Ever since Alex Ferguson left Manchester United for the warm couch and a collection of wine back home, United have never been the same. It was highly expected in all fairness but what ensued has been nothing but an unmitigated disaster for the Red Devils.
While Ferguson was the face of the club, behind the scenes, there was the invisible brains of the club. David Gill. He was THE go-to man for Ferguson for any transfer activity he wanted and more often than not, delivered when the gaffer came asking. Some gems from his era include players like Ronaldo, van Persie, Rooney, who have all been instrumental in getting United multiple titles they had gained during the period. With Ferguson, David Gill also left and left another huge and invisible hole in the club hierarchy. This was the moment when the two chosen ones, David Moyes and Ed Woodward would finally be handed over the reins of the club. We all know how Moyes’ time at United ended but what remains to be seen is if Woodward faces the same chop if he underwhelms yet again in the market?
If we look back at the last three summer windows under Ed, there were some clear big names which arrived at the club. Players like Falcao, Di Maria, Schweinsteiger and Mata, all arrived with burgeoning reputations for themselves and having proved themselves across Europe when we combine all of them. All these players were meant to be the proverbial kick in the back for United. The star names who would make matches against teams below the place of seventh in the table a mere formality. Turns out, United were given sour deals on all of them and none have been able to recreate even a fifth of what they had been achieving consistently over the last three years of their careers. When we factor in the costs and damages to United in each case, there is a simply astounding figure generated, well past the 100 million pounds mark in the last two seasons alone, without a single trophy. Zip. Zilch. Not even the League Cup. The only “success” they can call is the qualification for Champions League, which they legitimately threw back away to drop down into the Europa League. Even in the second tier of Europe, United are not the favourites. It goes a long way to display the fall from grace the Red Devils have endured.
With the big names out of the way, the young guns and squad upgrades come into the picture. Players like Luke Shaw, who is yet to last half a season straight for the club, has cost the club upwards of 20 million sterling if reports are to be believed. Second string bench warmers including Fellaini, Depay, Rojo, Darmian, Valdes and Herrera have all accrued an accumulated transfer value of an eye watering 140 million euros. This is the cost of the players that largely make up the United bench. This also doesn’t include the players’ wages which are all upwards of 80,000 pounds a week and touch 100,000 for a couple.
This careless spending brought United to the top of the wage bill in the Premier League with an astonishing 215 million pounds every year. This is on top of the 300-odd million pounds United have already spent over the last few years. Just for the last 3 years, if we average out the wages at 195 million a year, we receive a value which is slightly shy of 900 million pounds for the Red Devils. This is the amount spent on just the players. Agents easily ask for 20% of the fees and wages or more per deal that is completed and if we keep in line with those figures, we may well cross the billion pound mark. Considering the way Mancunian fans react to their play, there is not even an iota of that value repaid by the players over this period of time. It could be argued that United did recoup some fees with Di Maria sale and so on but 100 or so million won’t even make a dent in the outrageous spend accrued by the club so far. With underwhelming season after another, a very real fear of stagnation is developing at the club. The least that could be expected was a flourish in the cup competitions where United could have simply steamrolled lower sides with their impressive lineup but losses to teams like MK Dons have highlighted their impotence.
In direct competition are sides like Chelsea, Manchester City and Arsenal, all of whom have spent heavily over this period themselves too but have impressive returns considering their financial outlay. Chelsea captured a title and Carling Cup win in this period, Manchester City achieved a title and even the relative minnows amongst the big boys, Arsenal have a couple of FA Cup wins to cheer about in this period. All of this when Manchester City are second in the amount spent and barely scratch the 900 million pound mark themselves and the remaining London clubs touching somewhere near 600 million pounds makes for a grim viewing back at the red side of Manchester.
Slowly but steadily, it is becoming abundantly clear that players are signing for United just because of the money on the table and have little or no attachment at all. Shaw has been a self-admitted Chelsea fan, Mata has been reluctant to shed his blue skin since his arrival at Manchester, players like Blind, Fellaini, Schneiderlin and Depay simply couldn’t be bothered anymore and just look to be doing their jobs and wait for their pay-checks. Win or lose, they don’t really care. Players of Rooney’s ilk are becoming harder to find for the club, someone who would provide the impetus and the kick that will inspire the team to a win. Someone who would lead by example. This is worrying for a club which is currently battling mediocrity. It has prided itself on success and thrilling play over the years. The fact that they don’t care for a loss and will attack and be direct means everything to their supporters and in that context, watching a bunch of disinterested players trying to pass the ball to and fro with no real end product in sight makes for an infuriating viewing for the United faithful.
Considering players which Ed Woodward has missed during his tenure, there could be a case made for his removal once and for all. Players like Fabregas, Bale, Ronaldo, Baines, Neymar and Ramos have all been chased by United for ultimately a futile utilisation of time. With the players deciding to stay put in unhappier climes or to move to their direct rivals, one can safely say that United as a club has failed to establish itself as a destination for the elite and will suffer for the inconsistent and disoriented transfer policy they have adhered to so far. The success that Ferguson had achieved cannot milked by the club for much longer and they have a great test on their hands in the coming transfer windows.
This is the very test Liverpool failed in ever since their mishap under Rafa Benitez and have since failed to recover. The team which once had attracted players like Fernando Morientes is now rejected outright by players like Alexis Sanchez. The great Merseyside club now lies in ruins of its past. Europa league is now their expected output from a season and they cannot even be trusted to conquer the group stages of that competition anymore.
If United don’t want to be the next Northern club to fall into the same pit, they need to act fast and get in real leaders in their squad. Players like their captain, players like they possessed before in the ilk of Scholes, Giggs and Keane. Players who would win matches on their own and who would inspire their teammates to do the same. Players who would pump the crowd with excitement until they bow their lungs out in the worship of their idols.
There are not many players in that mould anymore, simply because such leaders are rare. That’s what makes them special. But one such player could be the disillusioned Colombian midfielder in the ranks of a certain Real Madrid. This is the player who singles handedly led his country deep into the World Cup and won the Golden Shoe at the biggest stage there is in world football. This is a player who made a whole nation dream and the whole world cry when they were ultimately conquered. All on the shoulders of a young playmaker of diminutive proportions marauding the attack and turning in goals and assists after another. At Real Madrid, he was destined to be the successor for the “Ego” but so far it has failed to pan out. With players like Bale, Ronaldo and Isco usurping his role in the squad, he wants to leave and Manchester United should, by all means, be interested. Manchester United needs that inspiration to get them back to the pinnacle of English and European football. They need him to make a statement, both on and off the pitch. It is only a step but if taken a right, it can be the most important action for the club in just over half a decade. With a new generation of winners needed at the club, there is a desperate need for players who can step it up. James can certainly be the one.