Amidst all the insanity of the summer transfer-window, a football season broke out. For a little while Manchester United fans were, if not happy, at least relatively content. Wins against Tottenham Hotspur and Aston Villa, while not particularly thrilling, offered signs of progress.
All the while, however, the threat of further madness bubbled away just beneath the surface, threatening to rear its ugly head at any given moment.
Some of us remember a simpler time, when signing players, while undoubtedly exciting, was not the all-consuming stuff of this day and age. You’d hear the news that Eric Cantona had joined from Leeds United on the radio, while sat next to your dad in the car on the way back from having tea at your mate’s, or the then record-breaking capture of Andy Cole on the 9 o’clock news. Thrilling stuff, no question, yet somehow made even better by the fact it was all done quietly, behind the scenes, without everyone obsessing over every detail for weeks.
These days, there seem to be a huge (and ever-growing) number of people whose state of mind and inner-peace is inextricably linked to United’s transfer-business. You can picture them, fretting in a darkened, stuffy room, barely eating or sleeping, animal-like, a TV in the corner showing 24/7 Sky Sports News and the phone in their clammy palms the only sources of light, forever refreshing Twitter, beside themselves with nervous energy – then livid when the news breaks that Pedro has gone to Chelsea, distraught when Nicolás Otamendi chooses Manchester City. A seething ball of anger and frustration, they lash out, their profound need for someone to blame eventually and inevitably resulting in them abusing some hapless journalist who they feel has lied to them, betrayed them, played them for a fool.
Strangely, United’s executive vice-chairman, Ed Woodward, has become the very embodiment of this warped way of thinking. A few weeks ago he was a hero. He’d just wrapped up Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmian and Bastian Schweinsteiger and delivered them, gift-wrapped, to the club, having already snared Memphis Depay earlier in the summer while Paris Saint-Germain and Liverpool circled like hyenas. Social media wasted no time in declaring Woodward a master of his art. For a short time, he could do no wrong and was the toast of the red half of town.
Yet now, just a few weeks on, he is an oaf and a buffoon. He’s let Otamendi and Pedro slip through his fingers into the cold, heartless grips of City and Chelsea. People that have absolutely no idea about the complicated machinations of transfer negotiations, the schmoozing that’s gone on, the bids that have been tabled, the discussions that have taken place, are now declaring Woodward not fit for purpose. Which, of course, may be justified – he may be hopelessly out of his depth; a fraud; a charlatan.
Still, it all seems absurdly extreme, given that this is a man who has brought, as already mentioned, Depay, Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin and Darmian to the club this summer. Many United fans are now dissatisfied with this haul. I am not one of them. Because, for those of us who have actually watched United’s first three games, there are real signs of progress.
Perhaps we would be better with Otamendi (or Sergio Ramos for that matter) patrolling the defence. Perhaps we would be improved by having Pedro up front. Yet isn’t it thrilling to see how far Chris Smalling has come? Isn’t the prospect of watching one of Europe’s brightest young prospects, in Memphis Depay, develop and blossom under our club’s protective wing quite wonderful? Isn’t it a joy, not to mention a relief, to have a player, in Schneiderlin, who just seems the most natural and perfect heir to Michael Carrick, with the potential to be even better? Doesn’t Darmian, signed in silence, completely off the radar, look like he was born to play for this club?
And isn’t it beyond our wildest dreams to have Schweinsteiger, one of the greats of the modern game, overjoyed to be here, desperate to show the world that he’s still got it, relishing the challenge of restoring United to greatness, within our ranks? A born leader, so desperately lacking of late, parachuted in, just like that.
United’s squad, like our summer transfer-window, is by no means perfect. Our goalkeeping situation is a mess, and it’s difficult not to feel that it should have been resolved long before now. Likewise, we all know that an experienced, grizzled brute would be priceless at the centre of our defence, and that another 2012-Robin van Persie-esque striker would significantly bolster our chances of landing some silverware. But such players are few and far between and, as much as we like to think of ourselves as experts, Louis van Gaal, who has won more titles than the thousands of us put together, probably knows more about the likes of Pedro and Otamendi than we do and, thus, should be trusted to decide whether such players are worth the expense.
We’re all desperate for United to be great again, but we need to remember that greatness, success, titles, are not achieved simply through splashing cash on big names like, say, Ángel Di María or Radamel Falcao. Rather, success is brought about by bringing in the right players to add to the ones already there.
There may yet be further twists and turns in what remains of this summer’s transfer-window. Whether there are or not, however, United already have an excellent squad that should be more than capable of challenging for trophies.
The season is underway. Let’s concentrate on the football, which is, after all, what it’s all really about.