Manchester United will point to the recent signings of Harry Maguire and Bruno Fernandes as evidence of the fact they can pull off good business in the final days of a transfer window. Yet Odion Ighalo was a scrambled loan in the dwindling hours of the last January window and this summer’s now looks to be heading in the same direction. History is repeating itself.
United ought to have learned lessons from mistakes in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era late in transfer windows. Supporters will be wary of the madness that can map out. In truth, it should never have come to this, but United’s fixation on Jadon Sancho and subsequent inability to sign him, has left them in this mess.
What is the cost of avoiding the late window maelstrom? Perhaps £108million to Borussia Dortmund would have done the trick. But instead, here we are.
Let’s rewind briefly to the nadir of United’s deadline day panic buying, the supermarket sweep of 2014 when Louis van Gaal oversaw an almighty overhaul of the squad, spending a whopping £169million on seven new recruits.
Only £6million of that was spent on Radamel Falcao, by way of a loan fee to Monaco, though that’s like saying United did well to avoid paying a transfer sum for Alexis Sanchez. In both cases, players way past their peak arrived at Old Trafford on enormous wages and did very little to justify the scramble to sign them.
In Falcao’s case, many United fans lamented the fact that his arrival triggered Danny Welbeck’s deadline day departure to Arsenal and Javier Hernandez’s loan to Real Madrid; although it’s fair to say, initially, there was plenty of excitement about the Colombian striker.
As the season wore on, however, it became very obvious that United had made a grave mistake. Even keeping Welbeck and Hernandez would have been better than signing Falcao, who simply wasn’t the same player who had, in 2012, torn Chelsea’s defence asunder for Atletico Madrid in the European Super Cup. Far from it, largely due to injury issues.
And, to return to more recent matters, although Ighalo was never going to light up Old Trafford — signed specifically as a backup — he still felt emblematic of a transfer strategy that United should have left behind long ago.
Six years have passed and they appear not to have learned their lessons. Ed Woodward is still heavily involved in transfers, there is no director of football and a manager is not getting the players he wanted.
Because Van Gaal certainly wasn’t the one to go out and get Falcao, nor Angel di Maria who signed that summer. Neither fit into his preferred formation or style of play, a possession-based 3-5-2. It was ironic that Falcao was unveiled alongside Daley Blind, a player Van Gaal specifically wanted and knew could fit his system.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would be forgiven, therefore, for sounding a little agitated about how the transfer window has unfolded. He has never made a point of saying so, yet as he stammered over his words after the recent 3-0 Carabao Cup victory at Brighton, it was clear the Norwegian is becoming lost for words. He’s concerned and in the dark about what the final few days of the window hold.
If Sancho and a left-back had arrived by now to complement Donny van de Beek, you can be sure his tone would have been different in recent press conferences. As it stands, he is still playing the diplomat, albeit one who is questioning his own political cause. The mask may slip soon.
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Solskjaer has every reason to worry. Having presided over United’s transfer business with a calm authority since taking the reins (Ighalo aside) his approach is at odds with a panic buy, as Van Gaal’s was. Other managers might be able to roll with the punches, but the Norwegian is meticulous about the kind of players he wants. He values personality as much as ability, as he said following the marquee acquisition of Fernandes.
That is not to decry any of the names now being linked with a United move: Edinson Cavani, Luka Jovic, Ousmane Dembele, Douglas Costa. Yet none seem the right fits in terms of profile, all would arrive with a large element of risk. They may come good, but it feels like United are risking leaving themselves red-faced in the transfer market again.
It’s time to hope and pray. All logic has gone out of the window.