Following the resolution of Radamel Falcao’s season-long loan switch from AS Monaco which completed Manchester United’s sixth signing of the summer, some fans and members of the media have labeled the club’s transfer spending spree as a ‘galactico’ policy.
After news of Danny Welbeck’s departure to league-rivals Arsenal, former United assistant manager Mike Phelan said he feels part of the club’s identity “has been broken”.
“They have probably lost the way of Manchester United a little bit,” Phelan said told BBC Sport. “Now, rather that produce, it may be the case where they are buying in.”
“What will happen in the future now, nobody knows. But that thread has been broken now.”
But United’s identity wasn’t broken by the club’s summer spending, it was damaged by years of neglect.
United have had a policy of developing home-grown talent over the years, from the Busby Babes to the Class of ’92. But the club have also spent money on big-name signings when it was necessary. So what has happened over the past several months is nothing new.
The overhaul of United’s squad has been something in the making for the past few seasons, but for whatever reason, the club failed to address the issue until now. That hesitancy has left the twenty-time champions scrambling to field a first team that can compete on the highest level of European football.
Yes, United won the Premier League by a comfortable margin two years ago. But many of those players were on board last season as the club fell to a disappointing seventh place finish in the league under David Moyes.
Part of the blame can be placed on Moyes. But very few could argue that United’s squad wasn’t aging and/or up to the standards required to compete on the highest level of the sport.
Outside of Wayne Rooney, Robin van Persie and David de Gea, it would be hard to find a United player who would see first team action at a major European club.
Of course, a club doesn’t need marquee players dotting its roster in order to compete for domestic or European titles. But United’s “homegrown youth” and the players the club has acquired over the past few seasons are not on the same level as those at other top English or European sides. They also haven’t shown a chemistry or ability to adapt to new leadership following the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson. So it is time for new blood.
Louis van Gaal kept to his word and gave United’s players time to prove they could grasp a new philosophy and show some kind of progress towards helping the club retain its elite status. Some players have remained, a lot of have left and six additions were brought in during the summer window.
Van Gaal also retained Ryan Giggs, who serves the club as assistant manager and is never more than a shoulder’s length away from the Dutch boss during matches. The new United manager relies heavily on the knowledge and understanding of the club that Giggs brings.
Fans and experts have been crying out for an overhaul of the squad for a few years. But now that it has finally started to happen, the issue has become, “United has broken from its identity”.
Van Gaal has kept a handful of United’s younger players and some (such as Tyler Blackett) have shown signs of being able to compete with England and Europe’s best players. But the others just weren’t up to snuff, or wouldn’t except a lesser role in the squad, so they had to leave. It’s that simple.
The Dutch manager previously stated that he plans to improve United from the youth academy all the way through the senior squad. But for now, Van Gaal’s priority is correcting what is wrong with the first team and leading United back into the Champions League. It was something he addressed in his very first press conference as manager.
Van Gaal was asked, “Will your philosophy extend all the way to the youth team?” The United boss responded: “The club have asked me to give advice but the main project is the first team. That’s more of a short-term [thing] than the youth – that’s a long term project. The first year or two years we have to separate them [the two projects]. Now, I need all my knowledge to transfer my philosophy into this selection.”
Outside of Falcao (who is 28), United have brought in young players who will immediately help the club challenge for titles over the next four to five years. That is a policy that was adopted by Sir Alex Ferguson and is being continued under Van Gaal.
Despite the summer signings, by no means is the club’s work done. During the next two transfer windows, United need to complete their midfield and find at least two more centre-backs before they can be considered serious title challengers. But the moves the club has made over the past few months has given United a shot at returning to European competition next season.
Until then, the club’s signings and the remaining United players (academy, reserves and first team players) will have to continue improving their chemistry and their understanding of Van Gaal’s footballing philosophy.
United’s identity has not been broken by the club’s summer spending, it’s being fixed.