Michael Carrick led Manchester United to victory over Villarreal but this club would do well to keep emotion out of the decision-making process in future; watch Chelsea vs Man Utd live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm
Wednesday 24 November 2021 16:41, UK
There was a moment during the second half of Chelsea's win over Leicester City at the King Power Stadium when the boisterous away support chanted the name of Frank Lampard. It was a nice change of pace after an hour of 'super Tommy Tuchel'.
This is how it should be. The former goalscoring hero fondly remembered. The master tactician in the dugout. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer's name will continue to be sung by Manchester United supporters. The days of him being allowed to pick the team are over.
Perhaps it is time for the notion of Manchester United exceptionalism to be consigned to history too. The idea has taken root that there is something peculiar to the club that only those steeped in its customs and culture can decipher. It is absurd.
Consider the knights they are seeking to emulate. Sir Matt Busby was a former Liverpool player. Sir Alex Ferguson arrived from Aberdeen, not as his Padawan, but with an already compelling case to be regarded as Europe's best manager. No sentiment involved.
Those that live in the past are doomed to repeat it. But it is not the trophy-laden years of Ferguson that Manchester United are likely to replicate if their retrograde attitude persists, but the stasis that has followed. Nostalgia cannot inform the decisions.
The lesson of Solskjaer's three-year stay was not to entrust the fortunes of the country's biggest club to a favourite son who lacked the coaching credentials. Instead, Manchester United seem to regard the enterprise as a success only scuppered at the last.
It was not a success, not even close. Last season's title race was over when Manchester City led by 17 points with seven games to play. Champions League elimination came before Christmas. Solskjaer found United in sixth, left them in seventh and won nothing in between.
The view that nobody could have foreseen United's current predicament greatly exaggerates what came before it. That second-place finish was secured with 71 points when the average haul for the second-placed team in the previous four seasons was 86.
In other words, United were nowhere near where they needed to be to stand still, let alone progress. This season features three of the strongest sides in Europe set to battle it out for the Premier League title - with three elite-level coaches in charge.
The only conclusion worth drawing is that United must acquire one of their own to compete. But scarred by dalliances with Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho, 'one of their own' means something different. They are still reluctant to do what is necessary.
In the wake of Solskjaer's departure, all manner of familiar names have been floated. Mark Hughes and Steve Bruce are keen. We are told Wayne Rooney would struggle to turn the job down. Perhaps Michael Carrick could seize the opportunity for himself.
His name was chanted with gusto as he guided United to a welcome 2-0 away victory at Villarreal on Tuesday evening. A clean sheet. A goal for Jadon Sancho too. Boxes ticked on a night that harked back to those mature European displays under Ferguson. Sign that contract.
Other big clubs have been sucked in by this belief they are special. It rarely works. Andrea Pirlo ended Juventus' run of titles. AC Milan attempted to recapture their glory days by appointing a series of former favourites but only hastened their plight.
Everyone wants to find another Pep Guardiola but it seems likely that he was the exception to the rule. These clubs are convinced they are special. Perhaps the best way to be special again is to stop behaving as if you are and make good decisions.
Barcelona's quest continues with Xavi, but at least there is a clearly defined style of play they are seeking to replicate. United have less reason to be seduced. Ferguson was a shapeshifter, his decisions dictated only by the need to win rather than any philosophy.
There is a precedent for all this. Liverpool's 1990s decline was exacerbated by the misguided notion the secret sauce for their success was a closely-guarded recipe that only those with access to the fabled boot room could cook up. Outsiders did not get it.
It took a misstep with Graeme Souness and missed chances with Roy Evans before Liverpool corrected course - the latter departed his role in November 1998. That was eight-and-a-half years after they had last won the league title. United are at that point now.
Will they have the courage to step away from the past to secure the future? Liverpool weaned themselves off the addiction through Gerard Houllier - who curried favour with tales of his student days on the Kop - before conquering Europe with Rafa Benitez.
Jurgen Klopp has come to epitomise Liverpool but readily admits his experiences of Anfield were limited prior to that. Nobody believes Pep Guardiola grew up dreaming of becoming the next Joe Mercer even if he is an Oasis fan. Nobody much cares now.
Then there is Tuchel. He arrived at Chelsea in January, taking charge for the first time on the night that United lost at home to Sheffield United. A Champions League winner in May, his team lead the Premier League in November. Funnily enough, they love him.
The next Manchester United coach to deliver the title will be adored too, regardless of their background. Talk of 'getting it' when nobody is quite able to identify precisely what 'it' is needs to stop. United just need a quality coach. Everything else flows from that.
Whether that coach is out there is a concern, of course. The club may yet rue the absence of any forward-planning. Their travails are not over. But the important thing is United are at least on the search for a top-class manager again.
That alone represents progress.
Watch Chelsea vs Man Utd live on Sky Sports Premier League from 4pm on Sunday; kick-off 4.30pm