Real Madrid’s emphatic start to this summer’s transfer market has stolen football’s attention.
An extensive rebuild promised to returning head coach Zinedine Zidane has already seen – including deals previously agreed – more than €300 million spent on the likes of Chelsea superstar Eden Hazard, promising Eintracht Frankfurt forward Luka Jovic and emerging Lyon left-back Ferland Mendy.
There is still the promise of even more to come, with links to €150m-rated Manchester United centre midfielder Paul Pogba refusing to go away.
This splurge is sure to transform Los Blancos’ expectations after they claimed just the Club World Cup in 2018/19. But how does it compare to previous ones?
We’ve looked back through the past five decades to select the most-consequential pre-season spending sprees. Here is the pick of the 1990s:
MANCHESTER UNITED (1998)
Key arrivals: Jaap Stam, Dwight Yorke, Jesper Blomqvist
Honourable mentions: Parma (1996 – Lilian Thuram, Hernan Crespo, Enrico Chiesa), Real Madrid (1996 – Bodo Illgner, Roberto Carlos, Clarence Seedorf, Davor Suker, Predrag Mijatovic), Lazio (1998 – Marcelo Salas, Christian Vieri, Sinisa Mihajlovic, Dejan Stankovic, Sergio Conceicao, Fernando Couto), Bayern Munich (1998 – Thomas Linke, Hasan Salihamidzic, Stefan Effenberg, Jens Jeremies)
Something extra was required by Sir Alex Ferguson.
A painful 1997/98 witnessed Arsenal and emerging rival Arsene Wenger get the upper hand in the Premier League thanks to an electric end to the campaign, while a youthful Monaco – whose prodigious frontline was led by Thierry Henry and David Trezeguet – provided lashings of further Champions League pain in the quarter-finals.
These failings saw the United board, as detailed by ex-chairman and chief executive Martin Edwards on talkSPORT, wonder if the highest standards had been allowed to slip. Significant doubts caused them to ask Ferguson to prematurely end his post-season holiday.
The response was emphatic – and historic. Backed with a near £30 million transfer pot, United twice broke their club transfer record and went from mere Charity Shield winners in 1997/98 to England’s only winners of the Champions League, Premier League and FA Cup a season later.
The immortal treble winners began taking shape when Ferguson headed off a packed field to land titanic PSV Eindhoven centre-back Jaap Stam for £10.6 million – a new landmark for a defender. After a mixed World Cup 1998 with the Netherlands and shaky Charity Shield, performances soon began matching the lavish fee.
Ferguson’s foresight and instincts proved razor sharp with the fraught £12.6m deal to wrestle Dwight Yorke from Aston Villa. The Trinidad and Tobago international would form a telepathic partnership with Andy Cole and 53 goals were scored between them.
But it was this then revolutionary decision to stockpile strikers that, epically, paid dividends the following May. Back-ups Teddy Sheringham and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer netted in the dying throes during the unforgettable Champions League decider to shred Bayern Munich hearts.
Long-term target Jesper Blomqvist would also add squad depth on the flanks once £4.4m was paid to Parma. He would start the classic decider against the Bundesliga giants.
Manchester United are continuing their pursuit of Harry Maguire but Leicester’s valuation remains a sticking point, PA understands.
Targeted last summer after shining for England on their run to the World Cup semi-finals, the 26-year-old is once again in the Old Trafford giants’ crosshairs.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s side are keen to bolster their defence with Maguire, but Leicester are under no financial pressure to sell and PA understands that there remains a gap between their valuation and that of United.
The Foxes are reported to be demanding as much as £90 million for the former Sheffield United and Hull man – £15m more than the world-record fee for a defender paid by Liverpool to Southampton for Virgil van Dijk 18 months ago.
Manchester City also like the 26-year-old centre-back, who could be priced out of a move despite being understood to have made Leicester aware that he is open to exploring other opportunities.
A report on Sunday claiming that Solskjaer’s side had agreed a deal for Maguire is understood to be premature, with United great Denis Irwin confirming as much at a fans’ event in Perth the following day.
Asked if United had signed Maguire, the club ambassador said: “No, no, Harry is a Leicester player isn’t he.
