As the curtains fell on last season, Manchester United’s first barren season – silverware wise – in six years, it would have been painfully obvious to Sir Alex Ferguson that changes needed to be made over the next three months in terms of playing staff. Some hard decisions needed to be taken, some old ties needed to be severed, and significant funds needed to be invested not just in the future but in the present as well.
Never one for shirking his responsibility, Sir Alex assiduously set about the task of freshening up his squad in a manner such that the frustrations of last season can be put to bed. While in some cases he may have been thwarted, in other pursuits he met with grand success. Here, we take a look at how things panned out for him and Manchester United over the course of the summer.
Players Brought In
Robin van Persie (from Arsenal; £24 million)
If ever a statement was required of both the financial clout of debt-laden Manchester United under the Glazers and its lasting allure as a premier football institution to top players of today, the signing of Robin van Persie delivered it in the most emphatic manner possible. While some may reasonably argue that the club was made to pay through the nose for a 29-year-old injury prone player entering into the last 12 months of his contract, the signing should act a massive fillip to the legions of supporters who had endure a bleak summer filled with gloating from the ‘noisy neighbours’ and depressing predictions regarding the state of club’s finances. On the pitch, van Persie will bring goals, fitness permitting. Whether his goals can paper over cracks at other positions on the pitch is something only time will tell.
Player Quote: “When I have to make hard decisions, I always listen to little boy inside me and what he wants. That little boy was screaming for Man United.”
Shinji Kagawa (from Borussia Dortmund; £17 million)
While RVP’s arrival has rightly grabbed all the headlines, the transfer of Kagawa may in the long-term turn out to have the most impact on the fortunes of Manchester United in the long run. At 23, the diminutive Japanese play-maker is still to reach his peak but has already wowed pundits with his scintillating displays in Dortmund’s shirt during last two seasons. He had been instrumental in Dortmund’s back-to-back to title triumphs and finished last season with the highest number of goals plus assists among all midfielders in Bundesliga. With United sealing the deal early on in the summer, the player has been part of the entire pre-season schedule and as a result should have lesser problems in hitting the ground running as the season begins in earnest.
Player Quote: “Language is very important to me, I’m very motivated to learn English; I hope I can learn it quickly so I can communicate with my team mates very soon.”
Nick Powell (from Crewe Alexandra; £6 million)
Eyebrows were raised in certain quarters when United announced the signing of the 18-year-old from Crewe Alexandria, a club in the lower echelons of English football, but according to the men in the know, United may well have landed themselves a future midfield lynchpin for both club and country. Indeed Powell’s coaches at Crewe have been effusive in his praise and the fact that a number of other top flight clubs was interested in signing him indicates his prodigious talent. He may not be a regular feature in United first eleven in this season, or even in the next, but is expected to establish himself as a mainstay in the team in the years to come.
Player Quote: “At Crewe, it was one camera and one person, at United, it’s the whole world. I thought Crewe’s facilities were respectable but, to see this, it’s a completely different world for me.”
THT Verdict: The Glazers have definitely loosened the purse strings in the summer and allowed Sir Alex to splash the cash in the market. While question marks remain in the midfield, the addition of RVP and Kagawa to the ranks means defenders in England and even in Europe will have sleepless nights before facing off United.
Players Moved On
Park Ji-Sung (to QPR; £2 million)
It is with bittersweet emotions that Manchester United waved goodbye to one of its long serving players in Park Ji-Sung. The departure had become inevitable after Park’s reduced role in the first team last season which culminated in a listless display in the crucial Manchester derby in the title run in. At 31 years, his days of scampering about the entire field and hassling the opposition team while drawing from his seemingly unlimited reserves of energy are behind. Sir Alex, well aware of that fact, decided to let him join a club where hopefully he will have plenty to contribute.
Sir Alex quote: “Unfortunately, I just couldn’t give him the number of games he wanted. Everyone at Manchester United wishes him well for the future, and I am sure he will be a great success at QPR.”
Fabio Da Silva (to QPR; on loan)
Last season was not kind on the young Brazilian full back. Injuries and manager’s persistence with the more experienced Patrice Evra meant first team opportunities were at a premium for the player who started the Champions League final at Wembley in 2011. His talent is obvious; what he needs is game time. United fans will be hoping he gets plenty of that in the course of the next nine months and comes back as a player ready to step into Evra’s shoes come next season.
