A lot has been said, and not just by me, about Manchester United’s decision not to buy a new central midfielder this Summer. As the transfer deadline drew nearer and no news was forthcoming, fans’ expectant hearts started to sink as it became clear that players who were up for grabs, such as Fernandes, Neves, Maddison, Ndidi, Rabiot, Milinkovic-Savic and Tielemans, were not being pursued by the club and that nobody was going to be brought in to replace Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera.
With fans promised a £200 million kitty and yet only a net £66 million having actually been spent, we were all livid. #GlazersOut and #WoodwardOut were trending so wildly that it made headline news. But was it a case of the board pulling the rug from under Ole Solskjaer’s feet? Or was it, at least in part, his decision? And if so, why?
In the pre-match press conference against Chelsea, Solskjaer explained:“I said earlier in preseason, and last season as well, it’s not about a quick fix, it’s about a longer rebuild, it’s about getting the right players … in and it’s not time suddenly the last three days to change that attitude when you haven’t got the right … people, the right players, or you haven’t got the answers, or the correct answers maybe from the players that you wanted to have … it’s like, mm, if there’s doubt, most of the time there is no doubt, so then you’d rather trust the ones you have.”
Saving face? Toeing the corporate party line? Or is this genuinely Solskjaer’s attitude? According to the press, Paulo Dybala was one player who put United off by his lack of enthusiasm about joining the club, but he wasn’t a long-term target of the type Solskjaer was suggesting – his transfer would have been one of opportunity, due to the potential swap deal with Romelu Lukaku. So you have to assume that Olé is telling us that whoever was on the central midfielder shopping list also did not express sufficient desire to play for Manchester United.
I’m still firmly in the #WoodwardOut camp but after the dust has settled, the facts of the first proper transfer window under Olé Solskjaer were these: players who wanted to play for Manchester United were bought, even if the club had to pay above their market value; players who did not want to play for Manchester United were sold, even if it was slightly below their market value; and players who hesitated about joining the club, whether it was the player himself or via the behaviour of his agent, were not bought.
If you look at it in this light, what a terrific transfer window it was.
It is no coincidence that in Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Daniel James, United acquired three players whose boyhood dream was to play for the club. If you look at the squad for the Chelsea game, Solskjaer started the season with these three “boyhood dream” players plus academy graduates Pogba, Lingard, Rashford, McTominay, Tuanzebe, Greenwood and Pereira – a total of ten players with an inbred or inbuilt loyalty to the club. That’s most of the squad.
Solskjaer wants Manchester United players to be proud, loyal and committed to the club above all else. This is rubbing off even on players without that inbred pedigree. Last week David De Gea tweeted “Wearing this shirt for eight years with pride and passion”, and asked to become captain.
On Sunday we saw Anthony Martial, returned to his favoured No.9 shirt, chasing down every ball and harrying Kepa Arrizabalaga into mistake after mistake when clearing his lines. I know the high press is part of the new tactics, but even so, is this the same player we saw under José Mourinho? Or has he also been infected with pride and passion?
If Paulo, Bruno and Sergey aren’t sure about playing for this club, then forget them. We don’t want another Di Maria, Falcao or Sanchez. Over recent years, United have perhaps bought the most talented players – or some might say, the most marketable. But Olé is buying the most committed.
It remains to be seen whether, particularly in central midfield, pride and passion will be enough. A couple of injuries, especially to Pogba and the increasingly important McTominay, may leave the side very short handed in that area. But you never know. The immensely impressive start that James Garner has made to the season in the U23s means another academy graduate is knocking loudly on the first team dressing room door. With players with pride, passion and talent like that, Solskjaer might just pull it off.