Outs: Lindegaard, Evans, Rafael, Blackett (loan), Cleverley, Nani, Angel Di Maria, A. Henriquez, Hernandez, Van Persie, Falcao, Januzaj (loan)
Ins: Sergio Romero, Darmian, Schneiderlin, Schweinsteiger, Memphis, Martial.
If fans of Manchester United thought they had seen it all last summer, they clearly weren’t prepared for this.
Manchester United’s principal owners, the Glazers, gave Ed Woodward the green light, and a supposedly limitless chequebook to buy anyone they needed (and didn’t need). The result? As per . Transfermarkt.com Manchester United spent A?94.3 Million on transfers, recouping A?63 Million in sales- their busiest transfer window till date. Anthony Martial’s big money move on deadline day may captivate headlines, but there is much to show that Manchester United’s transfers had been planned in accordance to key areas that they were lacking in.
Amongst the pomp and million pounds spent, there were some moves and transfer stories that stood out more than any.
In what was the biggest transfer whodunnit, since Inter and Juventus’ spat over Vucinic and Guarin, the battle for David De Gea reached a perplexing conclusion-to say the least. Real had made their interest unofficially known, with the inevitable desire for Spanish players to play for either one of the two Clasico heavyweights, closing in. David De Gea, or rather his girlfriend Idurne Garcia, had made the player’s interest in the club well known too. What then turned this seemingly straightforward transfer in to a full-blown summer saga? Ego.
Amongst the most dislikable men in world football, Florentino Perez’ uncanny ability to get any player in the world to play for Real Madrid, is begrudgingly admirable. This summer however, he made one of the most controversial decisions in Madrid’s history- Selling the captain and club veteran of twenty years to FC Porto. The move, according to many was supposed to herald the arrival of David De Gea, the heir to not only Casillas’ Madrid throne, but also that of his national team.
With so much supposed precedence, the matter of a transfer and money seemed but a formality, a formality that might have met it’s match in the form of Ed Woodward. Up until August, the CEO of the club had been making well priced deals for many players that seemed tailor-made for United’s system. In relation to the prodigal Spaniard however, Woodward gave all parties involved only two options- For Real to buy De Gea at the price they deemed fit, or lose out altogether.
While few would’ve predicted Real to pay whatever was needed, the arm twisting and disrespect they showed painted a grim picture for De Gea. If Real wanted him, why would they arm twist and wait till the last day of the window to get him? Why would they give Keylor Navas the No.1 jersey? Why wouldn’t they make him their prime target? Why were they, of all people, trying to bring the price down? Which ever question plagues the shot-stoppers mind, the answer is very clear. He, and he alone will have to come out and set the record straight, for his sake more than the two clubs involved.
Louis van Gaal’s tenure at the helm of Manchester United has been characterized by mirror-punching frustration, and exasperated relief, both in equal measure. After last year’s summer spree ended with a whimper more than a bang, the Dutchman, and Manchester United had more work to do.
They 4-3-3 system employed at the close of last season helped Manchester United to a fourth place finish, restoring some much needed respect to a roller coaster of a season. With the purchase of Morgan Schneiderlin and Bastian Schweinsteiger, one would’ve naturally assumed that the same single-pivot system be followed, with Schneiderlin at the base and either one of Schweinsteiger and Carrick occupying the role ahead. Van Gaal however, had other plans. The philosophy employed this season was that of a double-pivot, with the aforementioned Frenchman a permanent fixture, with either one of the other two alongside him. The first four matches have proven the system to be ineffective, as Manchester United lack the pace and the excitement to break down dogged defences.
Much like last season, it’s going to take a couple of high profile losses for Van Gaal to admit his errors. he did so begrudgingly with the highly controversial 3-5-2, and he’s likely to do it with the 4-2-3-1, the only question is when.
Panning Manchester United has become all the rage among neutral and rivals of the club alike. Every slight mistake is blown up (sometimes justifiably so) and the club acquires a somewhat unfortunate reputation.
