As the summer draws to a close, many United fans could be forgiven for feeling a sense of relief and respite that a rather arduous summer transfer window will be coming to a close at the end of the month. There have been many rumours that have circulated where it seems every Tom, Dick and Harry has had their name linked to a possible move to the club. How often must fans have their hopes raised only for them to be summarily dashed when rumours and fabrications are so rife, with minute grains of genuine transfer action so scantily available? When we rejoined the Promised Land at the end of last season, securing our Champions League berth in the most nail biting of fashions with Europa League glory, many United fans felt optimistic, fueled by a sense of overwhelming relief and euphoria. Surely, with the financial clout we possessed as the world’s richest club, the prestige and history that we held and our rightful place assured once more at Europe’s top table the sky was the limit in terms of the acquisitions which we could make to rejuvenate and bolster our squad?
Above all, there was one signing that we would definitely make. The one that we had been rumoured to have agreed with a player since the previous year, a player who had the magical stardust in his boots to not only inspire the team but provide a talismanic, magical figure who would elevate us into serious title contenders this season. It wouldn’t take the most astute reader to realise that the player of whom I speak is Antoine Griezmann. All but the most cynical of fans felt this was a deal that was a foregone conclusion, the player having spoken out that he was 6 out of 10 sure he would move to United prior to us securing Champions League football. Furthermore, the fact that Antoine had named David Beckham as a childhood idol and was a firm friend of Paul Pogba seemed to give further credence that the transfer was inevitable. For United fans, still simmering at the ignominious departure of Memphis Depay, Griezmann also represented a chance at providing a rightful and fitting heir to the magical and hallowed Number 7 shirt, which had turned into something of a Siege Perilous for incumbents since the departure of Cristiano Ronaldo in 2009. However, the move hinged on Atletico having their transfer ban reduced to allow them to conduct business to replace their star man and, when the ban was upheld, Griezmann declared that he would stand with Atletico now more than ever. Predictably, this generated a cacophony of hatred and abuse from outraged United fans who felt they had been led a merry dance by him, whilst others felt it showed a welcomed degree of loyalty at odds with the mercenary culture that football has become. Of course, this act would further be thrown into starker contrast by undeniably the most sensational move of the summer with Neymar swapping the glamour and prestige of Barcelona for the riches and new challenge of Paris St Germain. Clearly, Neymar was an individual who didn’t really prescribe to Barcelona’s adage that “Mes que un club” which Griezmann seemed to be following when he tied himself to the Atletico colours.
Fresh from this disappointment, United were linked with many other star studded names including that of Neymar, who most believed was performing the classic trick of the stars of Real Madrid and Barcelona and merely prevaricating about unhappiness and discontent to secure himself a healthy raise in his salary. Among the names was Cristiano Ronaldo, who was said to be fed up of Spain and hankering for England once more. As United fans, it is only right that when one of our favoured sons is rumoured to return that we were ecstatic, and personally since Ronaldo is my favourite footballer of all time, I would have been beyond delighted to welcome him back. After all, in my opinion, this is the greatest footballer of all time and a man who proved last season against Bayern, Atletico and Juventus in the knockout rounds of the Champions League that he can single handedly win matches by himself with his goals on the biggest stage of all, against unquestionably some of the world’s greatest keepers (Neuer, Oblak and Buffon) and some of the tightest and meanest defenses in world football. However, this transfer seemed to have very little genuine weight to it and, at this point of writing, appears to be Ronaldo acting angrily to accusations regarding his tax situation in Spain.
Whilst the glamour and glitz of the attacking options available to us had been discussed widely, it was to be in the heart of the defence that we made our first acquisition, that of Swedish defender Victor Lindelof. Whilst many of us would have preferred a more stellar purchase like Raphael Varane it was understood that a young centre back of potential was an astute manoeuvre by Jose, who has garnered praise for his coaching and ability to work with defensive players. I have often postulated that the reason for some of our defensive tactics last season was the inherent shakiness and instability at the back. Jones and Smalling are the sort of defenders who give fans nightmares and indeed provide the manager with no end of frustration in their limitations as footballers. Jones may as well have his breakfast ordered to the treatment room and Smalling’s lack of technical passing ability even came up for approbation from Jose in the build up to the Europa League Final. Additionally, whilst I shall not bother to enumerate the various reasons why neither are what I consider to be good enough for United, it is their complete lack of composure that really does gall me. For me, the best defenders are ones who make their work seem effortless or seamless, very often intercepting or judging astutely, reading the game and then acting in an unruffled manner to any hazardous situation. If you are looking for an example of the complete opposite of this, then look no further than the City pre-season game when Smalling tripped over his own feet in the first half and comically tried to regain his footing before De Gea came to his rescue. Whilst I have always been a strong believer in De Gea staying, I felt sure that bouts of despicably bad defending such as this would eventually wear his spirit down. Although Lindelof has made a patchy start, I am genuinely hopeful that he can develop into the centre back that will render Jones and Smalling justifiably obsolete.
