It will take some considerable man-management from David Moyes to lift his players after a farcical summer of transfer activity from the champions
Embarrassing, farcical, laughing-stock. Go on the internet, type in Manchester United and these are the words you’re most likely to see when you hit ‘enter’. Not exactly what United fans are used to. But after a summer of transfer activity for the Champions which went from slowness, to frustration, then to ridicule before finishing comfortably in humiliation, they’d better get used to it for the next few weeks.
After defeat to Liverpool on Sunday, David Moyes described his team’s performance as the “best we’ve played all season”. As a piece of spin, it was unconvincing to the point of ludicrous as United were bullied around Anfield by a faster, better organised and more physical Liverpool side. His chief executive Ed Woodward has been treated rather in the same manner. The new boy has been well and truly kicked around the playground.
The reality is Woodward was a matter of minutes away from having the young Uruguayan Guillermo Varella as his one and only signing of the summer, before Marouane Fellaini hopped into his car after training and arrived at Old Trafford still in his Everton tracksuit. If being taken to school by Barcelona and having Thiago Alcantara jump into the arms of Pep Guardiola wasn’t embarrassing enough, Woodward’s deadline day slapstick will haunt him.
Firstly, if the reports are to believed, Real Madrid offered Mesut Ozil to Manchester United a week before deadline day, but United turned him down. Ozil had also reportedly preferred a move to Old Trafford. But he was ignored, either because Woodward thought he was overpriced, or because Moyes had his sights set firmly on Fellaini. Either way, it feels like a missed opportunity to say the least.
Secondly, impostors and excuses aside, United’s bid to bring in Ander Herrera was derailed because Woodward thought that a £30.5 million buy-out clause was an excessive amount and offered around £4 million less. Yet, by paying Everton £27.5 million for Maruoane Fellaini, the club paid near enough £4 million more than Fellaini’s buyout clause.
Finally, a last-minute loan deal for Real’s left back Fabio Coentrao fell apart, apparently because Woodward, er, couldn’t get the paperwork together in time.
At this point the joke turns serious for Manchester United, because it demonstrates that there is absolutely no room for inexperience in the cutthroat world of multi-million pound football transfers. Woodward, who would do well to avoid the internet for the next few days, has shown up United as a club who, for the moment at least, are passed over by players, bullied by some clubs and led up the garden path by others.
Moyes will be aware that in succeeding Sir Alex Ferguson he would have to deal with the fact that his competitors instinctively would see United as a weaker club under his command. Battling against a weakness outside of his control, he would know that to keep Manchester United as powerful as they were under Ferguson he would need an experienced, confident operator above him. Like David Gill.
United’s poor performance against Liverpool might be Moyes’s fault, but the blame for Black Monday lies squarely at Woodward’s door. Publicly, David Moyes has kept a brave face and not muttered a word against Woodward but privately, he will be seething. Some have accused Moyes of being unrealistic in his targets but it is difficult to escape the feeling that if the Scot had Gill above him, at least one of Fabregas, Ozil, or Thiago Alcantara might now be holding a Manchester United shirt.
Moyes is now charged with dealing with the hand he has been dealt. He will need to convince Patrice Evra that his still has faith in the defender; a difficult task considering the failed moves for Coentrao and Leighton Baines. He may need to reassess his current thinking on Shinji Kagawa, who remains marrooned on the bench behind the unconvincing Tom Cleverley and most critically, turn Wayne Rooney from disgruntled prisoner into the snarling adrenaline-bomb he once was.
Woodward, for his part, will be keeping a close eye on the door of his office. Because if Manchester United’s season ends badly, rest assured that the Glazers will be kicking it down.