Moyes hung out to dry in shambolic transfer show

September 3, 2013 Tags: , , Reads 38 comments
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There have been many words written about Manchester United’s strategy in the transfer market in summer; few of them  positive. It is little wonder given the club’s propensity for generating farce since the window opened on 20 May. In between there have been 106 days of such amateurish tomfoolery that by the end many supporters’ overwhelming emotion is one of relief. No, not that David Moyes finally captured the Belgian international Marouanne Fellaini, but that vice chairman Ed Woodward can cause embarrassment no longer.

Embarrassed by Thiago Alcântara’s inevitable decision to join Bayern Munch, and humiliated by Cesc Fabregas’ manipulation of United’s interest, Woodward’s dash home from Australia in mid-July has brought little but shame, especially on transfer deadline day. Six weeks of such maladroit bumbling at which it is best to laugh for the tears will otherwise flow.

Summer did not begin well, with United making little secret of the club’s interest in bringing the former Barcelona midfielder Thiago to Old Trafford. But United’s preoccupation with the 22-year-old did little but strengthen the player’s negotiating hand – an entourage including, laughably, Pep Guardiola’s brother securing a €20 million transfer that the player had always sought.

Thiago’s choice brought little need to panic. After all, United has missed out on players before, from Ronaldinho, to Eden Hazard and Michael Ballack. While United’s pull is strong, so is that of Europe’s institutional giants and the nouveau riche now inhabiting the continent.

Yet, United submitted a barely credible bid for Fabregas just 24 hours after his under-study’s arrival in southern Germany. The timing was horrible, although it was a transfer always unlikely following Barcelona’s multi-year pursuit of the midfielder. That United’s offer amounted to barely €26 million brought little but public derision.

Still, the club ploughed on failing to mentally segregate a lock out from the start of transfer negotiations. Barça had no interest in the latter and neither, as it turns out, did the player. Follow-up bids of €30 million and €35 million presumably lie dormant on the spike marked ‘no reply necessary’.

United followed a similar strategy in its pursuit of Leighton Baines, with Everton rejecting first a £12 million offer in June, a follow-up bid of the same figure a month later and two £15 million offers as the window drew in. Woodward’s assumptive close too presumptive, and never closed.

Yet, mid summer took a curious turn of what now seems like inactivity. That final offer for Fabregas came as July drew to a close – a full month before Monday’s Shakespearean farce took place. More than four weeks in which Woodward and United’s army of lawyers, agents and middlemen could activate buy-out clauses in the contracts of midfielders Ander Herrera and Everton’s Fellaini, whatever the legal complexities.

Planning, there has been none of it.

Still, nothing preceding Monday’s virtual dash around Europe prepared supporters for the tsunami of legitimate ridicule generated by United’s efforts to secure Fellaini, together with Herrera, Leighton Baines, Daniele De Rossi, Fábio Coentrão and, as the player revealed, Sami Khedira on deadline day.

Indeed, United’s story that the club tried, and failed, to negotiate Herrera’s €36 million release clause down to the €30 million on offer drowned in the comedy that followed.

Herrera, seemingly convinced the deal was on, told Athletic Bilbao  of his intention to leave, while three initially unnamed suits attempted to deposit the fee and papers at Liga de Fútbol Profesional (LFP) headquarters. The men left little more than an hour later citing “bureaucratic difficulties”.

‘Impostors’ briefed United’s communication department as the deal broke down late on Monday night – a claim now believed to be false, the men acting squarely on the Reds’ behalf.

In the fallout it is hard to discern which story is more embarrassing: that United refused to increase an initial bid by just €6 million for one of Europe’s more talented youngsters; or that an institution with annual revenues approaching £350 million is unable to obtain appropriate legal advice in timely fashion.

Either way the stench of rank ineptitude permeates through offices once occupied by David Gill and Sir Alex Ferguson.

Further, as United dallied on securing Fellaini, with other targets clearly a greater priority, the club was suckered into paying £4 million over the Belgian’s release fee. Coincidentally, it seems, this is a figure not far from the additional sum required to capture Herrera this summer.

United would end deadline day, fax machine on overdrive, seeking to acquire Coentrão on loan, Baines at the £15 million sum already rejected, De Rossi also on loan, and Khedira, as the window’s embers died out, for an astonishing €34 million. None succeeded – it has become the pattern of the summer.

