A lot of things could be said on Manchester United at this time, with the manager Louis van Gaal finding himself in unpleasant circumstances in the limelight centre recently. However, there are even more issues than management around.
When you look at the successful United generations throughout the years, they have some something in common. From Enock «Knocker» West, who was United's top scorer in three seasons straight between 1911 and '13, picking up one league title in the process, via the likes of Bill Foulkes, Nobby Stiles, Roy Keane and to Nemanja Vidic in relatively recent years. All the sides had absolute warriors.
Obviously you need artists like George Best, Ryan Giggs and Cristiano Ronaldo around, but you don't get anywhere without soldiers. Somebody who gets stuck in when the going gets rough, somebody to put their head where others hesitate to put their boot. Somebody who's desperate to win, at all costs.
Absence of soldiers
Then let's have a look at today's squad. Which of United's current players would you bring into warfare? Maybe Juan Mata, because he's a nice guy and could get you sympathy in the media, but apart from that?
Starting from the front, Anthony Martial carries his sole and only lethargic facial expression throughout every game. In fact, despite being one of United's best performers this season, he consistently looks like he just got out of bed.
The armband highlights the issue
The captain, Wayne Rooney, used to be an absolute pitbull on the pitch, covering every blade of grass, terrorizing defenders and mesmerizing supporters in the process. These days he strolls about, barely scores goals and delivers the occasionall Hollywood pass. His captaincy is an added indicator of the problem, as he basically got the armband because of seniority and lack of options, not because he is a great leader. Because he simply isn't.
In the middle of the park, Michael Carrick is running the show. A player who has served United excellently for many years, with sublime passing ability and exquisite understanding of the game. But he's never been a player who gets stuck in. He plays his game in a composed manner, and usually does all right, but I don't percieve him as somebody who inspires others to add that decisive 1% of performance level to their game.
Lack of fear factor
Besides him, you might find Ander Herrera or Morgan Schneiderlin. Good players, but hardly the ones to have a go at an opposing player for an unneccessarily rought tackle on a teammate, or the ones to get sent of for losing their minds to rage. After all, all sides need a bit of temperament and anger, a bit of uncontrolled aggression, to install some fear at the opposing half.
Further back, you'd find the symbol of Louis van Gaal's passive approach to games: Daley Blind. I really like his intelligence and passing range, and he really has adapted to his weaknesses and made the most of his potential. However, he lacks energy, intensity and pace to his game, being as slow and ponderous as anyone. Have you even ever seen him have a go at anybody?
When such players are the ones who are supposed to lead the line, there will always be a struggle. Particularly on bad days, which come more often than not these days, you need players who push the entire side to the edge.
You might point out that I've omitted Marouane Fellaini and Phil Jones thus far, but the reason is simple. They aren't - or at least shouldn't - be perceived as good enough to play for Manchester United. Neither could hit a barn door from ten yards, and particularly Jones has the touch of a brick. Getting stuck in is an important ability, but a minimum of flair is required to perform at the top level as well.
Obviously the lack of intensity in United's game these days is very (very!) much down to Louis van Gaal's travesty tactics as well, but the issue with lack of leaders will not leave with him.