So far, so good for Manchester United in this summer’s compressed transfer window. In an off-season which has seen Liverpool make the early moves, welcoming five players – six if, as expected, Nathaniel Clyne’s transfer is completed this week – and Arsenal solve their long-standing issue in goal by bringing in Petr Cech, there is an eerie silence emanating for the north west ever since the justified excitement that greeted the arrival of Memphis Depay (above). But ever since the Summer That Must Not Be Named, that which featured imposters, paperwork screw-ups and the farcical pursuit of Cesc Fabregas the United chief executive Ed Woodward has managed to keep himself and Louis van Gaal outside the firing line.
Things are different now Louis van Gaal has had a season to settle in, bringing with him the muscle of experience and authority which is easy to imagine being thrust upon Ed Woodward during any meetings that might take place between the two over transfers. The opposite seemed to be the case in 2013 when an experienced, seemingly overwhelmed manager in David Moyes was paired with an inexperienced, seemingly overwhelmed chief executive, under whom the club were gleefully taken out for a ride by Barcelona, Real Madrid and Athletico Madrid. The broken pieces of that Ming vase-drop of a window have mostly been pieced back together: Marcos Rojo, Luke Shaw and Daley Blind now cover what might have been Fabio Coentrao’s spot, Ander Herrera has been safely brought on board and Cesc Fabregas’s effective but perhaps underwhelming tenure at Chelsea might have the Old Trafford boardroom breathing a sigh of relief.
The pursuit of Sergio Ramos, which yesterday was reportedly stepped up to a reported £42.5 million bid, would be threatening to turn into a Fabregas-shaped wild goose chase if it were not for the credible-sounding information that Ramos is determined to leave the Bernabeu. Make no mistake, the signing of the 29-year-old would be game-changer as far as United’s squad is concerned. Ramos, though he blotted his copybook somewhat with a scatterbrained performance in the Champions League semi final against Juventus, is an adept passer, a battle-hardened warrior and is laden with the kind of metallic charisma that United’s back line have lacked since Vidic and Ferdinand. He is a cut above Smalling, Jones and Rojo combined in the heart of defence and would instantly present a much steelier challenge to someone like Diego Costa. Watching those two battle it out in the Premier League would be akin to watching Vidic vs Drogba: The Rematch.
There is plenty of work still to do. Louis van Gaal has largely been quiet on the issue of players who are being targeted, but a month ago he told the club’s official website that a holding midfield player was a key position in his plans; the seemingly imminent arrival of Morgan Schneiderlin from Southampton is an acknowledgement that the 33-year-old Michael Carrick cannot do the job and his own and Daley Blind is more useful at left back. Schneiderlin may not be the marquee name that some fans will clamour for, but he had an impressive season under Ronald Koeman in 2014-15. He averaged just over 3 tackles per game, comfortably ahead of Carrick as he was with key passes. His percentage of duels won, however, falls slightly short of Carrick’s and it will be interesting to see how the 25-year-old Frenchman can assert himself physically in a United engine room that, with the exception of Marouane Fellaini whom Van Gaal prefers to play further forward, lacks size.
As well as the midfield shortage United need another striker to replace the ageing Robin van Persie. Javier Hernandez will return to Old Trafford following a frustrating season on loan at Real Madrid (did he really expect anything else?) but if Louis van Gaal did not have faith in him in before it seems unlikely that he will have changed his mind. Antonio Valencia will need competition at right back with Rafael’s rashness preventing him from seriously challenging the Ecuadorian. And of course, replacing David Gea, who at this point United appear to be holding on to by their fingertips, could present the challenge of trying to prise Hugo Lloris from Daniel Levy’s Tottenham at anything less than an exorbitant fee.
With the exception of Cech to Arsenal and possibly Liverpool’s capture of Firminho there has been a similar lack of blockbuster transfer action from United’s rivals. Chelsea and Manchester City of course have hardly been active, though City’s need for new blood is vastly more pressing than the Champions. It’s a safe bet that Louis van Gaal has made perfectly clear what he expects of Ed Woodward – the chief executive now has five weeks to make the deals happen. If he falls short, what he gets from van Gaal will make Sir Alex Ferguson’s hair dryer treatment feel like a pleasant summer breeze.