There is little surprise in supporters’ obsession with the transfer market; new faces, new names and the hope of better results to come. In Manchester United’s recent decline this fixation has become all the stronger – a collective yearning that fresh blood will cure many of Old Trafford’s ills. Certainly, United’s summer spending will revitalise a squad that has been grossly mismanaged by Sir Alex Ferguson, David Gill and the Glazers over the past five years. An imbalance remains that Ed Woodward may fill in the days to come. It is, however, sales that will definitively mark the beginning of the Louis van Gaal era.
David Moyes, it was often said, worked not with his own squad but that of Sir Alex. Little surprise, perhaps, that so many turned on the former Everton manager when training, performances and then results did not go to the collective’s liking. So quick to bite the hand that fed them. One year on Van Gaal should face little of the mutinous atmosphere that engulfed Moyes’ time at Old Trafford. Not least because the Dutchman’s distinct gravitas will simply not allow for it. More importantly, though, for the significant squad evolution now underway.
Indeed, in the 72 hours before the transfer window closes, five United first team players could top up the 10 already granted a transfer, released or retired this summer. Yet more would be dumped but for the logistics, and economics, of eliminating high-paid players from United’s payroll.
In the months since Moyes’ sacking last April Rio Ferdinand, Nemnaja Vidić, Patrice Evra, Alexander Büttner, Nani, Federico Macheda, Ángelo Henríquez, Bebé, Ryan Giggs and Wilfried Zaha have left the club. Giggs retired at the age of 40, Henríquez, Nani and Zaha left on loan – with an assumption the trio will never play for United again – and the remaining six departed permanently.
The Ferdinand, Vidic, Evra axis provided over 1,000 games for United; Giggs another millenary again. The absence of that vast experience will certainly be felt. By contrast United will miss nothing of Büttner, Nani, Macheda, Henríquez, Bebé, or Zaha.
Büttner was never of requisite quality – a knowledge that most observers considered true less than 30 minutes into the Dutchman’s United début. Macheda, Henríquez and Bebé each failed to establish themselves at Old Trafford despite, at times, promising contributions, albeit very different in nature. Meanwhile, Nani, and to a lesser extent Zaha, will remain misfits unable to harness talent to more positive effect.
Add Anderson, Anders Lindegaard, Tom Cleverley – and one of Danny Welbeck or Javier Hernández – to the probable departures by Monday evening and the exodus contributes to a sense of chaotic revolution and not planned change at Old Trafford. That the club’s executive vice chairman is desperately putting together deals for Daley Blind, and perhaps a midfielder and defender, in the coming days says much for the lack of control in the post Gill-Ferguson era. There is something ‘just not United’ in the chaos of frantic negotiation, yet a pattern has clearly been set over the past two summers.
Anderson has spent much of the past seven years resembling a character in Waiting for Godot, with United supporters hanging, absurdly, to the notion that the Brazilian’s talent will flourish. It has always been a tragicomedy of the club’s own making. The final twist is likely to be a year-long loan to the continent, with a free transfer following in summer 2015.
Then there is Cleverley and Welbeck – a pair so often the subject of heated supporter debate. While Cleverley’s United career has been on hold for three seasons, Welbeck’s talent and background ensure local-hero loyalty remains. Neither, in truth, has the capacity to drive United to new heights, although far fewer supporters will miss Cleverley than Welbeck. The Longsight-born forward’s record is patchy, but with neither Wayne Rooney nor Robin van Persie guaranteed fitness, the 23-year-old will enjoy plenty of minutes if he stays.
Hernández is another whose career has stalled. Once the subject of serious transfer interest by Real Madrid, United will probably accept a bid of less than £10 million for the Mexican forward. Old Trafford’s top brass would fall over themselves to include the 26-year-old in any prospective deal for Juventus’ midfielder Arturo Vidal.
Meanwhile, Lindegaard has been offered a free transfer with little prospect that the Dane will usurp David de Gea in United’s goal. Ben Amos is set to occupy United’s bench while Lindegaard seeks pastures new.
Then there is the question of those who have outstayed a generous Old Trafford welcome: Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Marouane Fellaini. The former pair were complicit in United’s sub-par performance against Burnley on Saturday; in truth neither has played a positive role for United in some time.
The club would certainly take a fee for Young, although two years on the Englishman’s contract and £115,000-per-week in wages remain genuine barriers to moving on a distinctly limited player. Valencia, so long a duff product at Old Trafford, remains if only to cover for Rafael da Silva’s extended periods on the treatment table.
Fellaini’s fee, wages and injury present a similar roadblock; one that means Van Gaal may well have to integrate the Belgian into his squad this season. In each case a significant upgrade is required.
And in truth few of the potential departed will be seriously missed. Not, at least, in the way of greats from the past. United might even significantly benefit from slimming down and rebalancing a squad that consensus now concludes was not left fit for purpose by a retiring Ferguson. It is a damming indictment of the Scot’s succession planning.
Van Gaal, meanwhile, welcomes five new signings this summer: Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria and Daley Blind. Woodward may yet land the experienced central defender and another midfielder Van Gaal seeks before the 1 September deadline. It would take the club’s spending well beyond £150 million this summer.
In this process of renewal Van Gaal is seeking not only to improve his resources but to make this ‘his team’ at rapid speed. There is little doubt the Dutchman will succeed.
In the meantime, Woodward is busy not only buying, but offloading United’s ample dead-wood. That’s in addition to negotiating new arrivals, driving United’s global marketing strategy, and leading a $2.5 billion organisation. Little wonder, perhaps, that the 42-year-old has found the market more than a little challenging over the past two years. Woodward probably needs some help; a director of football to sit between the boardroom and coach – and, most importantly, to so the heavily lifting in a busy transfer market.
Either way United supporters will be watching with intense interest in the coming days – Jim White, Sky Sports News, and all.