Manchester United Transfer Saga
Like never before, Manchester United have broken the bank to get a complete overhaul of their squad. Not only have they bought in as many as six players, all of them are actually going to feature in their first choice starting XI. Debojyoti Chakraborty elaborates on their transfer activity with Goalden Times.
Tons of newsprint and a lot of e-space have been devoted to the whirlwind taking place at a club from Manchester. And surprisingly, the club splashing the cash – sometimes quite inexplicably to meet absurd asking prices – is not the club known for flexing its financial muscles. It is the red half of the city where Manchester United boss Louis van Gaal is all set to unleash his Gaalacticos.
To fully evaluate this crazy transfer window, where United got linked with almost all the top players, we have to go back a couple of years, when Sir Alex Ferguson retired after a reign of quarter of a century. The disappointing David Moyes stint followed where they were beaten by a lot of clubs at home – something which had never happened for a long long time. But finally, in van Gaal, the United faithful seem to have found a father figure to rely upon. Although his start to the campaign has not been very inspiring – no win after three games in the league – there is optimism amongst the fans that the Dutch maestro will turn things around.
And there is more than optimism – having spent a whopping $280 Million, there are six new signings to fall back upon. If the January signing of Juan Mata is also taken into account, that makes it seven players, since start of the year, who have been drafted in straight for the first team. This is in stark contrast to the Manchester United philosophy of grooming home grown, young players and giving opportunities to academy products. But this was long time coming.
The success of – and the obsession with – the famous Class of ’92 which boasted the likes of David Beckham, Nicky Butt, Ryan Giggs, Gary Neville, Phil Neville and Paul Scholes who ruled English football for over a decade has much to do with it. Subsequent academy produces like Darren Gibson, Ravel Morrison, Tom Cleverley and even Darren Fletcher have failed to reach those lofty standards. Sure, there have been a few silver linings in the likes of Adnan Janujaz but they have been few and far between. May be United fell victim to their own success. Ferguson won the league with kids contrary to the popular notion that “you can’t win anything with the kids”. But he was not carrying any baggage with him – Manchester United had not conquered the top division for more than three decades, the team was begging for stars – he had practically nothing to lose. Fergie introduced the youth policy and made kids into stars. To follow that tradition was a tough ask and the next rank of youngsters had a much tougher road ahead of them. Players like Gerard Pique, Giuseppe Rossi and Paul Pogba craved for regular first team places but could not (or United did not want to?) go past the established stars. Sadly, they left to pursue their career elsewhere and created a big vacuum in Red Devils’ supply line.
Manchester United was managed, and quite supremely at that, by the legendary Ferguson. But whatever may have been his contribution to the club, England or the world of football, even he has to accept that he left the club in a very bad shape. He could not find a replacement for the sturdy Roy Keane when the midfield maestro hung up his boots. After some average signings like Quinton Fortune and Eric Djemba-Djemba, he tried to convert Alan Smith, a forward, into a combative ball snatcher. Smith did give a few memorable performances, especially against the league winners Chelsea in 2005, but he could not maintain that level consistently. Owen Hargreaves was bought with huge expectations from Bayern Munich but his troublesome knee ensured he was sidelined with lengthy spells of injury. Anderson was tried for a few seasons, so was Kléberson but neither could hold fort like Keano.
With the retirement of midfield stalwarts Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs changes were eminent at Old Trafford. But Fergie did not prepare well for their replacements.. Michael Carrick can at best be described as the poor man’s Scholes – in terms of his movements, eye for a gap in the opposition defense, precise passing, and long diagonal Hollywood balls. Park Ji Sung did bring a lot of energy and work-rate in the midfield but was never that creative midfielder United always craved for. Moyes also had his blooper moment when he signed Marouane Fellaini for an incredible $42 Million but even after a season, the Reds are still struggling to find an ideal position for the Belgian.
Similarly after Cristiano Ronaldo left for Madrid, neither Nani or Ashley Young – or Bebé, or Gabriel Obertan if anyone still remembers them – failed to inspire the team with mesmerizing dribbling and runs down the flank. Antonio Valencia stayed honest to his duties but he gives more of industry and defensive cover than panache in attack.
The mass exodus of defenders – Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand and Patrice Evra – at the end of last season – also did not help. They were ageing and again the club failed to bring in someone of equivalent calibre or have someone as an adequate understudy. After a long long time, the Reds will be without their favoured defensive lynchpins and the sight of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans guarding the defense does not inspire confidence.
