As Manchester United slumped to an embarrassing draw with lowly Huddersfield in May, it had become blatantly obvious to anyone with an iota of football knowledge that they didn’t just need an influx of new players over the summer, they needed a complete overhaul of their squad.
As a disappointing season drew to a close, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer asserted that United would get their business done early so as to embed new players during their preseason tour of Australia.
Why then, with the transfer window closer to the end than the beginning, have they made just two signings in positions that weren’t even their top priority?
The dogs on the street knew that United needed at least one centre back and at least one central midfielder, yet with just a month left until their first game of the season against Chelsea and the closing of the transfer window, they haven’t signed anyone in either position.
United’s central defence is just not good enough. Yes, Axel Tuanzebe is returning from a loan spell at Aston Villa and Victor Lindelof has been greatly improved since his less than impressive first season, but they are not a Premier League winning defensive partnership. They’re arguable not even a top-six partnership.
United desperately needed a top-quality centre half and have already missed out on one of their top targets with Matthijs De Ligt set to join Juventus.
In their defence, it doesn’t seem like United could have done much to lure De Ligt to Old Trafford seeing as he has been the most sought-after defender in world football this summer. However, that shouldn’t have dissuaded them from going after other top targets like Kalidou Koulibaly or Samuel Umtiti.
Both players are exceptional defenders and would doubtlessly cost a small fortune, but that is what United must be prepared to pay if they want to challenge at the top level again.
United could also attain one of the Premier League’s best defenders for just £25 million in the form of Toby Alderweireld. Yes, Alderweireld is ageing and wouldn’t be able to give United more than two years of his best performances realistically, but his acquisition would allow players like Tuanzebe to learn and to grow without having huge pressure dumped on their shoulders.
It would also give United time to evaluate their defensive situation in a year’s time and assess whether or not they still need to bring in a centre back.
Instead, United put in a half-hearted bid for West Ham’s Issa Diop and haven’t returned with an improved effort, as well as submitting a bid for Harry Maguire well below Leicester’s valuation of the player. They continue to inexplicably chase the Foxes stopper despite the fact he will almost certainly cost nine figures for what would be an inferior product compared to Umtiti or Koulibaly.
It reeks of trying to appease fans by pointing to a smattering of failed bids and asking what more do you want us to do?
In midfield, the situation is arguably even worse.
The fact that they’ve allowed Ander Herrera, a regular in United’s midfield over the past five years, to leave on a free means that they’re actually operating at a deficit in the midfield department since the opening of the window.
If wantaway Paul Pogba gets his desired move to Real Madrid or Juventus, United will essentially need to sign three midfielders this window, and they only have four weeks left to do so. They have let extremely promising and attainable players like Youri Tielemans and Tanguy N’Dombele go to Leicester and Tottenham respectively without putting up any semblance of a fight to get them and are instead being consistently linked with a big-money move for Newcastle’s Sean Longstaff, who featured just 11 times for the Magpies last season.
Talented as Longstaff undoubtedly is, he is not the answer to United’s problems in the centre of the park. They need someone with proven quality to spark new life into a midfield that was so often listless at the tail end of last season. That doesn’t mean they can’t sign Longstaff; they just can’t make him their only midfield acquisition.
They have already signed Daniel James and Aaron Wan Bissaka and boast a host of extremely talented young players like Tuanzebe, Tahith Chong, Angel Gomes and Mason Greenwood in their ranks. But it would represent a gargantuan gamble if United were to solely rely on young players this summer and hope that they can instantly reach their potential.
United need leaders and experience just as much as they need youth and it is high-time Solskjaer stopped harking back to an outdated identity.
Signing Longstaff together with someone like Bruno Fernandes would signal genuine intent from United. The Portuguese international contributed 31 goals from midfield last season for Sporting Lisbon and would be the perfect tonic for a floundering United.
Granted, most of those goals were scored in Portugal where the competition isn’t exactly fierce, but 31 goals is more than double the tally any of United’s forwards managed last season.
Rather than getting that deal over the line, however, Ed Woodward is dawdling as he always does.
United have already touched down in Australia and any signings would now disrupt some of their preseason preparations. Signings are just one part of a two-pronged problem though. Fans would have expected deadwood like Alexis Sanchez to have been sent packing by now, especially considering Sanchez’s huge wages inhibits United from signing players, but they have failed to let anyone go save for Herrera, who happened to be a fan favourite.
Romelu Lukaku’s future is also uncertain, and should the big Belgian be sold to Inter Milan, United will need to sign a replacement, because they simply don’t have the depth up-front. United fans would probably settle for just two more acquisitions at this stage, having been led to expect at least half a dozen in May. However, if it ends up being Longstaff and Maguire, the Glazers face an even bigger cohort of disgruntled United fans.
They need big signings, both to ease the nerves of fans who expect them to plummet beyond sixth and to help settle a team that desperately needs leaders.
At the moment though, it looks like yet another bleak season ahead for those clad in United red and, unless something changes at the top, it could be just one of many that lie in store.