Ah, the hysteria of the off-season! When many Manchester United fans haven’t been fretting over the perceived shortage of transfer activity they’ve been getting themselves twisted up in knots about the failure to appoint a technical director.
Such are the quiet summer months without wall-to-wall football to keep people entertained.
While 21-year-olds Daniel James and Aaron Wan-Bissaka have been added to United’s roster so far, supporters have been keen for momentum to be raised in the market as Ole Gunnar Solskjaer looks to stamp his authority on a side which struggled for form and energy at the end of a rollercoaster 2018-19 season.
Solskjaer himself had said that the ideal scenario was for all business to be completed by July 1 when the majority of his squad reported for pre-season training, and with that not having happened a spotlight has been shone over the shortcomings of the club’s current transfer committee.
The additions of James and Wan-Bissaka have taken half of the summer to complete, leaving many to wonder why transfer activity at Old Trafford has not been more expeditious while other clubs across the continent have been able to chase multiple targets at once.
But the one-at-a-time policy is a trend United have followed for a number of summers now, with the triple-signing of Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Morgan Schneiderlin in the space of a few days back in mid-July 2015 the last example of the club having tied up and announced multiple deals in a short space of time. It was also the last time they made a formal presentation of a new player, incidentally.
Since then it has been United’s way to go headlong after one player and then move to the next, with head of corporate development Matt Judge dealing with the details in most negotiations. And the club are happy enough with what they have achieved so far with Judge and executive vice-chair Ed Woodward working alongside Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Mick Phelan in shaping the squad for the season ahead.
So what happened to the search for a technical director? Well, the planning for a change in the football delegation continues with United always having been eager to take their time and make the right decisions for the future of the club rather than rushing into an appointment.
The rapid changes in the manager’s office in recent times, with Solskjaer being the fourth permanent boss in the six years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired, have seen United make several volte-faces. How should the team play? What is the club’s footballing philosophy? It feels like every managerial switch – from David Moyes to Louis van Gaal, Van Gaal to Jose Mourinho, Mourinho to Solskjaer – has necessitated a complete restructure of the squad or at least of sensibilities within the playing and coaching ranks.
As such, United need greater direction running through the entire operation, and identifying a new chain of command within the football department is key to moving forward. Greater guidance for Woodward is an imperative, particularly given his non-footballing background which was all-too-publicly mocked by Van Gaal recently.
“At Bayern, the people in charge are football men. I always appreciated that,” the Dutchman told 11 Freunde magazine.
“At Manchester United, on the other hand, Ed Woodward was installed as CEO – somebody with zero understanding of football who was previously an investment banker. It cannot be a good thing when a club is run solely from a commercially-driven perspective.”
Perhaps United are actually six years late in putting these plans in place. The restructure does feel a bit like something they should have been planning for immediately following Ferguson's departure, but having not done so until now they cannot go about playing catch-up too quickly. Taking time to get the structure right, and not simply making a snap decision to bring in a single transfer chief, is clearly the way forward. And thus far there is no real indication as to just how many people United will look to add to the decision-making structure when all is said and done.
They have never suggested they are after a single fix-all addition, and had they made an appointment in the latter stages of last season it would have been careless – kamikaze even – to go about changing whatever plans they had for the current transfer window on the say-so of a new director. The position or positions need to be about the long-term, and bodging it up with a speedy addition now would be no more productive than the January 2018 decision to hurriedly usurp Manchester City and sign Alexis Sanchez to an eye-bulging £390,000 weekly deal.
Names such as Rio Ferdinand, Darren Fletcher, Marcel Bout and John Murtough have been linked with a catch-all position of technical director, but the former pair would likely offer very different qualities as former players from the latter duo whom have forged their reputations at United in recent years - Bout as the head of global scouting and Murtough as head of football development.
There are countless decisions to be made before finally landing on the composition which will fit the United model. Do they employ one person as head of the football side as generally happens in Italy? What about the Ajax constitution of Edwin van der Sar as the public face and Marc Overmars as the real decision-maker?
Whatever the final vision is to look like, there clearly needs to be movement in the recruitment drive at some point in the not-too-distant future, as Solskjaer himself has impressed since arriving as manager.
“The demands of football nowadays mean you definitely have to split responsibilities,” he told reporters in April. “More than 100 years ago, managers used to be the club secretaries as well, but things change.
“I have an input in most of the things now and will give my advice of course, but I am not the one who decides. A manager can’t do as much as he used to do when Sir Alex started, for example.
“Me and Ed and Joel [Glazer], we are looking at how this club can be run as smoothly and as well as possible.”
But considering the club has taken a step back after the end of the Mourinho era and agreed that a ‘United Way’ has to be cultivated and honoured, there should be no rush in their building of the backroom team which will decide just how Manchester United goes about its business in future years.
In the meantime, it’s business as usual in the transfer market, however laboured some perceive that to be. The addition of technical directors is not a matter for haste.