As Manchester United hurtle towards the end of the winter transfer window without a single signing, fans can count themselves lucky that the club have once again avoided the pitfalls of the break. The risks are obvious: there’s no value in the market, none of the players United want are available, and it’s hard to find someone good enough to get into the United side. That is, of course, rubbish. Other players good enough for United have already been bought (see Nemanja Matic at Chelsea as we were soundly humped), almost any player would be good enough to improve Manchester United these days, and if Moyes and United had done the correct amount of groundwork then players would already have been announced before the transfer window had been opened.
In the past, United have also done perfectly well in the winter transfer window, and before that they had no problems buying excellent players in the winter months. There at least five excellent examples, which is lucky because this is a top five. Here is that top five. Top five:
While Liverpool were also rumoured to be interested, Alex Ferguson moved quickly enough to ensure that United got their best centre-back pairing of all time by buying the Serb from Spartak Moscow. He also generously gave Vidic the chance of having to never play for that awful, vile, rancid, grotesque parody of a football club, Liverpool Football Club (note to Liverpool fans, this is an exaggeration for comic effect, please do not write in. Mainly because nobody will read your letters, emails or tweets).
Adapting to the Premier League in full mid-season flight was difficult for him, nonetheless, and it appeared that Vidic might indeed have been suited to the less able team on the coast. Despite the early struggles, Vidic formed a partnership with Rio Ferdinand that meant that whatever happened ahead of them, United would rarely concede. Confidence might have been given to the fans with Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney dismantling sides for fun, but the players themselves knew that their success was just as reliant on Vidic and Ferdinand, along with Gary Neville, Rafael, Patrice Evra and Edwin Van der Sar.
Injuries and age have taken their toll, and when he leaves, probably this winter, it will suit both parties, but that doesn’t mean his contribution should ever be understated.
Another winter success story is Patrice Evra, bought in the same window as Vidic. He also endured a miserable start to his career, falling apart in his first match at Manchester City. Alex Ferguson, however, knew that the left-back bought from Monaco was the man to replace Gabriel Heinze, who never truly recovered from a serious knee injury. For a season and a half there was a duel between two but Evra won out.
Evra proved himself to be United’s best left-back since Denis Irwin. He was an important counter-attacking outlet on the left wing, he was strong in the tackle and beguiling in speaking to the press. He told Frank Lampard to suck his pussy (admittedly before playing for United). He called Arsenal a small club. He outed Luis Suarez as a racist and stood him down every time they met afterwards, acting with dignity and pride. Patrice Evra is one of the few modern players to ‘get’ United, and the fact he was the best left-back in the world for a few years is simply a bonus to his zesty approach to life.
Heinze, for his part, tried to join Liverpool. United stopped him due to it likely to cause a nuclear war between the two sides, and Heinze suffered a miserable career afterwards, going on to live in cities like, er, Madrid, Marseille and Rome. In fact, United probably did him a favour. They should have made him live in Liverpool.
Saha was bought from Fulham in 2004, and despite his time being hampered by injuries (perhaps caused partly by poor diet – he appeared to only come around to vegetables in about 2006, giving a shout out to broccoli in an interview), Louis Saha was part of the squad that overhauled Chelsea and won the Champions League. It was Saha’s pace which provided Ferguson with the template to turn things around after years of struggle.
Ruud van Nistelrooy was proving increasingly fractious and was phased out by Ferguson in the 2005-6 season, with Saha his replacement. That season, Saha was chosen ahead of Van Nistelrooy in the League Cup victory, though United couldn’t prevent a Chelsea league victory.
That summer, Ferguson made his sole signing, Michael Carrick, and the doom was on for most fans. But it was a masterstroke. With Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs on the wings, and Wayne Rooney with Saha up front, Carrick and Paul Scholes launched counter-attack after counter-attack demolishing sides so regularly that United quickly established a lead in the league that they wouldn’t let go of.
The template was set, and embellished with signings like Anderson, Nani, Owen Hargreaves and Carlos Tevez. Without Saha, it might not have been clear to Ferguson how he could get back on his perch.
Best player ever, man.
Hilariously, hilarious hard man Neil Ruddock hilariously broke Andy Cole’s legs in a reserve match, what a hilarious man that hard man is. That hilarious man is now a joke in most people’s eyes, whereas Andy Cole overcame that obstacle, the signing of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and the dent to his confidence when Alex Ferguson pursued Alan Shearer in the summer to replace him, only to prove himself one of the best strikers in United’s history. He didn’t have the finishing of Van Nistelrooy, Robin van Persie or Solskjaer. Nor did he have the flair of Wayne Rooney or Eric Cantona. He had good link-up play and impressive finishing, but nothing spectacular.
What was spectacular was an almost telepathic relationship with Dwight Yorke. Ferguson hadn’t planned the partnership, but his penchant for rotating his strikers, including Solskjaer and Teddy Sheringham meant that the combination was going to happen at some point, and the two strikers created something so inexplicably perfect. While they might have failed to score in the final against Bayern Munich, it might be said that when it came down to the whole competition, they might not have unscrewed the lid, but they did a fucking good job of loosening it.
There are attempts to describe them that almost do them justice, but it’s just easier to watch this video.