Frugality is not normally a word you associate with football transfers.
And not with Manchester United either. Despite their reputation as a club with a strong academy that produces homegrown players, they have never been shy of spending a few quid, even in the Sir Alex Ferguson era.
More lately that desire to spend big on world class players has been more pronounced, with Louis van Gaal’s tenure seeing the likes of Angel Di Maria, Anthony Martial and Luke Shaw arriving for inflated fees and that policy continuing under Jose Mourinho. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been keen to move away from a spend-first policy, but the Norwegian still lavished £150million last summer on the signings of Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James – and almost £50million more in January on Bruno Fernandes.
Whether we see such gargantuan fees ever again in football is, perhaps, in doubt right now. It’s already been suggested that the near £200million fee Paris Saint Germain paid for Neymar in 2017 – a world record – will remain an outlier for years to come. The coronavirus pandemic has certainly put things into stark perspective and its financial consequences are very real for all football clubs, United included.
Solskjaer and his staff, therefore, will be tasked with squeezing every ounce of value from the current resources at Old Trafford this summer.
They may have received an early blow in this regard, with the news that Shanghai Shenhua are standing firm over Odion Ighalo, unwilling to allow the striker to extend his loan stay at United. The Nigerian had proved to be a useful and fairly cheap asset for United, scoring four goals at a rate better than one per 90 minutes of game-time.
But no matter, there are two pieces of business that United can still complete to boost their squad for next season.
Angel Gomes is one. The 19-year-old and United have reached the point of Mexican standoff over his contract extension, with Gomes harbouring concerns about playing time and – as things stand – is on the verge of departing the club, having rejected contract offers. It would be a great shame to see a generational talent like Gomes join one of United’s rivals, with Chelsea heavily linked with his signature.
Solskjaer clearly rates the diminutive playmaker, having retained him in his training squad in the past week, even if he was a little reluctant to give Gomes game time earlier in the campaign.
But United ought to give Gomes what he wants, the promise of a more prominent squad role – even if that comes at the expense of attacking midfield rivals like Jesse Lingard, Andreas Pereira and even Juan Mata. Gomes is considerably younger than all of them and has the potential to eclipse them, given the time and the focus of United’s coaching staff.
Again, it would be an almighty shame to lose Gomes while keeping the 32-year-old Mata and the out-of-form Lingard. It doesn’t have to be the case. There is still time for the situation to be turned around.
Another position that United could improve overnight without spending a penny is the goalkeeping department. It’s hardly a weakness in the United squad as things stand, but bringing Dean Henderson back to provide a true challenge to David de Gea’s No.1 jersey would be a smart move.
The 22-year-old goalkeeper has performed wonders on loan at Sheffield United for the past two season, first helping the Blades win promotion and more recently cementing their spot in the Premier League’s top half. He is ready to compete for the main role at Old Trafford. It would be like signing a world-class keeper for free.
United will look to bolster the right-wing, centre-forward and possibly central midfield positions by delving into the transfer market this summer. But there are problems they can solve by looking within. And it wouldn’t cost much.