Somebody, somewhere must be keeping a tally on just how many players Manchester United are linked with over the course of every transfer window. Without the Old Trafford club, the summer-gossip column would be decidedly bare, especially with the sagas concerning the future of both Raheem Sterling and Christian Benteke already resolved.
This has been the case for the past few summers, with United reportedly targeting pretty much every player in world football—with no regard for feasibility or nuance. Louis van Gaal’s side have been both the transfer window’s most prolific and futile club.
But there has been a shift in the transfer-window dynamic this summer. United are no longer the laughing stock of the haggling market, finally throwing around genuine clout in their pursuit of some top-tier targets. Some of these targets, like Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin and Memphis Depay, have already been secured.
Until this summer, Manchester United had become a contradiction in terms of their transfer-market activity. They might still be the Premier League’s predominant outfit with regards to their standing and stature, but this never really translated into summer window prowess—at least until this year.
Look at how the Old Trafford club spent so much time attempting to lure Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona when they stood no real chance of succeeding, or the way they wasted so much effort in trying to tempt Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club—only progressing the Portuguese winger’s contract negotiations with Real Madrid.
Man Utd also failed in their last-ditch, big-money attempt to redirect Gareth Bale’s world-record move to the Santiago Bernabeu from Tottenham Hotspur, only compounding a dismal transfer window, which ended with the Old Trafford club paying over the odds on deadline day for Marouane Fellaini.
This was an issue last summer too, with United keen to make a transfer-market impression ahead of Van Gaal’s first season in English football. Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera, both long-time targets, were signed quickly, but the club once again missed out on players of genuine impact like Arturo Vidal.
However, Man Utd have made a real impact this summer, which goes deeper than the signings they have already made. Europe’s elite clubs are, for the first time in a while, concerned over the loss of their best players to Old Trafford. Whether Van Gaal and the club’s executive vice-chairman can pull such moves off is another matter, but at least United are once again throwing their transfer-market weight around.
Sergio Ramos, by all accounts, has had his head turned by interest from United to such an extent that Real Madrid president Florentino Perez has taken the unprecedented move of personally convincing the World Cup-winning defender to stay at the Santiago Bernabeu, according to Rob Draper of the Daily Mail.
United are also seemingly targeting another World Cup winner, with Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller subject of a staggering €100 million bid from the Premier League club—at least on the basis of recent reports from Bild (via the Guardian). Muller would be the kingpin of Van Gaal’s summer business.
Bayern captain Philipp Lahm has admitted that his German team-mate could well be tempted by Man Utd’s interest, failing to provide guarantees Muller will remain in Bavaria for next season. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge denied upon the announcement of Schweinsteiger’s departure that another Bayern Munich player would be sold to United, but the Bundesliga giants may well have to entertain the notion further.
Of course, this summer could eventually find a conclusion much like the last two for Man Utd, with ambitious moves for Ramos and Muller most likely to end in failure. But they have at the very least set a precedent for transfer windows to come, giving them better chances of securing top-tier targets in the future. By acting like a big club again, United will be able to sign big players.
“Is the squad deep enough to challenge? The squad will be absolutely deep enough and ready to challenge on all fronts, all competitions next year,” Woodward insisted toward the end of last season, as per Daniel Taylor of the Guardian. “That, as ever, does involve some ins and outs in the summer, which we’re not going to guide on in terms of number.
“Regarding this summer’s transfer activity, we have already started implementing our plans and announced that Memphis Depay, one of the most exciting young players in Europe, will be joining our first team," he continued. "We expect to be active again during the window, but it is too early to give guidance on transfers or wages at this point.”
This summer has so far been in stark contrast to the last, when United were so erratic that Woodward became something of a cartoon character in his public perception. Here was a guy who couldn’t close a deal even if the pen was placed in his hand for him, picking up the unwanted offcuts of European football’s elite for over-inflated fees. The late captures of Angel Di Maria and Radamel Falcao on loan did little to alter that perception.
Woodward is now seen in an altogether different light, with the Man Utd chief not just pulling off shrewd signings but also playing hard-ball over the sale of goalkeeper David De Gea to Real Madrid. And with a month remaining of this summer’s window, he could yet pull off the signing to counter all the ridicule angled his way over the past two years or so.
Whereas rumours linking United with some of Europe’s best players were previously taken as little more than gossip-column posturing, now such speculation is being handled seriously. There is a sense, for the first time since Sir Alex Ferguson last occupied the Old Trafford dugout, that the Premier League giants could pull off a genuinely headline move.
With the club’s new £75 million-a-season deal with Adidas in play from August 1, and the Premier League’s new bumper television deal to factor in as well, United are hardly short of the finance to compete at the top end of the transfer market. But it’s only now that they are finally applying that clout, and Europe’s best teams are worried.