Strike force is one area where Manchester United has regularly beefed up. Be it Ruud van Nistelrooy, Diego Forlan, Carlos Tevez or Dimitar Berbatov – Wayne Rooney always had at least one world class forward to partner him. Some have succeeded, some have failed, but the club has always been very proactive in bringing in quality players to score the goals. United’s enthusiasm in the market also lead to signing a certain Robin van Persie from rival Arsenal to protect the budding Danny Welbeck and the super sub, Javier Chicharito Hernández. Van Persie repaid the faith by scoring 26 league goals and helping the Devils reclaim the Champion’s crown. But his resurfacing injury scares proved that the 30+ striker was always going to need a bit of cover in coming days.
So, even though Moyes was made a scapegoat for the dreadful 2013-14 season which head to his eventual dismissal after less than a year into his six-year contract, a reality check must have crept into the board room at Manchester United – the players simply are not good enough and the squad needs to be rebuilt.
And add to that the injection of cash by club owners worldwide. Roman Abramovich, Khaldoon Al Mubarak, Nasser Al-Khelaifi and Dmitry Rybolovlev have not only made clubs like Chelsea, Manchester City, Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco more competitive, but also increased the demand for the highest quality of footballers. This in turn has skyrocketed market valuations of players; It is now practically impossible to get a decent player from open market at a bargain price.
So, here it is. A shambolic season, departing star players, lack of quality player in the team, lofty player prices: All of this contrived to United breaking its record transfer fee paid twice in the same calendar year. Yes, Manchester United splurged cash in the market and captured seven quality players in little over than six months – six of them coming in this transfer window. But a look at the new arrivals and one can understand the rationale behind the purchase.
- Luke Shaw ($49 Million) – an investment which is seen more of a long term solution for the left back position; quality young English players are a scarcity and Shaw certainly benefited from that.
- Marcos Rojo ($26 Million) – a left sided stopper who can double up as the left back, coming fresh from a brilliant World Cup.
- Daley Blind ($23 Million) – another star from the World Cup, a defensive midfielder who is versatile enough to slot in anywhere in defensive areas.
- Ander Herrera ($47 Million) – the band master to take the game from the scruff of the neck.
- Juan Mata ($58 Million) – a world class playmaker, most effective playing in the hole, bridging the gap between the central midfielders and the front men
- Ángel di María ($97 Million ) – the wing wizard, captured for a club record fee
- Radamel Falcao ($10 Million on loan) – one of the most lethal strikers around, to act as cover for van Persie as well as helping to lift his game up, even though it meant United will be lighter by $16 Million just to pay his wage bill.
Modern football is reminiscent of a seller’s market – the buying clubs cannot decide the actual worth of a player; they just have to pay what the selling club is asking for. The prices paid might not seem justifiable, but United simply had to go for these kind of players. On the upside, all of them are quite young – except for the loan signing of Falcao who is 28 – and are set to feature in the first team after the international break on September 14th. It seems a practical move by Manchester United to splash the cash. It seems even more justified to boost the morale of a despondent team and its supporters.
Removal of some extra baggage was imminent and that was seen in the form of departures of Danny Welbeck, Tom Lawrence, Cleverly (loaned out), Shinji Kagawa, Alexander Büttner, Bebé and Chicharito (loaned out). The first three exits surely spell a strong statement highlighting the changed mindset – football is no longer about emotions; you have to be ruthless to succeed, even if that means axing your own home-grown players who fail to make the cut. As the saying goes – Football is not as important as winning or losing – it is a little more important than that.
Football has changed radically over the years, may be for the bad. Players have become more professional, romanticism or attachment with a club for the entire career span is hard to see nowadays. Given the lure of attractive package, top class performers are ready to change their loyalty, even if that deprives them of Champions League glory to start off with. But on the other hand, such an ensemble might take some time to gel. With so many new players joining Manchester United, this is a transfer window that could very easily backfire as well given United can not afford to have two consecutive seasons without the lure of Champions League. With this complete new outlook of the team, there is a renewed enthusiasm among the fans. A section of it is asking for instant success, whereas there is a vast majority who want to be cautious after the calamitous 2013-14 season. This makes sense as there are still concern areas, especially at the centre back position which is badly missing an imposing leader. Also the manager needs to find a system which does justice to the set of players – at least to majority of them – he has at his disposal. But with a superb tactician like van Gaal at the helm, United fans can certainly hope for good times ahead.