But Moyes did secure one major deal in the final hour, Fellaini acquired for a fee totaling more than £11 million in excess of United’s opening bid. Far more, it should be noted, than the market valued the midfielder during two months in which Fellaini’s release clause remained active.

Yet, with Fellaini’s transfer United has secured a central midfielder of international standing for the first time in six years, although the Belgian divides opinion among both fans and pundits.

Strong in the tackle, but far too loose in possession, and frequently ill-disciplined, Fellaini will add muscle to United’s midfield at the expense of subtlety. It may prove to be a frustrating trade-off for those supporters seeking an attacking side in the United tradition – the Belgian is perhaps everything that Arsenal’s £42 million capture Mesut Özil is not, and the contrary.

But in that Moyes remains short – both of stellar quality in a key area and of the numbers he had sought at the summer’s dawn. More to the point, perhaps, is that Fellaini, Fabregas, Alcântara, De Rossi, Herrera and Khedira hold such diverse profiles that there appears no clear understanding of United’s requirements anyway.

Worryingly for the new man, Moyes remains a manager unable, for the time being at least, to stamp his own mark on the team; a man failed by his board and perhaps ultimately by the owners. That others have strengthened considerably can only increase the pressure to deliver in Sir Alex’ wake.

After all, while Woodward’s inexperience in a brutally competitive market has been repeatedly exposed, money nearly always walks the talk. Certainly more than the 40-year-old’s bravado in proclaiming United’s excessive spending power earlier this summer. Bids repeatedly rejected, and competitors roundly irked, paint a picture of a club seeking bargains in a seller’s market.

And when, by contrast, even Arsène Wenger spends lavishly it is fair to conclude that United’s competitors have moved on. The Reds will now move on too. Except, this time, from a humiliating summer.


aaron - September 3, 2013 Reply

It could of been worse, we could of brought Osman?

Yash - September 3, 2013 Reply

FFS. Stop these Osman jokes already.

Stuart - September 3, 2013 Reply

Bring back David Gill he is far better in the transfer window ? Send Ed (carnt sign a player Woodward packing, Man Utd are far better than this and dont deserve fool leading them ARE YOU LISTENING GLAZIERS ?….

MK - September 4, 2013 Reply

I really am concerned abt this; this has serious implications abt our future. 1) who is going to do business wuth us now 2) how many players have we put off by our behaviour 3) we are a laughing stock and our reputation has been dragged through the mud.
The club must take decisive action and Mr Woodward must resign. It sounds harsh with him being in the job only a couple of months but we must be seen to be taking action.

Malcolm G - September 4, 2013 Reply

That Woodward bloke is S**te, spending 27 mil on Fellani; we could have got Barry for a tenth of the price.

Denton Davey - September 4, 2013 Reply

“More to the point, perhaps, is that Fellaini, Fabregas, Alcântara, De Rossi, Herrera and Khedira hold such diverse profiles that there appears no clear understanding of United’s requirements anyway.”

Exactly !

WinUnited - September 4, 2013 Reply

Let’s face the bitter facts, SAF is no longer with us,so already lost the bargaining chip in that way (even SAF got denied by Stars!) who are we joking? Now with DM and want to bargain in 5million increment style, no wonder we don’t get anyone.

therealdeal - September 4, 2013 Reply

Woodward needs to be fired!
If a club is`asking for 25 million for a player and you bid 18 million, you don’t go back with 20 million, you pay them the 25 million and the case is closed. Was Woodward trying to save money for the Glazers? We signed Fellaini so now we got another donkey to go with Anderson and Cleverly.

Damian Garside - September 4, 2013 Reply

“Denton Davey says:
September 4, 2013 at 1:43 am
“More to the point, perhaps, is that Fellaini, Fabregas, Alcântara, De Rossi, Herrera and Khedira hold such diverse profiles that there appears no clear understanding of United’s requirements anyway.”

I think that not biting the bullet and off/loading all the dross we have first is one of the reasons for this failure to think rationally about the team and what we needed. Fabregas or Ozil are transformative players: we just chased the wrong one.

