This article is part of Football FanCast’s Opinion series, which provides analysis, insight and opinion on any issue within the beautiful game, from Paul Pogba’s haircuts to League Two relegation battles…
Andy Cole, Dwight Yorke, Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in the late 1990s. Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Dimitar Berbatov in the late 2000s. And now, Marcus Rashford, Anthony Martial, Alexis Sanchez and Mason Greenwood in the late 2010s. How the mighty have fallen.
After the confirmation of Romelu Lukaku’s £73m exit to Inter on deadline day, coupled with Manchester United’s failure to sign a replacement, the Red Devils head into the new season with a set of forwards who arguably aren’t even recognised number nines.
Financially, off the pitch, the deal with Inter makes perfect sense. Inside those white lines however, it’s a total disaster.
All four of Solskjaer’s current options are essentially hybrid winger/forward players, and none have led the line up front on their own for an entire campaign. That is mind-numbing.
That alone would have been a difficult prospect in the pomp of United’s years of success, but in this climate of disappointment and relative mediocrity, it just feels nigh on shambolic. Simply put, how have one of British football’s most successful sides ended up in this predicament?
Indeed, the situation feels far worse when considering the kind of attacking stardust the club’s rivals in the big six can boast.
Manchester City have Sergio Aguero. Liverpool have Mohamed Salah. Tottenham have Harry Kane. Arsenal have Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. And yet, quite conceivably, United may have to rely on a 17-year-old Greenwood to fire in the goals for the upcoming season if things really do go from bad to worse. It all speaks to a lack of forward planning and risk management from both Solskjaer and the Red Devils’ hierarchy.
It’s almost become the norm for the likes of Ed Woodward and the Glazer family to get hammered from pillar to post in recent years, but their failures in allowing a situation like this to fester is the height of incompetency. United’s total of 65 goals in the Premier League was only above Chelsea in the top-six, whilst their noisy neighbours smashed in a further 30 in comparison.
For all of Rashford’s potential, the England international has featured in just over half of his career matches as a central striker (101 in 184), whilst United’s now second-choice option up front, Martial, has played there just 87 times in 248 games. Not the kind of out-and-out centre-forward that United have been crying out for.
After the early arrivals of Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, this summer felt like it had the potential to really build a new era under Solskjaer. Instead, the Red Devils head into the new season with an ominous cloud hanging over them. A Manchester United side without a proper number nine will be a genuinely bizarre sight, and only further highlights how far they have fallen.