From the sublime to the ridiculous, from feast to famine; Manchester United’s transfer policy between 2014 and 2018 was an absolute mess, to put it kindly.
From the 2014 summer when United splashed more than £170million on a range of players who, far from being cherrypicked, looked like they had been selected by Jackson Pollock with a scattergun… to the barren summer window of 2018 when United signed two squad players (and Lee Grant) for a combined sum of £70million.
It was of no surprise to anyone who follows the club when United were dramatically overtaken by Premier League rivals who acted swifter, smarter and savvier in the transfer market in that period.
Whatever Ed Woodward wanted his United legacy to be, for many he will always be remembered as the man who presided over such chaos, sanctioning signings like Angel di Maria, Radamel Falcao (both in 2014) and latterly Alexis Sanchez, whose January 2018 arrival was a precursor to the disastrous summer that followed.
United relinquished their grip on second place from the 2017/18 campaign — albeit they were already some distance behind Manchester City’s centurions that season — and Jose Mourinho had lost his job by Christmas. Van Gaal seemed to prefer blooding youngsters from the academy and couldn’t squeeze his ‘Galacticos’ into his team, and failed to challenge for a trophy until winning the 2016 FA Cup as a parting gift before his sacking.
The big name managers didn’t work for United, just as many big-name signings didn’t work.
And while Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has hardly eschewed the idea of signing world-class players — United always have to chase stars in that top bracket, albeit with caveats — the Norwegian has overseen a more joined-up approach in the transfer market since 2019.
Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James wasn’t a summer to compete with Van Gaal’s lavish spending of five years earlier but it brought United back to their roots, with the policy at the time to target ‘young, hungry and British-based players’ as part of a ‘cultural reboot’.
A summer with United signing Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane seems like the perfect blend of Solskjaer’s two approaches in the transfer market, and a happy medium between the 2014 and 2018 summers of discontent.
United also admire Kieran Trippier and Eduardo Camavinga and would be in dreamland if they could complete that particular foursome as 2021’s summer additions. A sprinkle of youth and excitement, some homegrown talent and top class players from abroad — all boxes would be ticked.
Solskjaer, of course, now has the benefit of working with a director of football and a technical director, in John Murtough and Darren Fletcher respectively. His predecessors didn’t get that luxury, with Woodward and Matt Judge overseeing matters and, at times, showing all the footballing acumen of two economics graduates from Bristol University, which is what they are.
Despite the calm exterior and the smiling face, Solskjaer doesn’t suffer fools and there is the growing sense that the Norwegian is getting exactly what he wants now.
Sancho is a Solskjaer signing. Cavani, Fernandes, Maguire and Wan-Bissaka, they were all deals he was desperate to do too.
Varane might be an extremely marketable name from Real Madrid, with echoes of Di Maria perhaps for some, but he’s a centre-back of top prowess and experience and would fill a position in which United are needy. He’s the cherry on the cake that Maguire and Wan-Bissaka baked, and that Luke Shaw decorated following Alex Telles’ signing
Sure, United need more than just Sancho and Varane this summer, and they may not get more. But having already wrapped up the England winger and with confidence growing over a deal for the France central defender, United have another month and a half to complete further business.
No more deadline day trolley dashes anymore. But also no more waiting around for deals to get done. Is this what an efficient and composed transfer window looks like?