing problems.