It wasn’t long ago when there was real optimism from those involved with Manchester United regarding the direction of the club.
After a 2019/20 season during which the Red Devils finished in third place to qualify for the Champions League and reached three semi-finals as well, there was a growing belief that the club was finally moving forward.
But a big summer awaited. It was an opportunity for United to bring the appropriate players in to help them close the gap on the top two. There was a real need to act efficiently, offloading the players who didn’t have a future at the club in order to raise funds and make space for new arrivals.
It had initially looked like the Red Devils were changing their ways for the better – but fast forward to the close of the window, and any cautious optimism that once existed has now vanished into thin air.
Man Utd made it abundantly clear that Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho was their number one target as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looked to bring in a right-winger. Indeed, not only had they identified him as the priority signing, but they were also confident that they were going to secure his signature.
Even when United didn’t acknowledge Dortmund’s supposed 10 August ‘deadline’ to wrap up a deal for the 20-year-old, the Premier League giants thought a deal would still be done. Throughout the summer, United fans from around the world continued to aggressively scroll through their Twitter timeline with the hope of seeing some form of movement with regards to the Sancho deal – and there were moments of excitement.
Sancho had agreed personal terms and was keen on the move, while the issue of agent fees had also been resolved. This understandably led to greater excitement that United would get their man….eventually.
And the reality is, the deal was there to be done. All Man Utd had to do was give Dortmund what they wanted.
Now, let’s not be mistaken. It is reasonable that United were uneasy about the idea of forking out £108m on one player during the current financial climate, but this wasn’t just any player. This was the player they had identified as being the man who could help take the club to the next level – for a long time. And if that wasn’t enough, there was also the fact that Sancho bagged 20 goals and 20 assists in all competitions last term and is widely regarded as one of the most exciting players in European football.
All at the age of 20.
United had committed to the idea of signing the Dortmund forward, so much so that it reached a stage where doing anything other than getting him to sign on the dotted line would be considered a failure. Indeed, this has very much proven to be the case.
But on a broader scale, Man Utd’s overall transfer strategy this summer has been nothing short of a failure. Their arrogance and incompetent approach to doing deals was brutally exposed, as they were forced to scramble for signings on Deadline Day.
Sure, Donny van de Beek was an excellent addition (even if he isn’t being given the chance to shine at the moment), but his arrival at Old Trafford was more due to Real Madrid‘s inability to follow through with their plans to sign him rather than the excellent work of United’s negotiating team.
But his addition provided the club with the springboard they needed to kickstart their summer activity and strengthen the squad. Instead, the Red Devils continued to play their arrogant game with Dortmund, while also failing to look for any buyers for their unwanted fringe players.
The message from Dortmund regarding Sancho had been clear all along. Man Utd simply should have had contingency plans in place in case they were unable to secure his signature – but their activity towards the end of the window and on Deadline Day highlighted the lack of planning at the club with regards to their strategy.
It became increasingly clear that Barcelona’s Ousmane Dembele was being considered by United as an alternative to Sancho – but the Red Devils were only ever keen on a loan. Meanwhile, Barça were yep, you guessed it, looking to offload him permanently.
Deadline Day saw United try to secure the services of Dembele on loan, but they proved unsuccessful. Reports even began to emerge that United were considering making an offer to sign the Frenchman permanently, while they were also even looking into the possibility of doing a loan deal (with a fee) without a medical involved.
Just let that sink in for a second.
How could Man Utd let themselves reach that position? It’s simply unacceptable, especially for a club of their size.
The Red Devils actually made four senior signings on Deadline Day…which in itself highlights their lack of planning. Staying with wingers, the club opted to bring in 18-year-olds Facundo Pellestri fromPenarol for €10m and Amad Diallo Traore from Atalanta for around €20m (although he will join in January) – potentially rising to €42m with add-ons.
Both are exciting young talents and could fulfil their potential at Old Trafford, but the damage had already been done.
The club also signed free agent Edinson Cavani and Alex Telles from Porto. Cavani will bring experience, leadership and most importantly, goals. While he may be 33 and will undoubtedly be earning a fair amount at the club, there is no denying that he is an upgrade on Odion Ighalo – which is what the club needed.
But again, the same old issues persist.
The move for Cavani simply popped up last minute as United looked to salvage their summer activity, rather than the club acting on their longstanding interest for a top target. This isn’t to say the striker isn’t a useful addition, but rather it simply once again exposes the club’s distinct lack of planning.
As for Telles, he is a good addition at the back and is the type of character Solskjaer is looking for within his squad. But the arrogant approach in the negotiations almost cost them the deal, in a similar way to how Chris Smalling’s permanent return to Roma almost fell through as well.
Man Utd must accept that their stature and size doesn’t give them the right to dictate negotiations and interpret messages however they wish. It may have worked (just) with Telles and Smalling, but they were left with egg on their face when it came to landing their number one target.
Solskjaer has helped the club take steps forward since his arrival, both on and off the field, and he should have been backed by the board during the transfer window to give him the best chance of taking the club to the next level. Instead, they didn’t land Sancho and more worryingly, haven’t even addressed the right-wing issue properly.
On top of that, they have also shown an arrogance and incompetence during the window that has backfired on them in a big way. It appeared as though things were finally beginning to change at Old Trafford for the better, but their clumsy approach to the summer window suggests that’s far from the case.