Manchester United were expected to loosen the purse strings once Champions League football was confirmed for next season. A third-place finish was set to provide the platform for the club to bring in top-class signings this summer and close the gap with Liverpool and Manchester City at the top.
However, one can hear the crickets sing amidst the transfer activity the club have shown since the transfer window swung open a month back.
While the window was expected to be a slog for all the top clubs due to the financial hit football has taken due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we were told Manchester United were on a better financial footing than most clubs and were expected to spend considerable sums in the market to improve the squad.
They still could as the window closes on 5th October but there is a growing fear this is going to be another frustrating window for the club.
That brings us to the question marks surrounding the Manchester United owners. Are the Glazers in it to win trophies and taking the club back to the top of English and European football or are they more than happy to see the club play in the Champions League once in two years so that they can continue to take money out of the club in terms of interest payments and dividends? There is ample evidence to support the latter and scant little to line up with the former.
Manchester United were expected to back Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s vision and trust the judgement of the recruitment team that they have painstakingly put together over the last 18 months. They still could but morning often shows the day.
Will Solskjaer get the player he wants this summer?
The Manchester United manager showed enough last season to suggest that if he gets the players he wants, his team would play better football more consistently.
Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Bruno Fernandes have been solid signings and fits the vision of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Daniel James could still come good and Odion Ighalo proved to be a shrewd loan signing in January.
Solskjaer wants Jadon Sancho from Dortmund this summer and it is natural Manchester United are reluctant to spend €120m that the German club have demanded.
In a depressed market, it is reasonable that Manchester United would want to negotiate the fee. But who is deciding whether Sancho will prove value for money at that asking price?
While Manchester United’s recruitment team believe Sancho will prove to be a solid signing even at that price due to his age and the high ceiling of his talent, it is Joel Glazer who is reluctant to spend that amount of money on the winger.
He is reasonable to expect Dortmund to consider the state of the market and drop their asking price but it is also important to ask, is he the right man to question the deal?
He has set up a recruitment team consisting of football men (the coaching staff, the analysts and the scouts) and the money men (Ed Woodward and Matt Judge). Shouldn’t they be trusted to do their job?
Solskjaer still wants another centre-back, a midfielder and a striker but Manchester United have made scant movement in the market. They are stuck with the Sancho negotiations and while they have spoken to Lille defender Gabriel Magalhaes’ representatives, they are yet to table a bid for him.
The Brazilian is likely to join Arsenal. If Manchester United are indeed interested in the centre-back, what is stopping them from matching Lille’s asking price of €30m? If they are not convinced about his quality, why hold talks with the player’s entourage?
There is no news on whether the club will sign the defensive midfielder Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wants or the striker he is keen to recruit.
Manchester United have moved excruciatingly slowly in a window where they were expected to do early business and try and close the gap to the top of the Premier League table.
With the season starting in little less than a month, Manchester United are yet to improve their first-team squad.
Is a familiar story repeating itself at Manchester United?
We have been here before with Manchester United. A season ends without a trophy but there was a feeling that some progress has been made. The club needed to spend well to improve their squad and they faltered badly to sign the players the manager wanted. Remember 2018 anyone?
Manchester United finished second in the Premier League and lost in the FA Cup final. They finished 19 points champions Manchester City in second place. Jose Mourinho needed funds to improve his squad to challenge for the title next season.
They signed Fred, who took 18 months to settle at Old Trafford, Diego Dalot, a second choice right back and likely on his way out this summer and Lee Grant, a third-choice goalkeeper.
The club have seen many poor transfer windows since 2013 but the 2018 summer transfer window was the nadir. Even Ed Woodward later accepted that the club made mistakes during the period.
Mourinho lost his patience with the club, threw his toys out of the pram and it was no surprise that he lost his job a few months later. The Portuguese was majorly the architect of his downfall and his ethos never matched with the club’s values.
But Manchester United set Mourinho up for failure in the summer of 2018. By not properly backing him, the club built the platform and threw in the gasoline for the Portuguese to self-immolate.
Solskjaer job depends on him convincing his bosses
The Manchester United manager has made it clear that his side are some way away from competing for the Premier League. Ahead of the Europa League final, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer insisted that he needs more depth in his squad, which was a message to the board.
The Norwegian’s increased dependency on around 13 to 14 players towards the end of the season was a sign that he had scant faith in the players sitting on the bench. He is acutely aware that he doesn’t have the squad to compete in all fronts next season. I think Woodward himself is aware of that fact.
But can the Manchester United manager do what Mourinho failed to do in 2018, convince the hierarchy to invest properly into improving his squad?
While the Norwegian is unlikely to go on a path of self-destruction like his predecessor if his wish is not granted, a failure is almost a guarantee.
Manchester United have a month-and-a-half to sort out their transfer business and properly back their manager in the squad. Apart from Chelsea and Manchester City, most big clubs have been moving cautiously in an unprecedented transfer market.
Manchester United could still sign the players they want and maybe their negotiating tactics will bear fruit later in the window.
But if they don’t and next season turns out to be a disaster for the club and Solskjaer, the Glazer will not have a pantomime villain in Jose Mourinho to hide behind.