Christmas can be the making or breaking of a team. The turning point for a team who may be struggling against relegation or on the brink of pushing into the top four, where a couple of wins can build the momentum needed for clubs to push on and have a strong second half of the season. For those who don’t build that momentum, the January Transfer window can provide a club with the perfect opportunity to improve their squads.
Traditionally, since the current Premier League transfer format was introduced in the 2002/3 season, Manchester United have not been the most active of clubs in the January transfer market. To mind, the only players of real impact in the past 10 years brought in by the club in January, are Nemanja Vidic, Patrice Evra and Juan Mata, with the latter, arguably having not quite reached the potential or quality he showed at Chelsea. Now it has to be said that the majority of his time has been on the right wing, where his talent tends to be restricted somewhat and his lack of outright pace being exposed. However short lived, his move into the central position just behind the main striker, proved fruitful in the Champions League game versus Wolfsburg, where he played a beautiful through ball for Anthony Martial to put us one up, and throughout he looked much more comfortable and composed. It’s just a shame that our defence didn’t show quite the same composure at the other end that night.
Where Mata has often failed to impress, the quality of Vidic and Evra during their times in the club cannot be argued. They enjoyed enormous success at the club, in a period which marked the end of the tenure of Sir Alex Ferguson. Both players were stalwarts in the United defence for a period of just over 8 years. However, both players struggled initially to cope with the physicality and tempo of the league. This was especially evident in the 2005/06 Manchester Derby, where Patrice Evra was given the run around by an experienced and battle hardened Trevor Sinclair. Manchester City focused the majority of their attacks down his side of the pitch, whether it is via long ball using Sinclair’s height advantage, or via an overlap by City right back Sun Jihai. It resulted in his substitution at half time in a debut which truly was a baptism of fire.
The history of Manchester United signings at this time of year would suggest that any player that Manchester United sign will need time to settle in and adapt to the way in which the club plays. An immediate impact can’t be expected. Fans make point and say it happens at other clubs, where a player can arrive and completely transform a club’s fortunes after only a handful of games… but other clubs aren’t Manchester United, where excellence and top performances are expected week in, week out. That kind of pressure is tough to deal with and it would take a truly exceptional player to have that type of impact, and exceptional players are generally not sold in January.
This considered, as well as the fact that the January transfer window tends to add a large chunk to the value a club places on its prospective transferees as they smell the desperation of other clubs failing to deceive, then maybe there is an argument to be made for Manchester United to keep the cheque book in the pocket and wait until the summer.
Then again, maybe the issue isn’t necessarily the quality of player at the club, but the manager in place? But that’s another day’s work….
By David Ryan