With Angel Di Maria all but gone, Louis van Gaal has today been talking about Cristiano Ronaldo. If there was ever a transfer that would make every single United fan happy it would be that one!
But any talk of Ronaldo to Old Trafford has to be measured against what’s really going on within the club’s new collective psyche. Manchester United have undergone a bit of a metamorphosis over the past few years, and the club seems to have some goals and values different to what they once were. But some things remain the same.
Sir Alex Ferguson seemed a little happier than Louis van Gaal to bring through youth – specifically Manchester United youth. The obvious Scholes, Giggs and Neville aside, young players were frequently given their chance throughout the season or even in dead rubber European games. Last season James Wilson, Tyler Blackett and Paddy McNair were given starting berths at various points. But you feel that was more out of necessity than anything else. You can imagine a young debutant being taken into a room by Fergie and told what it means to represent the club – the manager would bestow privilege on his youngster by giving him a shirt. For LVG is seemed more a case of having no one else for the job.
But no matter, it’s hardly likely United fans will care too much so long as those players actually progress at the club. How the manager helps them progress is of little importance to the end result.
But what is different to the Ferguson era is the sort of player that United are buying. And CR7 is probably a target that sums that up.
Buying Angel Di Maria was a signal of intent from the Old Trafford hierarchy. A signal that they had money and knew how to use it – not necessarily wisely – a signal that they had full faith in their new manager in a way they didn’t have in Moyes, and a signal that after a few years of stagnation they were finally getting to grips with life after Fergie.
But, without meaning to, United sent out a different signal, too. By signing a ready-made world class talents like Di Maria, Juan Mata and even Robin van Persie, United changed their identity a little.
That’s not to have a go at United. They were always going to have to change their identity given that they lost one of the longest serving managers in football. They were always going to lose him at some point, but United needed to change a little bit to adapt. Strangely, the change came even before he left.
Clearly Sir Alex knew it was his final season when he bought Van Persie. Buying a player at his peak, even on his way down, was a last hurrah, a personal victory to wrestle the title back off Manchester City and go out on top. But also a victory for the club, to leave as Champions makes it easier for the new man to come in, or so it was thought.
But in the past, buying players who were at the peak of their careers was a risky business for Ferguson. He bought old players at times to do a job – Henrik Larsson and Michael Owen, for example – but rarely top world stars who were the wrong side of 27 or so.
Signing Ronaldo would simply reinforce this transition from United being a club where players go to become great to one where great players congregate. Ronaldo became great at United, but to bring him back as he starts his initial descent would be strange for United. Perhaps not for Van Gaal’s United.
On the other hand, if the best player in the world is available and willing then it would be impolite to say no!
It would be a major coup if United pulled off the Ronaldo transfer, of course, and I’m not suggesting that United should or shouldn’t buy him. But talking about bringing a player like Ronaldo to the club seems to point to a change within United’s transfer policy, and buying players like Bastian Schweinsteiger would also seem to reinforce that trend. But then again, if Van Gaal isn’t staying past his current contract’s end date, then he won’t have to pick up the pieces in a few years’ time!