So Manchester United finished third, but Arsenal’s celebrations when winning the FA Cup were a little bit of a reminder that third place is not a trophy.
It was a reminder that United paid the price for rotating their squad in the semi-final. And now people are asking the question, if United don’t win the Europa League, could that mean Arsenal, who finished 8th, had a better season?
The FA Cup – as great a competition as it is – is a handful of games to win. You get into the Europa League for that.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s task has been to take United back into the Champions League, that is the competition United have to be in. Every process has to begin somewhere. The end goal for United is to challenge Manchester City and Liverpool for the league, and to do that with a team that plays entertaining football. That process begins with showing strong enough consistency to qualify for the Champions League. They got over the line there, and hopefully this is the stage we build to move forward.
The men at the top will allow Ole to have money, but we can trust in Ole that he will bring in players he needs and not just the attractive names who are up for sale. He is choosing his players to improve the squad in a deliberate manner, he is vetting the players, and just as we can place faith in him to choose the right ones, we can hope that the ones he has already signed can continue to kick on from promising first years.
It’s been said that these differing expectations when we’re in this process means we’ve lost sight of what’s deemed a good season. It has never been like that at Old Trafford. I think Ole and the players should be applauded for an exceptional job in the mini-season and we can look at this time and say it looks more like United than it has for a long time. The football is looking better, the players are now seeming to understand what the club is about and how high the standards are, and many of them are playing with confidence.
At the start of the season United’s aim will be to win every trophy available to them. They are expected to win every game. That is the level of expectation at the club. That doesn’t mean that’s realistic, but you have to appreciate just how far we have come.
And we can be excited about the future. That has best been summed up in the performances and the emergence of young Mason Greenwood. Many players played a crucial part, but for me, Mason stood out. He was electric. It will be interesting to see how he performs next season.
As always, though, people become more interested in the players coming in, and the big news is that Jadon Sancho is close to moving from Borussia Dortmund. He is young, English, and he has so much talent, but once thing that we must not do is get carried away.
He’s still young enough to not be the finished article and although he is established at the top level we only have to look at Daniel James who looked as if he would be a starter in his early weeks only to have some struggles. Mason’s emergence meant Daniel could have a breather, but the point remains.
Jadon will come with a price tag, a level of expectation for him to live up to. In the past we have had Angel Di Maria and Memphis Depay to name just two who have come in and were going to be the creative saviour for United on the wing. Time and time again we’ve seen players come in for big money and then not perform, and it has generally come at some significant cost for that player to be moved on.
I hope that won’t happen with Jadon but you will understand my apprehension – that’s not based on his talent, but the expectation that is already going to be put on his shoulders. He is clearly the player Ole wants, though, and as I said, he is being careful with his transfer policy – a big reason for us to feel confident.