Forget about Manchester United’s current Premier League standing of seventh place, the biggest condemnation of the troubling start to David Moyes’ Old Trafford career is the club’s fall in stock price from $19 to $15. For those business enthusiasts out there, that equates to a loss in value of £153million.
You can hardly blame the investors. Behind the scenes, the Carrington club is still a well-oiled corporate machine, but if there’s one thing the new Red Devils boss has proved so far this season, it’s that he’s not the type of gaffer who will be able to provide nine major honours in the space of a decade through his managerial abilities alone – unlike his predecessor.
The solution? Undoubtedly the transfer market. If you can’t replace Sir Alex Ferguson’s almighty talents as a manager, the kind of talent that can make one of the weakest midfields in the Premier League’s top half into title material, you have compensate with undisputed quality in the playing personnel.
That appeared to be a viewpoint shared by David Moyes whom, after a summer window in which he secured the signing of just a single senior player in the form of Marouane Fellaini, was expected to be exceptionally busy this January, to such an extent several online and tabloid sources including ESPN.co.uk and the Express claimed the Scot would have a £100million war chest at his disposal. Some have even alleged the United hierarchy would grant their struggling gaffer twice that amount to kick-start a new era at Old Trafford.
But as you may have noticed, it’s all quiet on the Red Devils transfer front. Even the rumour mill has been incredibly bare in comparison to the summer, in no small part due to the fact Moyes has declared that there just aren’t any decent players out there this month – the kind of statement you’d expect from January transfer-phobe Arsene Wenger.
Perhaps that’s slightly harsh. It’s no secret that January is rarely an ideal time to buy – especially for the major clubs, who can be held to ransom if their need for reinforcements is glaringly obvious.
At the same time, it could be a delicate ploy. Arsenal’s Ivan Gazidis claimed back in June that the Gunners were amid a drastic ‘escalation in financial fire-power’, so it should have been no surprise when Real Madrid demanded an extra £10million for Gonzalo Higuain and Liverpool fell over laughing at the idea of selling Luis Suarez for £40million to a club that clearly had a lot more to spend.
But the idea that there just aren’t the right players out there for Manchester United this January is simply untrue.
Take Real Sociedad winger Antoine Griezmann for example. The 22 year-old Frenchman has been in prolific form this season, netting 12 times in 16 La Liga starts. That’s the kind of outrageous attacking output Manchester United’s widemen used to be famous for, but this season, Ashley Young, Antonio Valencia and Nani have found just three top flight goals between them.
Furthermore, being particularly tenacious off the ball and donning considerable speed and stamina, Griezmann’s prolific counter-attacking game strongly adheres to United’s traditional destructive efficiency on the break. It’s hard to think of a more suitable club for the former France U21 than the Red Devils, and his current release clause is just £25million – although a number of clubs are keen to sign him for significantly less.
Then there’s Borussia Dortmund duo Marco Reus and Ilkay Gundogan, two of the Westfaldenstadion outfit’s stand-out performers in their Champions League run last season, in which they reached the tournament’s final. BVB won’t be in the mood to let any more of their first team stars leave following news that Robert Lewandowski will carry out his wish of instigating a bosman move to Bayern Munich at the end of the season, but there’s little they can do about Reus’s £30million release clause or Gundogan entering the final 18 months of his contract this January and continually refusing to extend his current deal.
And what about Atletico Madrid’s Koke? The kind of flamboyant playmaker who could solidify the foundations of David Moyes’ midfield revolution. The 22 year-old has been ripping apart La Liga this season with four goals and eight assists in 18 starts. He’s also made over 100 senior appearances in his career, claiming three pieces of silverware with the Mattress Makers, and has already featured seven times for Spain, so it’s not as if he’s a flash in the pan that could suddenly emerge as a transfer blunder of Juan Sebastian Veron proportions. Koke is a player with undoubted world-class potential and a release clause of just £17million.
Real Madrid’s Angel Di Maria and Fabio Coentrao, Athletic Bilbao’s Ander Herrera, former Red Devil Paul Pogba, Atletico’s Diego Costa, Porto’s Alex Sandro and Elaiquim Mangala, and Cruzeiro’s Everton Ribeiro are some more examples of high-quality players well within United’s financial grasp.
So once again, the idea there aren’t players available to the Red Devils this January is a myth, especially with the untold millions of pounds at the club’s disposal. Rather, the issue is how much Manchester United are willing to pay for these sought-after stars and starlets.
You can certainly understand David Moyes’ reluctance to spend big. The biggest purchase of his management career to date – £28million for Fellaini – has decisively blown back in his face, all the more so for the fact he could have joined the Red Devils for £5million less if the Belgian’s acquisition had come a matter of weeks earlier. At the same time, Sir Alex Ferguson instigated a transfer culture during his 27-year reign of Manchester United being a club that spends the right amount on the right players, avoiding the value hyperbole you’d associate more with Manchester City and Chelsea.
A point perhaps best represented by the fact United’s record transfer fee of £30.5million for Dimitar Berbatov in 2009 has since been surpassed by Chelsea, Arsenal, Manchester City and Liverpool, and nearly matched by Tottenham in the summer.
That £30million barrier appears to hold significance with the Carrington boss. He was prepared to pay £30million for his much-desired target Ander Herrera in the summer, but refused to up the ante by another £6million and activate the rated Spaniard’s release clause.
But that’s the level of transfer arrogance David Moyes must avoid if he’s going to get the Red Devils back on track via a much-needed turnaround of playing personnel. Just as the Premier League champions’ reputation has counted for nothing in regards to opponents travelling to Old Trafford this season, Ferguson’s retirement, in addition to the resignation of former Chief Executive David Gill, has also weakened their reputation when it comes to the transfer market.
Of course, going down the dangerous path of overspending and you end up buying Stewart Downing and Andy Carroll for a combined £55million – if there’s one blueprint of transfer failure the Red Devils must learn from, it’s Liverpool’s.
That being said however, David Moyes must not insist upon maintaining the transfer morals of the previous era when he looks to instigate his Old Trafford revolution. The fringe benefits of a manager with Sir Alex Ferguson’s monolithic presence have long gone, and that includes in the transfer market. Paying premium prices for premium players is the only thing that will stop the Carrington rot, or else, the Premier League giants could find themselves caught in a downward spiral.
Pay £50million, £70million or even £100million – the most important thing now is signing players that will improve United’s league position and stock price, even if it does require eating some humble transfer crumble in the process.