From signing Romelu Lukaku to selling Lukaku, from signing Angel Di Maria to selling Di Maria, Manchester United have quite literally gone full circle on certain occasions when it comes to their transfer policy in recent years.
Since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, the Red Devils have had a ridiculously confusing way of going about things.
Several managers have come and gone at Old Trafford, each of them leaving behind some more mess to clean up for their successor. It’s perhaps one of the key reasons behind why the club have failed to win the Premier League since 2013.
There needs to be a level of consistency both in terms of the managers being appointed and the players being signed. Instead, United have had a mish-mash of styles and personalities, and the breakdown of the club’s transfer history really puts things into perspective about the lack of planning at the club.
The first man to follow in the footsteps of Ferguson, David Moyes undoubtedly had the toughest job of the lot.
He was stuck in between a rock and a hard place on whether to completely rip up the template, or affect slow change. In the end, his lack of decisive action on leaving his own imprint on the club cost him dear.
The former Everton boss must have been wary of walking into a dressing room dominated by players who had only ever known one man. Just how would they respond to a new voice?
It was, therefore, no surprise to see the Scot turn towards Marouane Fellaini who had been a key figure for him on Merseyside and had registered 177 appearances for the club.
Then, Moyes went for another Premier League-proven player in Juan Mata who had been at Chelsea previously. His two major signings were designed not to upset the apple cart. Perhaps that’s exactly what he needed.
Having sacked David Moyes less than a full season into his time in charge, United thought they would fix their mistake with the former and appoint someone who had managed some of the biggest and best clubs in Europe.
Louis van Gaal strode in with an international reputation and his love of the word philosophy, something he turned to in many press conferences. In the market, the Dutchman spent big on transfer fees on international quality stars who had proven their worth at other clubs.
His first summer saw marquee deals for Angel Di Maria and Falcao be completed and per Transfermarkt, the Red Devils spent in the region of £175m on new talent.
The following year saw Anthony Martial arrive for £36m, including add-ons – the most expensive transfer for a teenager at the time.
Another deal that perhaps went under the radar was the £31m capture of winger Memphis Depay. Both Martial and Depay had carved out promising careers at both AS Monaco and PSV respectively but enjoyed different fates.
The former made an incredible 56 appearances in his debut campaign, while the latter never truly nailed down a place in the starting eleven – from January 2016 to the end of the season, the Dutchman started just four Premier League games in total.
Then came Jose Mourinho. “The Special One” had a seemingly clear vision in his mind and the club’s hierarchy tried to match his early demands. His first transfer window saw notable arrivals in the shape of 6 foot 5 Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the 6 foot 2 Eric Bailly and the 6 foot 3 Paul Pogba, among others.
The 56-year-old seemed intent on building a team that could physically dominate the opposition. The captures of Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic and Victor Lindelof further reinforced his squad with tall and strong players. It was, therefore, no surprise that eventually critics slammed the Red Devils’ slow and lethargic style of play.
One quote from Paul Ince particularly springs to mind: “Don’t be a dinosaur and start attacking teams like we have done over the years.” It was a damning statement and summed up what United had become since Ferguson.
Whilst Solskjaer may not have had too long in the job to really stamp his mark on the side, the Norwegian’s plan is already becoming crystal-clear.
The United boss is intent on re-energising the team with more youth and pace, and some of the side’s best performances under him have been games where counter-attacking has been key – most notably this season against Chelsea.
The work the club did in the summer transfer window symbolised the kind of cleansing approach Solskjaer is taking.
Gone are the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Alexis Sanchez – players who were on big-money, £530,000 between them, and not exactly justifying their mammoth wages.
The latter in particular spectacularly failed to deliver on expectations, scoring just five times for the club.
Instead, Solskjaer has invested in younger, British players who could potentially be a part of the United set-up for the next decade or so.
Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire arrived and now reports suggest the club will be looking to sign Jadon Sancho and James Maddison next summer.
Taking things at face value, United have made some stellar signings in recent history. The biggest issue though? Each manager has had a transfer window that could essentially have been designed for separate clubs. No cohesion, no consistency and no plan.
The biggest difference in approach comes with how Solskjaer is attempting to rip up everything Mourinho had imprinted.
It could well turn out to be the right idea, but it needs a sense of clarity from those at the top. Even if things don’t end up working out with the current United boss, the Red Devils can ill-afford to start from scratch again.
What they need is a sense of direction and purpose about the kind of profile of player they are looking for, regardless of who happens to be at the helm at that time.
United’s transfer history since Ferguson’s retirement has been a mess. It’s about time they clean it up.