No Sancho, no Dembele, no centre-back: Deadline-day splurge doesn't mask Man Utd transfer window mess

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Ole Gunnar Solskjaer Jadon Sancho Ousmane Dembele
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The club announced four signings on the final day of the window but the manager was left without the targets he had wanted all summer

‘How have we ended up here?’, Gary Neville lamented  as he questioned why Manchester United were agreeing a last-minute deal to bring Edinson Cavani to Old Trafford.

The former club captain had a very valid point.

How have a club that knew their top transfer target before the turn of the year ended up scraping around in the last few hours of the summer transfer window for a Plan B? How did the club go from failing to come to an agreement with Borussia Dortmund for Jadon Sancho to ending up  with a 33-year-old veteran striker?

This has been the longest transfer window in history. Ten weeks. Seventy days to negotiate a deal to land a right-sided attacker, the position that Ole Gunnar Solskjaer had identified as the priority.

Yet when the window closed on Monday, Sancho was still a Dortmund player and the only right wingers to arrive were two 18-year-olds with just 15 first-team appearances between them. 

There’s got to be an element of sympathy for Solskjaer. Whether you believe or not that the Norwegian is out of his depth trying to guide the club back to the Premier League summit, he has had to sit back and watch while their closest rivals swiftly got deals over the line while United fumbled and failed to get who they want.

Solskjaer, unlike his predecessor Jose Mourinho, knows better than to publicly criticise those running the club and he was quick to shut down a question following the 6-1 defeat against Tottenham asking him if he has a problem with the way transfer business is conducted at the club. “No, it’s not an issue at all,” he replied.

But, it clearly is. The club insist the impact of Covid-19 meant they were not in a position to pay the £108 million ($140m) that Dortmund were demanding for Sancho and they were not prepared to bow down to the arbitrary deadline of August 10 that was imposed by the Bundesliga side.

However, as the deadline loomed and negotiations didn’t develop, no strong efforts were made to secure a back-up, even if it was only a temporary option before going back in for Sancho next summer. Conversations were held over both Ousmane Dembele of Barcelona and Watford's Ismaila Sarr on deadline day but deals could not be agreed on either.

United struggling has become a recurring theme in transfer negotiations; Harry Maguire was a priority target earmarked by Mourinho in 2018 and still wanted the year after by Solskjaer but talks dragged on until the end of the summer window with the hierarchy haggling over price only to end up paying the £80m ($104m) Leicester wanted all along.

Then there was the securing of Odion Ighalo on a season-long loan, something which was agreed on the brink of the deadline with the club failing to land Danny Ings and Josh King in last-minute deals. That was explained as a one-off against the ‘rebooted’ transfer strategy and seen as a good temporary solution to aid an injury problem.

Yet, here we are again with United signing a player who goes against the grain of that cultural reset just nine months later.

The club announced four deals on deadline day with Cavani, Alex Telles and 18-year-olds Amad Diallo and Facundo Pellistri all being confirmed and, with the latter three, there were claims they had been monitoring them for years.

Telles has apparently been on the club’s radar since 2014 when he was playing for Galatasaray and has been extensively watched over the last two years.

It's great that the scouting team are picking out top talent but again, why did it take until the last hours of the window to get the deal over the line?

Amad Traore - Atalanta

Cavani had been offered to every major club in Europe over the past few weeks only for United to decide he would be a good fit with less than 48 hours left of the window.

It’s been a frustrating window for the club, who were annoyed at the number of players being linked with a move to Old Trafford. On some level that’s understandable. At times, every player being signed by a rival was announced as someone United had ‘missed out on'. But, it’s a problem that could have been easily avoided had they managed to conclude their business in a quick and efficient manner.

And that goes for outgoings as well as incomings. Chris Smalling wanted to leave but that deal came within 60 seconds of falling through. Sergio Romero’s wife took to Instagram to voice her dissatisfaction at the fact her husband would be staying at the club despite falling down the pecking order following Dean Henderson's return to the club.

Phil Jones is still a Manchester United player as is Marcos Rojo. Departures could have swollen the transfer pot but those in charge of such negotiations have shown they are as bad at moving players on as they are at bringing them in.

It hasn’t all been doom and gloom. Donny van de Beek was a good piece of business at £35m ($45m) and was a transfer that was wrapped up quickly. But unfortunately, he looks like a luxury option in an area where Solskjaer has a number of options when the club don’t have the basic positions filled in the way they want such as at centre-back.

Cavani may bring much-needed leadership to the squad and the other young new arrivals may yet show why the club scouts have been so excited about their potential, but the deadline-day deals could not detract away from the air of panic around the final few days of the window.

Cavani could prove his worth at Old Trafford but his signing is a sticking plaster in an attempt to mask another disappointing window.

Solskjaer said after the club’s defeat in the Europa League semi-final that United needed squad depth if they were to improve. Yet seven weeks on he’s facing a season with a very similar squad and without the priority target he so desperately wanted.

As Neville said, it’s pretty embarrassing.

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