In the early hours of Tuesday morning this week, Radamel Falcao’s dramatic arrival at Old Trafford brought to an end Danny Welbeck’s 13 years at Manchester United.
As soon as the Colombian striker had finalised his season-long loan to United, Welbeck, who was over 200 miles way in North London, was allowed to complete his £16 million move to Arsenal.
In the three days since, there has been a lot of pious talk about how swapping Welbeck for Falcao means United have surrendered their identity.
By allowing Welbeck, a Mancunian and a graduate of their youth system, to leave, and replacing him with an expensive foreign signing it has been suggested United have abandoned their commitment to nurturing young players.
The former United assistant manager Mike Phelan became the spokesman for this argument when he told the BBC, "They have probably lost the way of Manchester United a little bit. Now, rather than produce, it may be the case they are buying in. Danny Welbeck has been part of United's identity and that has been broken.”
This is clearly errant nonsense, and far from losing their identity Manchester United have actually regained it this summer.
United’s identity has long been of a club who always sought the very best, whether found playing on the back streets of Salford or expensively purchased from other clubs.
The signings of Falcao and Angel Di Maria for a new British transfer record of £59.7 million represent United’s tradition of attempting to attract the best players.
Even the fabled Busby Babes in the 1950s, who consisted largely of homegrown players were augmented with expensive signings including Ray Wood, Johnny Berry, and most notably Tommy Taylor, who arrived from Barnsley for a club record fee of £29,999 in 1953.
Taylor’s 112 goals in 166 games drove the Babes to two League titles before his untimely death at Munich in February 1958.
Four years later, as United attempted to recover from the wreckage of Munich, they would break the British transfer record again to sign Denis Law from Torino for £115,000.
In the 1980s as United sought to end their league-title drought, which would stretch to 26 years, they again broke the British record by signing Bryan Robson for £1.5 million from West Bromwich Albion.
The Class of '92 famously saw the emergence of Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Paul Scholes, Gary Neville, Nicky Butt and Paul Scholes from the club’s own youth ranks, but they couldn’t do it on their own, and Sir Alex Ferguson would break the club’s transfer record eight times for players to play alongside them, including Roy Keane, Andy Cole, Jaap Stam, Ruud van Nistelrooy and Rio Ferdinand.
After the signing of Dimitar Berbatov for another club-record fee of £30.75 million in August 2008, the restrictive measures of the Glazer family began to take hold and United’s record remained static for the next five-and-a-half years.
In was in this period the club lost their way, and lost their identity, selling the best and replacing them with poor imitations.
In the summer of 2009, the world’s best player, Cristiano Ronaldo, was sold to Real Madrid for £80 million and replaced by Antonio Valencia from Wigan.
That same year Carlos Tevez was lured across Manchester to join City and replaced by an ageing and injury-prone Michael Owen.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s managerial genius would hold United together, but the club's lack of investment would eventually be exposed during the reign of his successor David Moyes who took the club from champions to seventh in a single season.
The signing of Juan Mata for a club-record fee of £37.1 million in January this year, followed by the summer arrivals of Falcao and Di Maria has seen normal service resumed.
However, the arrival of Falcao has been strangely dismissed as a gamble, a panicked move and a ditching of the club’s cherished principles.
It is hard to fathom how the signing of arguably the world’s best striker, and the simultaneous sale of the erratic Welbeck, who over the course of 142 games never did enough to deserve a place in the starting line-up is anything but a plainly sensible move.
The departure of Welbeck, the local lad done good, has become drenched in a misguided romance and sentimentality.
The truth is he was neither good enough to earn a place as a traditional striker as he was never clinical enough, nor as a winger, for while blessed with speed, he lacks the fluidity and adhesive control of the very best players on the flanks.
Too often he would beat a man, and then beat himself with his lack of control.
Welbeck would not even have made United’s starting line-up had they not bought a single player this summer, and certainly not after the arrival of six new ones.
To raise £16 million for a squad player is another good piece of business for the suddenly revered United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward.
Welbeck is still only 23 and a genuine talent, so there remains a real chance United could regret losing him to a Premier League rival, but at this juncture it is a risk worth taking.
It does not mean, however, United have abandoned their commitment to youth development, but rather simply decided Welbeck is not good enough, and his departure will now open up the way for another promising youth player, James Wilson, to earn more playing time this season.
While it was difficult for United fans to bid farewell to Welbeck, it bodes well for the club this season and beyond that they have regained their bold and brash identity.
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