On the final day of Alex Ferguson’s reign, the match that finished in a dramatic 5-5 draw with West Bromwich Albion, a football epoch ended.
United fans peeked through tear-filled eyes as the colossus made his way through the tunnel, past the guard of honour, for the last time.
What did the future hold? Could the incoming Moyes keep United in the track of glory and dominance?
As the team lifted the trophy one last time that season, little did United fans realise that it would be the last one for a decade.
What has been transpiring at the club since 2013 has the makings of several documentaries and scandalous TV shows: six managerial turnovers, locker room leaks, overpaid flops, and a decade of unparalleled mediocrity.
This is the story of how Manchester United became the new FC Hollywood.
Where Does “FC Hollywood” Come From?
The term ‘FC Hollywood’ was originally used to describe another footballing superpower, Bayern Munich, during the 1990s.
Being a draw for big-name players, FC Bayern was always in the news. And the antics of Klinsmann and Bassler added to the unwanted attention that the club got. The leaks and public bust-ups between teammates didn’t help either.
The crowning moment of the infamous FC Hollywood era at Bayern Munich came when Uli Hoeness went to prison for tax evasion.
And the most painful part was that the club was not winning anything continentally during this tumultuous period.
Guess who dealt the final blow during that 1999 UCL final to close out the FC Hollywood era? Manchester United.
How is Manchester United the New FC Hollywood?
The commercial success of Manchester United has helped to create the image of a club that enjoys the limelight, similar to Hollywood stars.
But the post-Fergie era has seen United turn into a banter club, similar to Liverpool during the early 2010s and Arsenal during the #WengerOut years.
And to make things worse, their noisy neighbours Manchester City have won 6 out of 10 during this same time.
United have managed to outdo themselves by handing Manchester City their first-ever Treble on the 20th anniversary of Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure.
But all this didn’t happen all at once. Here are reasons why Manchester United is a colossal mess.
Big-Money (Flops) Signings
Manchester United has a long-standing history of attracting global superstars like Eric Cantona, Cristiano Ronaldo, Wayne Rooney, Roy Keane, Nemanja Vidić, etc.
These players, along with their charismatic personas and style of play, have enhanced the club’s reputation as a star-studded destination, comparable to the red carpet and celebrity circuit of Hollywood.
Radamel Falcao and Ángel Di María both start on the bench for Manchester United today. pic.twitter.com/LqqZpuNHgl— Squawka (@Squawka) March 22, 2015
Since Sir Alex’s departure, the club has been trying to capture that glitz by signing stars. Falcao, Di Maria, Pogba, old Ronaldo, Schweinsteiger, Sancho, Sanchez, Cavani, the list goes on. They all flopped at the club.
What makes this even more frustrating is that they’ve managed to lose out on players like Haaland because of incompetent recruitment.
In the past, interest from United felt like Halle Berry asking you out to dinner. One call from Fergie was all they needed to get a player down to Carrington for medicals.
But now that allure is gone. Players don’t hesitate to reject Manchester United. Frenkie de Jong would rather stay at Barcelona — who were in dire straits at the time — than come over to United.
And when world-class players finally sign — like Pogba, Varane, Sancho, or Ronaldo during his second stint — it always turns into this overblown soap opera that drags on for weeks, if not months.
From the Envy of Rivals to Running Joke
Argue all you want, but Manchester United is still the biggest club in England. Even City’s remarkable run does not come close to eclipsing United’s moon.
But similar to FC Bayern in the 1990s, Manchester United without Fergie has become a meme fabrika. Rival fans who used to dread United games now tune in for the banter. They look forward to weekends of trolling United players.
Every given afternoon promises a spectacle of United getting battered by Brighton, Spurs, or Arsenal — a far cry from the 8-2 days.
It’s just like Bayern watching Dortmund win the Champions League in 1997, only to respond with their own disasterclass called the “mother of all defeats” against Manchester United.
In a similar fashion, United has watched City and Liverpool dominate both domestically and continentally.
Dressing Room Leaks
The hallmark of a functional club is an airtight dressing room: what happens inside stays in. It took us a few years to find out who really threw that pizza at Sir Alex.
But the new United didn’t get the memo.
The smallest bust-ups make it to the press through anonymous sources. Players clap back at managers on Twitter. They take to Instagram to throw jabs at the manager when the team loses.
And the icing on the cake: Ronaldo ran like a tattle tale to Piers Morgan for a tell-all interview.
The Managerial Merry-Go-Round
Like FC Bayern in the 1990s, Manchester United has tried to recapture the buzz of relevance and success through frequent managerial turnovers.
