Manchester United’s signature of Bruno Fernandes shouldn’t be seen as an achievement. It isn’t to say that he won’t fix the club’s issues or because he isn’t what the club needs. But because it is a situation of normalcy, not something of a speciality. He might just go onto fix the problems at the club, but his signing will come seven months late.
Hailing Ed Woodward for a signing that he made seven months late would be cowardly- a sign of how far the club has fallen. This is the same player that Ed Woodward gave up on while briefing to the club that he gives the ball away too much. If his signing had come in the summer, United might as well have been in the top-four.
Quite the same transpired in the club’s signature of Harry Maguire. After not allowing José Mourinho the funds to sign the Englishman, he went back to the same player he backed away from. While that is certainly a sign of lack of planning- something United fans have painfully got used to, but it is a show of how the club has marched from misinvestment to under-investment. Not for the first time.
The era of under-investment was very much visible in the Sir Alex Ferguson era. It carried on till David Moyes’ era, ending when Louis van Gaal took charge. Back in 2011, Manchester United were the most valuable club but shelled out 62 million euros in the summer of 2011. Manchester City, on the other hand, brought in Samir Nasri and Sergio Agüero and both proved vital in winning them the title. They spent 91 million euros that summer.
In the summer of 2010, United spent only 30 million euros on signing players. City spent 183 million euros- flexing their muscles, even though United were the most valuable club at that point. More than that, United were miles more influential in the market too.
In the summer of 2013, United could only sign Marouane Fellaini on deadline day. Juan Mata’s signing was hailed in January, but that came when the club was in need of a central midfielder. City, on the other hand, spent over 110 million euros.
David Moyes has already admitted to holding talks with multiple high-profile players to fill that central midfield gap. But United couldn’t drag a single deal over the line, as Woodward hid behind the curtains. The Reds did try to sign Gareth Bale very late in the window that summer, but Tottenham had already sold the Welshman to Real Madrid by then.
This lack of investment left United in a lurch, eventually leading to Moyes’ sacking in April. From then on till Mourinho’s last summer, United were reliant on over-investment and misinvestment. It led to a similar result for every manager, as the misinvestment ran rampant. Only 3-4 signings most Sir Alex Ferguson can fall under the ‘successful’ tag, with other players either sold or aren’t good enough.
Under Louis van Gaal, United were in desperate need of a proper central defender. When Ron Vlaar was a free agent that summer, the club got Radamel Falcao on loan from Monaco, days after recovering from a serious knee injury. But misinvestment at least leaves managers with players to use. Mourinho never got that in his last season and Ole Gunnar Solskjær didn’t either.
Solskjær’s case probably presents a stinking level of under-investment by the club. Like Sir Alex Ferguson, he isn’t the one to talk openly about Woodward’s inefficiencies. Fans on Twitter may demand and cry out for him to bash the Glazers openly. But those are the same fans who abused Mourinho for stepping his mark and doing the same about 18 months ago. Imagine calling your employer a ‘pri*k’ thinking you won’t get sacked for it.
The inefficiencies in recruitment have been lingering as far back as ten years ago and before. Sir Alex never talked about it, even though United didn’t get every signing spot on- no one does. But Ferguson always had a spine; a bunch of reliable veterans who could do a job if no one could. He was bringing something out of players who weren’t exceptional by any means too.
Solskjær was left with a broken team. Romelu Lukaku, Ander Herrera, Chris Smalling, Matteo Darmian and Antonio Valencia left. The club lost two faithful guards. While whose decision it was to let them leave is debatable, but that doesn’t change how the underinvestment was rampant.
Solskjær was keen on Fernandes all along, as Paulo Dybala also come up as an option. The club couldn’t replace Ander Herrera or Lukaku. Who is to blame is anyone’s guess- once again, as no one knows who conducts transfer business at this club. Just because fans see Solskjær week in and week out on television, it is easy to blame him. If only this club was so easy to manage that some of the best managers have come and gone.
Solskjær’s three signings haven’t been bad at all. While Harry Maguire hasn’t exactly been sensational, but the club doesn’t have the reliable defensive midfielder to shield the back-four. Now that Nemanja Matić has come back to some sort of form, United have kept clean sheets against Wolves, Norwich and Burnley. Aaron Wan-Bissaka isn’t an attacking full-back. But he has been one of the club’s best players this season. Daniel James has exceeded everyone’s expectations too.
United find themselves at fifth in the Premier League- still with a chance for top-four. They are through to the next round of the Europa League, with Fernandes probably set to fix one big issue in the side (if he arrives). Solskjær didn’t have the spine of the side and didn’t have a bunch of players he could rely on- like Sir Alex did, despite all the under-investment.
He’s slowly creating that now, with Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial becoming reliable goalscorers. Scott McTominay’s absence is always felt, with Fred also putting in some very good performances. That isn’t something Moyes could do in his tenure.
Woodward isn’t going anywhere and this lack of planning isn’t going anywhere either. While the inept CEO deserves to leave and work at Lloyd’s Bank, he will keep dictating what goes on at the club unless something drastic happens. The club will keep swinging from misinvestment and underinvestment to overinvestment. But they will never have a situation of calm. Ever.
Solskjær maybe is providing a bit of that, but the negativity will spray out in the wrong directions. As the fans remain divided, the Glazers and Woodward would probably be laughing their backsides off at a mess that they’ve created. Perhaps, it is time to build a bonfire. There is a common enemy- bigger ones than Man City and Liverpool.
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