Jose’s right, your Champions League record is, well, perhaps not all it should be. We can all argue about the timing of the Jose Mourinho’s comments on how poor Manchester United have been in the Champions League of late and how they were designed to deflect attention from his failure against Sevilla last month – but it’s hard to argue with the facts.
Manchester United are consistently under-performing in the world’s elite club competition. Real Madrid, a club which boasts similar income, are far ahead of them. Barcelona are also significantly better, as are Bayern Munich, who though they enjoy the comfort that domination of the Bundesliga provides also pay their players far less than United.
United’s relatively poor record is demonstrated factually if you plot the records of the European super clubs, over the past 20 campaigns, since 1997-1998 until last season.
Jose Mourinho was right to call out Manchester United’s poor Champions League record
This is a period that favours United. They would fare much less well, obviously given recent travails, if we had a ten year or 15 year cut-off point. The period chosen includes their 1999 and 2008 wins, which come in their two golden periods in modern history, from 1997-2003, when they always made the quarter finals at least, and from 2007-2011, when they made three finals.
So this table is not skewed to make United look stupid, but it does point to the fact the management of United, which since 2005 has been the Glazers, has not maximised the potential of the football club.
The table plots the past 20 campaigns to gain a measure of where United might expect to be. Given that any European heavyweight ought to aim to make the quarter-finals at least, that is considered par for the course.
A campaign which ends in the quarter finals records one point; lose in the semis, you receive two points; and lose in the final you receive three points. For winning, you receive five points. That means winning the cup is disproportionately rewarded, but that seems fair enough as it is rather the point of football.
However, by recording some success in reaching the quarter finals, the table tries to avoid the crude assessments along the lines of ‘you’ve only it three times.’ Or, that a significant club like Juventus have only won it twice in their history.
Mourinho looked to deflect attention after United were dumped out by Sevilla this season
|Team||Lost in quarter-finals||Lost in semi-finals||Lost in final||Winners|
HOW THE ABOVE TABLE WORKS
A campaign which ends in the quarter finals records one point; lose in the semis, you receive two points; and lose in the final you receive three points. For winning, you receive five points.
The measure of the super clubs is as much in their consistency as in how many times they have won the trophy, which was Mourinho’s point. Since 2011 – and, as Mourinho was keen to point out, this decline started under Sir Alex Ferguson – United’s record has been woeful. David Moyes’ sole quarter final in 2014 was the only year in which they have performed at the bare minimum you expect from such a club.
Much is unsurprising about the table. Real Madrid, dominant in recent years, are well out in front, but Barcelona are closest in matching them as genuine European giants, along with Bayern.
United aren’t quite as bad as the past seven years indicate. To be fourth in Europe, some would say the world, isn’t bad. However, they ought to be much closer to their peers. Superficially the table suggests that the stereotype, that United’s owners only really get agitated if revenues fall, might be fair.
United have won the competition twice in the last 20 years and recent seasons have been poor
Of course, they want the club to be successful – not least because it generates money – but there is a suspicion that deep down, in their hearts, this is far from the club of Sir Matt Busby or Sir Alex Ferguson. Essentially, it is a commodity and whilst it can’t really afford to be out of the Champions League for long, winning it isn’t essential in the way that it was for Busby or Ferguson.
The table is most revealing when analysing other English clubs. The fact that Chelsea, having only really been able to match their competitors since 2003, have in that time have managed to outstrip AC Milan, Juventus and Liverpool is truly impressive. Of course, they’re unlikely to be adding to their record next season, so what the future holds in a Chelsea where budgets are balanced is unclear and they may find themselves slipping down this table.
Pep Guardiola’s point, which was also emphasised by Manuel Pellegrini and Roberto Mancini, regarding the lack of any Champions League calibre at Manchester City is illustrated starkly. (And City are included only to make this point; of course there are clubs which would finish between them and Borussia Dortmund).
It remains a mystery why a club’s past identity should affect players, when they all are experienced performers at this level or at World Cups – Paris Saint Germain appear to have the same problem – but it seems there is something in the tradition and history of a club that aids performance.
Our table is revealing when analysing other English clubs – Chelsea rank impressively
That Liverpool can be so highly placed over the last 20 years, which has been far from their greatest era, is surely only as result of some outstanding coaching by Rafa Benitez and the fact they had an illustrious foundation on which to build. The culture of a club must add something to self-belief.
What is perhaps most starkly revealed is a topic covered previously: how Arsene Wenger, great though his domestic achievements are, has been exposed at the top level of European football. Porto finish above Arsenal, equal on points, but ahead by virtue of the fact they have won the trophy in the period. Atletico Madrid only started participating, for the purposes of this table, in 2008, and are also better. It demonstrates Wenger’s tactical weaknesses, given that Arsenal qualified for all twenty of the campaigns under assessment.
As for United, perhaps they can take some guidance from Real Madrid’s own dark ages, which lasted six campaigns from 2004/05 to 2009/10, when they failed to get past the last 16. Like United’s current period, that was an abysmal record. Of course, the coach that coaxed them back to respectability and to semi finals, at least, was Mourinho, even if it took Carlo Ancelotti and Zinedine Zidane actually to win the trophy again.
That period of stagnation seemed to illustrate the failure of Florentino Perez’s first stint as president at the club from 2000-2006. They did win the trophy once in that time, in 2001, but as they collected more and more galaticos, performance in the Champions League got worse and worse.
Liverpool are well placed despite recent years being less successful thanks to their 2005 win
The second period of Perez, since 2009, has seemed somewhat more nuanced. He has collected major signings in Cristiano Ronaldo (a deal he pretty much inherited from the former president, Ramon Calderon) and Gareth Bale but has then allowed the team to settle, rather than disrupting with excessive recruitment.
United at times seem to want to emulate the Real Madrid of 2004-2010, and simply keep throwing money at a problem until they eventually steamroller their way back to success. Perhaps the use of Scott McTominay, Marcus Rashford and Jesse Lingard suggests there is more thought now being given to the mix of players. No team wins the Champions League without a big budget. (No team in the last 20 years other than Porto, that is. Whoever managed them must have been good.)
However, simply using their financial muscle won’t get United over the line. They will need to recruit well this summer and they will need Mourinho to coach better than he did against Sevilla if they want to avoid slipping further away from the European heavyweights.
Jose was right on one thing. They’re not in that league at present. The question is whether he is the right man to close the gap. He did the job partially at Real Madrid. Now he has to reboot another European giant.