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Manchester United’s summer transfer window

When last season finished, roughly 14 years ago, Manchester United were looking alright. They’d finished third in the league, reached the semi-finals of the three cups they were in, and the mood around the club was 100 percent happy vibe. Ahahahahahahahahahaha!

As such, what they needed from their summer’s work was clear: a better centre-back than Victor Lindelöf, a better midfielder than Nemanja Matic and a right-winger ready for the first XI. Somehow, though they have acquired five players in that time, they have skilfully avoided filling all three of gaps while selling just one drain on resources; Chris Smalling, who is a better centre-back than Victor Lindelöf. Which is to say that, even by the standard it’s been a weird one, like seeing a man whose house has burnt down and buying him a lawnmower, a new suit and a Sopranos box set.

United let in 36 league goals last season – only Liverpool and Man City conceded fewer – and just 10 in the 18 games after they got good. But it was clear that their defensive record was better than their defending – against Sevilla, when it mattered, they collectively collapsed – and that Lindelöf and Harry Maguire made form sort of partnership, given a shared aversion to concentration and running fast. Moreover Maguire’s right-footedness meant that he struggles to open up the left side of the pitch, while outside him, Luke Shaw lacks the speed and awareness to cover the space. It is fair to wonder whether Maguire’s principled distaste for Greek police and intellectual suspicion of Greek civilisation are still bothering him, but even in that context his start to the season has been hilariously inept – yet no new partner has arrived.

It’s true that United have addressed the left-back situation, acquiring Alex Telles from Porto. Despite the topknot, he should at least offer some attacking threat, but he too lacks the pace to cover behind Maguire, so may also mean he struggles when isolated by wingers who are quicker than him. At 27, he’s unlikely to improve much, but on the other hand he knows his game and should, at the very least, be useful against teams who sit back – though it’s not entirely clear who’s expected to head home the crosses he swings over.

The addition that would make the most difference to how United play is a midfield anchor man with passing ability and legs, allowing them to control games, protect the defence and push two midfielders forward – but none were on the agenda. However Donny van de Beek is a really good signing, partly because he mitigates against any injury to Bruno Fernandes – previously the most calamitous event that could befall the squad – and also because he is a fine player in his own right. Given he’d had a pre-season where Paul Pogba had had corona, why he has yet to start a league game is is unfathomable, but unless there are no consequences for a 6-1 home edging by Spurs, should now find his way into the team.

United hoped that Jadon Sancho would fill their right-wing hole, but baulked at paying what they said they’d pay, so poached Facundo Pellistri from Peñarol and Amad Traoré from Atalanta, the latter to arrive in January. Both are meant to be good and, given the Glazer family’s disinterest in compromising personal dividends for the sake of sporting glory, represent the club’s best route back to relevance: buy the best young players and hope they develop properly so that in a few years, there’s a decent team. And if not, not.

Oh, and then there’s Edinson Cavani, another signing that makes some but not ultimate sense. As adults, we don’t care what number he wears on his back, and United could absolutely use a better replacement striker than Odion Ighalo. Given his pedigree and drive it’s also fair to assume that he’s not arrived to simply sit around and get paid, and if things don’t work out, well, he was free and they’re only stuck with him for a year. But concluding the deal in the final few days of the window, when he had been available since June and hasn’t played in months, suggests not a plan but a panic, and quite when he’ll be fit enough to play is unclear – problematic, given Anthony Martial is suspended for the next three domestic fixtures.          

When all’s said and done, it’s impossible to gauge what’s what – who’s “had a good window” in the depressing parlance of our time – until the players … play. But because United’s behaviour can be evaluated according to those they haven’t signed, it is clear that the portents are not great. Ahahahahahahahahahaha!

Daniel Harris


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