Just over a year ago, David Moyes officially took charge of Manchester United and not long after, hope was replaced by anxiety and then downright desperation as United’s summer descended into complete farce.
12 months on, Louis Van Gaal has replaced Moyes and Ed Woodward looks to have learnt last summer’s harsh lessons and while he remains a largely untrusted figure among United fans, the way the club has so far conducted its business this summer can only be commended.
Woodward has kept his cards very close to his chest this summer and that has resulted in the signings of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw who are the sort of talented young players United need who could flourish under Van Gaal’s expert tutelage.
Even more importantly, as far as fans’ expectations are concerned, United’s business this summer is far from approaching the finish line with Arturo Vidal, Nigel de Jong and Mats Hummels among the names being linked with a move to Old Trafford.
However, while fans and media have rightly been focused on potential signings, carrying out a summer clear-out will be just as important for Van Gaal in this transfer window.
For a team expected to challenge for titles domestically and internationally every season, United have for too long adopted a strangely relaxed attitude with some of their players, even with those who have consistently under-performed
Not only is carrying passengers damaging from a financial point of view (last season United had a higher wage bill than Chelsea for the first time in a decade) but, more importantly, it hinders the club’s fortunes on the pitch as players who are quite simply not good enough to don a red shirt are rewarded with long term deals.
Nani was inexplicably handed a new five-year deal last summer while Anderson was granted a four-and-a-half-year contract in December 2010 and neither has done anything to justify the decision, while paying £120,000-a-week for Ashley Young borders on sheer folly.
Furthermore, a lack of quality alternatives means players, Tom Cleverley and Antonio Valencia to name two, find themselves in the starting XI not out of merit but simply because players competing for their spots offer even less guarantees.
United’s policy of signing players of dubious talent to long-term contracts reduces the club’s chances of finding possible suitors for some of their fringe players, who don’t seem overly motivated to swap a large pay-check and the chance of winning trophies for the opportunity of playing regularly at a smaller club.
There have, however, been some positive signs so far this summer with United managing to offload Alex Buttner to Dynamo Moscow while Federico Macheda was finally released after spending the last three seasons on loan.
Bebe could soon follow the pair through the exit door at Old Trafford after attracting interest in Portugal and the Daily Mail reported that Van Gaal is determined to get rid of Marouane Fellaini, a process likely to leave United at least £10-15m worse off than the £27m they paid for the Belgian last season.
Tom Cleverley, Patrice Evra, Darren Fletcher and Michael Carrick are all out of contract at the end of the season if Van Gaal, as largely expected, will be working towards a leaner, more streamlined squad than the benefits could be enormous.
Out with the old, in with the new. Never has that cliche rang truer than this summer.