Last week, a rumour surfaced that Manchester United were pursuing the transfer of Arjen Robben, per Stuart Mathieson of the Manchester Evening News. When the player distanced himself from the story, in quotes to Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, no one was particularly surprised (h/t ESPN.co.uk).
"Robben to United" always seemed the height of silly-season speculation.
If taken in isolation the idea of a high-profile player being linked to United without any significant likelihood of their imminent arrival at Old Trafford in a helicopter, is not particularly unusual. It is certainly no cause for alarm.
However, it did not happen in isolation. During the course of last week, a deal for Toni Kroos was reportedly "agreed in principle" per David Wright of the Daily Express only for the club to apparently end their interest in the player, per the Metro. Jamie Jackson reported in the Guardian that Thomas Muller is set to reject the chance to join United this summer.
Luke Shaw's potential arrival at Old Trafford went from "all but done" per Colin Harvey of the Daily Star, to United being "no longer the favourites" to sign the Southampton left-back, again per Jackson in the Guardian.
All this has left fans concerned, in spite of the fact that the transfer window will not close for another three months. Whilst some of this anxiety can be assigned to the cultural mores of the day and the resultant expectation of instant gratification, the club have played their part.
In March, Mike Keegan of the Manchester Evening News reported that then-manager David Moyes was looking to get the club's transfer business completed by the beginning of the World Cup on June 12, to avoid the "last-minute shambles" of last season's transfer window. Louis van Gaal's arrival might make this redundant, but the World Cup will occupy the thoughts of the footballing world to such a degree that there is wisdom in completing transfers before it begins.
In October of 2013, Chief Executive Ed Woodward contributed to the raising of expectations in an interview with Andy Mitten for the United We Stand fanzine, an excerpt of which was included in an episode of the United We Stand podcast (h/t Manchester Evening News). Woodward's bullish assessment of the club's financial muscle has stuck with fans, as has the perception that they are prepared to compete for players of the very highest calibre.
Part of the concern is also a result of the level of importance that this summer's transfers are perceived to have on the likelihood of the club's chances of once again competing at the highest level. In the past two seasons United have lost Sir Alex Ferguson, Paul Scholes, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic. Ryan Giggs has left the playing staff. Before all that happened, and such vast experience and quality left or changed role, there were already problems in the squad that had not been addressed, notably in central midfield.
There is also the problem of deja vu. Last summer saw expectations and hopes raised and dashed, and ended with United signing only the underwhelming Marouane Fellaini. The sense that the same could be happening again is palpable, and this time the stakes are even higher. Few of us seriously contemplated this time last year that United would not be in the Champions League next season, and yet that has come to pass. If this summer does not go well, the damage could begin to get very serious indeed.
In a bygone era, I vividly remember finding out that United had signed Eric Cantona from Leeds United. I was standing in a Newsagents, browsing the back pages of that day's papers. It was a total shock, there had not been the slightest inkling that it would happen. The idea that a transfer of such importance could happen in a media vacuum seems laughable today.
There is good sport to be made from transfer speculation and some derive great pleasure from following the rumours. For now, though, United fans have found in them little cause for comfort and plenty of cause for concern.
It is certainly much too soon to panic, but for those watching the transfer market's every move, it could be a very long summer.
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