After yet another chastening defeat at Old Trafford, the $64,000 question is “where do Manchester United go from here?” The fanbase seems to be in unanimous agreement that they have to spend big this summer and reinvigorate a stale squad with proven talent already at its peak level. The real issue is whether or not David Moyes is the man United should trust with overseeing the forthcoming transfer splurge.
The consensus again seems to be in favour of immediate and drastic change. Few if any seem convinced that Moyes should be allowed to spend a nine-figure transfer kitty and, it must be said, with good cause: not only has he signed questionably during his short United tenure but his spending at Everton hardly showed the sort of acumen that is needed at Old Trafford.
At Goodison Park, he spent club record fees on James Beattie, Andy Johnson, Yakubu Aiyegbeni and Marouane Fellaini. Only the latter made the Toffees a profit when re-sold, while the three strikers displayed their best only intermittently. Big money was also spent on Diniyar Bilyaletdinov, a Russian winger with exciting potential but one who ultimately failed, performing inconsistently before becoming homesick and returning to Moscow. Not a glittering record.
One may argue that buying players for Everton is a different prospect to signing them for Manchester United. After all, we are talking about players in different categories of ability, stature and achievement. However, the overall principle is the same – or, at least, it will be this summer.
Always in a league below their rivals financially, Moyes’ Everton looked for diamonds in the rough, hence the ‘state of the art’ scouting tools and extensive use of statistical analysis when it came to identifying targets. If Moyes was to pursue the best-known players who were obviously of sufficient ability, he would face competition from other, richer clubs of the same standing and the player would go to the one that offered him the most money – i.e. not to Everton.
Something similar faces Manchester United this summer: not in the Champions League and potentially not in Europe at all, the trump cards they hold are firstly that their name and history carry significant import and secondly that recent commercial deals allow them to offer elite-level wages despite a presumably temporary dip below the elite level in competitive terms.
Even so, if and when the game’s top players become available they will choose the team that offers them the best all round package. Toni Kroos and İlkay Gündoğan are two big-name targets that have been linked with summer moves and Moyes seems set on making bids for at least one of them. Signing either, however, is probably going to prove impossible.
Should United meet the asking prices set by Bayern Munich or Borussia Dortmund, it is inevitable that the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, Real Madrid, Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco will come in and take the player away themselves, offering at least the same as United in salary but also promising greater prospects of professional success.
It is also worth considering that, for all its cultural delights, players are probably more likely to turn their nose up at Manchester when Monaco is on offer. When all other considerations are more or less the same, simply having a far sunnier climate could swing it in the principality’s favour – and this is before mentioning any tax benefits on offer.
It follows then that top-class talent will only be available to Manchester United should one of Europe’s giants sell it to them directly, as in the case of Juan Mata, or if they all pass on the chance to sign it themselves. For all the bluster about world-class targets, United will be continuing their recent policy of buying players with potential rather than proven product. We can expect more Phil Joneses to come in and fewer Juan Matas.
With stellar talent unlikely to be coming in, it becomes crucially important to make the correct managerial choice. Without the best talent on hand to blitz the opposition by playing the same game as them but better, the only way to win will be by innovating.
The usual suspects have all been named but they can all be ruled out pretty easily: Louis Van Gaal – too brash; Jürgen Klopp – too loyal to Dortmund and too patriotic to leave Germany in any case; Frank De Boer – too obviously-going-to-Barcelona; Diego Simeone – too ‘flash in the pan’; André Villas-Boas – too unpopular in England; Sir Alex Ferguson – too ridiculous to even dignify with a response.
There is, frankly, no obvious candidate. Before you know it, you’re scratching your head and wondering whether Harry Redknapp’s gung-ho 4-4-2 would please the Old Trafford crowd enough to countenance the fact that he would inevitably spend the majority of the Glazers’ borrowed money on Peter Crouch, Jermain Defoe, Nigel Quashie and some Eastern European journeyman whose name he has already forgotten simply because there was a bung on offer.
All jokes aside, the Glazers should gamble on a trailblazing young candidate who can come in and do at United what Johan Cruyff did at Barcelona, what Brendan Rodgers is doing at Liverpool and what even Chelsea are doing at youth level with Michael Emenalo at the helm. Someone like Roberto Martínez – but not Roberto Martínez.
Once the standard bearer, United are now also-rans when it comes to the quality and modernity of football on offer. It was obvious as long ago as 2009 that their playing style was outdated and that others with better ideas would leave them looking silly before too long. Since the Rome Champions League Final, they have been routinely exposed as short of ideas not just individually but also collectively.
The arrogance and determination that Alex Ferguson instilled in his players – the decisive factors that carried them above and beyond their limited capabilities for so long – is now long gone. Under Moyes, there is not a single redeeming feature in United’s play.
If Manchester United is to return to the upper echelons of world football and to do it soon, their fate rests not in the hands of their incumbent manager but in those of Edward Woodward and of the Glazers. Between them, they will have to find the right manager with the right philosophy and the right players, while shifting a hell of a lot of deadwood – and all of this at the same time. An unenviable task, certainly, but not an impossible one.
So while Old Trafford is a miserable place to be at the moment, and could yet remain this way for some time, there is, if you look hard enough, a huge chance sitting there waiting to be taken. If the right innovator comes in, there is no reason why United cannot use their financial power to take his ideas and elevate the club to another level. As Lisa Simpson once said, “the Chinese use the same word for ‘crisis’ as they do for ‘opportunity’.”
Who is the right innovator? I’m not sure. Let’s call Ed Woodward.