We need to create a new image: this one of a postmodern wheeler-dealer multi-franchised club is not what we want to be. Global financial expansion coupled with what is clearly implosion. Wish I didn’t have Utd in my genes: boy I’m going to (we’re goibg to) suffer this season. Hope for another 49ers Superbowl to give me some joy this year, coz getting none from OT, that’s 4 sure.

Damian Garside - September 4, 2013 Reply

Rocket Science 101 by Ed Woodward

1. negotiate sponsored spacesuit deal
2. Put on spacesuit
3. Look for rocket somewhere that everybody thinks will enhance the brand image 
4. make an offer for the rocket that is contemptuously low.

Jumping Jesus - September 4, 2013 Reply

As well as our staggering ineptitude in the buying market, I really think that we should have offloaded Nani, Anderson, Buttner and a few others. I am so mad at (dick)Ed Woodward, I want to murder him. He should be dismissed immediately for his failings and for the immense damage he has managed to inflict on our reputation and standing in such a short period of time

Damian Garside - September 4, 2013 Reply

What you say about lack of planning is spot on. One would think that a commerce guy like Woodward would be using the phrase “strategic planning” every day of the week. Yet think about the Fellaini deal for a moment. We sent Nick Powell out on loan to Wigan which everybody naturally tool as a sign that we had a done deal with Everton who could now get McCarthy from Wigan who would be agreeable to the transfer since they now had Powell as a loan replacement. But the truth, bizarre as it may seem, was that the Fellaini deal was not yet in the bag and could have still foundered. Yet we send Powell to Wigan — setting up a scenario where we might have emerged from the transfer window not 1 or perhaps 2 central midfielders to the good — but with one CMF fewer. And this the very player that very many United fans are crying should be given a chance (huge on-line debates about whether he is good enough or not). If it had happened that we had chased 4 players in the final day without success and at the same time sent a young hope out on loan, a player in the absolutely key position of central midfielder, my feeling is that the fans’ anger and disillusionment and the scathing media analysis would have been way worse.

Julian - September 4, 2013 Reply

Did they factor into the decision when they appointed Moyes that nobody in Europe has ever heard of him? Did Woodward learn nothing from Gill in how to go about this whole transfer business? Whatever, we’re stuck with Moyes and Woodward for now. Its like starting from scratch. Moyes is going to have to build his reputation as a manager and a coach for whom top players would want to come and play. Woodward is going to have to learn that if he wants to get a top player he’s going to have to pay top dollar. No more derisory opening offers – they just merely serve to antagonise whomever they are trying to deal with, who then immediately think United aren’t really serious. Moyes will first have to start winning the big games – particularly against our main rivals away from home, none of whom he’s been able to get the better of in his entire managerial career. He’s then going to have to lift a trophy or two before that reputation begins to be really established. He’ll be given time of course and this looks like a long term project. However the bottom line, from a financial perspective, must be qualification for the ECL. If he fails in that target this season and next he’ll be out. In the meantime he’s going to have his work cut out to keep his top players, Rooney in particular, never mind attracting new ones (top players that is). Good luck to him but the pressure is already starting to build. We always new taking over from Fergie was going to be an issue – perhaps a thankless task.

Damian Garside - September 4, 2013 Reply

It wouldn’t be so bad –in my view — if Moyes would commit to fluid attacking or attack-minded football, give the young players a chance and never play again and ship out in January those who have had all the chances in the world and are not going to find form or repeat the form they once had. 

And no smart-alec low-balling
No using a veteran to keep out a promising youngster
No repeats of the Paul Pogba disaster
No buying players who aren’t a fit (giving us a total lack of balance within the squad) 
No buying key play-makers and then not building the team around them (sending them out to do a job as a converted left-wing)
No avoiding honesty and transparency — or outright fibs like the 3 “imposters”
No treating the media like the enemy
No sacrificing our great traditions to corporate capitalist greed

Damian Garside - September 4, 2013 Reply

On the one hand we have Ed Wood, the worst film maker in the history of cinema (subject of a film by Tim Burton) and on the other we have Ed Wood(ward), the CEO who single-handedly both raised and then killed off hopes that this season we would have a real “dream team”.

Are they not perhaps related?

We should be told.

JA - September 4, 2013 Reply

Ed Woodward is either totally out of his depth and over promoted to a position he is entirely unsuited for..
he is doing exactly what his masters, the Glazers, want him to do. Ie pretend money is no object in the transfer market but ‘fail’ to actually spend any of this monumental war chest.

