Finally it has passed; the male’s version of Valentines day is now over and the fallout continues on social media. Logging on to twitter in the late hours last night, it was apparent that there was a distinct consensus with how Manchester United handled the summer transfer window. There have been calls for Ed Woodward to resign, Moyes to come out and apologise and Manchester United to admit their failings. None of which will ever come to fruition but that can’t hide what has happened over the last two months.
Ed Woodward took over from David Gill as Chief Executive around the same time David Moyes took the reins from Sir Alex Ferguson. At first, this wouldn’t have looked as bad a move as it has done with Woodward’s expertise in sponsorship acquisitions. His ability to promote the Manchester United brand, currently, is unparalleled however this isn’t what was needed in the transfer window. The signings that came in were from around the world but unfortunately couldn’t play football: United needed players, not sponsors. They needed a person to promote the club to players and keep the well oiled machine ticking over – spending big on great talent every window to keep the team as a team of winners. However coming out from the window’s closing last night, it’s obvious that Manchester United’s standing in Europe has diminished somewhat and the gleaming powerhouse has lost it’s shine.
When Ed Woodward claimed that United had the budget to go in for any player that was needed, he was saying all the right things. It made everyone, and not just United fans, sit up and take notice. It was a statement to the world of football that David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson’s departures would not hinder the club at a time when stability and tweaking of the squad was paramount. However now the months have past, his claims were hollow and akin to a politician lobbying for votes and making claim after counter-claim, Ed Woodward had no idea how to handle the behemoth that is Manchester United. Even with David Gill on speed dial, the fumbling around and wince inducing media mentions took away the charisma of Manchester United and left players either wanting to stay at their clubs or go elsewhere. It’s easy to say that the transition to the CEO of a club like Manchester United would be a simple one so some caution needs to be heeded here, however there are ways to do things and it seems that mistakes were made, and then the hole that was dug just got deeper and deeper. It’s also worth a mention that the spotlight on United is bigger than anywhere else in the country. Due to this alone, the media speculation is unrivalled and creates hyperbolic hysteria that can cloud judgement so a measure of pragmatism is needed here.
Thiago Alcantara was the first name to land on the wheel of transfer fortune for United. What looked like a simple task and what would have been a shrewd acquisition turned out to be nothing of the sort. His €19m release clause was known to the world and for what seemed like his only destination, United were in ‘pole position’ according to the laughable media outlets in this country. ‘Ed Woodward 1 – Every other CEO 0’ was the message here but out from left-field, Pep Guardiola stated his intentions and the rest is history. What seemed like there not having a gap to bridge post-David Gill; the chasm couldn’t have been wider. The flirting with Thiago was over and the haymaker was delivered:
“The truth is that in no moment did United come to us and talk to us. It came from the press, it was always a lie,” said Thiago once his move to Bayern was confirmed.
At the beginning of the window, David Moyes played perfectly into the hands of every United fan when he declared that the midfield is an area of concern and he will do his utmost to address it. Not even being in the stadium let alone the ring for Thiago is a huge opportunity missed. It’s easy to say that there could have been other factors involved but an explanation as to what went on wouldn’t go a miss. Ed Woodward 0 – Every other CEO 1.
Then came the bid for Leighton Baines for £12m that was swiftly rebuffed. Take away the fact that Baines is one of the best left backs in the Premiership, £12m is not justified whatsoever. As is well known, when Steward Downing costs £20m, Baines has to cost more than that out of principle. It’s a shame that the benchmark has been set in such a way but this derisory bid was the first page in a chapter of events that were about to unfold.
Up next was Cesc Fabregas. A great player and a perfect fit for a United midfield shorn of creativity sans Kagawa. It seemed an odd pursuit given that the player only recently returned to his home town and was now back with his family (players and relatives alike). Why would he leave such a club? The rhetoric aside, David Moyes publicly declared the interest and that a bid was made. After being rebuffed, Moyes came out to say that another bid has been made. This tactic left a lot of fans scratching their head as to why the club are declaring to the world what they’re doing in the transfer window when there was utter silence whilst the Thiago furore was taking over. Alas, Fabregas and Martino stated their love for each other and the club and Manchester United moved on, now with two black eyes.
Then came the bid that many had assumed would happen: the joint bid for Fellaini and Baines. The bid came in at £28m which, going by the original £12m offered for Baines, values Fellaini at £16m. To quote another Liverpool misdemeanour, Jordan Henderson cost £15m so, again, this bid was rejected out of hand. Fellaini was purchased by Moyes whilst at Everton and he came in for £15m so adding £1m to his value after 5 years makes not one ounce of numerical sense. With Moyes having an inherent knowledge of Fellaini/Baines and the workings of Everton FC, it’s puzzling as to how it came to this.
Fast forward a week from the original bid of £28m, Manchester United improved it by £7m and came in for a final time to land the two Everton players. Again this was rejected quite swiftly with Roberto Martinez not happy at the manner in which this was taking place. £35m should have been the first offer and maybe the picture would have been painted differently but this was a bid taken to an already angry club. United were a week away from the window closing and no closer to a player coming in. If anything they were further away from where they started due to the nature of their transfer movements.
Around this time there were rumblings coming from Spain that there was concrete interest in Ander Herrera. Now here was a player of fantastic ability, not courted by the majority of big clubs and has a buy out clause of €36m. Herrera ticked all the boxes of a player United’s midfield was crying out for, a player that commands the ball and picks the correct pass nearly every time. He was in the top ten for completed passes per game in the whole of Spain and considering that six of those play for Barcelona, it’s easy to see why he’d have worked at Manchester United. Couple that with being the most fouled player in Spain, his tenacity to want the ball all the time spoke volumes. Athletic Bilbao are not a selling club, they never have been and they don’t want to be. A club that only plays footballers from the Basque region of Spain, there was no way that they’d be held to ransom. Amorebieta, left for free. Their best striker in a number of years, Fernando Llorente, left for free. The stall had been set: Athletic Bilbao will only sell a player if their release clause is met and the player wants to leave, it’s as simple a fact as that.
Deadline day came and went with a flurry of deals and media speculation. Ander Herrera was on the verge of joining Manchester United and Guillem Balague’s confirmation of this left the majority wondering ‘who will be next’. Of course Guillem Ballage, for all his pundit ability and football knowledge, isn’t always correct. Again this time he wasn’t as his claim of United activating Herrera’s release clause couldn’t have been further from the truth. The actual truth was that Ed Woodward was trying to negotiate a lower price to no avail. It’s not difficult to see that Bilbao would at no stage budge from their original stance so it’s crazy to even go down such an avenue. Albeit whilst this was all going on, United were finalising terms for a £27.5m for Fellaini. £4.5m than his recently expired release clause yes, but had Fellaini been the first choice on the list, this would never have happened. United’s midfield is instantly better with the presence of Fellaini on the team sheet. He may not be the superstar that was wanted by the masses, but he’s exponentially better than Tom Cleverley in nearly every aspect of the game.
The mistakes that were made this summer were exacerbated by a number of factors. From the public display of affection towards Cesc Fabregas to the insulting bids for the Everton duo it has to be said that lessons must be learnt. Actions such as these have the opposite effect when attempting to lure a player to a side like Manchester United. The star could be fading, or this could be the only way in which one can learn: first a mistake has to be made. January isn’t far away and it will leave Woodward/Moyes with four months of extra experience. Experience that is vital at this level and it’s quite clear that this amount of stupidity can never happen again, particularly if they want to improve their chances of winning the title, with the Premier League betting odds at 888sport.com indicating they are not favourites to win the league.