Manchester United pay the price for complacency

Posted by Musa Okwonga


Of all the brutal verdicts that have been delivered on Manchester United's transfer market activity this summer -- and, thanks to Twitter, there have probably been millions -- that of Roberto Martinez was perhaps the most withering. The Everton manager, responding to a bafflingly meagre joint bid for two of his players, told the media: "I could give you half an hour about my views about how other clubs are being run and how they have not been able to do any deals despite looking all over the world."

Martinez said no more; he didn't need to. The facts would prove him brutally correct. Worse, at the time that he made this statement, Manchester United's attempt at signing players looked merely desperate -- by the end of deadline day it had ascended, via a crescendo of incompetence, into the firmament of high farce.

The details are well-known enough by now, so they will be only briefly recounted here. Manchester United were involved in all-too-public and chasteningly fruitless pursuits of Thiago Alcantara, Cesc Fabregas and Leighton Baines. They tried to sign Fabio Coentrao from Real Madrid on a season-long loan, but did not give the Spanish club sufficient time to find a replacement. They tried to sign Ander Herrera from Athletic Bilbao, a midfielder who would have been perfect for their needs in the middle of the field, but left it until the very last minute to submit a bid, and even then haggled needlessly over a non-negotiable release clause. They failed to sign another winger.

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Even their good business was tainted. They bought Marouane Fellaini, an excellent addition to the squad, a full month or two later than they could or should have, and having allowed his release clause to expire they ended up paying an extra £4 million for him. In bidding for players from his old club, David Moyes somehow managed to evaporate much of the goodwill that he had accumulated during more than a decade at Goodison Park. His comments that Everton were somehow holding back the careers of Baines and Fellaini by denying them a move to Old Trafford were unnecessary; more than anything, they were unkind. A manager must occasionally use sharp elbows to be successful, but this was a strange choice of battle to pick. It looked like a spiteful argument with a childhood friend.

Moyes, though, is not largely to blame for this overall state of affairs. The responsibility lies at the doorstep of chief executive Ed Woodward, for whom the last two months have been a slowly unfolding horror. Indeed, he would be forgiven for sitting in a rocking-chair somewhere with the curtains drawn. The worst indictment of Manchester United's priorities has been to watch, on one hand, the gleeful ease with which they have secured an endless line of commercial partnerships, and, on the other, the sluggishness and ham-fistedness with which they have sought to provide Moyes with the players that he needs.

If Manchester United's rivals had wished to plan the blueprint of the perfect transfer window, one in which the Old Trafford club would fail to maintain competitive advantage on the field and allow themselves to be ridiculed roundly off it, then they could not have designed one better. As misadventures go, this was as madcap as anything Charles Dickens dreamed up in The Pickwick Papers.

Perhaps the most worrying element in all of this is that Manchester United, for want of a better word, came across as complacent. They approached smaller clubs such as Everton and Athletic Bilbao with offers that, in the context of their negotiations, were offensive; and they did so in the apparent belief that they would eventually roll over, presumably because, well, they were Manchester United. Ed Woodward, in doing so, was wielding an orb whose power he did not create; the impression given was of a prince lording its inherited wealth over others. At times, it was an undignified sight.

Unfortunately, it is Moyes who is left with the greatest problem. The simple fact of the matter is that if club business had been focused more directly upon signing the players the squad needed instead of securing sponsorship packages all across the globe, then Moyes would be looking at a league table with far fewer serious threats than it now has. Of course, the positives are there. Fellaini was a fine purchase, and will add desperately needed presence to the midfield. And ultimately, this experience has hopefully been so harrowing that it will galvanise the club into being more proactive in their support of Moyes in future.

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