“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”
– Thomas Alva Edison
After the dust settles on a frantic end to a dramatic transfer deadline day, David Moyes and Ed Woodward can do a lot worse than taking solace in the famous quote on failure by a man who knew a thing or two on success in his chosen field of vocation. Everyone fails. At one point or the other in his life, man comes across an insurmountable obstacle. The best just shrug their shoulders, learn from the experience and move on. For Moyes and Woodwards though, the moving on bit is not so simple. That is the price that you have to pay when you are in charge of the football club with a reported global fanbase of 659 million. And on Tuesday morning a lion’s share of them were left feeling distinctly underwhelmed by what Moyes and Woodward had conjured to serve them in terms of new acquisitions in the transfer window.
This after all was no ordinary transfer window. The first transfer window post Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure was always going to be of utmost significance to Manchester United. It was to primarily serve two purposes – an opportunity to prove that the club retained its allure even without the legendary Scotsman at the helm and also a chance for the new manager to stamp his own authority over the team. While a solitary signing at the fag end of the window may have addressed the second issue to an extent (more on that later), serious concerns have reared heads over the first one – and with good reasons too.
The transfer window saw United being linked with some of the biggest names in the football world. There were talks of a record breaking swoop for Gareth Bale, a sensational return for Cristiano Ronaldo or a move for hotshot striker Robert Lewandowski. It seemed logical that the Glazers will present Moyes with a marquee signing in order to build his reputation in his new job. With such a backdrop, the fact that the window closed with the first team squad being bolstered with the addition of only Marouane Fellaini can only be termed as a bit, for the lack of a more appropriate word, meh!
This however should not be construed as slight in any shape or form towards Fellaini. The afro-haired Belgian has been one of the outstanding performers in the Premier League last season and truly deserves the chance to play for a club like United. At 25, he is possibly at the peak of his powers and has the potential to become the dominant midfield enforcer that United have sorely missed over the years. It has been correctly pointed out by various media outlets that had Moyes’ predecessor managed to sign Fellaini, he would have been lauded for finally addressing the team’s deficiency in central midfield but the fact that Moyes has previous links with the player, the pursuit has been scoffed at and Moyes has been unjustly criticised for displaying a lack of imagination.
It is not the signing itself but the timing and the circumstances of it that paints Moyes in not so favourable colours. The Belgian had a release clause of £23.5 million in his contract that was active all throughout July. United hierarchy not only allowed it to lapse but ultimately ended up having to pay £4 pound extra to land their man in the dying embers of the transfer window. If ever there was a checklist of how not to seal a transfer, United might well have ticked every box on it with this deal.
There may have been two possible reasons behind this act of folly – either Fellaini was not a primary target for Moyes this window or that United believed they could persuade Everton to sell below the stated price once the clause expired. Neither scenario though absolves Moyes of his role in messing things up spectacularly on this one.
But at least Fellaini did arrive, even if it was late in the day and for an inflated fee. Compared to the rest of United’s pursuits, the Fellaini deal seems like a coup. First there were the rumours on Thiago. While the club never official confirmed their interest, reliable sources in the media suggested that United were close to bringing the talented young midfielder to Old Trafford before his former manager Pep Guardiola stole him from under their nose. Undeterred, Moyes and Woodward trained their sights on Cesc Fabregas. This time they did not even care to keep things under wrap as the manager admitted to the media during the pre-season tour that there were at least two bids for the ex-Arsenal star. But Barcelona stood firm and soon enough Fabregas was heard proclaiming his unwavering commitment to the Catalan club leaving Moyes and co. red in the face.
Moyes’ attempts to bring in Leighton Baines along with Fellaini did not also come to fruition as the Merseyside club dug their heel in over the England left back. If anything, an initial joint bid of £28 million for the pair, termed as ‘insulting and derisory’ by Everton, embittered relations between Moyes and his former club and put Baines out of United’s reach – yet another example of United’s negotiation tactics backfiring on them this summer.
The most intriguing was probably the case of Ander Herrera, the hugely talented central midfielder from Atletic Bilbao. Given the fact that the player apparently had been on the club’s radar for quite a while now, it was staggering that United waited till the eleventh hour to slap in a bid for him. Once this was promptly rejected by Bilbao, a club renowned for not letting their players leave for anything less than the release clause, United never really went back with a follow up bid even though there was much speculation on the matter all throughout the deadline day. Reports in media have even claimed that the player had agreed to a five year deal with United and was even handed a squad number before the club pulled the plug on the deal over their reluctance to match Herrera’s buyout clause. Yet again this displayed a lack of prior preparation and understanding on the club’s part on transfer dealings with specific clubs.
To top off a shambolic window, there were botched attempts for the likes of Daniel De Rossi and Fabio Coentrao which were understandably rebuffed by their respective clubs due to the timing of the bids. When the window finally slam shut, an overpriced Marouane Fellaini was all that Moyes had to show for two months of plotting and scheming. A sorry state of affairs indeed.
It will be unfair to paint the window solely as a picture of doom and gloom. Manchester United did win a significant battle in keeping hold of a so called ‘angry and confused’ Wayne Rooney. The striker’s relationship with the club had hit rock bottom towards the end of Sir Alex’s reign and from the day Moyes walked in, he knew he had fight on his hand to ensure that Rooney remained a United player on 3rd September, 2013. Some unflattering comments on Rooney’s reduced role in the team may not have been the best way to go about it, but ultimately it was Moyes and United that prevailed as Chelsea – Rooney’s only serious suitor – admitted defeat after two rejected bids. The importance of this victory cannot be overstated as selling a player of Rooney’s stature to a direct rival – whatever the transfer fee may have been – would have seriously undermined the club’s status as the biggest dog in the Premier League town.
Still the wrath of fans generated by the failure to secure the top notch targets that United originally set out with will not allow Moyes to bask in the success of retaining Rooney. Suddenly the next few games have assumed even greater significance in the scheme of things. Football fans are after all a fickle bunch. Win those matches, especially the derby at Eastlands and the memories club’s dismal performance in the transfer window will get castigated to the darker recesses of their brain. Lose them, and the lamentation of what might have been during the summer months will intensify.
On Moyes and Woodward’s part, let’s hope they have learnt their lessons. Returning to the opening quote, by now they should have formed a fair idea on a number of methods not to be employed in future windows. Soon January window will be upon us. More than six hundred million people will expect better.