Opinion

Manchester United’s Transfer Purgatory

“Hopefully we’ll get them by pre-season.”

That’s what Ole said about the upcoming transfer window, when he was handed the reigns in March.  It’s now about a fortnight to the start of the new season and the boys have sweated their way through two weeks of pre-season and three countries. I’m not going pretend Ole’s standing out there with his Sanchez in his hand – our two additions have been promising to say the least in pre-season.  They’re signings that suggest the club has a clear-eyed policy for the first time in years: younger players addressing problem positions that have plagued the team for years.  When Aaron Wan-Bissaka joined the club at the end of June, he was expected to spark a flurry of signings. 

“Hopefully we’ll get them by pre-season.”

Then, silence.  It wasn’t actually silent.  Breathless sensationalism in The Sun, The Star, and The Express was occasionally interrupted by the pseudo-scholarly musings of The Telegraph and Sky.  But nothing actually happened.  Nobody left.  Nobody signed.   Nobody resigned. 

“Hopefully we’ll get them by pre-season.”

We’ve had a lot of nearly. David De Gea’s pen-clutching hand has been hovering over the parchment that bears his bumper 6-year deal for about 3 days now.  Why hasn’t this been sorted out yet? Agents don’t go on summer holiday.  The summer is when they do the most work.  New signings, new contracts – as you can imagine, it’s the busiest time of year.  All this, of course, begs the question: WHY THE HELL IS ED WOODWARD ON HOLIDAY IN MARBELLA?  

Is this some kind of power move?  Has he made a July pilgrimage to Marbella every year since he was a third-form fart-catcher at Eton and it’s been the sole source of his strength and apparent indestructibility?  Is he, as we all suspected, a cyborg who returns to his docking station in Marbella every July to update his software?    

Can you imagine if a firefighter, in the middle of fighting a roaring fire, puts his hose down and says to his team: “Right, I’m off to Marbella. Back in 5 days.  You guys sit tight.”  Maybe move your trip to Marbella until you’ve finished your work, Ed. 

“Hopefully we’ll get them by pre-season.”

Nobody thinks we’ve done our business in the transfer window.  Not even Ole, who has carried himself with the awareness of a man who knows exactly who butters his bread in the morning. For now.

Even if nobody leaves, United indisputably need a centre-back and a goal-scoring midfielder.  Enter Slabhead Maguire and Bruno Fernandes. I am fairly convinced that the stalling transfer progress is disgustingly related to Woodward’s jaunt in Marbella, but assume it was for negotiating purposes.  Perhaps Bruno Fernandes’s price does come down by £10 million and it mitigates the risk that Woodward has to answer for a second Fred (who I maintain will come good, but is presently an unflattering comparison).   But in the case of Maguire, £10 million isn’t really going to change anybody’s opinion.  I think most of us recognise he’s about a £50 million player in today’s market, but we need to buy and, more importantly, Leicester don’t need to sell.  So bite the bullet and structure it in a way that, if the clauses trigger, we’ll be too happy to notice £10 million sneaking its way out of the bank account. 

In any event, is this really the window in which you want to waste time posturing, Ed?  The window where both Madrid and Barcelona have armed themselves up like they’ve found oil in the Middle East and are now desperately trying to trim the fat and shed serviceable players, presenting an unusually plentiful knock-on market should any team make a major transfer move?  The same window where both City and Liverpool are already focused on next season?  The one where Chelsea are BANNED?  The one in which Stan Kroenke gave Arsenal $27 and the change from under his sofa as this season’s transfer budget?  The one where PSG are considering giving Neymar his own oil field to keep him? That’s a rookie mistake, PSG – we know Madrid and Barca love oil. 

Why, Ed? 

We get it.  You’ve been made to look a bit of a numpty now on a couple of occasions and, you know, once bitten, twice you really shouldn’t still have this job.  But here we all are.  Just get it done.  We need these players, and we need Maguire and Fernandes to basically walk into our first team.

“Hopefully we’ll get them by pre-season.”

Why did Ole want them by pre-season?  You saw the video of Dan James singing and AWB decidedly not singing. That creates team chemistry.  The kids are mixing with senior players both on and off the pitch. It’s been fantastic to see. Now, prospective new signings miss out on opportunity to mix socially with the squad and participate as these bonds are being formed between young and old, new and returning.  

Why did Ole want them by pre-season? Because to basically walk into the first team of a top-6 side, you need to be settled.  Being settled means moving into a new house, getting your kids settled into a new school.  That’s harder when you might be moving from another country, such as, for example, Portugal.  That is even harder when you speak a language other than English as your first language, such as Portuguese.  And it’s hardest of all when you’re having to learn to play what I believe is the hardest position in world football – Centre-midfield in the Premier League.  If we do sign Bruno Fernandes (and by God, I hope we do), I fully expect him to take some time to adjust.  But it would really help if he didn’t have to have his passport stamped the same day he makes his debut.

Why did Ole want them by pre-season?  These occasions — where Ole gets to work closely with the players without having to constantly prepare for matches – are so rare in modern football. The timing was perfect for him to get his full squad to understand how he wanted to play the game.  These are opportunities where he sets standards and start to make his mark on the team and mould the squad into his image.  Guess who doesn’t get to get this experience firsthand? 

There isn’t much we can do about sales but why on earth is Alexis Sanchez still here?  I was under the impression that we would pay part of the wages to get his gobshite attitude out the door.  I expect nothing from him this season, but I anticipate that his very presence may be toxic in this young squad.  Change my mind.  I don’t much mind if/when Lukaku goes – it’s lovely to actually hold all the cards for once – but I do want to say I think he played hard for us and gave us exactly what we should have expected when we signed him.  I appreciated his time at the club and feel this is a rare occasion where United should sell at the right price, which is exactly what we are asking for right now.  

Ed Woodward could well sign both Fernandes and Maguire, which would rightly make his transfer window a sensational success by his usual standards. But neither of them has signed yet. And even when they do, this was a missed opportunity.  Ole wanted them by pre-season.  And there were a lot of good reasons why.  I think as fans, it’s important to know what we, and the team, give up when Ed focuses too hard on the bottom line.  Bankers will bank. 

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