Paul Pogba (to Juventus; fee to be set)
Even though the young French midfielder had not yet established himself in United’s first team squad, his departure still created quite a furore at Old Trafford. Great things were expected from Pogba, who had arrived at United, under controversial circumstances too, from Le Havre in 2009. But it was not to be as the club found his wage demand unreasonable and in spite of efforts from Ferguson and other senior players to sway him, the player decided to run down his contract before moving to Italy.
Sir Alex quote: “It’s a bit disappointing because I don’t think he showed us any respect at all. To be honest, if they carry on that way, I’m quite happy that he’s away, from me, anyway.”
THT Verdict: Only the Pogba transfer is a thorny issue, with Park and Fabio’s move deemed to be necessary, if not welcomed.
The Ones Missed Out On
Throughout the last season, the Belgian trickster Eden Hazard had been subject of intense speculation regarding a potential move to England. At the beginning of the summer, Manchester United were touted as the favorite to land him. As per the player himself, both United and Chelsea had agreed a fee with his club Lille over the transfer, but it was the London club’s ‘project’ which he found most appealing and hence his decision to snub United.
Player Quote: “I’ve always wanted to play in England, there was a struggle between Chelsea and United, but to me Chelsea have the best project.”
One of the more tedious transfer sagas of the summer involved United’s attempts to secure the next big thing of Brazilian football in Lucas Moura. At first Internazionale too were involved but soon it became apparent that United were in pole position to land the São Paulo winger. At one stage it was even reported that Moura was heading to Manchester, in the middle of Brazil’s Olympic campaign, to undergo a medical. But PSG entered the picture at the eleventh hour and talked Moura into joining the Parisian club. Moura’s camp mentioned the influence of PSG’s director of football Leandro in the deal but the cynics are bound to wonder the financial incentives involved in the player’s choice.
Agent Quote: “The possibility of living in Paris – a much more pleasant city than Manchester – also influenced his decision, but it was PSG’s project that impressed Lucas.”
THT Verdict: While United may have missed out on two future superstars of world football, truth be told the club could not have done much about either. In both cases, the player had his heart set elsewhere, for reasons we can only guess, and United were left stranded after advanced talks.
Deals In The Pipeline
Ángelo Henríquez (from Universidad de Chile)
The Chilean striker has already passed a medical at Manchester and the deal should be rubber-stamped soon enough. The 18-year-old scored 11 goals in 18 matches for his club last season and is tipped for a bright future. It will be interesting to see whether United decide to retain him in the academy or send him out on loan.
Player Quote: “I am super happy to get to Manchester United. I’m fulfilling a dream.”
Alexander Büttner (from Vitesse)
The Dutch left back is being brought on as a cover for Evra, whose form has dipped over the last couple of seasons. With United linked with a number of much higher profile players in the position, the move for the 23-year-old player linked with Southampton earlier this summer has caught a lot of people by surprise, not least the player himself.
Player Quote: “If you had told me one week ago that I would be training with and playing for the same team as Robin van Persie, I would have sent you to a mental home!”
THT Verdict: Both are low-key signings but for different purpose. Addressing the left back conundrum was a necessity but the identity of the solution is bound to leave some supporters bemused. Henríquez, on the other hand, is a one very much for the future.
Rumours Doing The Rounds
Dimitar Berbatov (to Juventus)
All summer, a host of different clubs have been linked to the Bulgarian striker, deemed surplus to requirement at Old Trafford, but none are yet to make a concrete move for him. With RvP’s arrival, Berbatov has moved further down the pecking order and surely it is just a matter of time before the striker exits the club. Juventus are the latest club to have expressed interest in signing the forward while AC Milan too are said to be monitoring the situation closely.
Kaká (from Real Madrid; on loan)
The former World Player of the Year has fallen out of favour at Real and found first team opportunities rare to come by in the last season. Real have persistent in their efforts to find a buyer for the player but without much success. A loan deal for the Brazilian is the next best option for the club looking to make room for the imminent arrival of Luka Modric and United is reportedly one of the clubs to which Kaká has been offered.
Another player, like Berbatov, whose future is in question thanks to the RVP deal is the Italian youngster Federico Macheda. While earlier in the summer, a loan deal seemed the most suitable option, as things stand presently, it will be understandable if both the player and the club decide to part ways on a permanent basis.
THT Verdict: Both Berbatov and Macheda desperately need to leave Manchester United since neither seem to feature in the manager’s scheme of things for this season. Kaká deal though is unlikely given the aging superstar’s form and fitness.