Ed Woodward has paid little heed to such criticisms, as his activity throughout the summer shows that he’s learned from past mistakes. Dutch prodigy Memphis Depay was bought before the window even began, displaying the clubs’ forward thinking. Right-Back Matteo Darmian was bought for A?11 Million, a steal of a fee considering his ability and international pedigree. Morgan Schneiderlin, one of the Premier League’s best defensive midfielders was purchased for a fair price of A?24 Million while Schweinsteiger, despite being 31 was a good value signing for just A?12 Million. The sale of want-away winger Angel Di Maria recouped most of the spent cash giving Manchester United a balanced team that could challenge for the top spots.
Much like Chelsea have done in the past, Manchester United have used net-spend to show how effective they are trying to be in the transfer market. Like the Londoners, Manchester United have been getting taken for all they have, simply because they can afford it. However, unlike the defending champions, Manchester United aren’t an effective unit despite quality personnel. Having sold a core of their longer serving players, Louis van Gaal is left with a plethora of new talent, that needs to gel together, and fast.
Anthony Martial might prove to be the solution to the aformentioned problem. At least, that’s what Manchester United would like us to believe. Starting just 8 games all of last season, it isn’t hard to see why Martial signings has been met with equal amounts of bewilderment and mockery. Manchester United had been made the laughing stock of the summer, despite all the good squad rebuilding they had done up until deadline day.
The sheer shock that accompanied the move, was not because of the price tag alone, but also of the fact that not many knew who he was. Amongst those ‘many’ was Manchester United’s very own captain, Wayne Rooney. With the media taking his name, a puzzled Rooney approached the club’s only Frenchman Morgan Schneiderlin and inquired about him.
Beyond the price tag, inflated bonuses and a glaring lack of awareness, there is a kernel of logic involved in Martial’s purchase. Critiques will point fingers at his lack of a single French cap, starts for his club or even the evident shortcomings in his game, however, Martial is only 19, and for a player that age he’s on the right track. Despite his tender years, Martial did net in 11 goals and provide 7 assists- the largest contribution or any player under 20 in all of Europe’s big leagues. Moreover, he has been scouted by both Tottenham and Arsenal, whom he played a stellar game against in last season’s UEFA Champions League.
Taking in the good with all the bad, the truth is simple. Can Martial only get better? Yes. Is he the right player for Manchester United? Perhaps. Is he worth anywhere near a 50 Million? Definitely not. With Raheem Sterling sold for a 72 Million and Lucas Moura for a 50 Million, it’s not hard to see the dangerous trend involving talented youngsters in the modern game. Martial will hardly prove Manchester United’s salvation in the space of one season, but given the right surroundings and opportunity (the Number 9 jersey never hurts) the former Monaco man can shine, continuing the club’s tradition of having influential French players.
Ed Woodward and Louis van Gaal embarked upon the summer, to find the best players in the positions they needed the most. Things didn’t start off well, as both Dani Alves and Sergio Ramos used the interest in manchester United to drive up the price of their newer, lucrative contracts. Manchester United seem to come off the victims in this situation, but if they were really keen, they would’ve been as persistent as they were with Martial. Ramos especially could’ve proved to be one of the biggest signings in United’s history. A born leader, fighter and one of the finest defenders of his generation. Signing him would’ve been a massive statement of intent, bringing in one of the best players into a club, seeking to be the best again.
Unlike Ramos and Alves however, Pedro had made his desire to leave Barcelona explicit. Manchester United had been pursuing him, to the extent that Ed Woodward even went to Barcelona to iron out the deal. The problem arose, when Barcelona wanted more than the reduced release clause of a 30 Million. Tired of being dragged around for extra money, Manchester United put their own pride ahead of signing a player they desperately needed. After he signed for Chelsea, United boss Louis van Gaal even admitted to Pedro being ideal for his system.
The result of these failed targets? United are left without a solid, dependable leader at the back, and are left without a real right winger, choosing the predictability of Mata over the promise of Pedro.
The former English Champions have their work cut out for them, again. New signings have been made, older deadwood has been eliminated, yet the club seem to be in a similar situation to that of the previous summer. The difference this time on however, is that Louis van Gaal is one season older in the Premier League, and will hopefully prove one season wiser as Manchester United embark upon improving last year’s fourth-place finish.