The 2017 summer transfer window remains clouded in uncertainty for Manchester United fans, who are unsure of which rumours to believe. But if their manager could repeat one transfer window past, which would best suit them now?
The rules of this game are simple. Pick a transfer window from previous years that United could replicate now, getting the players brought in at the age and level they were at the time for one season. The aim is to try to improve United's current squad, focussing especially on areas of weakness.
So, for example, that rules out using summer 2003, because although Cristiano Ronaldo arrived then, in this game United would not see the benefit of his growth and development. They would just get a year of slightly aimless stepovers backed up by Kleberson, Eric Djemba-Djemba and David Bellion.
The final rule is that we are using 2002/03 as the cut off—that was the season when the current system of January and summer transfer windows was implemented by the Premier League, so it makes sense to make that the first possible option.
Interestingly, United are a pretty tricky club to play this game with because of the longevity of Sir Alex Ferguson's reign. He tended to think across multiple years, rather than one transfer window, and did not have too many windows in which he signed a plethora of star players in different positions.
Nonetheless, we have had a go, starting with the second runner-up. And we found a winner that would certainly fit the bill.
Third place: January 2005, Quality over quantity
With Victor Lindelof having arrived already, Jose Mourinho has clearly moved to address some of United's uncertainty at centre back. In January 2005, Sir Alex did the same. It was his most impactful January window by a long way, as he brought in two players who would be at the heart of a lot of success in the years that followed.
It is almost hard to remember the time before Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra were so associated with United. Vidic went on to become the club captain and the rock at the heart of the Red Devils' defence until Ferguson's departure—Vidic's own exit would come a year later, but he had pretty much checked out for much of his final season.
Evra became...well, he became Uncle Pat, a dream on the pitch—until the last couple of seasons, and even then he had a renaissance towards the end—and a total delight off it. He stands alongside perhaps only Ander Herrera as the foreign import who has most bought into the club's ethos.
And they would both address a current problem—especially if we rewind a few weeks to before United signed Lindelof. Vidic would add leadership in the dressing room, Evra would add character, and if Luke Shaw remains out of favour, United need a first-choice left-back. Both hit their prime pretty soon after arriving in Manchester, so they would be ready to go.
If it addressed a few more areas of the pitch, this window could have been a winner.
Second Place: Summer 2012, Goals at the Ready
A surprisingly recent choice, but one that would help fill the gaps a lot.
The headline act is, of course, Robin van Persie. A year of him at his electrifying peak would be a tonic for United at the moment, given the uncertainty at centre-forward. Marcus Rashford could continue the education he received under Zlatan Ibrahimovic at the feet of another world-class centre-forward.
As he did in the summer of 2012, Van Persie could provide a lift to the whole club. If he and Mourinho got on the same page, it could be the start of a beautiful friendship. The rules of the game state that United would be getting the player at the level he was when purchased, meaning a guarantee of goals. And given that it would only be for a year, he would not get in the way of Rashford's long-term future.
An amazing headliner, then, and the support acts are not too shabby either. While Shinji Kagawa did not work out at United the first time around, a No. 10 with his skills would beef up the squad's creativity. Then there's Alex Buttner, who could cover at left-back—or more pertinently left-wing since he was so much better going forward than he was defensively.
And if what followed in the season ahead of this window is any guide, Mourinho could do a lot worse than to reboot summer 2012.
First Place: Summer 2007, Quality and Quantity
There is an exception to most rules. The summer of 2007 stands as the key exception to the previously stated rule that Sir Alex was not really one for sweeping summer changes, wherein he strengthened in multiple positions in the same window.
Anderson may have struggled with the impact of years of injuries as his career progressed, but he was a really exciting prospect in 2007 and was ready for prime time. The '07 version of him lining up alongside Herrera and Paul Pogba is a pretty decent prospect.
And speaking of both injuries and players whose '07 incarnation would have been great alongside Pogba and Herrera, Owen Hargreaves also arrived at United during that window.
His tenacity and ability on the ball would be just about the perfect complement to what Mourinho already has at his disposal. Given that the injuries did not really kick in until after the 2007/08 season, he meets the "ready for a year of action" criterion.
Those two would mean United's central-midfield squad-depth issues would be more-than addressed.
Tomasz Kuszczak is not strictly needed, but if Sergio Romero decides he fancies more of a spotlight after his excellent performances in last season's Europa League—especially if Mourinho is not planning to use him for United's Champions League campaign—and heads for pastures new, the "Pole in Goal" could make a decent back-up to David De Gea.
No one was particularly excited about Kuszczak's arrival in '07, and no one would be now, but this can be considered a bonus rather than part of the reason this window wins.
Nani also arrived that summer, and while it is hard to imagine Mourinho taking to the mercurial then-20-year-old, he would still provide an exciting option off the bench. His would certainly be a squad role, though.
Alongside Hargreaves, the star attraction of this window was a player whose popularity with United fans dipped sharply after his departure but who was once beloved for his relentless endeavour. The 2007 version of Carlos Tevez would be a massive asset to Mourinho's United.
He could play at No. 9 but was always happy to sacrifice himself for the sake of the team, a quality that Mourinho would surely love. He was a one-man pressing unit, harrying opposition defenders, and when he had the ball, he was hard to shake off it. Pogba and Tevez crossed paths at Juventus and worked well together, too.
Indeed the only thing missing from the summer '07 window in terms of improving United at the moment is defenders, but having excluded Lindelof from the conversation when discussing the January 2005 window, here we can assume that the '07 arrivals would add to United's squad as it is currently composed, thus meaning the Swedish defender would remain in situ.
In one window, if the summer window of 2007 was rebooted, Mourinho would have added to Lindelof's purchase with creativity on the wings, quality and cover in the centre of midfield and a centre-forward that could not be a better match for his management style unless his name was Didier Drogba.
For that reason, summer '07 is the obvious winner here.