From David Moyes to the present-day Erik Ten Hag, there has been a steady stream of managerial changes at the club. Mourinho couldn’t even save this sinking ship.
Surviving David Moyes
Moyes struggled to keep the winning culture at the club and faced significant issues on and off the field.
To be fair, filling Fergie’s shoes was always going to be a massive ask. And the press didn’t back him at all. The manager’s tactics were questioned, and results suffered.
Moyes lasted just 10 months.
Louis van Gaal’s Philosophy
Next up was Louis van Gaal. The Dutchman arrived with plenty of managerial experience, but his time in charge was characterised by a pedestrian style of football.
He led the side to the FA Cup final, but the lack of attack and sluggish build-up play led to criticism from supporters who had grown accustomed to the exciting football of the years following Ferguson.
Some of the squad’s talented youngsters were unhappy with Van Gaal’s rigid tactics and approach to player development. And to be frank, no one wanted to hear him harp on about his ‘philosophy.’
The Mourinho Era
When Jose Mourinho was appointed manager of Manchester United in 2016, it appeared to be a marriage of convenience—a proven winner joining a club with an established tradition of success.
This was the banker. This was the one that couldn’t fail. This was the one that never fails.
I remember the story about how he cried when Moyes was chosen over him. I also heard rumours about how Sir Bobby Charlton blocked Mourinho’s transfer in 2013. This is another classic case of United legends interfering with the club’s progress, just like they do over at Bayern.
Considering Mourinho won the league with Chelsea in 2015, who knows what could have been if he’d joined immediately after Fergie left.
With the help of stars like Ibrahimovic, the Portuguese manager was able to deliver silverware to the club, winning the Europa League and the League Cup.
I recall how the media ridiculed him after that press conference when he said finishing 2nd was his biggest achievement. Looking back now at that rant, boy was he right.
His tenure was marked by many off-the-field issues, including public confrontations with the players, specifically Paul Pogba. He also adopted a pragmatic approach to the game and lacked faith in young players.
Mourinho eventually parted ways with United in December 2018.
Ole is At The Wheel
“Ole is at the wheel…Manchester United is back.”
These words from Rio Ferdinand will go down as one of those sentences that preceded a major catastrophe.
Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was appointed caretaker manager of the club in December 2018 before taking the position permanently. His time in charge was full of highs and lows, with some promising times and several disappointments.
Ole’s charming smile initially lifted the mood following Mourinho’s acrimonious exit. His openness gave players the platform to express themselves.
His focus on younger players and a more attack-minded style of football appealed to fans, but his lack of consistency and success in big games left many questioning if he could get the club back to its glory days.
After that infamous loss to Villareal in the Europa League final, Ole Gunnar Solksjaer was as good as gone.
Ralf Rangnick the Strange
Following the sacking of Ole Gunnar Solskjær, the appointment of Ralph Rangnick as the interim manager was intended to provide stability to the squad.
Well, that was a crap show. Images of a forlorn Ronaldo highlighted the string of awful games that transpired during that period.
During Rangnick’s final days, he went out of his way to call out the club’s hierarchy. Here we go! Another internal scandal at United.
The Ten Hag Era
Erik ten Hag joined Manchester United following his transfer from Ajax, with a vision to restore United to its throne of glory.
His experience working with Pep Guardiola at FC Bayern had served him well at Ajax. Ten Hag’s calling card was that historic Ajax 2019 team that dumped Real Madrid out of the UCL.
Under Ten Hag, the drama at United has reached new heights.
He found a way to bench Ronaldo, leading to the star slapping a phone out of a child’s hand before acrimoniously exiting the club. Ten Hag also took the captaincy from Harry Maguire and relegated him to bench duties.
But the drama off the pitch is the main talking point.
Antony “the spinner” and Mason Greenwood have ongoing legal cases involving assault. Jesse Lingard’s family sent an open letter criticising Manchester United for not giving him a proper farewell. Dean Henderson has clapped back at the club for sending him out on loan.
And the list goes.
The story is not better on the pitch. Ten Hag also masterminded that 7-0 thrashing by Liverpool, as well as a few ass-whoopings by Manchester City.
Regardless of your loyalties, it is difficult to ignore that Manchester United is going through their banter era. They can fly green and yellow scarves to get the Glazers out till Spurs win something. They can blame Maguire for their misfortunes.
But the reality is that things are not looking up. And who knows? It might take another 20 years for them to win the league.
For now, Manchester United will remain the new FC Hollywood: an object of ridicule across the football world.