Devils in a dither

One league game, one humiliating defeat, one unnecessary signing. Panic in the air?

That’s been the story so far this month as Manchester United attempt to build on a late season surge that took them back among the Big Boys and renewed hope for their long-suffering fans.

But that optimism is already disappearing as rivals strengthen and United dither. A midweek Carabao Cup win at Luton did little to placate those desperate for holes to be plugged.

Indeed, the presence of chief negotiator, Matt Judge, in the stands only succeeded in riling them even more.

With no one from the Championship minnows a likely candidate for scrutiny, opinions divided on whether the deal maker was wasting his time or – even worse – still assessing where United need reinforcements.

These have been glaringly obvious for a season now and it’s not that they haven’t tried to find them. As always, they’ve been linked with entire battalions but recruited only Donny van de Beek for midfield where they already had a surplus.

Their pursuit of Jadon Sancho has been going on for months but Borussia Dortmund are playing hardball over their £100m asking price.

United’s ‘strategy’ seems to be that Dortmund will cave in as the transfer deadline draws near.

But many Devils worry if it could be United who blink first and, not for the first time, pay over the odds for fear of ending up with no one.

Although Sancho possesses a certain maverick stardust, fans fear that if £100m goes on him, there’ll be nothing left to buy a centreback which, everyone agrees, is a much greater priority.

Leftback is another and having missed out on Sergio Reguilon, who has gone to Spurs, they feel they are being held to ransom by Porto who have jacked up the price for Alex Telles.

The Devils baulked at the €60m asking price for the best available in that position, Dayot Upamecano, of RB Leipzig.

Cash, then, is a factor which makes it surprising they didn’t try harder for Gareth Bale who returned to Spurs on loan with Real Madrid still paying half his £600k a week salary. Now 31 and injury prone, he might have solved the rightwing problem.

There is a pattern developing here – and a sense of dejavu – in missing out on prime targets. Jack Grealish was supposed to be a done deal but the highly rated young England playmaker opted to stay with Aston Villa.

But what would have hurt most of all was Liverpool taking Thiago Alcantara from Bayern Munich for just £25m.

As has recently been revealed by The Athletic, the Spaniard was meant to be Alex Ferguson’s ‘leaving present’ to David Moyes back in 2013.

Terms were agreed until Moyes decided he didn’t know enough about the player and called it off. He bought Marouane Fellaini instead.

To think that all this time, they could have had that laser passing and GPS football brain instead of a mop with elbows.

And there’s more – or less. Wilfried Zaha, whom United did sign before Fergie left, was never given a chance by Moyes amid false rumours about an affair with the manager’s daughter.

United signed only Juan Mata besides Fellaini as Moyes and new executive vice president Ed Woodward found the going tough.

Moyes did not last the season while Woodward, who could sell ice baths to polar bears in the commercial world, struggles to get footballers to put pen to paper.

Although he has since presided over £80m plus deals for Paul Pogba and Harry Maguire, Woodward has never shed that reputation of not being a football man – and missing open goals. He even let Jurgen Klopp slip through his fingers.

And when it comes to the transfer market, manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer is not the man he was in the six-yard box.

He couldn’t even get his own compatriot, Erling Braut Haaland, the hottest young player in Europe, to join. It was the biggest transfer miss of last season.

United’s head honchos, even though Woodward takes more of a back seat on transfers now, fail to inspire the same kind of confidence.

And fans can’t be sure they won’t get to the final week of the transfer window and spend whatever it takes on someone they don’t really need.

Maybe there are other solutions. Eric Bailly could make a partner for Maguire if he could stay fit. Was Judge at Luton to take another look?

And the news that fans won’t be allowed for six months could affect even the Glazers’ balance sheet – of all the clubs, United are predicted to lose the most – an estimated £141m.

United’s decision to delay announcing their next set of financial results until after the deadline could be ominous – it spares Woodward of answering awkward questions from investors while the transfer window is open.

No matter how this is viewed, Manchester United, once an irresistible magnet for every kid in football, have lost their pulling power.

Another season of mediocrity looms but then a panic buy could just be brewing.

 

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.