Tick tock, the English summer transfer window closes at 5pm on Thursday, August 9. Just three weeks to go until the window “slams shut”, to follow the hype machine parlance.
The countdown to Jose Mourinho grumbling about Manchester United’s lack of transfers is likely to be yet shorter. Following United’s manager reported banking of a reported £400,000 a day for punditry on the RT channel, the coffers are yet to be fully opened by his regular employers.
Brazil’s Fred might have cost a £52m fee that is so far the highest fee paid by a Premier League club this summer, but he didn’t play a single minute for his country at the World Cup. Despite being fit to play, he could not dislodge either Casemiro or Fernandinho from Brazil’s midfield while neither had distinguished tournaments.
Beyond Fred, United’s additions stretch only to Diogo Dalot, a teenage full-back who played just six matches for Porto’s first-team and Lee Grant, 35, a decent reserve goalkeeper who spent last season backing up Jack Butland at Stoke.
— Manchester United (@ManUtd) June 21, 2018
In the signings of Felipe Anderson, a Lazio winger who at one point was permanently linked with United, and Borussia Dortmund’s Ukrainian forward Andriy Yarmolenko, even West Ham have had a far more exciting summer so far; Grant meanwhile looks far more a Hammers signing than the type who usually heads to Old Trafford.
In a largely quiet summer through the Premier League, Arsenal have signed five players, including Uruguay midfielder Lucas Torreira and a German goalkeeper with a decent reputation in Bernd Leno, to be the elite club undergoing the most obvious overhaul.
But for United it has been so far so underwhelming at a club where frustrated fans have long called for fresh blood and a clear out.
Marouane Fellaini’s new contract was not exactly a populist move, and the likes of Chris Smalling and Phil Jones, remnants from the Ferguson era, and Matteo Darmian have not been shifted out to make room on the payroll. Though Daley Blind’s return to Ajax could be the start of the exodus, some big-ticket items have already passed United by.
When Cristiano Ronaldo was asked on Monday whether Juventus had been the only interested party in taking him from Real Madrid, he replied with a simple “Si”.
Even if Mourinho and Ronaldo are not exactly bosom friends, Ronaldo might have fulfilled CEO Ed Woodward’s craving for a marquee signing but any dream of a prodigal return is now at its end.
— West Ham United (@WestHamUtd) July 9, 2018
Ronaldo departing Madrid means United are also far less likely to land Gareth Bale, someone far more to Mourinho’s tastes, and ahead of the World Cup, Antoine Griezmann, who last year appeared nailed on for a move to M16, used a high-budget, soft-focus short film to confirm his continuing allegiance to Atletico Madrid.
“I don’t know why he didn’t come to Manchester when I wanted him,” said Jose the pundit after Ivan Perisic scored in the final. Perisic is the player Mourinho was set on signing last summer, only for Woodward to refuse to pay £40m to Inter Milan. The winger would surely cost far more now, should he be available.
After last season’s grind to finishing an unconvincing second in both Premier League and the FA Cup, Woodward and United’s recruitment team have so far been unable to deliver anyone that might lift anticipation for 2018-19 and the challenge of unseating Manchester City.
There is no sign, just yet, that the club are not prepared to back a manager whose popularity levels hit their lowest point after United’s no-show in their Wembley final loss to Chelsea, but anyone paying attention to Mourinho’s modus operandi during transfer windows could not expect that he will be accepting of his squad in its current state.
Three years ago, Mourinho could not have been more explicit about his disgust with Chelsea’s recruitment policy, to prelude his second spell at the club coming to a fractious end amid, to quote the club’s official statement, a “palpable discord” where the manager frequently washed his hands of responsibility.
At United, his pitch for new recruits is not helped by his struggles in getting the best from the signings Woodward has pulled off.
The goal that Paul Pogba scored in the World Cup final probably increased his transfer value, but also revived questions of why United have not seen the Frenchman’s best.
Victor Lindelof, last summer’s central defensive signing, showed more for Sweden in Russia than his limited and shaky showings in red have suggested he can offer to his club. Alexis Sanchez, absented from the club’s US tour due to visa issues, has been a spare part since joining in January.
The areas which most obviously need to be refreshed: central defence, creative midfield, the right flank and full-backs to supplant thirty-somethings Ashley Young and Antonio Valencia, are yet to throw up clear and obvious candidates beyond Harry Maguire, who would cost well over £50m.
Alex Sandro, the Brazilian left-back that both Chelsea and United have chased, now looks to be headed for Paris Saint-Germain; Real’s Raphael Varane is way beyond reach after being the best defender in Russia; Jose Gimenez joined Griezmann in re-signing for Atletico.
The race is now on, with Mourinho bound to be a critical spectator if United’s attempts to get deals over the line fall short.