“In the last few years, signings have come in and you think, ‘they’re being so reactive.’”
Gary Neville has said that Manchester United may have turned a corner with their transfer dealings after spending years being too “reactive” in the market.
Neville’s former club have had a haphazard approach to transfer deals since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. In that time, they have spent almost one billion pounds (£968m) and have signed 29 players – most of whom have not lived up to expectations at Old Trafford.
Ed Woodward, the club’s executive vice-chairman, has had the final say on football business since Ferguson left and it hasn’t always gone to plan. The current United squad contains players signed by five different managers – Ferguson, David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
United are seemingly crying out for a director football, someone to coordinate their transfer policy and help the manager build a squad. However, Neville believes that, regardless of who is in charge of transfer policy, be it a sporting director or Woodward, the club must simply support Solskjaer and give him the backing he needs.
“I want the club to have strong leadership,” Neville told Pundit Arena when he was in Dublin last week.
“I’ve sacked managers at Salford so I’m not saying you shouldn’t sack a manager. But when you’re flipping three and four times in six or seven years, you’re obviously getting something wrong.”
The former United defender said Solskjaer’s time as manager will largely be determined by the structure in place around him and circumstances that are out of his control.
“It’s not just down to Ole whether Ole will be successful,” he said. “It will down to be the environment around him, injuries, a bit of luck. But, as long as he gets two full seasons and as long as there is progression in those seasons, I think it will be fine.”
He also said that the club changed course in the summer regarding their transfer policy, having been too reactive with their signings since Ferguson retired.
United signed three players – Harry Maguire, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James – and allowed several players who were not in Solskjaer’s plans to leave – such as Alexis Sanchez, Romelu Lukaku and Chris Smalling. Neville believes this is a sign that the club have adopted a more long-term approach.
“The club seems to have changed tack in the transfer market this summer. I do think it’s welcome, it seems a longer-term strategy than being reactive,” Neville said.
“In the last few years, signings have come in and you think, ‘they’re being so reactive.’ Reacting to external forces, you’re thinking ‘there’s no plan here’.
“I go back to David Moyes and two transfers: Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini. You can’t recruit those two players if you are recruiting to a style. You can’t.”
The former United defender said that, unlike Manchester City or Liverpool, his former club have had a scattered and often muddled approach to recruitment.
“Every time Pep Guardiola or Jurgen Klopp sign a player, you can say, ‘Yeah, I can see why he’s signed him.’ I couldn’t tell you what a Manchester United player was. I can tell you what a Van Gaal player was, or a Mourinho player was, but the club surely can’t recruit for Van Gaal, Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
“They are completely different managers. It’s like doing your house up, and 12 months later you think, ‘fucking hell, I need to change it.’ You don’t do that, nobody does that. If you put a kitchen in your house, you dont’ rip the whole thing out and start again. At United, they are changing the kitchen every 12 months.”
Neville as often been touted as a potential director of football for his former club. However, he has no interest in the position, choosing instead to focus on his role as a co-owner of Salford City, his business interests and punditry for Sky Sports. He also said Man United must employ the “best in class” should the appoint a director of football.
“I’m at Salford, I’m committed to what Salford are doing at this moment and will be for the future. At this moment in time, I’m not qualified to be the sporting director of Manchester United.
“Manchester United should be going out and employing the best in class in the world.”