When the transfer window drew to a close, United fans could scarcely believe what they were seeing, as despite a seventh placed finish the previous season, the Reds somehow (£££) were able to convince world-class operators in the form of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao that Old Trafford was the place for them.
The financial windfall would certainly soften the blow of sacrificing Champions League football for a season for those two, but the lure of the World’s biggest club and pitting themselves amongst the Premier League elite would have been as great an incentive as any.
Things may not have panned out quite as expected for the South Americans, with Falcao almost a certainty not to be made a permanent addition following just four goals so far, and if reports are to be believed, Di Maria’s latest slump in form has culminated in the Argentine too scrambling for the exit door.
That one presumably will be a little premature, with United’s record signing still a key figure for Louis van Gaal as he searches for the early form which brought the £60million signing three goals and the same number of assists during his opening five matches.
There are several reasons as to why two undoubted world superstars have failed to replicate former glory’s yet at Old Trafford, with Falcao returning from a lengthy knee injury, played with a strike partner rather than alone and Di Maria constantly changing position to name but a few.
Falcao will undoubtedly leave Old Trafford this summer, only to forget about the barren spell and the tears that have haunted him along the way, and once again score goals by the bag-load at another of Europe’s elite sides.
It’s not the first time United have brought in a world-class talent only to be disappointed with the results of course, with another South-American, Juan Sebastien Veron failing to set the world alight following his £28million capture in 2001. At that stage, Veron was at the height of his powers following both domestic and European success with Lazio, but was unable to produce the same magic in a United shirt, before being shipped off to Chelsea at a cut-price scarcely two years later.
Veron endured similar media attention and scrutiny as both Di Maria and Falcao have dealt with this season, forcing Sir Alex to lambast the English media when pressed on the issue. “On you go. I’m no fucking talking to you. He’s a fucking great player. Yous are fucking idiots.”
Almost exactly the same can be said of Falcao, still undoubtedly a phenomenal player who, like Veron – who reinvented himself and both domestic and international level, playing on until the age of 39 – is destined for further success in their career, but unfortunately fell flat at Manchester United.
Unlike Chelsea, Manchester City, Barcelona and Real Madrid etc, it’s in-fact quite a rare commodity for United to bring in talent of such a recognised calibre as this over the years, such was the overwhelming excitement and shock of landing two of World football’s most coveted names in Di Maria and Falcao. When we have done so, much like Veron or Falcao, we’ve been left shortchanged by not seeing significant return on our investment.
What United have always managed to do best though, to a remarkable degree in fact, is unearth raw talent, either domestically or otherwise and ensure those players are not only able to realise their potential, but to do so at Old Trafford, bringing phenomenal success in the process.
Sure the likes of Ruud van Nistelrooy for a princely sum of £19million – a British transfer record at the time – was another huge outlay, but the Dutchman’s signing represented a tremendous risk. Having been scouted meticulously by the club, the Dutchman had been due to arrive in Manchester a year earlier only for a cruciate ligament injury – much like Falcao’s, to hold up proceedings. Ruud’s strike rate was beyond question, but let that be known a phenomenal Eredivisie goal scoring record seldom translates to the Premier League – see Afonso Alves and Mateja Kezman.
Under Sir Alex wing, a 25-year-old van Nistelrooy was able to hone his skills at Old Trafford and continue his development, eventually blossoming into one of the club’s finest ever strikers as 150 goals in 219 appearances will tell you.
That’s where United have operated best over the years, pouncing on raw talent and polishing that into a mainstay for years to come, just look at Cristiano Ronaldo or Wayne Rooney for example, or the whole Class of ’92, or even most recently Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, not quite yet deemed to be of a world-class nature, but with obvious potential and increasingly looking like long terms fixtures under van Gaal.
United have acted in the same manner, perhaps to a larger degree in the domestic transfer market. This mightn’t have always involved picking somebody up at a young age, but opting for perhaps the less attractive option on paper, but undoubtedly the right fit for the club.
In 1998, Batistuta and Kluivert among others were linked with United, as was the case on an annual basis – long before Wesley Sneijder and a double-dose of transfer windows arrived – but instead, it was Dwight Yorke opted for by Ferguson to spearhead the attack. We all know how that one panned out that year. Yorke arrived at almost 27 years of age and a relative veteran of the English game after almost a decade spent at Villa Park, but his arrival along with that of Jaap Stam – another to fulfil his potential at Old Trafford – saw both player and club reach their next level.
In a similar vein, Michael Carrick was seen as a surprising, and for some, under-whelming choice to replace Roy Keane following his turbulent departure from the club in 2006, yet despite never even being fully recognised for his nation, has become integral to the United setup, even more so now at 33 years of age as he assumes the vice-captaincy role from the recently departed Darren Fletcher.
Di Maria may only be a shimmy, a step-over or a deft lob away from finding his feet and resurrecting his Old Trafford career, but for his South-American counterpart it seems like it might be curtains. Countless names will no doubt be thrown into the mix over the coming months, with world-class names and obscene sums likely to follow hand-in-hand. In Louis van Gaal we have a manager famed for developing and nurturing new talent and with the likes of Wilson and Januzaj still waiting for significant opportunity to shine under the Dutchman, will be eager to prove they can form able replacement for the once mercurial Colombian or anybody else the manager may look to offload during the coming months.
The signing of Falcao likely won’t have been Van Gaal’s choice, but understandably one which he would have given the green light having learned of the Colombian’s availability and desire to join the club. Ander Herrera, one of United’s stand-out players of the current campaign, frustratingly spent some time on the sidelines, stating recently he ran the risk of being at the manager’s wrath earlier in the season for constantly demanding the ball. After plenty of patience, Herrera now finds himself back among the first-team setup, with both he and the team thriving. That kind of versatility for United could be key. With huge names, come huge egos, less likely to be open to the idea of change or adapting to the philosophy. Perhaps that’s why van Gaal has been so successful in producing phenomenal young talent and young teams over the years, with the likes of Davids, Seedorf, the De Boers, van der Sar, Kluivert, Puyol, Xavi, Valdes, Iniesta, Muller and Alaba to name but a dozen who were able to take on his style from an early age.
If deemed good enough, Wilson and Januzaj will get their chance under van Gaal, much like McNair and Shaw in particular have been able to do so this season. Further investment is needed this summer if the squad are to become contenders, significant investment at that, but past big-name lessons, or lesser known success stories should lead to the manager investing in potential and shape the team the right way. It’s easier to write on a blank canvas after all.