Gary Neville likened Manchester United to a school in special measures and described Old Trafford as a footballer’s “graveyard” as he analysed the start of the Erik ten Hag era at his former club.
The former United captain was in an emotional but controlled mood as he took in the fall-out from two consecutive defeats at the start of the Dutchman’s reign and predicted the club face their “rockiest” period since relegation in 1974.
Neville even went so far as to provide a detailed analysis of the 33 senior players signed by United in the decade since his mentor Sir Alex Ferguson stood down as manager, which will have made for harrowing listening for United supporters.
“We’ve blamed the players a lot over the past 10 years but I was excited by many of these signings over the past 10 years,” he said on Sky Sports Monday Night Football.
“But it’s become a graveyard for football players this club, where players are considering whether even to come to this club. They can’t get them in. Where I got to the point on Saturday was you’ve got to move away from the players.
“When a school is underperforming and getting poor results regularly over a period of time, they get put in special measures by government and the kids don’t get blamed. And that’s where Manchester United are. They’re in special measures and you can’t blame the kids anymore.”
Neville’s analysis of the recruitment policy at his former club was detailed and as he placed all the signings into three groups - green, amber and red, depending on their success.
Only two - Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Bruno Fernandes - ranked in the top green category of “transfers that have worked and proved value for money” although Neville even admitted that the latter’s form has dipped of late.
Seven players - Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Nemanja Matic, Fred, Harry Maguire, Edinson Cavani and Cristiano Ronaldo - were put in the amber category for having "done okay.” And that left 24 players in the red group of having failed as signings.
“Cristiano would have been green based on last year but what has happened since has to make it amber,” said Neville. “That’s not working. So 75 per cent of those signings are red, they have not worked; 20 per cent are amber and four or five per cent are green. Now that is a horror story from a recruitment point of view.”
Ronaldo, of course, has loomed over nearly all discussions concerning United since it emerged, in July, that he wished to leave the club.
Neville believes United are in an unenviable position now with Ronaldo - one which the eight-time Premier League champion believes dooms them to the most difficult period in almost half a century.
“There’s a massive decision to be made on Cristiano Ronaldo,” said Neville. “They are damned if they do, damned if they don’t.
“A few weeks ago, before the season started and these two results, I said the thing to do was facilitate a move out of the club - for Cristiano and the club. Because he is obviously not happy and the club is not happy with him. The problem is now if they lose him, there is nothing left in terms of the goalscoring part of the pitch.
“And I genuinely believe if they don’t bring players in the next couple of weeks - or they bring in poor players - they could finish in the bottom half of the table. My feeling is United will ride the wave over the next few months and get through this season.
“But they are going to have to live through the rockiest times this club has had since relegation to the second division forty-odd years ago.”
🗣️ "I'm convinced this can't work!"
Jamie Carragher is convinced Lisandro Martínez can't play in a back four at Manchester United. pic.twitter.com/k3RmPhYQas
— Sky Sports Premier League (@SkySportsPL) August 15, 2022
Neville, while supporting ten Hag’s coaching abilities, also questioned his transfer signings thus far, with Tyrell Malacia, Lisandro Martinez and Christian Eriksen all clearly having been earmarked by the former Ajax manager.
“There is no doubt he is getting to know the level and there has to be a question inside about who is influencing recruitment,” said Neville.
“I think managers have influenced recruitment before at Manchester United, unsuccessfully. He’s got to be part of it, of course he has, but I’ve said over the past few weeks, the Dutch league is not always the most precise league for (comparisons with) this league. It’s a very difficult transition.
“So my view is the coach is obviously a fantastic coach, he’s proved that over the past few years. However, he’s been dealt a really bad hand, to not get the players in he wanted at the start of the season is a shocker, an absolute shocker.”