Back on 17 July it was reported that Manchester United CEO Ed Woodward had returned home from the pre-season tour of Australia on ‘urgent business’.
At the time, speculation was rife over which midfielder(s) United were going to splurge on with Barcelona pair Cesc Fabregas and Thiago reported as targets. Neither opted for Old Trafford yet the window would be open for a while yet which left plenty of time to successfully fill the gap in the squad, or so it seemed.
Whatever ‘urgent business’ Woodward had returned to Old Trafford on, it certainly wasn’t to wrap up a signing.
Fast forward six weeks and until the final few hours of the transfer window. United were still yet to confirm a signing to add to the early purchase of Uruguayan right back Guillermo Varela. That the seemingly inevitable deal for Marouane Fellaini was concluded so late only smacks of desperation. Fingers have been pointed directly at Woodward with questions asked of what exactly he had been been doing this summer.
That an initial bid of £28m for Fellaini AND Leighton Baines was made was ludicrous and rightly labelled as ‘derisory’. Few can blame Everton for rejecting the bid when it was way below their valuation of the two players. It should not come as much surprise that United were eventually made to sweat over concluding a deal at all when they begun proceedings with such an insulting offer.
Arguably, Woodward seems to consider securing sponsorship deals as more important than securing signings which is perhaps indicative of the way the club is being run. To recap, during the summer more sponsorship deals than player signings were announced including Kagome tomato juice, Federal tyres, Aeroflot, Pepsi and more.
Australian rugby league player, John Gibson once said that ‘in football, if you are standing still, you’re going backwards fast’. The quote rings true of this summer with United in a position of strength yet still with areas to strengthen.
Midfield was seen as the key area to bulk up yet only Fellaini came in. Granted, the Belgian will add some much needed steel to a midfield that was so easily muscled out on several occasions last year yet the signing seems a little underwhelming compared to some of the more stellar targets.
With Moyes keen to mould his own team, it was crucial that he was shown some trust in acquiring the targets that he wanted. In that aspect, the club has failed him.
One of the potential reasons why this transfer window will be seen as such an utter shambles is that despite the need for signings, so much of the negotiating seemed so embarrassingly public.
Take the Ander Herrera deal for instance. With time running out, the Spaniard actually looked to be helping out proceedings as reports suggested he was considering taking a pay cut to help finance his move to United. At face value, the transfer seemed relatively straightforward yet when the moment called for some decisive action, it was met with pussyfooting and delayed decisions.
We may never get to the bottom of what scuppered the deal yet with time running out, this was the ideal opportunity to show some balls and splash a bit more cash. Truth be told it should never have gotten this desperate. With such a transparent need for a midfielder perhaps, the last thing the club needed was to let it run into the dreaded pantomime that is transfer deadline day.
There was a time when United would conduct their business early, without fuss and without most of the media knowing about it. This was Woodward’s time to shine and while he may have been aiming to hard ball his way through knocking a few million off the Herrara deal, it ended in such farce that you wondered whether he has prior experience of negotiation such complex business dealings.
Remember that Herrera had a release clause yet the club were seemingly unwilling to pay the €6 million tax add-ons that a bit of prior research may have uncovered. Certainly, aiming to conclude the deal a few days in advance would have been preferable instead of allowing the transfer to unravel with such ease.
The whole escapade would end in claims that the men seen to be representing United at the LFP building were actually not associated with the club at all but the same lawyers who helped negotiate Javi Martinez’s move from Athletic Bilbao to Bayern Munich.
With little time in the transfer window remaining, it was little surprise when a deal for Fábio Coentrão fell through but that may have had more to do with Real Madrid pulling the plug than United’s slow movement.
A wishlist of targets including Thiago and Fabregas now seems far-fetched even for a club of United’s stature. That Fellaini has been secured is a relief yet when a deal to sign Herrera was allowed to result in such farce, you have to question what the club’s officials were doing.
The time for mourning the end of Sir Alex Ferguson’s tenure is over but if this summer’s dealings are anything to go by, then the mourning period for David Gill may continue.