Football had been suspended for less than four weeks when Ole Gunnar Solskjaer talked up Manchester United’s ability to work their magic in the summer transfer market.
Appearing on Sky Sports on April 8, Solskjaer was in confident mood when the talk turned to transfers and how the post-lockdown months might look for a club such as United.
This was at the point when plans for Project Restart were still a pipe dream, when nobody really knew how long stadiums would be closed and clubs would be out of action.
All we knew was that at some point the games would begin again and there would be a transfer window. After all, the exchange of money is what keeps a lot of clubs in business, even before they considered a seismic loss of revenue.
So surveying the scene from a United point of view, Solskjaer could see the opportunity for his club to accelerate their own rebuilding plans.
“Football is going to get back to normality at one point,” he said. “And it’s very important we’re ready when that happens. We want to be the best at everything, and of course now is a chance to spend more time [to] discuss players, discuss plans.
“We’ve evaluated what we need, of course, with the coaching staff. We’ve looked at games, evaluated games, discussing on video calls like this. Then, the market, who knows how the market is going to react to this? Who knows which clubs need to sell players?
“There might be just a situation there where you can exploit, and I know that we at Man United we are one of the biggest and financially well-off. I’m sure we are capable, when we get back to normality, that we can do the business that we want to.”
As the 10-week transfer window reaches its halfway point, the benefit of hindsight is something we’re all blessed with when it comes to Solskjaer’s comments.
So far the summer has been one of frustration for the United manager, who is yet to see a new arrival at this club, while two of his rivals, in particular, have been aggressive in their pursuit of new players.
United have been unable to exploit any situations so far and the approach has been one of caution rather than a club wanting to do the business that the manager is keen to see done.
This is Solskjaer talking as someone who is used to seeing Manchester United dominate the market, as they did when he was a player at Old Trafford. But circumstances have changed.
United are now being run sustainably. The money they draw in via those commercial deals all over the globe and the cash taken on matchday at Old Trafford is used to fund the playing side. So when matchday revenue vanishes and commercial revenue remains vulnerable amid the UK recession, they approach the market conservatively. Multiple big-money deals and £100million transfers aren’t part of reality this summer, as far as United are concerned.
That’s not to say that model is wrong. The Premier League champions are run along similar lines, the difference being Liverpool have been getting recruitment right for several years and United, until Solskjaer’s arrival, had generally been getting it wrong.
The clubs who are taking advantage of this summer are those with benefactors in Manchester City and, especially, Chelsea. This window has marked the return of Roman Abramivoch’s chequebook at Chelsea and their spending spree is evidence of the speed at which they wish to close the gap at the top of the table.
Chelsea’s moves for Hakim Ziyech, Timo Werner, Thiago Silva and Ben Chilwell, with Kai Havertz, and maybe more, to follow, is particularly problematic for United, shifting the balance of power to Stamford Bridge from two sides who were very evenly matched last season.
With five weeks of the window to go there is still time for United to do some encouraging business of their own, but it looks like Solskjaer was speaking out of ambition rather than expectation when he spoke of the power United could hold this summer back in April.