“Get recruitment wrong and you’re f —- d,” was the blunt summary from a Manchester United director two years ago. United have gained a lot with their recruitment since, and the summer was their most spectacular transfer window.
Despite no new silver attraction at the museum since 2017 and a polarizing manager, United attracted Jadon Sancho, Raphael Varane and Cristiano Ronaldo in the same window. Under previous regimes, United had made two unsuccessful attempts to sign Ronaldo again and twice failed to buy Varane.
Their team is the best since their followers sang ‘Champions of England, Champions of Europe’ (and then the world) in 2008-09. Harry Maguire has had a European Championship hangover and Luke Shaw has not been optimal, but when the window closed, United possessed six world-class players. Maguire may have given up this status for now, but David de Gea has regained it.
In the first six years of Ferguson’s time, you could have counted the number of successful United acquisitions on one hand. Pervers, Daley Blind – a decent addition – was rejected by senior figures as an ‘un -United’ signing. Blind played some crushing football on the left back, had a fantastic season in the middle half and was flawless in the Europa League final 2017.
When Ole Gunnar Solskjær, Mike Phelan, Ed Woodward, Matt Judge and Mick Court kicked off United’s recruitment in the spring of 2019, Woodward settled at 70% as an acceptable hit rate for procurement. Solskjær is almost three years into its premiere meeting and has been present in six transfer windows.
The club has invested £ 463.32 million on 14 players at the time – almost £ 100 million more than spending during Jose Mourinho’s tenure and over £ 200 million more under Louis van Gaal. The average age for procurement has dropped to 23.5 under Solskjær, in line with United’s preferred age range of 23-28 years for new recruits.
Bruno Fernandes has been a transformative signing, without which United would not have qualified for the Champions League in 2020. Edinson Cavani has helped revive No. 9 in football, Maguire improved a United defense that had its worst season in 40 years, Ronaldo is already the top scorer and United have to feel the absence of the venerable Varane.
The success rate is still below 70%, even though there has not been a direct disaster on Solskjær’s watch. United discarded Daniel James, excellently in his first six months, with a profit of 100 percent. James cost a frugal fee of £ 15m, rising to just £ 18m. And would have had to have crossed as badly as Bebe to be called a ‘flop’.
United sought to replace stagnant Aaron Wan-Bissaka with Kieran Trippier this summer, and Diogo Dalot has returned as a credible right-back competitor. Wan-Bissaka, like Luke Shaw, takes a disproportionately long time to develop into a top-level fullback, yet Shaw had valid excuses in his first few years, not least the devastating double-legged fracture in Eindhoven.
Odion Ighalo gave short-term gain until the Covid-19 pandemic swept across Europe and became redundant after lockdown. Donny van de Beek has had such a disastrous 14 months that he is no longer in the Dutch squad, but as midfield is an urgent issue and Paul Pogba’s contract is nearing expiry, there is still little hope for Van de Beek.
Alex Telles topped in Paris on his debut, but at least Shaw shook, while Facundo Pellistri and Amad were not first-team-ready additions. Jadon Sancho has had an uninspiring start that was inevitable after a subdued summer and some pressure on Borussia Dortmund.
Maguire still tends to play better for his country than his club, and the amount of joy Cavani’s United career has been tainted by fitness issues. His run of 10 goals in 11 games in last season’s run-in could still be an anomaly, but his 2020-21 was as much a hit as he is with matchgoers.
United get it right more often than wrong.