The David Moyes era at Manchester United was, for one reason or another, an unmitigated disaster. Going from Premier League champions to a seventh-place finish in a matter of 12 months was unprecedented for Manchester United. However whilst Moyes made mistakes, some came much earlier than the Glaswegian's arrival with the impact of those mistakes making Louis van Gaal's first summer at Old Trafford the most important in recent memory.
It is no secret that the midfield was an area Sir Alex Ferguson rather uncharacteristically ignored in his final years in charge. Owen Hargreaves was the last first-team-ready midfielder signed by Ferguson, way back in 2007. It was a whole six years later when Marouane Fellaini became the next first-team midfielder added to the squad as the first of two signings made in the Moyes era.
For a number of years, it didn't matter. Michael Carrick and Darren Fletcher forged a formidable partnership in Hargreaves' lengthy absences through injury, whilst an ageing Paul Scholes still impacted matches with aplomb. It was only when Paul Scholes retired in 2011 that supporters started showing real concern over the club's midfield.
Tom Cleverley was muted as his replacement and in fairness the 2011-2012 season started well with the youthful energy of Cleverley almost reminiscent of a young Scholes. A poor challenge from Bolton's Kevin Davies saw Cleverley spend a spell on the sidelines and in truth he has never truly recovered.
Anderson's decline in performance and fitness has been disappointing whilst at the same time Carrick and Fletcher have aged, with the latter having significant health worries of his own.
Not adding to the midfield in those years was always a niggling worry in the back of supporters' minds but Ferguson's outstanding ability to drag an extra 10-15 percent out of his players masked the problem. Particularly with Premier League success in 2012-2013.
The 2013-2014 season saw the true impact of not strengthening the midfield. Both Carrick and Fletcher were unable to produce the levels of performance for which they had become revered whilst Cleverley and Anderson were continually disappointing.
As a result, Louis van Gaal has been left with no alternative but to heavily strengthen the midfield ahead of the 2014-2015 campaign.
The £29 million signing of Ander Herrera is a strong start, the Basque midfielder has the dynamism and energy to revolutionise Manchester United's midfield, particularly in bringing the ball out from defence. However, there still needs to be another world-class addition alongside him.
Arturo Vidal has been linked heavily and despite both clubs and the English media's insistence that no deal is close, supporters are becoming frustrated, as is unfortunately natural within a transfer window. The fee quoted is rumoured to be around £35million according to Simon Jones of the Daily Mail with Italian journalist Alfredo Pedulla (in Italian) suggesting Vidal would want wages in excess of £8 million per year.
These are huge numbers. Even with Manchester United's recently announced record kit sponsorship with Adidas to begin in the 2015-2016 season, Financial Fair Play is a real concern which the club are taking seriously.
Manchester United's Adidas deal compared to others. [In Euros, Gazzetta] pic.twitter.com/8LiODaPL30— Sport Witness (@Sport_Witness) July 15, 2014
We are no longer in an age where a single spending spree can totally restructure a team without consequence. Expenditure must not outweigh income with a maximum loss of £36 million over three years according to UEFA regulations.
Clubs can get around these regulations with monumental commercial revenue, which Manchester United does have, however the validity of commercial sponsorship for other clubs, i.e. Manchester City and Paris Saint-Germain has yet to be determined fully.
Under normal circumstances, with Financial Fair Play taken into account, the figures reportedly required to secure the signature of Arturo Vidal would not be a huge worry for United. However, with the net spend for the summer already standing at around £58 million following the respective arrivals of Herrera and Luke Shaw, as well as weaknesses in other areas of the squad, the need to be financially aware is sizable.
Supporters will argue that the "dead wood" can be merely shipped away to other clubs and mass finance will be saved. In theory, this is a wonderful notion but the reality is, the vast majority of United's squad don't have a worthwhile resale value due to poor performances over an extended period. The only positive would be the saving on wages, but this alone does not pay for better replacements.
One of Sir Alex Ferguson's most lauded attributes was his innate ability to construct and rebuild squads over a period of time. This process, whilst performed over numerous eras, consisted of adding one, two or even three players within one transfer window and gradually building a strong squad over a period of between three and five years.
This policy didn't really continue in the last two seasons of Ferguson's stewardship. Maybe Ferguson realised he wouldn't be around to build one last great squad at Manchester United?
However the fact remains, in years gone by at Old Trafford, the areas which need restructuring this summer would have been addressed much earlier, Ferguson at his peak would not let problems within a squad build up to the level they currently are.
Make no mistake, blame cannot just be placed at Ferguson's door in a careless manner. The club's most successful manager can be afforded errors in judgement whilst in areas away from midfield weaknesses have developed which nobody could have foreseen.
The problem for United this summer is that multiple areas of concern have been allowed to come to a head all at once.
Perhaps this is through bad luck or negligence but in central defence the vastly experienced pairing of Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic have both departed whilst Patrice Evra looks set to move to Turin in the near future. On the wings, Antonio Valencia, Nani and Ashley Young have failed to develop and look incapable of producing consistent spells of quality despite facing little competition within the squad.
Speaking to MUTV in September 2013, Sir Alex Ferguson noted the qualities of the current squad,
What is really important,
What I think is key to the team is that if Vida [Nemanja Vidic] stays fit, we have a fantastic chance, you know that.
In Van Persie and Rooney you have got forwards who can win games and Antonio Valencia is back to his best.
The high regard in which Vidic was spoken about as recently as September 2013 makes the fact he has been allowed to move to Internazionale rather difficult to understand. Of course if the player wanted to leave, then it is understandable and the club could do very little to prevent the move. However, if that wasn't the case, you have to ask why a player with such experience and quality was allowed to move on with the club in need of leaders.
At 32 years of age, Vidic is approaching the end of his career and United do have to plan for the future, but in allowing three defenders to leave there is now a need to bring two high-quality defenders in to replace them. The defenders of the quality United need do not often come at a bargain price and this is added to the potential spend on another central midfielder.
Charles Reynolds of The Independent suggested that Angel di Maria was a target for Manchester United earlier this summer, however speculation surrounding the 26-year-old has since cooled. Di Maria would be the exact injection of quality United need in the wide areas.
Valencia, Young and Nani are all footballers with their own unique abilities, but consistency is something all three struggle with. Being played out of position on a regular basis hasn't helped Nani or Valencia and when you look at United's inability to create scoring opportunities from wide areas unless Adnan Januzaj was on the pitch last season, a real boost in quality is needed.
Is it possible both financially and logistically to order wholesale squad changes in just one summer? Would it be sensible with Van Gaal new to the job? Gary Neville suggests far less business needs to be done than others:
@StrettyNews I think a wide midfielder / another CM and a defender of the right quality would be a good summer— Gary Neville (@GNev2) July 16, 2014
The summer of 2014 is of great significance for Manchester United. Getting back into the Champions League at the first time of asking is a must given the financial expenditure sponsors such as Chevrolet and Adidas have been willing to put forward. As such, the club must spend this summer and address weaknesses.
On the other hand, Louis van Gaal is an extremely gifted coach and as we have seen with the Dutch national team at the recently concluded World Cup, he is more than capable of dragging the absolute maximum out of the players he has.
Perhaps Van Gaal will be able to add just three further players this window and take the squad into the top four and really begin the rebuild next summer. This is obviously a risk but something which Van Gaal is definitely capable of.
One thing is for sure and that is Van Gaal's job this summer has been made far more difficult as a result of errors in years gone by. The summer of 2014 is huge for United, make no mistake and the club's management simply has to get it right if United are to return to Europe's top table at the first opportunity.