Of all the low moments Manchester United have experienced over the last decade, few were quite as sombre as the second-half at Brighton a week ago.
United were anything but that on the pitch, with a disjointed and disinterested performance from a group of individuals who looked as if they would rather be anywhere else but there.
“You’re not fit to wear the shirt,” was the chant from the away end, as the loyal matchgoing Reds, so often the voice of reason, finally snapped at a team who has let them down on countless occasions this season.
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It’s hard to remember a time when the connection between players and fans has been so loose, and it’s hard to recall a side in the club’s illustrious history that has been so lackluster.
A lack of effort is not something which has crept in over recent weeks either, with attitude problems rife for much of the season and exposed to new extremes when Ralf Rangnick replaced Ole Gunnar Solskjaer last November.
Erik ten Hag will have a huge job on his hands if he is to implement the ‘winner’s mentality’ he pinpointed as a key factor behind Ajax’s latest title win in midweek, and key to that will be a ruthless overhaul of the playing squad which has failed so often across the campaign.
Another important component will be the staff he brings in to support him, one of whom has already made his feelings very clear about the underperforming players this season.
Steve McClaren, the former England manager and assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson at United, is being targeted by Ten Hag for a role on his backroom staff and is viewed as someone who could bring priceless insight into the politics of the club.
Ten Hag was one of McClaren’s assistants during his successful spell at FC Twente, and despite admitting he has no interest in being a first-team manager again, is believed to relish the opportunity of a role reversal by playing back-up to his former sidekick .
The 61-year-old could bring vast experience to Ten Hag’s team and offer insight into how the English game works, though most importantly of all might be his ruthless verdict on who is dispensable this summer.
“The disappointing thing for me was, 3-1 with 25 minutes left and the players stopped running,” McClaren told talkSPORT of the United side that lost to Man City back in March. “They didn’t stop running for the manager, they stopped running for each other. Then you’ve got problems.
“In adversity, that is when they need to stick together, and they never did. Under that surface, there are big problems in that dressing room, and nobody has solved them. The solution is quite simple; they need a manager who the players will trust and who they will run for and die for them.
“You need to get the bad ones out of the dressing room. This is the key to it, and Roy Keane was spot on. Five or six of them don’t deserve to wear the shirt. Get them out of the club and sign players who will run and fight for that shirt.”
United are set for an extensive squad overhaul this summer, with six players leaving for free when their contracts expire, while another handful could quite easily be shifted too.
Rangnick has already advised United to sign as many as ten new players at the end of the season, though some club sources believe that verdict to be extreme, with the rebuilding job more likely to comprise of half that number at most.
It means McClaren might not be able to implement the widescale removal he had hoped for, but getting rid of a few of those ‘bad ones’ would certainly be a start.
A week after being told they are not fit to wear the shirt, some of them will never get to again.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.