Manchester United: Scattergun transfers raise questions about strategy

Manchester United went into this transfer window apparently desperately wanting to sign a right winger, specifically Borussia Dortmund’s Jadon Sancho, but despite pursuing the England international for months, the 20-year-old remains in Germany.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would surely have also wanted a center back to plug a hole in a leaky defense but on Monday, the final day of the this year’s window, no player arrived who could play alongside either Harry Maguire, Victor Lindelof or Eric Bailly, none of whom have been particularly convincing three matches into a new English Premier League season.

As it has done on a number of occasions, United’s hierarchy seemingly hit the panic button on deadline day. In came veteran striker Edinson Cavani, a 33-year-old who last played competitively seven months ago because of injury problems.

Do United, currently 16th in the Premier League after two defeats in three, need a striker? If he remains fit, Cavani will certainly provide competition for Anthony Martial.

Cavani could be as impactful as Zlatan Ibrahimovic, another star striker who joined United in the autumn of his footballing career. The Swede went on to score 28 goals in the 2016/17 season before a cruciate ligament injury derailed his campaign.
But the worry among United fans is that Cavani could equally be another Radamel Falcao, a striker who had a history of injury problems and arrived on loan on deadline day in 2014. The Colombian scored just four goals in 29 appearances.

Solskjaer was predictably upbeat about the free transfer of Cavani, a man who has won plenty in a glorious career and is Paris Saint-Germain’s record goalscorer.

“He’ll bring energy, power, leadership and a great mentality but most importantly he’ll bring goals,” said the Norwegian.

There were other deadline day signings for the club, too. Left-back Alex Telles arrived from Porto to bolster Solskjaer’s options in another problematic position, while teenager Facundo Pellistri was bought from Atletico Penarol and a deal was agreed to sign another teenage winger, Amand Traore, in January. These signings are in addition to Donny van de Beek, the Dutch midfielder who was purchased last month.

Ahead of Sunday’s 6-1 defeat by Tottenham Hotspur, Solskjaer told Sky Sports: “Other clubs have a way of running, we have our way of running our club.

“And of course, I’m very happy working with the players I’ve got. But also, the part of the job is to improve the squad all the time, and so far I’ve been backed. We are working hard to be competitive again, amongst the best.”

But the flurry of deals on Monday have led many to ask why the signings weren’t completed weeks, or even months earlier, if they were indeed the players United wanted the most.

English newspaper the Daily Telegraph proclaimed on Tuesday: “Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has been thrown under the bus by a hierarchy no good at buying and selling, and unable to identify the right players.”
“Manchester United lack leadership and transfer PR fixes won’t change that,” wrote the Guardian, while the Manchester Evening News described the October 5 acquisitions as “desperate deadline day dealings.”

Rivals strengthen and improve

United’s scattergun transfer approach certainly hasn’t created a wave of optimism. Mainly, because the club has a history of failure in this department since the retirement of former manager Alex Ferguson in 2013.

It is not only that United’s signings over the last seven years have failed to help secure an EPL title or a Champions League trophy, many have also been purchased at eye-watering prices, resulting in sometimes astronomical wages.

According to European football’s governing body UEFA in a 2018 report, United had the highest wage bill in the EPL and the fourth-highest in Europe, while also having the second-most expensively assembled team on the continent.

Maguire is the world’s most expensive defender, but is not regarded as the world’s best in his position. Romelu Lukaku was bought for around £75 million ($97 million) but is now playing for Inter Milan, as is Alexis Sanchez, a striker who arrived at Old Trafford to much fanfare but departed having scored five goals in 45 appearances.

Ed Woodward. Manchester United's executive vice chairman.

The people at the center of most fans’ ire is executive vice chairman Ed Woodward and American owners, the Glazer family. “Glazers out Woodward out,” are familiar words written on banners by fans in the last year especially.

The Man Utd teenager who is a superstar in the making

Responding to fan disgruntlement before the start of the season, Woodward defended the club’s transfer policy and pointed to the financial impact the global pandemic has had on clubs.

But following that 6-1 capitulation at home against Spurs, the pressure has increased even further on the hierarchy, Solskjaer and the players.

A number of rivals have strengthened and improved. The EPL is more fierce and unpredictable than ever.

Can United’s new signings help the club not only close the 30-point gap which was between Solskjaer’s men and last season’s EPL champion Liverpool, but also stave off the teams that were in their rearguard last term?

The early signs are ominous, but only time will tell whether the doomsters and the gloomsters are right.