Manchester United‘s transfer spending has come under the scanner after a poor transfer window – a situation exacerbated by the team’s loss to Brighton at the weekend.
The result laid bare tension between manager Jose Mourinho and the club board, and while Mourinho has his fair share of detractors among fans, Old Trafford hierarchy is also coming under fire for apparently not backing the manager enough in the window.
But is that true? While this particular summermay have been disappointing, United have been willing spenders in recent years – lavishing nearly £700million since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
Here’s a look at where that money’s gone, and how well it’s been spent.
Players bought: Marouane Fellaini (£27.5million), Juan Mata (£37.1million)
Amount spent: £64.6million
For all that Fellaini has been able to convince two subsequent managers to keep him around, just the circumstances of his arrival – a £27.5million fee that could have been £23.5million had United moved a month earlier, before a buyout clause of that value expired – made the deal a farce. That’s before mentioning his unpopularity with the fans and his status as a symbol of the club’s inability to play attractive football on a consistent basis since his arrival.
Mata arrived six months later – it’s easy to forget that he’s a Moyes signing – and has been a good, if not great player since then, providing plenty of moments of brilliance and shaking off the criticism that he can’t be relied upon defensively, a tag that dogged him earlier in his career.
Louis Van Gaal
Players bought: Daley Blind (£14million), Marcos Rojo (£16million), Angel di Maria (£59.7million), Radamel Falcao (loan), Ander Herrera (£29million), Luke Shaw (£30million), Vanja Milinkovic-Savic (£1.58million), Victor Valdes (free)
Amount spent: £150.28million
The transfer spend figure doesn’t account for Falcao’s loan fee, a reported £6million, but even without that this was not a good window. Di Maria’s disastrous one-season spell at the club saw to that. He was a blockbuster signing who could have thrived, but he struggled to fit in under Van Gaal and in Manchester in general.
Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, and Marcos Rojo are still at the club, which says something, but at the moment none are automatic first-choice picks, and Rojo likely never will be. £75million is a lot to spend on players who aren’t guaranteed regular appearances.
Players bought: Bastian Schweinsteiger (£6.5million), Morgan Schneiderlin (£22million), Memphis Depay (£25million), Anthony Martial (£37million), Sergio Romero (free transfer), Matteo Darmian (£12.7million)
Amount spent: £103.2million
Depay, Schweinsteiger, and Schneiderlin never quite cut it at United, while Martial may end up going the same way despite showing flashes of immense talent. Indeed, that particular season he finished as the club’s top scorer, but he’s struggled since then.
Darmian and Romero still remain at the club, though both as back-ups and in Darmian’s case, somewhat unwillingly. But in itself, £12.7million for two squad players is decent business. It’s the other signings of the window who let the class down.
Players bought: Eric Bailly (£30million), Zlatan Ibrahimovic (free), Paul Pogba (£89million), Henrikh Mkhitaryan (£30million)
Amount spent: £149million
HIT/MISS: In between
Ibrahimovic was an instant hit, both for his goals – 28 across all competitions – and the leadership he provided. Young players like Martial, Marcus Rashford, and Jesse Lingard have all spoken of the Swede’s positive influence on their development.
On the other hand, Mkhitaryan never prospered at United, chafing under Mourinho’s defensive style, while it’s still too early to take a call on Bailly and especially Pogba. Both have shown flashes of their best, and if they can find that level consistently, everyone will look back at Mourinho’s first transfer window as a masterstroke.
Players bought: Victor Lindelof (£30.75million), Romelu Lukaku (£75million), Nemanja Matic (£40million), Alexis Sanchez (swap)
Amount spent: £150.75million
Just the initial success of Lukaku and Matic would be enough to make this a hit. Add the fact that Sanchez will undoubtedly improve, and Lindelof has shown enough signs – though he’s been inconsistent so far – that he can be a good centre-back with the proper guidance.
Depending on whether Sanchez does rediscover top form, this window could end up being the best of United’s post-Fergie era – although that also depends on how the class of the previous summer (Pogba and Bailly) turn out.
Players bought: Fred (£52million), Diogo Dalot (£19.8million), Lee Grant (£1.53million)
Amount spent: £73.33million
This window gets a miss for the players United didn’t sign, rather than as a referendum on the arrivals. United strangely didn’t target a left-back at all, and they whiffed on all their centre-back targets.
It’s hard to argue with the board’s stance that it wasn’t worth spending astronomical fees on Harry Maguire, quoted at anywhere between £60million and £75million, or Toby Alderweireld, who’ll be available for £25million next year. But that reluctance meant no reinforcements arrived, leaving Mourinho with a defence that clearly doesn’t fill him with confidence (though his first-choice centre-backs, Bailly and Lindelof, are players he’s bought).
