Manchester United needed to have a strong summer to bolster the squad as the team transitioned from a legend, Sir Alex Ferguson, to new manager David Moyes.
Instead, the team signed Marouane Fellaini and Guillermo Varela and, in the final moments, failed to sign target Ander Herrera of Athletic Bilbao, somehow botching a move in a manner that perfectly epitomized a poor summer.
While there have been reports that three impostors posing as United representatives at La Liga offices somehow ruined United's bid for Herrera, the Spanish press has nixed those claims.
From Dermot Corrigan of ESPN:
Reports subsequently emerged in the UK claiming that the three Spaniards pictured outside the LFP building were 'imposters', while the Old Trafford club moved to sign Marouane Fellaini from Everton for £27.5 million just before the window shut on Monday night.
The 'imposter' claims have been scoffed at in Madrid and Bilbao, where the blame is being placed on United's shoulders. Marca names the three lawyers photographed as Guillermo Gutierrez, Alvaro Reig and Rodrigo Garcia, from the Bilbao law firm Laffer Abagados. This firm specialises in sports law, and were reportedly used by Javi Martinez and Bayern Munich to successfully negotiate the process of finalising his move to Germany 12 months ago in similar circumstances.
Despite what actually happened—and let's be honest, this is likely the case of United refusing to meet Bilbao's valuation of Herrera, not anything more sinister—should the Red Devils have really entered the final day of the transfer window without having made a significant signing?
Surely not, and there has been no shortage of criticism surrounding the club's approach to this summer.
We start with Miguel Delaney of ESPN, who gave the team a "D" in his transfer market grades and offered the following summary of the team's summer:
Three key facts sum up what was essentially one of the most important summers in the club's entire history after the retirement of Sir Alex Ferguson.
First of all, United badly wanted a marquee name to alter the tone after that seismic event; they got none.
Secondly, Moyes was desperate for at least two midfielders to improve an area he was increasingly concerned about; he got one.
Finally, even in order to get Fellaini, United had to overpay after a summer of trying to underpay. That further reflects the apparent absence of any kind of clear plan, which also saw the club sway from not just different target to different target, but even different styles of targets.
Meanwhile, Phil McNulty of BBC Sport took the team to task for several failed pursuits over the summer:
From the bold early summer claims in pursuit of Barcelona pair Thiago Alcantara and Cesc Fabregas—a chase that rarely looked anything other than doomed—Moyes and Woodward were left burning the midnight oil to do the deal for Everton's Fellaini and try to set up a loan deal for Real Madrid defender Fabio Coentrao.
And in the background in deadline week was another ill-fated move, this time for Athletic Bilbao's Ander Herrera, that ran aground as United could not agree a fee centered on complications surrounding his proposed £30.5m release clause...
But in the failed pursuit of Herrera, every error United made this summer was brought to light.
Like Cesc Fabregas and Thiago Alcantara, bringing him aboard was probably unlikely. While Fabregas was never likely to leave, and Alcantara was always likely to be wooed by Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, Bilbao was never going to budge on his €36 million release clause, a figure that seemed far too high to most discerning minds.
While United apparently chased Herrera, another target who would have made sense for United, Mesut Ozil, was being signed by Arsenal—not dissimilar to United missing out on various targets while they stood outside of Fabregas' house, playing "In Your Eyes" on the jukebox.
Perhaps United could have made the move if they had, you know, started negotiating it a bit earlier in the window. Likewise, if they had treated Fellaini like one of two targets worth nabbing for the midfield rather than treating him as a backup plan, they could have had him before July 31 for his £23.5 million release fee, not the £27.5 million fee they eventually paid.
Add it all up, and United's deadline day perfectly reflected the entire summer. Disjointed. Disappointing. Dismaying for United fans, surely, while the top contenders all seriously improved.
Now, keep this in mind—Fellaini is a very nice addition and slots well into this United midfield. He may not bring with him the creative and technical prowess of other United targets, but he's a dangerous player near the goal, a true box-to-box midfielder and a player who will win the ball back. Even if United overpaid, he's a good player.
And let's also keep in mind that this was already a championship roster. Robin van Persie is the league's best forward, while keeping Wayne Rooney could be seen as an addition by itself. All is not lost for United.
Far from it.
But there is some nervousness surrounding this club, and for good reason. The Moyes era didn't exactly start out on solid footing this summer, and a draw versus Chelsea and loss to Liverpool haven't steadied any feelings of vertigo.
Put it all together, and this is what you get: Missing out on Herrera wasn't the end of the world, but what it represented may very well haunt United all season long.
Hit me up on Twitter—my tweets would never play Peter Gabriel songs on a jukebox. C'mon.