It had to happen, the confab that Manchester United fans now dread, the one that ends with ‘V’ … for value. But contrary to his predecessor United manager David Moyes apparently believes that the mythical quality exists in the transfer market. The Scot just hasn’t been able to find it. Or buy it. And with just nine days to go before the transfer window closes Moyes admitted for the first time that the club may not reinforce this summer.
Indeed, those United supporters of a more cynical bent might conclude that the club had little intention of succeeding in the market this summer. After all the far-fetched chase for Thiago Alcântara, low-balled bid for Cesc Fàbregas and, frankly, embarrassing joint offer for Marouanne Fellaini and Leighton Baines were hardly conducive to success.
Rant would comment on that particular theory, but slander is still punishable as a criminal offence in some territories.
Still, while supporters might chunter on the sidelines the benefit of the considerable doubt remains with the club for a little over a week at least, Moyes insistent as he is that United is still working on bringing new faces to Old Trafford before 2 September.
There is, in fact, a “need” to add to the squad according to the 50-year-old Scot, who identified United’s midfield as an area of weakness early in the piece. But with Fàbregas and Alcântara out of sight, and Everton unwilling to trade Fellaini on the cheap, it has remained a summer of considerable frustration. Incompetence even.
Still, it is likely to be a fascinating period both on and off the field over the next 10 days, with the seemingly impotent vice chairman Ed Woodward attempting to a close a major transfer for the first time, while United faces Chelsea and Liverpool in the Premier League. It is a period when the club could gain significant momentum, or lose more ground on rivals at home and abroad.
Running out of time Moyes admitted for the first time on Friday that the club will fall back on the promise of youth should the Reds fail to augment a midfield quotient widely recognised as falling short. It is an approach that appeals to United’s legion fans, although there are few central midfielders of quality in the Reds under-21 side.
“There is a need to do it, but there is no pressure to do it,” said Moyes of United’s plans to recruit.
“We’ve been talking about it since I took the job on 1 July. I have an idea of where I’d like to strengthen and what we need to do. We have only targeted certain players and don’t have a big, big list. There are only certain quality players we want to bring to the club.
“There is a possibility [we won't sign anybody] but the plan is we bring in one or two if we can. If the right players are available then great, but, if not, the first thing we’ll do is encourage our own young players in the squad to do as well as they did last year.”
Moyes’ belief that United can recruit at the highest level is a theory sound on paper, but seemingly much harder to enact in practice, with Woodward green in a market still governed by old-school relationships. Indeed, while United’s efforts this summer have widely been viewed with embarrassment among the club’s supporters, a naïve approach has brought little but scorn from rival clubs.
Everton, once Moyes’ home, is now basecamp for United’s sceptics, including Moyes’ former employer Bill Kenwright and the Scot’s successor Roberto Martinez. Angered by Moyes’ admission that he had accepted the United job weeks before his contract with Everton ended, Kenwright is now reportedly enraged that United has sought to unsettle two contracted players with a low bid.
Although Moyes claimed on Friday that Everton released details of the bid, it is an assertion Martinez disputes. Further, says the Spaniard, United’s seemingly amateur approach this summer is a factor of change both in the coaching set up and boardroom. With Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill gone, 40 years aggregated experience has been lost to the club.
“I’ve never seen Manchester United working in this manner before,” said Everton boss Martinez.
“When you want a player you just do the business quietly, you get it done and that’s it. I don’t know if this is a new way of working. There’s been a previous relationship of 11 years with a manager and he had a great relationship with the chairman, so you can imagine it’s extra sensitive.
“It wasn’t even a bid because it never reached any sort of valuation. There isn’t an offer on the table where anyone would consider anything. All we’ve had is a bid that doesn’t go anywhere near the reality.”
Critics lies from closer to home as well, with former assistant manager Mike Phelan suggesting Woodward’s inexperience in the transfer market has cost United this summer. Woodward has excelled driving home United’s strategy of securing exclusive local-market sponsors in selected verticals.
After all, the list of partners signed this summer far exceeds the resources added to Moyes’ squad. But in the game of smoke and mirrors of the European transfer market Woodward has been left exposed.
“Ed Woodward has previously been on the commercial side and concentrating on bringing money into the club rather than spending it,” said Phelan, who is yet to take on a new role after departing the club this summer.
“It is a totally different outlook. He will learn that. He may be frightened by a few prices every now and again but he will have to pick that up, because you are dealing with high quality football players. He and the club have gone on record to say that money is available. That’s great, but then every price goes up a peg or two as well.”
But Woodward’s assertion at the start of the summer that the club is prepared spend upwards of £60 million on a single player has proven false – not least with United’s unusually low opening offers for Fàbregas, Baines and Fellaini. The approach, unsurprisingly, has proven unsuccessful.
Woodward is smart enough to learn of course, although he has little experience of executive management in an alien industry.
Perhaps it still comes down to that old word, the one Ferguson used to such divisive effect during seven years under the Glazer family’s stewardship. But asked on Friday whether he believes value exists in the market Moyes’ answer remains definitive: “Yes I do.”
The worry is that it may be too late for United’s to discover the Holy Grail this summer; an outcome that will leave Moyes short and vulnerable to the brutally competitive landscape domestically and in Europe.