The Red Devils have spent big to try and break back into the top four, sanctioning over £150 million in deals to recruit Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao and moreLife after Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill is still proving difficult for Manchester United. Ed Woodward came dangerously close to overseeing another summer of woeful disappointment in the transfer market before sanctioning over £100 million in spending over the final fortnight to provide Louis van Gaal with some much needed squad reinforcement.
Goal assesses where the Dutchman has been left by a summer in which United broke records in a bid to return to the rarefied air of the Champions League.
The arrival of Radamel Falcao on a lucrative deadline day loan deal may have been the one to get United fans salivating, but Angel Di Maria is unquestionably the best player to move to Old Trafford this summer.
At £59.7 million the Argentine was vastly overpriced, but Louis van Gaal has acquired the man perhaps more decisive than any in Real Madrid’s defeat of city rivals Atletico to win la Decima in May, as well as arguably the second most important player behind Cristiano Ronaldo at Santiago Bernabeu last season.
Di Maria boasts a professionalism and work rate that would shame footballers with a fraction of his talent. He has also refined his game in recent years to the point where he is capable of being decisive almost anywhere across the midfield, and versatility will be a valued attribute as Louis van Gaal’s Old Trafford revolution gathers pace.
Real Madrid may well regret selling him. United won’t regret signing him.
For the majority of football supporters, last summer’s World Cup provided the first opportunity to get a good look at Daley Blind.
Yet in scouting terms it may also have been a bit of a red herring – Van Gaal deployed Blind as a left wing-back for the Netherlands but, with Luke Shaw and Marcos Rojo also arriving at Old Trafford at great cost this summer, this is unlikely to be his regular position for United.
Blind is most comfortable as a defensive midfielder. He lacks elite pace but possesses a good understanding of the game and the kind of polished technical skill set demanded from any of Ajax’s best academy graduates.
Moving from the Eredivisie to the Premier League will be a big step up, however, especially if United’s ongoing injury crisis forces Van Gaal to play his £14m man as a central defender to begin with.
Blind is a promising talent but the jury remains out.
|PLAYER THEY SHOULD HAVE SIGNED|
Cesc Fabregas and Toni Kroos would both have been excellent signings for United, but neither were attainable for Ed Woodward as soon as Chelsea and Real Madrid became involved. And while a fit Arturo Vidal would bolster any midfield in the world, United’s greatest need this summer was in defence.
The list of top quality ball-playing centre-backs who were realistic targets for Woodward this summer is a short one. Mehdi Benatia, however, stands out. Bayern Munich didn’t move to sign the Morocco international for £21m until late in the transfer window and with no World Cup commitments, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to suggest that United could have stolen a march on their rivals if they had been more decisive in their identification and pursuit of targets.
Benatia’s stock has risen sharply in the European game since joining Roma from Udinese in July 2013, and the 27-year-old was a key figure as Rudi Garcia’s men pushed Juventus surprisingly close in the Serie A title race last season.
Strong, reasonably quick and comfortable on the ball, Benatia possesses the attributes to succeed in any major league. His age and profile would also have made him a welcome addition to a United defence desperately short of leadership and experience.
|PLAYER THEY WILL MISS MOST|
United fans who were never enamoured with Danny Welbeck pointed to his modest goalscoring record at Old Trafford – just 29 goals in 142 appearances - and the £16m which Arsenal paid and claimed it was good business.
Such an argument is slightly strange in itself, given that United spent over £150m on new signings this summer and overpaid for almost every player they bought.
Of course, Welbeck may never repay the faith Arsenal have shown in him. But, at just 23 years old, he still has plenty of time to undergo a similar career transformation to the one Daniel Sturridge has enjoyed at Liverpool over the past 18 months.
Welbeck has never seemed as dangerous as Sturridge but he has rarely been played as a central striker. He also has strength, considerable pace and a tactical intelligence and work rate which established him as one of Sir Alex Ferguson’s go-to men in big matches.
United are also losing more than a talented young player. Salford-born Welbeck is arguably the best academy graduate to emerge at Old Trafford since the Class of 92, and represented one of the club’s few remaining on-field links to the local community.
"Someone like a Danny Welbeck has been part of United's identity and that has been broken,” Mike Phelan, former assistant to Sir Alex Ferguson, told BBC Sport.
The presence of Welbeck provided a sense of where United have come from. Replacing him with Falcao highlights the wider trend of where the top end of English football is going – one United can no longer convince themselves that they are apart from.