Opposition Profile: Manchester United
Middlesbrough travel to Old Trafford to take on Manchester United in the FA Cup.
It is difficult to reason with the current situation leading into Middlesbrough's away clash with Manchester United. On the one hand, it is one of the most exciting fixtures for the club this season. The opportunity to face one of the best sides in the world cannot be understated. If Middlesbrough pulled off the impossible and beat the Red Devils, then it would be a cause for celebration across Teesside.
However, recent developments have marred the fixture. A dark cloud now looms over Old Trafford as Rangnick's men will take to the field for the first time since Mason Greenwood's arrest. I have contemplated how, if at all, I should address the accusations that Mason Greenwood faces. However, it would be wholly remiss to neglect the situation altogether as ignoring and neglecting sexual assault and rape remains a severe issue in today's society. Equally, many respectable and reliable journalists have reported on the situation, and this media attention could be worsening an already difficult situation for the victim. So, with the intention of brevity, I would like to address a few important points before continuing with the article's usual features.
First and foremost, I want to send my well wishes to the victims. It could not have been easy to come forward, especially since Greenwood is a high-profile figure, but it was essential that you did. That bravery deserves the utmost credit. I wish you all the best going forward.
Meanwhile, while the evidence appears damning, we must respect the judicial process and let it do it's work. Should Greenwood be found guilty of the charges, he should be sentenced appropriately. No one should have to go through what these women have had to go through and so he and others with the same transgressions should be punished to the full extent of the law.
Finally, I urge Boro fans to keep these developments out of the clash against Manchester United. Domestic abuse is no joking matter. It should be given the respect it deserves, and that means refraining from chanting about the subject even against the perpetrator, as this can have adverse effects on those who have suffered at his hand. Making a mockery of this traumatic experience will only deepen issues for victims that are scared to come forward and accuse their abuser. If you genuinely care about issues of domestic violence, then the best course of action is to let the judicial process run its course without mocking interjections from fans at the accused.
In truth, a whole article would be needed to explain the complex intricacies of Manchester United's ownership structure. Nonetheless, this represents a small summary of their current ownership situation.
The Glazers have run Manchester United since 2005. The band of brothers agreed on a leveraged buyout of Manchester United that instantaneously resulted in that debt being placed on the clubs' books. Some of the more problematic parts of Americans' plans appeared painfully evident to many of the Manchester United faithful. Still, the FA and Premier League ignored these concerns and ratified the transaction.
To put the truth of the matter simply, the Glazers bought the club purely as a financial investment. Their intelligent manipulation of finances has allowed them to earn a fortune off the back of the Red Devils where other contentious ownerships have failed. This has allowed each of the Glazers to take a considerable sum out of the club season after season despite it remaining in hefty debt.
This lack of interest in the sports side of the sporting business is reflected in Woodward's claim that the club's commercial viability (themselves and their investors' primary interest) is divorced from the on-field performances and success. This was proven to be false for two main reasons: 1) Tournament prize money and 2) Satisfying fans expectations. The former can make up for a considerable proportion of the clubs' annual income, especially if they can earn Champions League qualification. This is why the club goes through a powerful playing recruitment drive if they struggle to establish themselves in the top four. However, if this standard is established and maintained, transfers considerably slow down to maintain their position and reduce costs.
Meanwhile, the Glazers will consistently mimic desires and expectations for trophies and even indicate that interest when proactive in the transfer market. However, this is to satisfy the fanbase. So they will continue to support their club despite their limited success since the takeover.
This is also reflected in the clubs' transfer policy. Under the recently departed Woodward, Manchester United's transfer business can only be described as poor (see Tifo video for more on this: https://youtu.be/WC_uI2YI5hY). While their intention is to make a team that can compete at the top of the league, driving interest towards the club through big-name signings is more important for the Glazers. The more interest they have in the club, the more income the club receives and the bigger the pay packet. This transfer policy has often been of consequence to the squad at large. Instead of picking players that fill holes in the side or fit into the managers playing philosophy, the Glazers and Ed Woodward preferred to pursue players based on their social media following and media interest. This often manifests itself in a forward heavy and defensively light squad.
The fans' anger and concerns about running the club reared its head on 2nd May 2021. Manchester United vs Liverpool was called off as fan protests roared outside, with some managing to get into the stadium.
Tensions have since simmered down, with the club making numerous changes over recent months.
The Glazer tenure is not expected to run forever, though. They recently enquired about the possibility of passing the club onto a new owner, but the search was not fruitful. However, this indicates that Manchester United might not be run by the Glazers in the not-too-distant future.
Manager: Ralf Rangnick
After a less than successful start to the season, Manchester United sacked Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, replacing him with Ralf Rangnick. The German manager is not regarded as a household managerial name along with Thomas Tuchel and Jürgen Klopp, but he has been an understated success.
Unlike his Red Devil contemporary, Rangnick's playing career was uneventful, mainly plying his trade in the lower echelons of German football. However, he managed to come into his own when he swapped boots for blazers.
A Regionalliga Süd title in 1997-1998 with Ulm would be a sign of things to come as Rangnick would win the 2. Bundesliga with Hannover 96 before really fleshing out his trophy cabinet with Schalke. He would lift a Pokal, Supacup and a Ligapokal during his time at the club, while the sides best league performance saw them finish runners up in 2004-2005. His time at Schalke may have begun to highlight his managerial capabilities. Still, his development in that field would end as he took a move upstairs with Red Bull.
Under Rangnick's guiding hand, RB Salzburg and RB Leipzig worked their way into European footballing consciousness. Rangnick introduced similar attacking styles of play in both sides in his director of football role, allowing players to swap between the two with minimum adaption. Furthermore, he turned the clubs' transfer policy towards young raw talents that could be developed under esteemed coaching. At the same time, the Red Bull sides have some of the best youth academies globally, augmenting the side with their own academy graduates.
After his success at Red Bull, Rangnick wanted to pursue another role in management, finally agreeing to join Manchester United following a short stay with Lokomotiv Moscow.
Manchester United has improved since his arrival. However, they are teetering on the edge of their targets for this season. Which may result in his claimed job in the long-term being under threat.
One To Watch: Cristiano Ronaldo
It is impossible to discuss Manchester United without taking a moment to talk about Cristiano Ronaldo. The 5-time Ballon d'Or winner joined Manchester United last summer. He has managed to make a massive impact since his arrival. His 8 goals and 3 assists have been integral to the side this season. In addition, he consistently finds the winning goal to convert a single point into three for the Red Devils. While usually analysis of his abilities would be represented here, Ronaldo's abilities are no secret as he represents the best all-around forward in the world.
The former Real Madrid forward will pose an exciting challenge for Middlesbrough's talented centre backs, which they will cherish coming into the fixture. However, if Middlesbrough hopes to come out of Old Trafford with a shock result, they will have to keep the World Cup winner quiet.
Prediction: Manchester United 0-1 Middlesbrough
My personal bias has informed my prediction here as Manchester United are markedly better than Middlesbrough in all sections of the pitch. However, Middlesbrough have a keen history when it comes to being giant killers. A previous clash between these two sides in the cup fell Middlesbrough's way following a penalty shootout. While Middlesbrough managed a 2-1 win over their avid rivals Manchester City during Aitor Karanka's tenure.
Is it a stretch too far for Middlesbrough to pull off another shock result tonight? Possibly, but wouldn't it be great if they did?
Also see The Transfer Window Podcast for more info about Manchester United