This week in “my-goodness it’s a long summer please can the football start again or at least the let the transfer window be over” news at Manchester United, Jose Mourinho is apparently unhappy with the speed of the club’s summer business. You and us both, Jose, though from this perspective it is not because of any worries about deals that will or will not be done, but because the tireless, tiresome churn of rumour and nonsense has reached its midsummer nadir and it would be great if it could all just end.
One of the reasons it is hard to get excited about transfer rumours is that most of the players linked with a club do not end up coming. If they did, United would have one heck of a reserve side, given all the top-tier names with whom links have been made in the last few years.
But in truth that is not the real cause for the malaise. No, really the problem is that United have spent the last three summers signing big name players with the aim of getting themselves back to the top of the tree and it simply has not worked.
Five of Louis van Gaal’s 11 permanent signings have gone. In descending order of excitement generated that means Angel Di Maria, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin and Victor Valdes came and went without making United any better. Add Radamel Falcao’s loan to that list and slot him in between Di Maria and Schweinsteiger and the point becomes clear.
Before all that, Juan Mata arrived but has spent much of his United career being slightly misused and thus has proved a very good signing rather than a great one. Marouane Fellaini has hung around being very occasionally really good but mostly not.
Of Van Gaal’s survivors—Matteo Darmian, Marcos Rojo, Daley Blind, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera and Antony Martial—only Herrera can really be considered an unqualified success.
Last summer saw Mourinho, Paul Pogba, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Eric Bailly and Zlatan Ibrahimovic arrive. It could not have been more exciting if it tried and sure, last season ended on a high and brought with it two trophies but United finished sixth. Since they won the league in 2012/13 they have finished seventh, fourth, fifth and sixth. With the exception of summer 2013, every summer since has been packed with exciting signings.
There is a famous photo taken in the summer of 2009 when, with Cristiano Ronaldo gone, Ferguson is pictured with his new signings, Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan and Michael Owen. It is symbolic, in a way of the drop in quality that effected the squad in the post ’09 years, and serves as a useful shorthand for that perfectly reasonable analysis.
But in the five seasons that followed that picture being taken, United won the league three times and lost the two they did not win by one point and on goal difference.
So with apologies to Alvaro Morata, Ivan Perisic, Romelu Lukaku, Fabinho, Nemanja Matic et al, it has become hard to get really invested in summer rumours. Even the best, most exciting rumours which actually led to United signing awesome talents—Pogba and Ibrahimovic in particular—have not led to United winning the league again. There is an Emperor’s New Clothes feel to the whole affair.
None of this is to say that United don’t need to bring in new talent or that the right signings couldn’t make a huge difference next season. They could, of course. It is just that over the past three years it has become abundantly clear that signing players is not the panacea for United. We should perhaps think twice about getting emotionally invested again. We’ve all been hurt before.