For all those people who say ‘United won the league, dont need strengthening blah blah, the best team on the planet last season was Bayern Munich who did their main transfer business before the CL final, and added Tiago for good measure, also with a new manager starting from scratch.

RicardoRed - September 4, 2013 Reply

This i’m afraid is the future under Glaziernomics – Woodwood is their man, and ‘value’ will be the perpetual demand, when value means ‘on the cheap’. What i just don’t get, was if we were prepared to splash out for two MFs, why were we so tight on the Fabregas offers to acquire one genuine world-class talent.? Moyes rightly deserves to be fuming. I’m not too disappointed with Felliani – he’ll do alright and offer something we don’t have with fight, muscle and drive in CM which I hope means we can start creating a lot more through the middle and varying our approach to goal,.

Neil - September 4, 2013 Reply

Stellar piece Ed. This transfer period has been surreal and farcical. The Glazers are to blame for this, in recruitment terms positioning a strong member of staff Woodward in entirely the wrong role. We should not go overboard on Woodward, he was evidently shit-hot at managing commercial deals. But that is child’s play compared to the transfer market which is like a parallel universe.

Moyes had it tough already but the pressure has been cranked up. In terms of target selection, prioritising players factoring in realistic availability and authorising the bids, he is also responsible here. Going several levels up in terms of budget has clearly been a baptism of fire for him, with seemingly infinite choice compared to before – his prioritisation has been poor and ill-informed in terms of what United really needed as Number 1 priority. Overpaying for Modric, Thiago, or Herrera as a single signing would have left us in a better position than now. Where was the continuity, this comes down to the Glazers again.

Regardless of future roles and transfer budgets, the biggest problem for the two is that Moyes and Woodward have lost credibility in the eyes of many supporters.

We look onward now and mercifully have not wasted the entire budget.

Damian Garside - September 4, 2013 Reply

“Overpaying for Modric, Thiago, or Herrera as a single signing would have left us in a better position than now.”

I would agree: but even better would have been breaking the bank for either Fabregas or Ozil (sadly, we may have not needed to break the bank for Ozil if we had not politely declined when Real offered him to us at around 2/3 of what Arsenal ended up paying). Either would have had a transformative effect on the team — and had we off-loaded, we might have had enough cash to get both. We can only dream at the kind of service to Van Persie that would have come from one (or both) of them.

1211subs - September 4, 2013 Reply

Apologies but this tune has been on my mind since the window closed

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
And no one can talk to a horse of course
That is, of course, unless the horse is the famous Mr. Ed.

Go right to the source and ask the horse
He’ll give you the answer that you’ll endorse.
He’s always on a steady course.
Talk to Mr. Ed.

1211subs - September 4, 2013 Reply

part 2

People yakkity yak a streak and waste your time of day
But Mister Ed will never speak unless he has something to say.

A horse is a horse, of course, of course,
And this one’ll talk ’til his voice is hoarse.
You never heard of a talking horse?

Well listen to this.

I am Mister Ed.

Denton Davey - September 4, 2013 Reply

Damian Garside @ 8:43: “It wouldn’t be so bad –in my view — if Moyes would commit to fluid attacking or attack-minded football”

I agree; as I see things, there are five guys – TheWayneBoy, Nani, Chicharito, RVP and KagawaBunga – who should all be on the field almost all of the time. One way to do that would be to use TheWayneBoy in TheScholesRole; the other way to do that would be to set up with some version of a 4-4-2 which means that Chicharito is the fifth-man and a situational sub/injury replacement.

Sunday’s loss at AnFailed again demonstrated the weakness of playing AshleyBloodyYoung, TheLegend, YoungTom, and DannyTheLad ahead of any one of the five mentioned above. Similarly, when MrJones went off injured his replacement at RB – AV25 – was qualitatively better.

Young, Cleverley, and Welbeck are all squaddies – nothing more. (In fact, Young is taking money under false pretences as a squad player and taking playing time from AdnanJ/Zaha, too). GIggs used to be a nailed-on first choice player but he’s just a shadows of TheWelshWizard from days of yore.

