Sometimes, it doesn’t matter how bumpy the journey was, only that you reached your destination.
Many will argue that applies to Manchester United’s summer transfer window, which ended with a flurry of deals that satisfied Erik ten Hag and restores confidence about the season ahead – but it should never have come to this.
When United announced the signing of Mason Mount on July 5, days ahead of the pre-season tour of the United States, fans were encouraged. Early business is always good business and for once United, despite all the takeover chatter in the background, were ahead of their rivals. That encouragement surged when Andre Onana arrived two weeks later, the club swiftly and decisively acting to replace David de Gea.
But then the cracks began to appear. It wasn’t until August 5 that Rasmus Hojlund was announced as a United player – and he’s only now been declared fit to play, finally ready to make his debut against Arsenal this afternoon. A transfer fee of £72million including add-ons represented an overpayment for an unproven 20-year-old, however promising the Dane may be.
If the Gunners and United are the two pretenders this season, each with an outside shot of dethroning Manchester City, then surely Mikel Arteta’s side are better placed to threaten the champions. Their deals for Kai Havertz, Declan Rice, Jurrien Timber and David Raya were all completed by mid-August; there was no scrambling around for emergency bits and bobs on deadline day.
United, meanwhile, proved they have not learned their lessons.
They haven’t learned from the 2020 summer window when they embarked on a midnight trolley dash for Alex Telles and Edinson Cavani, both short-term signings who have since left the club. They haven’t learned from 2021 and the panicked Cristiano Ronaldo swoop that ended in tears (he’s no longer at the club either, by the way). They appeared to be learning in 2022 – United steered clear of deadline day incomings – but here we are again.
Okay, Ten Hag will argue that his hand was forced when it came to Sergio Reguilon. Unforeseeable injuries to Luke Shaw and Tyrell Malacia forced United’s hand; although many will still argue Alvaro Fernandez or an out-of-position Diogo Dalot could have plugged the gap, rather than resorting to a Spurs reject on loan.
“I think we responded very well in that emergency situation,” Ten Hag barked.
That may be fair enough, but the delay in clinching Sofyan Amrabat’s signature was entirely avoidable. Indeed, the fact United eventually landed their long-term target on a loan, rather than pay the asking price of less than £30million is a worry. Insiders at the club will cite Financial Fair Play restrictions, but United should have been able to sell players to balance the books and fund a permanent Amrabat move.
Harry Maguire and Scott McTominay are still United players. Yet a £60m double offer from West Ham was turned down, on account of United’s valuation of the Scot. The Maguire bid was accepted but United refused to offer their former captain a sufficient pay off for him to join the Hammers.
More money could have been acquired elsewhere. Selling Fred for a paltry £13m seemed too cheap, so did £15m for Dean Henderson. Youngsters like Zidane Iqbal and Teden Mengi could have fetched a little more.
It all sums up a club still not running as smoothly as it should do, especially in the transfer market.
But the picture at the end of it all will please Ten Hag and most fans, with Amrabat the key piece of the jigsaw. He offers depth to the midfield and finally some cover for Casemiro. Mount and Hojlund, it is hoped, will settle while Onana already looks like a hit.
It’s not been a perfect summer. The process has been painstaking, with question marks over club executives including CEO Richarld Arnold and director of football John Murtough. There are still major doubts over the No9 position, not to mention the defence with Raphael Varane injured and Maguire unsold.
“We have done good business, we constructed a strong squad and we are ready to go with the fight,” the manager has insisted.
There is conviction behind Ten Hag’s comments, but the game against Arsenal on Sunday will show how close United truly are to their desired destination.