CHRIS WHEELER: Manchester United’s implosion is not just devastating for the fans… World Cup hopefuls Marcus Rashford, Jadon Sancho and Mason Greenwood are seeing their careers stifled at a club filled with malcontents and deadwood. Something has to change NOW
- There are players in the United dressing room who genuinely want to improve
- Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho can offer so much more
- But they have found a toxic, leaderless environment is stifling their careers
- The atmosphere has been described as ‘oppressive’ and is limiting talent
To observe the implosion at Manchester United this season, you could be forgiven for thinking there are only two factions in a divided dressing-room: the players who want to leave Old Trafford and an equally unhappy bunch who want an opportunity to play.
There is another element, of course. One that has been largely forgotten amid all the adverse talk about cliques and bickering and poor body language.
They are the players who remain committed to the club and respectful of the manager who are trying to do their jobs against the toxic backdrop of dressing-room unrest.
These are crucial years in the development of the likes of Marcus Rashford (right) and Jadon Sancho (left) but their potential is being stifled by an oppressive environment
Mason Greenwood shows so much promise but must be affected by negative surroundings
There is more to this than Greenwood’s apparent lack of chemistry with Cristiano Ronaldo
It cannot be easy. Morale at United has sunk so low that comparisons are being made with Jose Mourinho’s acrimonious final months in charge. Players are only human and they are affected by a negative working environment, particularly the younger ones.
When senior stars are agitating for a move or moaning about a lack of playing time, it rubs off on the rest of the group and a clear lack of leadership is hardly helping the situation.
Even the most exciting young players appear to be struggling at United right now. World Cup hopefuls, Marcus Rashford, Mason Greenwood and Jadon Sancho, three of England’s brightest hopes, should be riding high in their careers.
Instead, they look like they are carrying the weight of the world on their shoulders at a club that has had its wings clipped – and not just metaphorically. Having assembled a squad packed with natural wide men, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer limited their opportunities by playing Paul Pogba on the left flank long before Ralf Rangnick arrived with his narrower 4-2-2-2 formation.
Sancho cost £73million after a pursuit lasting 18 months, but you can’t help wondering if it was worth the effort or expense when you watch the former Borussia Dortmund winger play in the red of United.
United’s England talents do not have a stable environment to thrive and develop themselves
He has endured a difficult start to life at Old Trafford, no doubt about it. He has lost his confidence and his place in the England team.
It has not helped playing on the left wing rather than the right for his club at times, but you cannot underestimate the impact on a 21-year-old of walking into a dressing-room that has gone bad.
Greenwood has also disappeared from the England picture for now. He began the season with a goal in each of his first three games for United after missing Euro 2020, but has scored only twice in 17 appearances since then.
A bout of Covid in November meant Greenwood was on the bench when Rangnick first arrived. He has started the last three games but been substituted in each one.
The 20-year-old was hooked at half-time against Newcastle and Rangnick’s decision to withdraw him after an hour of Monday’s defeat to Wolves was met with a chorus of boos around Old Trafford.
Questions have been asked about the chemistry – or lack of it – between Greenwood and Cristiano Ronaldo, but it runs deeper than that.
Ralf Rangnick must fix the toxic air around the dressing room that is bringing players down
Playing Paul Pogba on the left for a time denied more natural wingers the chance to impress
This has been a traumatic season at United. There have been three managers so far and dressing-room upheaval, and we are only at the halfway point.
You don’t play in a 5-0 wipe-out against Liverpool (Greenwood was taken off at half-time again with United four goals down) and a chastening 2-0 defeat to Manchester City two weeks later (he was off after 67 minutes) without carrying a few scars.
And what of Rashford? At 24, he is a little older than Sancho and Greenwood but a young man all the same.
Rashford returned from shoulder surgery just as United’s season plunged into crisis with a 4-2 defeat at Leicester in October and Solskjaer was approaching those critical moments against Liverpool and City.
He scored three goals in his first four games but, like Greenwood, has struggled since.
The England man has not played for his country since missing in the penalty shoot-out in the final of Euro 2020 and receiving racist abuse as a result.
The body language of Rashford and Co has drawn criticism from some pundits recently
The pundits have picked up on his negative body language. Rio Ferdinand drew attention to it and Gabby Agbonlahor has publicly told United’s No.10 to stop sulking. Elsewhere, there have been the usual ill-informed murmurings about Rashford’s charity work affecting his football.
It’s clear that the player is short on confidence at the moment, but he also appears to be paying the price for a lack of belief in him among United’s coaching staff over the last couple of seasons.
It doesn’t help that Rashford’s ability – and willingness – to play a number of different positions to help the team has worked against him.
Left wing is evidently his best position but he has often been shoe-horned into the line-up to accommodate other players. This season alone, he has played alongside Ronaldo up top, through the middle, on the left, on the right, at left wing-back and right wing-back.
Sancho has looked a shadow of the player who performed so well at Borussia Dortmund
Fans want to see Greenwood backed rather than hauled off as a scapegoat at Old Trafford
Rashford was said to have put himself through triple training sessions to be back in action as soon as possible after his operation, but he returned to find a toxic dressing-room and a manager who was heading for the sack.
At a time when he needed support on and off the pitch, there seems to have been an every-man-for-himself attitude at United.
It’s a mess that needs clearing up. The club have to get rid of the malcontents and dead wood so young players like Rashford, Greenwood and Sancho can make the most of their careers free of the stifling environment at United right now.
There will always be pressure associated with playing for this club, but the atmosphere has been described as ‘oppressive’. The sooner it is sorted out the better.
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