A transfer window that belied statements about a new direction for the club seemed to be business as usual with some hints at change. Just about everything appeared to go wrong for United from hemorrhaging players for free, trying to pay a ton of money for a player that doesn’t want to join the club, paying an eye watering sum for a 30-year-old, apparently failing to learn from the Sancho Fiasco, and getting rejected by a number of key targets. Within that mess, in a ‘ends justify the means’ argument, Erik ten Hag may have walked away with the upgrades he desperately needs to start turning the team around.
Things seemed to start going south almost as soon as the window opened, the signing of Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong was being billed as the perfect solution to United’s problems. The only problem was… everything. While Barcelona was rumored to have accepted a fee, de Jong was unwilling to leave Barcelona due to a rather enormous sum of money they promised to pay him in exchange for lowering his salary during the pandemic. United didn’t want to cover the money he was owed, de Jong didn’t even want to join United, and Barcelona were in the midst of a financial crisis while simultaneously spending millions on new players. While that situation dragged on ten Hag target Jurriën Timber, who seemed like the perfect signing at the perfect price, opted to remain at Ajax and sent the club looking elsewhere to fix their central defense. As other clubs, notably Liverpool and Manchester City, were signing players, United was spinning their wheels. The signing of Dutch LB Tyrell Malacia marked ten Hag’s first win in the market, and while his profile and fee weren’t headline news it did signal an important shift in transfer tactics. Adding a 22-year-old player on the verge of becoming a first team regular, and for only £13.5M, is exactly the kind of signing United need to make more of. Adding Malacia put some weight behind the talk of rebuilding the squad for the long term, but that quickly evaporated as the old United strategy emerged in a stunning outlay on three players.
The signing of Lisandro Martínez, Timber’s CB partner at Ajax, for £51.6M (more than the reported price for Timber) looked like a high price to pay for a player who is a perfect fit for ten Hag’s system while carrying some questions about his suitability for the Premier League. At only 5’-10” in height there were immediate concerns that he wouldn’t be able to handle the physicality of the league, along with additional vulnerability in the air. All of those concerns would be pushed to the back when United agreed to sign Casemiro from Real Madrid for an astonishing fee, things seemed to be going full speed backwards at Old Trafford. Yes, United desperately need a DM with the short passing skills and defensive guile of Casemiro, but spending £63.6M on a player on the wrong side of 30 seemed like a knee-jerk reaction to failing with de Jong.
Near the end of the window ten Hag managed to find the conclusion to a saga that could have easily been Sancho-Dortmund 2.0. United had been circling Ajax’s star RW Antony since the beginning of the window, but everything was clogged up by the ill-fated pursuit of de Jong. Once United managed to walk away from that mess they got into a protracted bidding process with Ajax that was reminiscent of what they went through with Borussia Dortmund with Sancho. Some internal back and forth, with Antony pushing to make the move, eventually ended in United’s second most expensive signing of all time. The £85.5M doled out for the Brazilian would also top the summer market, a move that signaled the club’s old ways of throwing money around weren’t dead yet.
Amid all of the cash flying around, nearly £215M of it, ten Hag was able to recruit former Spurs star Christian Eriksen on a free after a tumultuous period of his career. After nearly dying at Euro 2020 and making a comeback with Brentford, the Danish superstar looks like the kind of creative midfield presence ten Hag needs more than ever. Failing to bring in de Jong was a real blow to his midfield plans, but the additions of Eriksen and Casemiro should be a substantial improvement over the infamous McFred. The final piece before the window shut was agreeing to a loan with Newcastle for their now backup GK Martin Dúbravka, who may push David de Gea for his starting spot. De Gea did well enough during the preseason, but having the ball at his feet is not one of his strengths and could end up being a major weakness as ten Hag wants to play out of the back. Dúbravka has EPL experience, so he’s more than just a backup, but he certainly won’t be a long term solution whether de Gea retires or sticks around beyond the end of his current deal which expires after the 2023-24 season.
It took a while, nearly the entire summer, but Cristiano Ronaldo spent most of that time making it very clear he didn’t want to be in ten Hag’s squad. The final straw appeared to be leaving Old Trafford early during a pre-season friendly with Rayo Vallecano. While ten Hag maintained that he saw a place for Ronaldo in his plans, having the Legend flaunt team rules and conduct made him expendable. Inside sources report that it wasn’t that Ronaldo left that concerned the club, but the fact that a few other players left along with him. If Ronaldo was going to be a negative influence the club needed to move him on, and PSG were more than happy to take him on for a meager sum. The fact that United agreed to pay half of his £475K a week salary to get him out the door says it all.
Senior / Major Transfers (Out)
Andreas Pereira (CAM, Fulham) - £8.6M
Cristiano Ronaldo (CF, PSG) - £5.5M
Eric Bailly (CB, Marseille) - Loan
Alex Telles (LB, Sevilla) - Loan
Dean Henderson (GK, Nottingham Forest) - Loan
Amad Diallo (RW, Sunderland) - Loan
Paul Pogba (CM, Juventus) - Free
Jesse Lingard (CAM, Nottingham Forest) - Free
Nemanja Matić (DM, AS Roma) - Free
Edinson Cavani (CF, Valencia) - Free
Juan Mata (CAM, Galatasaray) - Free
Senior Transfers (In)
Antony (LW, Ajax) - £85.5M
Casemiro (DM, Real Madrid) - £63.6M
Lisandro Martínez (CB, Ajax) - £51.6M
Tyrell Malacia (LB, Feyenoord) - £13.5M
Martin Dúbravka (GK, Newcastle) - Loan
Christian Eriksen (CM, Brentford) - Free
Final Transfer List (Impact Signings)