In the opening weeks of the transfer window, Manchester United have spent in excess of £60million securing the transfers of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw, moves which provided quality in positions where United needed it most. It has been many years since the club were so decisive, particularly regarding midfielders. It may then seem silly to question whether the failure of the team to qualify for the Champion League last season has affected their ability to attract top talent. However, despite these signings there is a case to be made that David Moyes’ failures last season are having an effect now.
Much has been made of the farce that was Manchester United’s first transfer window of the post-Ferguson era, and the painfully shambolic details do not need to relayed here. However, as poorly handled as it was – and it was poorly handled – the market changes from year to year and last season there was a definite lack of elite players available. Gareth Bale made the move from Tottenham to Real Madrid but it took a world record fee to convince Spurs to sell, whilst United and Liverpool dug their heels in over the futures of Wayne Rooney and Luis Suarez respectively. Elsewhere in Europe, we had just seen an all-German champions league final, and with a World Cup around the corner, players from Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund saw no reason to make what would at best be a sideways move away from the Bundesliga. In Spain, aside from Barcelona putting the finishing touches to a deal for Neymar which had been in place for a long time, there was also very little movement of top level talent. Ozil was sold in a marriage of convenience to Arsenal, making room in the squad and the bank account to accommodate Bale, and Cesc Fabregas used interest from Old Trafford to secure himself more playing time at Barcelona. Put simply, elite players were not making moves at the start of last season, and whilst Moyes and Woodward gave the world an extremely public and extremely embarrassing show, they could do very little to change that.
What a difference a year makes. This summer household names are very much on the move. Fabregas, not for sale at any price 12 months ago, has completed a reported £27 million move to Chelsea; Arsenal have signed Alexis Sanchez and Luis Suarez has been rewarded for his excellent behaviour with a huge £75million move to Barcelona. In addition, Toni Kroos, Diego Costa and James Rodriguez have all made high profile moves. Several of these players have been linked with the Reds in the last few years, notably Fabregas and Kroos – both of whom have been reportedly ‘done deals’ for United. It would be foolish to claim that United had a desire to sign all of these players, especially given that many of them play in the same position. However, in stark contrast to last season, there is a wealth of elite talent and so far United have not taken advantage, and for once, Sir Alex Ferguson’s buzzword of value cannot be used as an excuse. Whilst some transfer fees have been phenomenally high – such as the hilarious price of David Luiz – Fabregas’ fee was a bargain considering his ability. Toni Kroos, too, moved to Real Madrid for just £24 million. The centre of midfield is an area in which the team is desperately lacking quality, and there is no denying that lots of talent has moved straight past Old Trafford on its way to pastures new.
Of course, the saving grace this season is that the man in charge has a plan. It is widely accepted that Louis van Gaal knew about the availability of Fabregas and Kroos, and knew about Woodward and Moyes’ interest in signing one or both of them, but decided that they were not the kind of players he wanted to sign. Whilst it is true that both players tend to slow play down, this is very rarely to their teams detriment. However, if van Gaal has a plan, him passing on players – regardless of their quality – is certainly nothing to be concerned about. What is more worrying for United fans is the news surrounding the potential transfer of Angel di Maria, a player of exactly the kind and quality van Gaal loves in his teams. di Maria is reported to be favouring a move to Paris Saint Germain so that he can play Champions League football this season, meaning United once again are set to miss out on a world class player. The party line amongst team officials and fans alike has been that one season out of champions league would not harm the team financially or in terms of attracting players, and it was a line which we have been all too happy to swallow. However, as the summer goes on, the full extent of the damage Moyes has caused to United’s reputation could be revealed.