Every soccer fan went into the 2020 summer break with low expectations for transfers. Aside from the fact that every club in the world has had a reduction in income for reasons beyond their control, there was very little time to get things done. The gap between one season ending and the next beginning was less than a month, and that just isn’t enough time for a manager and board to sit down, reflect on what’s needed, and go out and get deals done.
For a time, it looked like we’d get a shock transfer when Barcelona’s Argentinian legend Lionel Messi tried to escape from his contract a year early, but the club’s owners informed him that his get-out clause has expired, and he’s now trapped at the club he once loved for what looks likely to be another challenging year. When the dust settled on that saga, no major moves for the world’s best-known and most valuable players – save for one who supposedly should have arrived at Manchester United by now.
As you’ll already know if you follow soccer, Jadon Sancho is touted as the best young player on the planet. He’s only twenty years old, but he’s already a regular in the Borussia Dortmund starting eleven, and also for the England national side. His club believes that he’s worth more than one hundred million Euros. Few would disagree with them, but Manchester United – or, more likely, Manchester United chief executive Woodward – does. While it’s generally understood that the player was keen to move home to England and was excited by the prospect of playing at Old Trafford, a deadline set by the German club came and went, and the move didn’t happen. There are some sources who claim that United are still trying to get the deal done, but the reality of the situation is that the season has now started, and any further movement is unlikely.
United’s pursuit of Sancho was understandable in terms of wanting to land a global megastar to capitalize on the fact that the club has returned to the European Champions League, but mystifying in the way that midfield is one of the only places on the park that they have no apparent need to strengthen. Manchester United already have Paul Pogba, Bruno Fernandes, Scott McTominay, Nemanja Matic, and Fred to call upon. Jesse Lingard is still at the club. Both Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial can play in midfield if needed, as can Mason Greenwood at a push. United’s problems lay in attack, where they lack an orthodox striker other than on-loan Odion Ighalo, and in defense, where they’ve looked shaky for years.
A few days ago, it was reported that Manchester United was pursuing Real Madrid left-back Sergio Reguilon to shore up that leaky defense, but at the time of writing, they appear to have lost out to Tottenham Hotspur in that race. There was also talk that United might be interested in Gareth Bale, who has long been surplus to requirements in Madrid, but he’s almost certain to return to Spurs as well. That leaves United’s only summer acquisition as Donny van de Beek – yet another midfielder who doesn’t have an obvious role to play in the team. United arguably over-achieved last season to qualify for the Champions League. Not shoring up their squad’s weakest areas in preparation for what will be a more challenging season ahead is disappointing from a fan perspective, and downright irresponsible from a club perspective.
Manchester United fans already know who they blame for their summer transfer failures, and it isn’t manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. It’s the aforementioned Ed Woodward, who continues to perform the role that a Director of Football should perform despite appearing to have none of the qualities that such a person should have. When Woodward attempts to negotiate a deal, fans’ general assumption is that the negotiations will end in failure. The Sancho deal was there to be done, with his club willing to sell, but it fell through. They were ahead of the queue to sign Reguilon, but they somehow slipped behind a club that isn’t in the Champions League next season. Something is very obviously wrong with the way that Manchester United try to go about their transfer business, and Woodward always appears to be the common denominator in these problems.
We won’t rule out the idea of United acquiring one or two more players before the window slams shut in a few weeks, but they’ll likely be dabbling in the online slots end of the transfer market. These are the moves that happen out of nowhere and have unpredictable effects. When the reels spin on online slots, anything could happen. The random outcome could bring you great riches, or nothing at all. We’ve seen Manchester United spin and lose with this online slots approach to transfers in the past when they overpaid to bring Radamel Falcao in on loan, or they overpaid for Angel di Maria. Both players were gone within twelve months, and the club was left counting the costs of those failures. It’s a wonder that the Glazer family – Manchester United’s ultimate owners – allow the situation to persist. It’s also a wonder that Solskjaer is able to function with so much turmoil going on above his head.
The cost of Manchester United’s lost summer will probably be a failure to finish in the top four this season. Liverpool, Manchester City, Chelsea, and Arsenal all look too strong. Tottenham might yet finish above them. At this rate, even the much-improved Everton and the always-ambitions Leicester City might push them down the table. From the highs of a month ago to the glum outlook around the club now, this hasn’t been a vintage four weeks in the history of Manchester United. The squad looks sparse, the fans are demoralized, the board is unpopular, and the manager must be wondering why he isn’t being supported after delivering such an unexpected third-place finish last time around. Complacency is a killer when it comes to soccer. If the people in charge of Manchester United believe that Solskjaer can deliver a second consecutive miracle, they may be about to receive a rude awakening.