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article imageMan United's transfer activity may hamper long-term success

By Tyrrell Meertins     Sep 5, 2014 in Sports
May 28, 2011 remains a significant date in Manchester United’s history. A warm sunny afternoon at Wembley originally centered around retribution, transpired into a humbling experience for Sir Alex Ferguson’s men.
A year where Manchester United comfortably regained the Premier League title –– welcomed the goal-scoring Mexican phenomenon Javier Hernandez, and witnessed Wayne Rooney develop into a world-class player –– spiraled downward in 90 minutes. Where United easily cruised past a declining Chelsea, and an underwhelming Schalke side, the Red Devils were convincingly battered by Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona.
The Catalan side flexed their superiority over the English champions two years prior, but the victory at Wembley was undoubtedly the greatest European Cup final performance in recent memory. That Barcelona group may arguably be the best team to ever play –– led by Lionel Messi, Andres Iniesta and Xavi –– and the contrast in overall quality was frightening.
United’s defeat served as a reality check.
Three European finals in four years was a remarkable feat, but Ferguson’s reluctance to build on the victorious side in Moscow consequently led to a slight regression; one that has reached the point of no return a few seasons later with David Moyes guiding United to a seventh place league finish.
Ferguson’s uncertainty regarding his future at the club resulted in short term fixes, opposed to meticulous plans for the future. United has failed to advance past the Champions League quarter-final stage since that heart churning defeat at Wembley, thus forcing fans to watch their beloved club get outplayed by highly technical sides across the continent.
Failure to find adequate cover in central areas for Paul Scholes and Owen Hargreaves – two key performers in United’s 2008 Champion’s League expedition – has left the Red Devils feeble in midfield, and Ferguson’s reluctance to rebuild disrupted their progression. Surely, United won a league title in his final season, but the arrival of Robin van Persie served as short-term solution.
Attaining world-class foreign talent didn’t come easy to Ferguson. The Scotsman often purchased proven or potential Premier League talent, but once he acknowledged that it would take several years to mount a legitimate challenge in Europe, Ferguson opted for retirement on a personal high; claiming another league title, this time snatching it away from rivals Manchester City.
We’re currently in the second season of the post-Ferguson era, and while there are signs of improvement under Louis van Gaal, United’s transfer policy hasn’t improved. The loss of experienced defenders in Rio Ferdinand, Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra have yet to be addressed, and the deadline day arrival of Radamel Falcao mirrors the short-term logic behind Van Persie’s transfer.
The mystifying decision to acquire Marouane Fellaini during the final hours of last year’s deadline day, combined with Juan Mata’s January move still appears quirky. And where the United board, and Van Gaal, had four months to modify their defence and midfield, they insisted on overspending for Angel Di Maria and Falcao.
The days of Ferguson maximizing a mediocre talent pool are behind us, but replicating the Scotsman’s post-2010 short-term moves would be bizarre. United’s recent business illustrates the clubs ambition; but their aim to return amongst England’s elite by throwing away money to suitors desperate to sell unsettled players, doesn’t prove that the Red Devils can attract world-class players.
Oddly, the only club interested in Di Maria –– PSG –– refused to pay the Argentine’s astronomical transfer fee, while various teams were reluctant to match Falcao’s crippling loan fee. In the end, United simply had to meet the clubs valuation and the players' requested wage fee to acquire their services.
Ferguson may have struggled to attract world-class talent to United, but to his defence, the Scotsman constructed a sensible plan for each move.
Breaking the British transfer record and acquiring a striker — returning from a six-month lay off after rupturing his anterior cruciate ligament — that’s straying away from his peak years feels similar to the arrival of Juan Mata. The compulsive January purchase of Juan Mata has yet to reap its reward, as the Spaniard looks disoriented in United’s setup.
Since Ferguson’s departure, United has diverted attention away from their poor work in the market by luring unwanted top talent to Old Trafford. Last year’s signings didn’t fit into United’s system, and while this summer’s marquee acquisitions bolster the quality in the side, they were unnecessary purchases.
United’s reluctance to fix their decade-old issue in midfield is a work in progress, but with all the money spent this summer, the fact that the club didn’t acquire a commanding presence in central areas is inconceivable.
Di Maria has joined Daley Blind and Ander Herrera in making the move to Old Trafford this season, improving a feeble midfield that’s far from a finished product. Blind and Herrera represent promising midfielders — the former enjoyed success with Van Gaal in Brazil, and was last year’s standout performer in Holland — but with Michael Carrick returning, the quartet would likely thrive in a three-man midfield. And while reports of Kevin Strootman joining the club in January have surfaced, the Dutchman would only leave an inclining Roma side for a hefty fee.
The decision to release experienced defenders in Vidic, Evra, and Ferdinand, has seen the club lose dressing room leaders andwelcome inexperienced youngsters in Marcos Rojo and Luke Shaw. United’s frail defence has been exposed on countless occasions in their opening four games, and while there’s a shortage in quality defenders in the modern game, the decision to resort to the rather shaky Rojo — who in fairness enjoyed a decent World Cup — is bizarre; certainly, the club wasn’t solely fixated on Thomas Vermaelen and Mats Hummels.
Likewise, Falcao’s loan move is also a gamble.
Possibly two years past his prime, the Colombian’s arrival has seen the ineffective Javier Hernandez and the versatile Danny Welbeck seek new pastures. Rooney has failed to match his new status as club captain with consistent top-class performances, while van Persie has been drastically underwhelming since Holland’s opening match against Spain.
Rooney’s diminished pace, along with his tendency to concede possession cheaply has restricted his performances upfront, whereas Van Persie isn’t receiving the direct service that resulted in three remarkable Premier League seasons. Competition between the three could prove beneficial, but it may leave one player on the bench, as a 4-3-3 only seems logical on paper, while shoving Rooney behind Van Persie and Falcao appears to be the likely option.
Equally, the Colombian’s move also leaves Juan Mata’s future in jeopardy, but if Falcao fails to deliver at Old Trafford it would force the club to likely spend more money to find an adequate third striker. Falcao, though, fits the mold of past United strikers, serving as the ultimate goalscorer, combing brute strength and pace to torment opposing defenders. But with the Colombian approaching 30, there’s no guaranteed longevity in United’s attacking options.
Without European distractions, failure to secure a top four spot would be a disappointment; though, outscoring the opposition is unlikely to serve as a successful silverware formula this time around.
United’s late summer transfer activity provides optimism at Old Trafford, but there appears to be no coherent plan for the marquee players, as Van Gaal is faced with the insurmountable task of finding balance and settling his side into his three-man defensive system.
Perhaps United may overachieve and claim silverware this season, but ignoring conspicuous issues within the squad risks further stagnation.
More about Manchester United, Radamel Falcao, Angel Di Maria, Louis van gaal, Old Trafford
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