Watching the horrors unfold for other Premier League teams on transfer deadline day took me back to the summer of 2013.
Our world had come crashing down when Sir Alex Ferguson announced his retirement. The news that David Moyes was replacing him, a man who clearly was not qualified for a position as demanding as that of Manchester United manager, was fairly terrifying.
Yet we were repeatedly told, thanks to Ed Woodward leaking stories to the press, that we would invest heavily in strengthening the team.
We were going to sign Thiago from Barcelona, a world-class young talent that Ferguson had identified as a potential target. His father later revealed that the transfer had been “close” while the player insisted there had never been a “firm proposal” from United. Dithering Dave, as he had become known at Everton, hadn’t seen Thiago play enough times and wasn’t sure whether he wanted to bring him to United or not, so decided to pull out.
Now, I can look back and laugh, but at the time it wasn’t super amusing when United then decided to put an offer in for Cesc Fabregas just days after Thiago signed for Bayern Munich. The Spanish club were obviously not going to allow Fabregas to leave, having just sold his understudy, yet United put in a £25m offer anyway. It was rejected. They put in a £30m offer. That was rejected too.
United offered £28m for Marouane Fellaini and Leyton Baines, an offer Everton described as “derisory” when rejecting it. Fellaini had a release clause worth £23.5m at the time. We were valuing Baines, one of the better left-backs in the league at the time, at £4.5m? Wow.
Two weeks before the transfer window closed, Woodward left United’s pre-season tour to attend “urgent transfer business”. As the days rolled by with no players being signed, you had to wonder whether Woodward and the club had grasped just how pressing a need it was that we bolstered our squad.
Ferguson is probably the only manager in the world who could have won the title as convincingly as he did with the team from 2012-13. It was a good side with some good players, but too many of the important figures were close to being past their best, if not already there.
Having made the decision to appoint an unqualified manager, they had to give him the best possible tools to work with. There was talk of Cristiano Ronaldo or Gareth Bale. With hindsight, even they wouldn’t have been able to save Moyes, but we didn’t know that for certain at the time.
With the window days away from closing, when asked specifically about Bale, Moyes hinted that the transfer was a possibility.
“Manchester United are always looking at the best players and we’re always trying to improve the team,” he said. “I can’t give you any more.”
There was no deal for Bale or Ronaldo, but United did up their bid for Fellaini and Baines to £40m. This was rejected and with that came the feeling that no business would be done between the clubs that summer.
Then, with the transfer window closed, United still hadn’t confirmed the signing of any players. United had approached Real Madrid to sign Fabio Coentrao on loan, had gone back in for Fellaini after he handed in a transfer request three hours before the window closed, and were negotiating with Athletic Bilbao for Ander Herrera and had gone back in for Fellaini.
The paperwork for Coentrao was completed in time but Real Madrid pulled out of the deal when they didn’t sign Guilherme Siqueira from Granada.
The Fellaini deal did go through though, for £4m more than his now expired release clause and £500k less than what we’d previously offered for Fellaini and Baines combined.
Herrera’s story was arguably the most bizarre of any transfer tale though. United claimed that the deal hadn’t gone through because “imposters” had been negotiating on their behalf. Er, what?
The Spanish midfielder had a release clause of €36m and Bilbao had made it clear from the beginning they wouldn’t accept anything less. United persisted in offering €30m though before time started to run out and United realised they had to meet the asking price. Haggling over a few million quid was so worth it, right? That’ll save us from being embarrassed.
It was reported that United officials had gone to the offices of the Spanish FA to pay Herrera’s clause, but the club later said these were actually impostors. However, the three men pictured, Rodrigo García Lucas, Alvaro Reig Gurrea and Guillermo Gutiérrez, were known Spanish sports lawyers who were acting on Herrera’s behalf. These were the men that also organised Javi Martinez’s move to Bayern Munich. The exception there was they had been working on that deal for a month, while United had left them with just a matter of hours to conclude the Herrera sale.
The reality was United didn’t understand the complexities of Spanish buy-out clauses and were not prepared to risk testing the legal framework of the system, so pulled out of the deal. In an attempt to save face, they claimed that the people working on their behalf were actually imposters. It’d be great to know who came up with that excuse. “I know what we can do! We’ll say they’re imposters!” Good one.
What we needed and what we got couldn’t have been further apart. Moyes was always going to fail but this calamitous start certainly didn’t help his cause.
The Louis van Gaal years were mixed. There was the success of keeping David de Gea in, again, fairly bizarre circumstances. The deal was done but both clubs blamed the other for its collapse. Real Madrid said United didn’t send the paperwork over in time while United argued they had timestamped documents proving that they had. De Gea went on to sign a contract extension and it appears, for now at least, that Madrid have got over him.
We finally signed Herrera, we got Luke Shaw (who’ll be amazing one day, OK?) and Anthony Martial. Other decent enough buys have come in the form of Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo and Matteo Darmian, even if they are a bit hit and miss. Sergio Romero helped us win the Europa League and has been a sold back up. Falcao and Memphis flopped, Angel di Maria couldn’t leave fast enough and Bastian Schweinsteiger was always injured (but loved like no other player I can remember, weirdly).
Under Jose Mourinho, United’s transfer business has been good. Last summer’s signings, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Eric Bailly, represent one of the best windows the club has ever had. Ibrahimovic was the top scorer, Pogba and Mkhitaryan scored in the Europa League final and Bailly has been absolute quality in defence.
There can’t be many complaints over this summer’s work either, despite United only managing three of the four targets that Mourinho asked for. The business was done early, so they had plenty of time to play and train with their new teammates before the season started.
Victor Lindelof was signed 73 days before the first Premier League game, Romelu Lukaku 47 days before and Nemanja Matic 26 days before.
While United fans would have loved to see another quality signing come in on the final day of the transfer window, it was wonderful being able to relax on deadline day and watch the chaos unfold at other clubs.
Chelsea and Arsenal battled for the title of claiming the worst transfer business of the summer. Chelsea are saved by bringing in Alvaro Morata and Tiemoué Bakayoko, who are two very decent players.
Although they only signed Morata because Conte’s first choice, Romelu Lukaku, chose to sign for United instead. They allowed Nemanja Matic to bolster United’s title hopes too, with the midfielder earning a Man of the Match award for his first appearance and looking great in his other appearances too.
They had a bid for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain accepted from Arsenal, only to see him snub Chelsea for Liverpool. Chelsea believed Fernando Llorente would be theirs by the end of the day but he opted to go to rivals Tottenham Hotspur instead. With a couple of hours to go, Ross Barkley was in London to sign for Chelsea, only to have a change of heart and decide to stay with Everton instead. All in all, fairly shambolic.
Yet Arsenal probably still took the crown. It started off well enough for them when bringing in Alexandre Lacazette. But their opening three games showed they needed a lot more than just one good forward. Their best player, Alexis Sanchez, was spotted snidely smirking from the bench during Arsenal’s thrashing at the hands of Liverpool. You can’t have a player like that in your team.
It looked as though Arsenal were going to shift Sanchez to City and sign Thomas Lamar as his replacement. Their £92m offer was accepted but the player didn’t want to sign for them.
While not having the long list of rejections that Chelsea managed, at least the champions have signed a few players and they had a good enough squad to start off with, given they’ve just won the league.
In contrast, Arsenal have finished 5th, just got battered 4-0 and will be relying on a player who doesn’t want to be there for goals.
Thankfully, our days of utter incompetence appear to be over. Wouldn’t it be sweet if we signed Antoine Griezmann in January?