Missed ‘transfer opportunities’ at Manchester United

David Moyes

David Moyes left it late to save Manchester United from their blushes in the summer transfer market as it was announced late yesterday evening that the Premier League champions’ signing of Marouane Fellaini from Everton had gone through, paperwork and all, before the 11pm deadline.

The big Belgian is a solid addition to the Old Trafford squad and goes some way to confront the Red Devils’ midfield crisis, but it brings the total of summer additions at Old Trafford to just two, along with Uruguay Under-20 international Guillermo Valera, to show for three months’ worth of hard graft in the transfer market.

Of course, David Moyes will argue that a title-winning side only require small scale improvements rather than wholesale changes, but the Scot has missed out on the opportunity to step out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s shadow this summer, whilst he’s hardly shown the ability to attract top players to Old Trafford to levels of his predecessor and former Chief executive David Gill.

It seems that every other top six Premier League outfit has managed to modernise this summer; Manchester City are a step closer to achieving their La Liga model, lead by the visions of former Barca men Ferran Soriano and Txiki Begiristain, Arsenal have broken the ultimate Emirates taboo of signing an established world-class player in Mesut Ozil, Chelsea’s acquisition of three midfielders highlights their transition towards a more technical style of football, Spurs have become an eleven man team rather than Gareth Bale and his ten accomplices, and Liverpool’s bright start to the season and deadline day acquisitions suggest they’ll breach the 12 point gap between themselves and Champions League qualification last term.

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On the continent too, almost every major European outfit has revamped considerably. Real Madrid and Barcelona have unearthed a new La Liga rivalry with their signings of Gareth Bale and Neymar respectively, Bayern Munich have a new manager in Pep Guardiola who brought in the technically gifted Mario Gotze and Thiago Alcantara, PSG and Monaco have used their unprecidented spending power to bring Edinson Cavani and Radamel Falcao to the French top flight, and Juventus have solved their striker crisis by acquiring Fernando Llorente and Carlos Tevez.

Manchester United however remain in almost exactly the same place in terms of philosophy and personnel, albeit bolstered in midfield by Marouane Fellaini, but without their most vital cog in Sir Alex Ferguson. Their style of play looked disturbingly outdated during their 1-0 defeat at Anfield last weekend, and the game previous, the Red Devils failed to impact against a defensively-minded Chelsea side who claimed just their third clean sheet in their last 19 visits to Old Trafford.

And it’s not as if the United squad wasn’t suffering from intrinsic flaws at the start of the summer that needed to be addressed. Despite Ferguson stepping down from the Carrington throne at the end of last season, the roster suffers from a number of long-term issues. Nemanja Vidic, Rio Ferdinand, Patrice Evra, ┬áMichael Carrick, Ryan Giggs and Darren Fletcher are all the wrong side of 30, Nani, Antonio Valencia, Anderson, and Ashley Young all underwent docile campaigns last term, and it seems that in the long run Tom Cleverly, Danny Welbeck and Chris Smalling won’t live up to their billing, despite their popularity with Roy Hodgson.

So if David Moyes had taken a punt by disrupting the established order at Old Trafford it would have been justified, and to give the Scot some credit, he tried to make his mark by signing a much-needed creative midfielder who could have moved the United first team template in a new direction. Cesc Fabregas was priority number one, and perhaps rather naively, Moyes and new Chief Executive Ed Woodward made a bid before Barcelona described the Spanish midfielder as ‘untransferable’.

But even so, there were other playmaking midfielders on United’s radar that would have modified their traditionally English style, such as long-term target Kevin Strootman who left for Roma, Alcantara who joined Bayern Munich, Tottenham’s Christian Eriksen, Borussia Dortmund’s Ilkay Gundogan and deadline day man Ander Herrera.

The scope to adapt wasn’t restricted to the central midfield either. Bringing in Leighton Baines would have at least added a new dimension to United’s attack, and the now out-of-favour Angel Di Maria, who is unlikely to get a game at Real Madrid following the arrival of Gareth Bale, would have provided some much needed freshness and diversity on the flanks.

Of course, it all seemed to depend upon the fate of Wayne Rooney. If the England international had made his much-anticipated Chelsea switch, Moyes’ hand would be forced to not only find a new recruit with similar star quality, for commercial reasons as much as footballing reasons, but also alter the on-pitch dynamic at Old Trafford, with Rooney taking up a rather unique duel role in screening in front of midfield and also supporting Robin Van Persie. But the Scot has decided to use rather than lose the 27 year-old, and as a result, United’s philosophy remains identical to last season.

Consistency, tradition and longevity is all well and good, in fact, they’re the three soundbites that provides David Moyes with his mandate to rule at Old Trafford following Ferguson’ retirement. But in effect, the new Red Devils gaffer has decided that he will replace his predecessor’s monolithic influence, that Jamie Carragher claims would materialise one way or the other in at least 12 points per season, himself, rather than through new players or a fresher philosophy.

It’s an incredibly tough act to follow, and to date, Moyes’ imitations of Ferguson in his interactions with the British media are yet to fully convince. He looked nervous ahead of the Community Cup final in his first Wembley outing, got hot under the collar on more than one occasion trying to deny Wayne Rooney’s availability, and bizarrely accused the Premier League fixture organisers of orchestrating out of malice United’s tough start to the season, with heavyweight clashes against Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City before October.

With this season being the most unpredictable Premier League campaign for some time, the Old Trafford faithful would have undoubtedly cut Moyes some slack if he’d begun forging a new path for himself at his new club, in a bid to step out of Ferguson’s mighty shadow. But having missed the opportunity to do so in the summer transfer market, we can only judge Moyes this season in comparison to the abilities of his predecessor alone, rather than comparing new players and new styles and accepting the need for a transition period.

Not creating enough daylight between two eras at Manchester United has left Moyes open to serious criticism, and despite possessing a title-winning squad, it will be difficult for the Scot to replicate the achievements of Sir Alex Ferguson through his managerial abilities alone, especially with every other top six Premier League outfit progressing considerably in the transfer market this summer.

Has David Moyes missed the opportunity to step out of Sir Alex Ferguson’s shadow?

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