Less than four weeks to go before the season starts and I’m REALLY looking forward to it. I don’t remember being this giddy for the start of a season since probably 1998, when we signed Dwight Yorke. Back in those days, I learnt about the signing from an MEN newspaper seller outside Kendal’s on Deansgate. Ceefax and the MEN were the fastest form of media and although I was a keen Football Manager (or Championship Manager as it was then) aficionado, I didn’t obsess over the transfers the way I, and everyone else seems to do now. There was always speculation. Gabriel Batistuta and Miguel Angel Nadal were the Sneijder and Ronaldo sagas of the mid-ninties. Coveted players from Fiorentina and Barcelona. Exotic long-haired superstars with tans and fancy sounding names. An Angel and a Gabriel. Inevitably, then, like now, we’d see something more mundane, than marquee. In 94/95 we signed May and Cole. The following summer we added Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Ronny Johnsen, Karel Poborsky and Jordy Cruyff. A mixed bag of players, but none costing more than £3.5m. We were never to see the likes of ‘Batigol’ be signed for £14m when that’s more than our whole outlay on six players. Perhaps that’s why we struggled in Europe. Mediocre signings and a brilliant, although inexperienced, crop of youngsters finding their feet.
In 1998 that sort of changed, we signed Stam. A big dutch centre half no-one knew a lot about, except he was massive and terrifying to look at. We added Dwight Yorke and Jesper Blomqvist from Parma. While these were still not the upper echelon of world-class players. They commanded big fees and completed the puzzle for what has to go down as the greatest British side ever assembled, and easily one of the top 10 teams of all time.
But there has only been 2 occasions where we have done this sort of spending, on several ‘established’ stars. The second was on the back of three successive titles, in 2001 when we signed Ruud van Nistelrooy, Juan Seba Veron and Diego Forlan. That time it did not work out. Arsenal won the league.
We spend big quite regularly. But it’s often on prospects. Some work out. Like Ronaldo. Others, like Nani, Anderson, Kleberson have not. The last 12 months have seen United go to the market and spend over £120m on Fellaini, Mata, Herrera and Shaw. There is more to come. Last season’s pairing of Marouane Fellaini and Juan Mata brought established Premier League stars. Herrera and Shaw this summer more for the long-term. I also believe we’ll sign Vidal and Hummels. Giving us the established stars this team needs to compete again. Our total outlay before sales is going to be somewhere near the £200m mark, for the last three windows. Unprecedented spending by a club that does spend money.
So how is it going to turn out? The answer is, I don’t know. Bookies have made us third favourites to win the title. Impressive from seventh place if we managed that. But I think we should look to Liverpool’s performances last season as a guide. No European commitment and a squad that is artificially lower than it’s ‘true’ ability means it’s possible to slingshot past the clubs in the quagmire of Europa League. It’s also possible to overtake the ill-equipped for the Champions League, namely, this season, Liverpool and Arsenal. Leaving only Chelsea’s massive and impressive squad and the most expensively assembled squad in history, poor old little Man City. So third favourites is about right. But I don’t think we’ll come third.
Our start is a dream compared to last season and we have a natural-born winner in Louis Van Gaal. Thursday morning probably won’t offer much insight into how we’ll perform, but it should give us some insight into how we’re going to play. I’d expect that in the week he’ll have had and the short time the players have had under Giggs at Carrington before the Tour, will have been spent on getting the ‘new’ system down as much as possible. So this is a big moment for us. It may also give insight into possible signings, depending on the shape we employ. I’m more confident now, on the back of us finishing 7th than I was with Moyes on the back of being Champions. I supported Moyes out of duty. I’m behind Louis Van Gaal due to his pedigree.