When Manchester United played Manchester City at Old Trafford a few weeks ago, seven of the starting XI were players who were at the club under Alex Ferguson, including all of the back four and goalkeeper.
This week, it has emerged that Manchester United could be one of the teams interested in taking Jonny Evans back to the club from West Brom, after speculation in the summer that he could join Manchester City.
United clearly do need new options this season, having seen their form slump dramatically because of injury – something that shouldn’t happen to such an extent. But going in for Evans again does seem to throw open one pertinent question: do United owe Alex Ferguson one big apology?
When the former United boss retired in 2013, he was clearly given the send-off of a legend and his unparallelled achievements were properly lauded and respected. But there was one criticism that’s been levelled at him ever since he retired: did he leave United in the lurch with a team which wasn’t fit for purpose, at least in the long term?
The argument has been advanced for the last four and a half years: Ferguson, in buying the likes of Robin van Persie, was looking for a short-term hit in order to allow his team to return to the top when he retired. In doing so, they say, he left his side woefully short of players who would be at the top of their game in the long term. But if it’s true that United are considering returning for Jonny Evans, it would appear as though Ferguson wasn’t to blame after all.
Or is it that United’s recruitment is simply continuing to fall short of the standards expected of such a big club?
It wasn’t just a widely-held belief that United’s squad was filled with deadwood when Ferguson left, it was the truth. It wasn’t an easy squad to sort out, but since getting rid of David Moyes, United have spent hundreds of millions of pounds to make it right.
Some signings have worked – Paul Pogba is now clearly of vital importance to his side, whilst Romelu Lukaku and Eric Bailly may well turn out to be top players for the club in the long term. But the majority of the signings since the departures of both Scots over the last few years have been wide of the mark.
And whilst it’s probably true that Ferguson left the club in a mess, it wasn’t unfixable. And it also wasn’t Ferguson’s fault that it wasn’t fixed: clearly United’s recruitment has been an even bigger mess for the last few years, and bringing in Jonny Evans would seem to be more than just a canny January signing – it would be yet another admission that United’s transfer policy has been wrong for four years.
So where does that leave the failings of Moyes and Louis van Gaal? Where does it leave the perception that Ferguson was partly to blame for the club’s decline? And where does it leave Ed Woodward and the United board who are the constants at the club’s executive level in the period between Ferguson’s departure and now?
United’s position in the league table probably isn’t as bad as it could be. They have clearly made progress from where they have been over the last few seasons, and in other Premier League seasons they may well have been in the title hunt.
It was already clear that United’s recruitment since the end of the Ferguson era hasn’t been good enough. And in bringing up the possibility of going back for Evans, United probably owe Ferguson a big apology for the perception that it was partly his fault at all.
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