*** Originally published on August 4.
Manchester United are about to break the world transfer record for a defender, signing Harry Maguire for £85m from Leicester City. The transfer is further proof that the club do not know what they doing.
Imagine you spent months haggling over the price of something, only to eventually pay the price you were originally quoted. Worse still, imagine if you could have bought the same item for 25 per cent less just a year previous, but decided that it was not worth it, that the deal did not represent good value. How would you feel?
Of course, you would be relieved that you finally completed the transaction. But you would feel foolish, or at the very least there would be a lingering feeling that you could have handled the situation a lot better. This is exactly how Manchester United and Ed Woodward, the club’s executive vice-chairman, should feel after completing the transfer of Harry Maguire. The deal is the latest sign that United do not know what they are doing.
Maguire is a talented player, arguably the best English central defender around at the moment. He has played well for Leicester City since joining the club from Hull City in 2017 and will be an upgrade on the current crop of central defenders in the United squad. But is he worth £85m, even in an inflated transfer market? Is he among the best central defenders in the world? Is he among the best five players in his position in the Premier League? Was he even worth the fee United were quoted last summer of £65m? The answer to all questions is “no.”
The deal potentially solves a problem position but raises many questions. Firstly, why were United so determined to pay such an over-inflated fee for the player? Do they not have scouts who can provide a list of alternative targets? Was Harry Maguire really the only player on the market capable of improving the weakest area of their team? Of course not.
The moment United were quoted such an outlandish fee by Leicester, they should have moved on to a new target – using scouting knowledge, data and their contacts throughout European football to come up with potential signings. That’s how a real football club operates. However, United are a media brand with a football team, rather than a football club in the traditional sense. Their impressions on social media are sky-high, but their football IQ is staggeringly low.
Liverpool are not only European champions, but they are also the world champions of the transfer market. Man United could learn so much from them. Jurgen Klopp’s team have not put a foot wrong in the market over the last few years. Mohamed Salah, Roberto Firmino and Sadio Mane cost less than £100m. The moves for Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker were funded by the sale of Philippe Coutinho.
Liverpool’s outgoing transfers have been almost impressive as their performances on the pitch. During Klopp’s reign, Liverpool have recouped over £325m in transfer fees. In recent seasons, they have offloaded fringe players for substantial fees. Liverpool have sold Danny Ings (£20m), Dominic Solanke (£19m), Danny Ward (£12.5m), Kevin Stewart (£8m), Mamadou Sakho (£26m), Christian Benteke (£32m), Jordan Ibe (£15m), Brad Smith (£6m) and Joe Allen (£13m) – earning over £150m for players who would not even get a spot on their bench.
Meanwhile, Man United have proven incapable of finding buyers for deadwood such as Marcos Rojo, Alexis Sanchez and Matteo Darmian. They now have seven central defenders. Liverpool received almost £20m from Bournemouth for Solanke, a forward who has scored one goal in British football. Yet United cannot find anyone to sign Rojo, who played in a World Cup final. This isn’t a coincidence. Liverpool are an intelligent football club. Man United haven’t acted like a football club for some time.
In fact, if Woodward and the power-brokers at Old Trafford think something is a good football decision, you can be sure it is not.
They have got almost every major football decision wrong since Alex Ferguson retired in 2013. Solskjaer appeared to be the right man for the manager’s job until Woodward thought likewise. The Norwegian recorded 14 victories from his first 17 games as a caretaker but won just two from 12 after getting the job on a permanent basis at the end of March. Only the club’s decision-makers can explain why they prematurely appointed him.
Woodward’s first major decision was to give Wayne Rooney a five-year contract, lumbering the club with a once-brilliant player in obvious decline. Sanchez was one of the Premier League’s most-feared forwards until United made him the division’s highest-paid player. Manchester City wanted to sign Fred, who chose United and now can’t get a game ahead of Scott McTominay. It feels like almost everything the club touches turns to mush. Even if Maguire is the right signing for United, is it possible to have any confidence in the club?
United could have signed Toby Alderweireld for £25m and it would have been a seamless deal as the Tottenham defender had a release clause in his contract. The Belgian is four years older than Maguire, but he is a better player and would have cost significantly less. Paying £25m for a 30-year-old Alderweireld makes more sense than spending £85m on a 26-year-old Maguire.
United fans might rebuke that and say that they do not care how much the club spends on players, as it is not their money. To them, the bottom line is simple: Maguire improves the team’s defence. However, United fans should not celebrate this transfer. It highlights the dearth of football knowledge at the club. It shows that Woodward should stick to signing noodle deals in the Far East and employ a director of football to conduct transfer business. Because as long as Ed is at the wheel making football decisions, United will be mediocre on the pitch and senseless in the transfer market.