When I look back at the signings made in the last 10 years, there is a lot of limelight on the signings we have made in the post-Sir Alex Ferguson era but in all honesty, when we look back now, our troubles started from Sir Alex’s era.
Post-Cristiano Ronaldo sale and Carlos Tevez’s departure, most of the money recouped was not spent on new signings. He signed Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan and Michael Owen. Valencia turned out to be a solid professional and served the club well for 10 years before moving back to Ecuador. His profile was different to Cristiano but the same can be said of David Beckham and Andrei Kanchelskis before Cristiano. Valencia formed a good understanding on the wing with Rooney as forward. Later he was found as a one-trick pony and his selflessness meant he didn’t score quite as many goals. However, his professionalism, strong work ethic and selflessness meant that he was able to adapt to a switch to right back, a position he served with distinction to be our best right back of the decade.
Sir Alex took a risk with Obertan and that didn’t work out. With Owen, we knew of his prowess from his time at Liverpool but the Owen we got was a different version after being hampered by injuries at Real Madrid and Newcastle. Sir Alex was probably trying to tap on the quality and experience he had and attempted to give him a new lease of life. He did win some trophies with us including the Premier League title but his contribution was mixed.
Sir Alex made other similar type of signings with the only ones that worked out being Javier Hernandez and David De Gea. Hernandez came to the fore as a speedy, clinical finisher. He was the kind of striker that lived for scoring and was always at the right time and the right place. He was also to be the successor to Ole Gunnar Solksjaer’s super-sub tag. However, he was one of the many to suffer from Sir Alex’s retirement.
David De Gea was also another chosen by Sir Alex to succeed Edwin van der Sar and he grew from a shaky start to life as United’s No.1 to one of the best goalkeepers in the world and our undoubted number 1 goalkeeper of the decade. Throughout, his career, Sir Alex has proven time and again to have the ability to sign unknown players and turn them into stars. He always gave space to youngsters from our academy as well and was not afraid to splash the cash to sign big players that can still be developed further.
In this decade, the gamble on the likes of Smalling and Jones didn’t work but that we only got to know after Ferdinand and Vidic left the club. Evans, Cleverley and Welbeck were brought through the youth ranks. Evans didn’t quite work out as well but still went on to do well as an experienced player and leader at West Bromwich Albion and now at Leicester City. Cleverley has proven not to be of the level expected at United despite a promising start while Welbeck, I feel, could have still done a job for United as a squad player but he was not favoured by Van Gaal. He has also been prone to injuries since he left Old Trafford.
The significant signings Sir Alex made in his last season, Shinji Kagawa and Robin Van Persie were the big-name ones he made in this decade. It was a vindicated decision as Van Persie (especially) was the star as United won their 20th league title in Sir Alex’s last season. Kagawa had a promising season but unfortunately Moyes didn’t really know how to use him to the best of his abilities and was not part of Van Gaal’s tactical plan.
The signings made in the post-Sir Alex era seem to have been a mix of the manager’s demand and United not getting their first choice signings. Marouane Fellaini might not have been the profile we have been used to in our midfield but he was very effective in both boxes and he always gave his all whenever he played. I felt more could have been done with Daley Blind. He read the game well and was technically adept. What he lacked in pace and strength, he made up for it with intelligence. Unfortunately, he went further into the periphery in Mourinho’s second season and was sold back to Ajax where he has done well.
Juan Mata was signed at a time when United had Kagawa in their ranks. They both played in similar position, with the difference being that Kagawa was faster and nippy on the ball while Mata was a player with more control and measure on the ball and Premier League experience. Mata is also another player that has given his all for United in all these years and showed us his quality at times. He has been unfairly shifted to play on the right wing a lot as well despite it not being his ideal position or suitable to his characteristics. However, at a time when the pace of the Premier League was getting faster, United was going backwards to slow down the pace with Mata when Kagawa might have been a better fit.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic came for free and is the best signing made in the post-Sir Alex era. He brought back the confidence and arrogance of play from Cantona’s days and he had the top quality ability expected of a United player and the necessary character to lead the team to victory. It was just unfortunate that he suffered his first major injury at United and he came to United at the tail end of his career. Another signing from the same time, Henrikh Mkhitaryan emerged from a slow start to have an explosive impact on the 2016-17 season. However, for some reason, his form dropped off a season after for an infamous swap with Alexis Sanchez.
Alexis Sanchez was a tried and tested success at Barcelona and Arsenal but was a failure at United. Angel Di Maria was the first big name signing made in the post-Sir Alex era and everyone got excited by him. His initial performances proved that enthusiasm and excitement right but then his form dropped off for an acrimonious exit from United the following season. Radamel Falcao was another we signed with a big reputation but he unfortunately came to us on the back of a major injury and was no longer the player he once was despite his best efforts.
Bastian Schweinsteiger was signed as the first United German but came at a wrong time in his career as he was past his prime. Paul Pogba was another big name, the biggest money signing we made this decade and his performances have been mixed so far, it’s safe to say he has not had as big an impact people hoped his signing would have made.
Romelu Lukaku was signed to replace Ibrahimovic and while he was a success for the number of goals scored, the rest of his play regularly attracted criticism. The signings made by Solksjaer so far, have been promising but it is too soon to judge them.
What Sir Alex did in this decade deserves a lot more credit than he has got. He got the best out of players that were surviving from his last great squad of 2007-08, the old legs of Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs were still going strong right until his retirement. Although most of his signings didn’t work, those that did, had a big impact.
The subsequent managers each came with a strategy and philosophy in mind to refresh the squad and with every new manager, the club has been stuck in eternal transition without any progress. One can even argue that we have only regressed. The lack of efficiency and ability at those negotiating for new signings has not helped as well. We are missing out on identifying top quality players and signing big name players that want to be at the club and can be developed further. As we head into a new decade, there appears to be no light at the end of the tunnel.
By Rasvinder Singh
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