Manchester United’s struggle to relaunch their new era under Erik ten Hag prove the club has lost its ‘prestige’ and pulling power.
According to former star Tom Cleverley, top stars once took pay cuts just to have the privilege of signing for the Premier League giants – now it appears they don’t want to come to Old Trafford.
The Red Devils are far from the dominant force they’ve been in previous eras.
Once the poster boys of the Premier League, with 13 league championships since the English top flight was rebranded in 1992, now the club is struggling to reestablish themselves in the top four.
The days of challenging at the top under Sir Alex Ferguson are over, and have been over for a number of years with it approaching a decade since their last title victory.
Ralf Rangnick earned the club a sixth-place finish last term, and manager Erik ten Hag has now come in with the aim of rebuilding the playing squad and building an identity that can see them get back to competing at the top end of the table in years to come.
Cleverley, who graduated from United’s famous youth academy before making 79 appearances for the first team, knows exactly what playing for United used to mean to young players making their way in the game.
But he admits the motivation for up-and-coming talent, and even the game’s top stars, is very different in this day and age.
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Asked if it’s a shock to see where United are, Cleverley told talkSPORT Breakfast: “It is, but I think [former manager] Sir Alex Ferguson was a big part of that.
“People would genuinely take less money just to say that they played for Manchester United, but I think that’s slowly going now, or has gone.
“Young players are being offered so much money and it seems that their target is to get as much money as they can rather than having the prestige of playing for Manchester United.
“I never thought we’d get to this stage where it isn’t intimidating going there as an away player.
“What’s worse is that the two places where you have the most fear, are Man United’s biggest rivals in Man City and Liverpool.
“They’re the two places where you going and think about damage limitation.”
United have landed three new signings this summer in Christian Eriksen, Lisandro Martinez and Tyrell Malacia, but have been frustrated in their search for more recruits.
Ex-Ajax boss Ten Hag failed in his pursuit of one of his former players, Antony, while a three-month long chase for Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong could be set to end with the player going to Chelsea instead.
And Cleverley – now of Watford – suggested his old club look closely at one of their other big Premier League rivals to inspiration for their rebuild, with shrewd signings and a focus on their own youth stars.
“I hope Man United can improve, they’ve got the right manager to do so,” he added.
“It was a bad start for him [a 2-1 opening day defeat to Brighton] but rather than thinking trophies and titles, it’s about improvement – sort of like the way that Arsenal are doing.
“As far as the long-term direction, they need to find a different way, which is what they’re struggling with in the market at the minute.”
While that suggestion is unlikely to go down well at Old Trafford, the process undertaken by Mikel Arteta certainly looks to be reaping benefits.
While the Gunners missed out on a top four finish last term, their focus in recent years has turned to building a young and exciting team around homegrown stars such as Aaron Ramsdale, Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith Rowe, while adding experienced players with a point to prove such as Oleksandr Zinchenko and Gabriel Jesus this summer.
For United, the challenge for Ten Hag will be on rebuilding the team in his image, while also ensuring that fans’ expectations are met in the short-term.
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