The five points lost to TheRentBoyz and LiverPoo could be attributed to two misses from DannyTheLad and the constant backwards/sideways passing of YoungTom. Or one could accept the draw with CSKALondon and blame the loss at AnFailed on AshleyBloodyYoung and his shambolic dithering which led to the corner which led to the goal that bounced in off Sturridge’s noggin which happened because Rio lost Daniel Agger. However one wants to write this story, these three guys underperformed – or, unfortunately, they performed as expected.

I disagree with your later post (@ 11:44) concerning over-paying for Ozil. Who would he take playing-time from ? Already, KagawaBunga and Chicharito and Nani seem to be marginalized behind Young, Welbeck, Giggs, and Cleverley. This marginalization is tragic; to further marginalize them behind Ozil would be farcical.

I’m a glass-half-full kinda guy – the five players I’ve already mentioned give Moyes’UTD a wonderful array of attacking talent – his job is to use them properly. AND, in that sense, there’s a logic to buying Fellaini even if he was the second- or third- or even the fourth-choice option for midfield. He might not provide “stardust” but he will provide “steel” and that should also make MC16’s game more expansive. As SAF used to say, he might just be “the right player” for this iteration of TheLads.

Damian Garside - September 5, 2013 Reply

Since your piece starts with a response to me — then let me respond to you by saying that I think that whilst we can all agree to disagree on what our most potent attacking combinations would be, your approach to team selection and strategy: which starts by looking for what would be the best attacking combinations and how we can develop a cohesive style (and the players system and formation to achieve this) is really the way to go. This is how a United manager should start to think — not in a reactive frame which gives us the paradox of defensive wingers playing because we have attacking fullbacks.

I suspect that some of us would be happier if we played the most attacking football on the Premier League, scored 100 goals for and end up runners up, than if we won it because we had the most peevish defence and a midfield that could close anybody down. I would even venture that some of us are a bit jaded with scraped league titles where the pundits have to explain why we actually won because people are a little bit mystified to how it actually happened — to nights in Europe where we scare the life out of the Bayerns and Barcelonas of this world (having beaten both clubs in European finals in the course of our illustrious history).

eltricolor2014 - September 4, 2013 Reply

I don’t think United will fire Woodward, not after the embasrassing transfer window. But behind closed doors, United needs to look for someone else to handle these high profile transfer. Also SAF and Gill would NEVER tip their hand of a transfer – hearing about Thiago and Cesc was so UNLIKE United and should have told us that things were being handled differently and ultimately poorly.

therealdeal - September 4, 2013 Reply

What makes it worse, Moyes is a Scottish manager and Scottish football is in the horrors! We will not attract big name players with a Scottish manager, unless Moyes can do some great things this season. Why has Powell gone out on loan? Have not seen Zaha or Kagawa either? Is he trying to get rid of the players that SAF brought in? Powell is a class player, send Cleverly, Anderson, Young and Wellbeck out on loan. We need to sell these players in the next transfer window and get these quality midfielders in before we end up in the horrors.

SKW - September 4, 2013 Reply

Yes, part of this issue is no Fergie.

So players are unsure of what they are coming into and are reluctant to join. But no one can deny the shambles. And losing Ozil again. It makes me sick.

twisted blood - September 5, 2013 Reply

I can deny the shambles but there is no denying Moyes is a ditherer. If u believe the United account in the Guardian over Sid Lowe (which I’m inclined to), those Herrera lawyers were never ours and the player seems to back the account. We tried to negotiate a Basque player’s buyout clause. Naive maybe but not if you believe the player’s not all that.

I think Moyes is a hands on manager in every sense. He could do that at Preston and Everton and there are only so many 10 million players out there. I think he showed up in July, balked at the transfer teed up for him cos he wasn’t familiar (Thiago) fell in love with the player he always dreamed of (Cesc) and left for last the player he knew could do a job (Fellaini). You can look at it 2 ways, that we have a young manager who sticks to his guns or the club is too big for him. If we have an Arsene in waiting, someone who must know every player inside and out and wants value for money, we could fall in the Arsenal trap where we’re laughed at for never pulling the trigger……..

