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Blame Zlatan! Why Man Utd have fallen apart since Ibrahimovic's exit

COMMENT: Blame Zlatan! If Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Mike Phelan. Even Ed Woodward. If any of 'em are struggling to nail why it's all fallen apart at Manchester United. They just need to cycle back 18 months to see where it's all gone wrong...

For the moment, the noise coming from Carrington - at least what some red tops are claiming - is there'll be an adjustment to past transfer policy. Youth over experience. Potential over achievement. This is what manager Solskjaer and his No2 Phelan have pushed in a series of meetings with Woodward, United's vice-chairman exec, in recent weeks. Whether those claims are rock solid, well, this column has been told slightly different. However, the general consensus is that maturity. Even wisdom. Well, that's out. After the disastrous output of Alexis Sanchez. Paying big money for an experienced, readymade player is a process the club doesn't wish to go through again. If Solskjaer wants to work with younger players, all the better.

But an available veteran. Particularly one who will instantly command respect. Such a player should never be dismissed. Especially by a club experiencing the dressing room problems United have endured since the departure of Zlatan Ibrahimovic almost 18 months ago.

Solskjaer's right. He's right when he tells those he leans on that United have the foundations of an exciting, young team just waiting for launch. The Norwegian and his sidekick Phelan weren't at Leigh Village on Friday to simply show their face. The pair took in the U23s' defeat to Wolves on a scouting mission. As it's been floated in the press this past week, there will be a conscious effort to bring through a clutch of Ricky Sbragia's youngsters next season. And transfer plans for the summer market will be drawn up so to avoid any impediment of their pathway.

But Solskjaer and Phelan would do well to reassess their accord to focusing on the younger end of the market. If an opportunity pops up. If there's a chance to add another Ibrahimovic-type signing to his squad. Solskjaer shouldn't hesitate.

Where would United be if the Swede was still on the books today? Indeed, where would those he had the greatest influence over - Paul Pogba and Eric Bailly - where would their United careers be if Zlatan was still a teammate? It can't be a coincidence (are there such things?) that the Jose Mourinho era ran off the rails soon after Ibra's departure for the US and LA Galaxy. Yes, by the New Year of 2018, the Swede's on-field influence had waned. But off it. Inside the locker room. In that massive Carrington gym. No-one challenged Ibra. And as a consequence, no-one challenged Mourinho. The striker was the manager's conscience inside the squad. The pair were in simpatico. And Ibra had the presence and charisma to keep everyone in line - including Pogba.

Today? Well, it's clear the void left has never been filled. Would Pogba be so quick to talk up Real Madrid if he was still sharing a dressing room with Ibra? Indeed, would Ibra have turned a blind eye to a teammate openly pining for 'better things' in the middle of a season?

This is what is missing from Solskjaer's United today. The culture is rotten. It's not of unity. Of loyalty. Qualities that have been missing from Pogba's public utterances these past weeks.

But the Frenchman's no Robinson Crusoe. And that's what proves there is a real problem at the heart of this club. This isn't just about one player. Ander Herrera has also been at it. As has Romelu Lukaku - inexplicably in the Italian press just hours after the derby defeat. That he wasn't involved against Manchester City just another knock on the manager's authority.

Solskjaer disagreed with his former captain at United, Roy Keane, when the Irishman leapt to his old teammate's defence in the aftermath of the City defeat. But deep down, after what he's seen on and off the pitch, he must know Keane is right.

"These are the same players who threw Mourinho under the boss and they will do the same to Ole," said Keane. "Leopards don't change their spots.

"There are too many bluffers at this club to get United back to the very top."

Solskjaer still needs experience in his team. Leadership. But the right sort. It'll be 25 years this August since Aston Villa blew away a young United team of David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Paul Scholes and the Neville brothers. A team which would eventually dust themselves off and go onto to win the Double that season. Owing much to the wiser heads inside that locker room like Denis Irwin, Eric Cantona and Keane.

As Solskjaer says, this current crop of kids do have the same potential. But the same can't be said about those running things inside today's United locker room.

This young United team are crying out for the right leadership and influence. Just ask the Class of 92 about Cantona. Don't discount the impact another Ibra-type can bring.

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Chris Beattie
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Chris Beattie

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