Right now, it’s a tough time to be a Manchester United fan. While I quite like Louis Van Gaal the man, there’s no denying that he has set up the team as primarily control-based and defensive, as against the tradition of United being bold and attacking; that he can’t seem to get them consistently winning; and that watching the team playing matches live recently, I am constantly in a flux of boredom, frustration and stress at the sluggish movement, the lateral passing, the hopeful flicks and the hesitation to shoot.
As such, until there’s a change of manager, like every other fan, I start to think about what players we can sign that can change things. I read the rumours online about star players that could prove transformational, how it seems United are linked with every single one of the world’s highest-rated players, the Golden Ball contenders, all of whom are already at the major clubs. Write down a list of the Top 10 players in the world and it seems Ed Woodward is determined to sign one of them. Cristiano Ronaldo, James Rodriguez and Gareth Bale at Real Madrid, Neymar at Barcelona, Thomas Muller, Arjen Robben and Robert Lewandowski at Bayern, Zlatan Ibrahimovic at Paris St Germain, Paul Pogba at Juventus. I’m sure even Messi was mentioned at some point. But United, in my opinion, don’t need galacticos that will sell lots of replica shirts. United’s way to success has always been about developing youth talent – your Busby Babes, Best and Charlton, the Class of ’92 – and in terms of transfers, the following equation:
Sign young European players on the up from smaller clubs (that is, not your immediate rivals), and let their potential shine through on the big stage at United.
Let’s look at a team of United’s best signings in the Premier League era. So leaving out any players who came through the youth ranks (Giggs, Neville, Beckham, Scholes etc) and any players signed before August 1992 (which leaves out the likes of Schmeichel, Irwin, Pallister, Ince, Kanchelskis).
United’s Best Signings in Premier League XI
De Gea (Spanish, came from Athletico Madrid, signed aged 20)
No ready-made stars here, no galacticos. No players signed from Real, Barca, Arsenal, Liverpool, Bayern, Juventus, Milan. In fact, based on the most recent Deloitte Football Money League, the highest ranked club mentioned above is Tottenham in 12th place, then Athletico 14th and Everton 18th. None of the big boys.
Definitely some of them United had to compete for, indeed pay club record fees for. But none were in their prime just yet. They say an athlete’s peak age is about 27 – nobody here signed aged 27, 28, 29. The mean age of these players signing: 23 years old. All developed further at United and came to love the club.
If you’re already a blinged-up millionaire, living in Barcelona or Paris or Milan, do you really want to move to the perfectly nice but ultimately rather wet and provincial Manchester?
So that’s my message to Ed Woodward and the United transfer strategy team – let’s stop making unsuccessful chases after the kings of football (and helping them get fatter contracts where they are). Let’s go after the princes.