“Listen, we finished really, really poorly last year. When Ole took over, we were really struggling.
“We were 11 points behind fourth place, and we got ourselves up there, got ourselves to the quarter-final of the Champions League, and we fell away badly in the last two months, six weeks of the season.
“This is Ole’s first pre-season, so he has got a chance to stamp his identity on the football team and the way he wants Manchester United to play.
“We’ve brought in a couple of young lads, who have got plenty of pace – I think something that we lacked in the last two-three years – and I think we need another couple of signings.
“It would be great to get another few signings in and go from there because it’s a fresh start, a clean slate.”
Irwin and fellow United great Bryan Robson have been to several events in their role as club ambassadors since the pre-season tour kicked off in Perth.
First-team manager Solskjaer joined them at one event and told fans he could do with a player like the latter as his hunt for a central midfielder continues.
“We need to win again,” the Norwegian said. “We are on the way to building a new squad. We’ve got new staff in, coaching staff.
“I believe so much in this club and this project. To be manager of this club is fantastic. I’m standing next to the history of this club.
“I never had the honour of playing with Robbo but we need a player like him in the team.
“We’re waiting for the young ones to come through because we’ve got so many exciting players and I’m sure we’ll see the best of them in the years to come.
“There are some experienced ones as well that still have a few years left in them.
“We can back to the level we were, definitely.”
Copy provided by Press Association Sport
Bryan Robson believes agents have too much influence on modern players and the Manchester United great hopes wantaway midfielder Paul Pogba continues to knuckle down amid ongoing speculation.
Three years after being brought back to Old Trafford in what was a world-record deal, the 26-year-old has openly admitted that he is ready for “a new challenge somewhere else”.
Pogba said there was “no need” to speak about his situation after United opened their pre-season tour of Australia with a 2-0 win against Perth Glory on Saturday but talk continues of a move to former club Juventus or Real Madrid.
Robson knows a thing or two about being a star with the Red Devils when things are not going so well and has also been in the unique position of attending most of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s training sessions in Perth.
“There is a lot of speculation in the media about Paul,” the former midfielder said. “He is a top player.
“You are contracted to Man United, (so you have to) get your head down, do your pre-season, which, from what I have seen in the training sessions he has done and if something happens and the club want it to happen, or if it doesn’t, you have to get on.
“You are contracted to Manchester United. You have to give everything for that club, that team and the fans.”
Pogba is not the only United player whose future is unclear but his agent Mino Raiola has been more vocal than some when speaking about his client.
“Players are influenced far too much by their agents instead of making their own decisions,” Robson, who played for United between 1981 and 1994, said.
“OK, you might want some advice on what you might sign for and when you do move but you are your own person, you can show the path you want to do in your own career.
“I don’t think many players do that. They are always taking advice from agents.
“Obviously agents want players to move on because they make money.
“If a player is loyal to a club and stays there, the agent doesn’t make as much money. That is a big influence, not just at Manchester United but all across the game.
“Players should have a good look at themselves in the mirror and make what they want to make from their football career.”
United are still planning for an immediate future with Pogba and preparations are going well, even if the transfer activity has yet to heat up as they look to make up for last season’s disappointing sixth-place finish.
“Our stats last season were well down on other teams,” Robson added. “That can’t be right.
“As a coach and a manager, you want your stats to be right up there with the best.
“It doesn’t mean you are going to be a great player just because your stats are good for running about, but when you have the ability of some of our players and your stats are down, that is definitely something you can work on.
“I think Ole realised that when he came into the club and he wanted to improve on it, so you can compete with the top teams.
“They know they’ve got to improve on last season. I was at the Player of the Year do right at the end of the season and you could see the disappointment in the players, that they knew they hadn’t achieved what they wanted to achieve.
“And we know that we’ve got to step up our game if we want to compete with Man City and Liverpool next year – and it all starts from here.
“We’ve made a couple of good young signings. Hopefully we can maybe get a few more players in, but in saying that you can only get the players in if the players are available and they’re as good as what the manager and coaching staff want in the club.
“But I think we’re going in the right direction.”