It has been a long and turbulent seven years since Sir Alex Ferguson retired as Manchester United manager. But there are now a number of reasons for fans to be excited for what lies ahead.
The Red Devils went undefeated in their final 14 Premier League games to secure Champions League football for next season. Even on the final day, United weren’t at their best – but they found a way to win in their all-important clash with Leicester. There is a new-found resilience within this team.
It’s no coincidence that United’s upturn in form came following the arrival of Bruno Fernandes in January. The Portuguese midfielder has been nothing short of sensational, grabbing the headlines week after week.
Not only has Fernandes been in outstanding form on the field, he has also been a leader off the pitch and a major influence in the dressing room. Indeed, as impressive as he has been, it has also been his character and desire to play for the badge that has been so refreshing for fans to see.
Since Ole Gunnar Solskjaer took over, a clear transfer strategy has been adopted. United haven’t been afraid to let go of some big names if they didn’t wish to be there, even despite their obvious talent. For example, Romelu Lukaku – a striker who was the main goal-threat in the team – was sold to Inter last summer in a deal which has benefited all parties involved.
As for the arrivals, Solskjaer has looked to bring in players who understand the importance of playing for Man Utd, the ones who will always keep it at the front of their minds every time they step out onto the pitch at Old Trafford.
The acquisition of Harry Maguire has been judged by many, notably due to the price United had to pay to land his services. Of course, the Red Devils would have preferred not to pay a world record fee for a defender, but the club recognised that this was the price they had to pay in order to land a player who fitted their new transfer strategy.
Sure, Maguire still has his critics, but his love for the club, determination to succeed and positive influence on the team has been clear for all to see. After all, Solskjaer must have seen something in him if he named him captain after just a matter of months at the club, right?
It has even been noted that the centre-back took pain-killing injections in order to play on for two months with a hip injury he sustained back in January.
These are the types of players Man Utd are bringing in now.
Aaron Wan-Bissaka has – for large parts of the season – been consistently outstanding at the back, while Daniel James has played a bigger role in 2019/20 than even he would have expected. Even lifelong United fan Odion Ighalo, who was ridiculed alongside the club upon his arrival, has proved his critics wrong.
The difference in passion, desire and intensity that each of United’s signings under Solskjaer have played with compared to a large number of those who were brought in post-Sir Alex Ferguson and prior to the arrival of the Norwegian has been abundantly clear.
The likes of Angel Di Maria, Radamel Falcao, Bastian Schweinsteiger and Alexis Sanchez (more on him later) among others were all – on paper – excellent purchases in the sense that they were ‘statement signings’. But the reality of it was that while they are all outstanding players, this was all it took for the Red Devils. In the post-Sir Alex era, United have handed out big money contracts in order to tempt these players to Old Trafford.
But the underlying message of such transfers was that they never really had much interest of being there apart from the money that was thrown at them. As a result, Di Maria flopped before quickly leaving, as did Falcao and as did Sanchez.
One quote from Ed Woodward perfectly summed up the incoherent, lazy transfer strategy the club used to adopt prior to the arrival of Solskjaer: “When people see Schweinsteiger on the team sheet, that’s gonna send some shivers down the spine.”
The German was a big name, but this was about all he was at Old Trafford. There was a lack of depth to the manner in which United approached transfers.
But this has seemingly all changed and they have learned from their mistakes.
90min learned back in March that Jadon Sancho, Jack Grealish and Jude Bellingham were the club’s three priority signings this summer. Starting with Bellingham, United made their move to sign him, but the youngster ultimately opted to join Borussia Dortmund instead.
As for Grealish, Aston Villa have made their stance very clear, with the club holding out for £80m. However, United now appear to be a club that won’t be bullied into transfers and are instead prepared to wait and see how the summer unfolds before deciding. The Red Devils are no longer acting out of desperation, but rather as the elite club that they are.
Then there’s the number one target: Sancho. Despite Dortmund’s best efforts to tie him down to a new deal, while also standing firm on their hefty valuation of the player, Man Utd have remained keen but have also always been patient.
This patience has seemingly paid off as well, with the player agreeing a five-year deal with the club. After plenty of negotiating, United are now also closer than ever to agreeing a fee with Dortmund – the final obstacle.
The fact that Man Utd are likely to part ways with €100m (£90m) over three years – a payment structure they have been keen on agreeing with Dortmund – underlines the improvements they have made in the transfer market. Yes, they may well pay €20m (£18m) in performance-related add-ons, but they will gladly do so should they reap the rewards on the pitch.
Sancho could well take up the iconic number seven shirt at United, which was worn by Sanchez prior to his loan move to Inter. The Chilean’s move to Old Trafford can perhaps be considered the turning point in United’s new transfer strategy, the club quickly recognising their mistake after seeing his displays.
Sanchez has performed well at Inter and the Italian giants have been keen on making the move permanent for a while. But, of course, wages and a transfer fee were always going to be issues.
However, the forward is now closing in on a permanent switch to San Siro after an agreement was reached with Inter. The Red Devils have made the win-win decision to allow Sanchez to leave for free, as they will be saving around £40m in wages should he depart.
The ability to convince Sancho to make the switch as a result of the club’s vision, mixed with the departure of Sanchez, are all clear indicators that United are heading in the right direction with their new strategy.
It remains to be seen who else will be arriving at Old Trafford this summer, but what is clear is that, United are willing to pay the necessary price if a target fits the bill. This is the cost of the vision the club now has under Solskjaer. United have turned a new page – perhaps they have even begun a new chapter, and it is working.
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