Dayus D red - September 5, 2013 Reply

Ed, i think your caption of this article is misleading. There is no way David Moyes can absorb himself from blame in all of this. From the reports i have read, Moyes has been indicisive on the players he wants. He seeks so much background information on players and the club does not want to force any player on him. In fact he it was who rejected Tiago. A. because he didn’t trust Jim Laylor and SAF’s brother who have been scouting him for 2yrs. He knew about Felliani’s clause yet he failled to act. Am not bothered about the missing targets afterall SAF missed a couples in his time and chelsea equally missed out on Rooney, Cavani and Falcao, Barca on David luiz e.t.c. Moyes hung himself out to dry by his ditherring. Reports suggest Moyes claims he has not seen enough of Kagawa in order to know how and where he fits into his team hence his non appearance at Anfield. Wonder how long he will need to do that and he may need a yr or two to evaluate a player he wants to buy.. Hopefully he has learnt a usefull lesson from this.

Julian - September 5, 2013 Reply

That is a shocking indictment! I’m not saying you are wrong and it would seem that Moyes is totally unqualified for this job. I hadn’t heard the reason for Kagawa’s omission before but if true that is utterly absurd. Is that the same reason why Anderson is still at the club ?

Ed - September 5, 2013 Reply

Dayus – you have a good point… it’s also one that’s effecting the futures of Shinji Kagawa and Wilfried Zaha. Moyes instinct is to not use players he doesn’t trust. We’ll see if either of those players can win the trust.

On the wider point of trusting the scouting network. That’s a fair comment, no one man can do it all himself. But Martin Ferguson/Jim Lawlor and others were responsible for Bebe, Djemba-Djemba, Liam Miller, Kleberson, Massimo Taibi…. you see where I’m going here!

Julian - September 5, 2013 Reply

But if they don’t play how are they to gain his trust. I know Januzaj is young but he was probably the star of the pre-season tour. He is clearly an exceptional talent brimming with confidence. Moyes had plenty of time to see him at close quarters and yet he now doesn’t even appear on the bench. Does the man have any vision at lall one wonders?

twat - September 6, 2013 Reply

On this theme: amongst other things on the latest UWS podcast Graeme Hunter says he does not rate the United scouts. Certainly worth a listen, along with the RantCast, of course…

JA - September 5, 2013 Reply

Apparently Moyes was known as Dithering Dave at Everton and that sums him up. If United had scouted Thiago for 2-3 years and come to the conclusion he was a perfect fit, surely Moyes should have said yes, go for him. Or will United now have to wait 2-3 years for DiDa to compile his own scouting reports?

JA - September 5, 2013 Reply

As for the club spin that Felliani was always the number one midfield target this summer, why was he not signed in July, or at least by the start of the season instead of half an hour before the deadline???

Now that was incompetence.

Dayus D red - September 5, 2013 Reply

Felliani though good a player was never United’s first choice but was on the shopping list. Why it took that long is another story. This is time for Moyes to seek SAF’s advice. Am sure it will do him some good

Denton Davey - September 5, 2013 Reply

Damian Garside @1:32: Amen to that !

Dayus Red @ 1:46: “Felliani though good a player was never United’s first choice but was on the shopping list. Why it took that long is another story.”

That’s right – there were other options (some we know about and others (like Herrera) which are “secret”); when nothing else materialized then UTD went back to Everton for TheBigFella. At that point it seems that Everton decided to put the squeeze on MUFC who, in turn, put the squeeze on TheBigFella. When Fellaini passed on his four million quid “loyalty bonus”, Everton trumpeted that they had sold him for 27.5 million which is – only slightly – economical with the truth even though it makes sense from their point of view.

I’d imagine that we’re going to see some more wheeling-and-dealing in January when Moyes has had time to make up his own mind about what the first-team needs. I’d also imagine that he won’t have much trouble getting the ca$h to fund such a purchase as the management will want to put paid to the lousy image being spread in the press that MUFC are not just cheap-skates but also incompetent cheap-skates.

therealdeal - September 5, 2013 Reply

Mesut Ozil in an interview today said that the reason he joined Arsenal was because Wenger is a world-class manager. He went on to say things would have been different if Alex Ferguson was still manager.
Interesting comments. How many other world-class players feel the same way?

Julian - September 6, 2013 Reply

Most I would think. In fact most continentals have never heard of Moyes! Was this factored in when they were deciding on his suitability for the job I wonder?

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