From a striking point of view we were initially linked with all and sundry but it seemed that the concrete interest was in Alvaro Morata, then of Real Madrid. Whilst Morata had been a substitute for Real Madrid for the majority of the season, his goals per minute record had been truly exceptional and he seemed to have that clinical edge that we could use to fire us to the title this season. Additionally, having played for Juventus and Real Madrid, Morata was experienced in dealing with the pressures of top clubs such as United and seemed to possess well rounded stats without any major weaknesses. Morata himself seemed to want the move and dyed his hair red but it was to be Romelu Lukaku who United plumped for when Madrid seemed hell bent on refusing any sum we offered to secure the Spaniard. Whilst I felt some trepidation at the signing given some of the reservations I had over Lukaku, (namely his disappearance in big games and his leaden touch), it was extremely important to me that we not give them the goalkeeper whom I have often referred to, even on this website, as the “irreplaceable man” which is clearly what Los Blancos were angling for. Lukaku’s physique and brutal strength, as well as his pace would at least assure us a formidable target man who could bully defenders and he did have that special knack of scoring against some of the lower teams who we had failed to put away last season. Also, he does have an extremely prolific Premier League goal scoring record and certainly ticks the box of being “Premier League Proven”.
With these two signings complete we were once more obsessed with the search for our new anchorman at the base of our central midfield. Although Cantona once used the position of “water carrier” disparagingly to denigrate Didier Deschamps, the position’s import cannot be underestimated, particularly when you realise the impact that a certain N’golo Kante has had on Leicester City and Chelsea over the past couple of seasons, deployed in this very position. When you compare the liveliness and sheer tenacity of Kante, whose running and energy is that of two men to Marouane Fellaini’s speed it wouldn’t take a genius to realise that we needed to upgrade in this position, particularly with the inevitable decline of an ageing Carrick. Many of us felt that Di Marzio would be proved right and that Fabinho would come to provide not only the high octane drive we needed in this area but also some much needed cover for Valencia at right back. However, for once, the English papers and journalists were correct and it was Nemanja Matic of Chelsea who was the real target for Jose Mourinho. Matic is a player who is certainly a superior one to Marouane Fellaini and should grant us the balance to allow Herrera and Pogba to express themselves further forward. Additionally, at 29 and with a couple of Premier League winners’ medals he brings some much needed experience and winning mentality which has been reduced through Rooney’s sale and Zlatan’s long term injury.
Therefore, in summary, what will the remaining weeks of August bring us and what would each of you want them to bring us? There are some who feel that we should stick with the hardworking, honest and reliable players like Perisic and Aurier whilst others dream of bagging the Galactico signing of Gareth Bale should Mbappe move to the Spanish capital. I feel like the correct choice, if available, is Bale for many reasons. Firstly, we are still lacking true dangerous width which Bale would provide in abundance and would surely mean more limited time for Jesse Lingard who seems to be a starter for Jose in pre-season. Secondly, despite some people wishing for the 3-5-2 formation I feel like we will be utilising the tried and trusted 4-3-3 and this would provide an instant berth for Bale to play in the same position as he does for Madrid, on the right hand side of the attacking triumvirate. With him, Lukaku and Martial as starters and the further attacking options provided by Rashford, Mkhitaryan, Mata and Lingard we would finally have greater quality and strength in depth to influence games from the substitutes bench. Thirdly, Bale’s price tag would likely exceed that of Paul Pogba which would finally dispel any of the lingering weight he seemed to feel last season as the man who was expected to work magic. Bale is used to shouldering the expectation of a world record transfer fee and also dealing with the bile and spite of Madrid supporters who boo and jeer at any opportunity. United fans, by contrast, could never be as unforgiving or as venomous in their disgruntlement. Fourthly, unlike the others Bale is also Premier League proven, he knows the league and who can forget how he dragged an extremely average Tottenham side at the time to unrivaled heights a few years ago single handedly. Finally, Bale would be the sort of player to strike fear in the opposition and create space and opportunities for others to exploit as defenders would be drawn like moths to his flame. Over the last three seasons, Hazard twice and Mahrez in the interim year have shown us that typically the Premier League champions also have a wide player who provides those inspirational moments of goals and assists which fuel a title tilt. Bale can be this player for us, who propels us to the title with those flashes of pure class and genius which can settle matches or turn one point into three in the blink of an eye. In my view, we need this inspirational totemic figure and Bale would be ideal to solve not only our wide play but also the dearth of a true star to motivate and drive us to title glory. After all a Galactico is by definition an exceptionally gifted and celebrated footballer and we need someone of that ilk to furnish our team and exponentially increase our likelihood of achieving our title dreams this season. At least if we signed this marquee player we can “guarantee” that we have no regrets come the end of the season and have made the investment in the star quality to assure we have the best possibility of realising our targets.