TOTAL SPENT: £691.16million
OVERALL HIT/MISS: Miss
Nearly £700million spent, and only four players – Pogba, Lukaku, Matic, and Sanchez – can be considered guaranteed first-choice players. And even among those four, doubts persist about Pogba and Sanchez.
Mourinho has put the United board on notice this summer with his frustrations over transfers, but it’s hard to say he hasn’t been backed. The club has spent over £370million during his tenure, and progress has been only incremental. They’ve yet to catch up to Man City, who have won two league titles since Ferguson’s retirement, and there’s a danger that they’ll be eclipsed by Liverpool.
It’s safe to say that United haven’t spent wisely since their legendary manager signed off.
While there is currently understandable focus on Jose Mourinho‘s missed transfer targets, United’s July acquisition of the Brazil international looks good business.
Rejecting the overtures of rivals City, PSG and some clubs in China, Fred joined from Shakhtar Donetsk in a £47million deal and thanked agent Gilberto, part of Arsenal’s Invincibles, for helping pave the way to Old Trafford.
“Gilberto was a top midfielder who played for Arsenal,” Fred told the club’s official website.
“But he has a lot of respect for Manchester United, who are obviously a big club here in England.
“He praised the club a lot and, after he was granted the opportunity to speak to Jose Mourinho and other senior figures at United, we made the decision together for me to come here. We decided it would be a good move for me.
“Gilberto is a top guy and his advice means a lot to me. He played in the same position as I do and he won the Premier League, so I look to him for inspiration, I listen to what he has to say and I take on board what he tells me.”
Fred is pushing to make his third United start when United host Tottenham on Monday.
Mourinho’s men will be desperate to move on from the 3-2 humbling at Brighton – a match that Alexis Sanchez missed with an unspecified injury.
The United boss said after the loss at Albion they were awaiting test results, but did not think it was a “big thing” as he suggested a one or two-week absence.
Former Arsenal forward Sanchez is attempting to be fit in time for Spurs and posted snapshots of his progress on Instagram.
“Training be back soon,” he said in one post at the Aon Training Complex on Thursday afternoon. “Come on United.”
Later that evening he posted a video with his dogs in the garden, saying: “Gym at home.”
Paul Ince believes former club Manchester United are a “total mess” and becoming a “laughing stock”.
Tensions have bubbled just under the surface for much of the summer at Old Trafford, with such issues coming to the fore in the wake of Sunday’s 3-2 humiliation at Brighton.
United have backed Jose Mourinho amid renewed speculation over his future, but the manager has made his frustration clear about executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward’s failure to significantly strengthen his squad.
Questions over Paul Pogba’s happiness also remain, especially after agent Mino Raiola’s cryptic comments on Tuesday, and former United midfielder Ince has called for all at the club to get their act in order.
“Other clubs and fans are having a field day at the minute, seeing what is happening at Man United,” Ince said.
“They’re becoming a laughing stock and falling behind.
“They finished second last season, and will probably make the top four this year, but is that what they should be striving for? No.
“Realistically, their goal should be to win the Premier League. But they just cannot compete with Manchester City or Liverpool at the minute.”
Paul Scholes should become sports director and advise Woodward to sell Pogba. Would be sleepless nights to find Pogba a new club @paulpogba— Mino Raiola (@MinoRaiola) August 21, 2018
United face a tough test against Tottenham on Monday night, and Ince fears they could find themselves falling even further behind, but he does not believe Mourinho should go.
“Should Mourinho leave? No. Should Man United as a club get their house in order? Absolutely,” he said.
“That’s the whole lot, from the top down, Ed Woodward, Jose Mourinho, Paul Pogba, everything is a total mess.
“You would never have seen this going on with Sir Alex Ferguson as manager, especially not playing out in public.
“I could see why it would be playing on the minds of supporters that this season might end up like the Chelsea 2015-16 one.”
Some people need to talk for fear of being forgotten. Paul Scholes wouldn’t recognize a leader if he was in front of Sir Winston Churchill. @paulpogba— Mino Raiola (@MinoRaiola) August 21, 2018
Mourinho was sacked midway through that campaign and Ince believes the United manager’s style of football “doesn’t suit the club and never will”.
Former England international Ince also called on Pogba to clarify his situation and agent Raiola to “grow up” after taking aim at United great Scholes on social media for questioning his client’s leadership at Brighton.
“Hearing that Mino Raiola has criticised Paul Scholes is an interesting one – who is he to criticise him? He was an unbelievable player, and a leader despite the fact he didn’t speak much,” Ince said.
“I appreciate that times and mentalities have changed since I was a player, but the fact is the agent’s job is to get a player a club and make sure he’s happy – not to get involved with what pundits say.
“I doubt it will bother Scholesy much. He’s a pundit paid to give his opinion, but Raiola needs to grow up and stay out of it.”