The events of the past week may have come as a surprise to many reds as United unveiled not one, but two stellar summer signings in a matter of days. The acquisition of both Ander Herrera from Bilbao and then the £30million purchase of Luke Shaw from Southampton are seen by many as a real statement of intent, and finally sees Chief Executive Ed Woodward begin to grow into his role as David Gill’s replacement.
Following Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement and David Gill’s resignation last year, both Woodward and Moyes struggled to fill the shoes of their illustrious predecessors. Quite frankly, they made a real mess of the summer window. Instead of making vital signings to rejuvenate an ageing squad and giving Moyes the best chance of success last season, Woodward chased multiple targets for months on end before a panic buy in Marouane Fellaini was sealed with moments of the window left. Understandably United fans have mocked his complete incompetence as the lack of signings translated into a shocking season on the pitch and the ultimate demise of Moyes.
Now however I believe United fans must reconsider their previous criticisms and give Woodward real credit for his performance so far this summer. Two deals concluded quietly for big name targets, both signed, sealed and delivered before we even find ourselves in July feels like a return to the United of old under Ferguson and Gill. When you consider we are in the midst of a World Cup, and when you consider the two targets United have already secured, the feat becomes even more impressive. Athletic Bilbao have proved over the last couple of years how difficult it is to prize away their biggest stars – just ask Bayern Munich and Juventus. The Germans pursuit of Javi Martinez was a complicated and expensive affair, costing well over €30m, and Fernando Llorente had to run his own contract down after angering the club’s hierarchy with his desire to move to Turin.
Make no mistake, Bilbao are a rich club with no need to sell their best players, and will do just about anything to hold on to them. With Luke Shaw it was an entirely different, but just as challenging deal to put in place. At 18 he is considered one of English footballs brightest talents, he has been courted by all of the top clubs, and with Chelsea one of those rumoured to be interested, United and Woodward would have to fight off the team he has supported from childhood. Yet here we are at the end of June with the deal concluded and no hint of a transfer saga, failed bid or another club stealing him away from us at the eleventh hour. What a difference a year makes.
So let’s rewind twelve months to his first summer window in charge, and the parallels with this summer make it easy to compare the success this year with the failings of 2013. United needed a left back and central midfielder back then too. There were derisory bids for Leighton Baines and Marouane Fellaini, a frantic, failed public pursuit of Cesc Fabregas and the last minute u-turn by Thiago Alcantara to opt for Bavaria instead of Manchester. United were a laughing-stock and Woodward was the clown at the head of the circus. This time around however, Woodward has redeemed himself. Instead of undervaluing players and trying to force a cut-priced deal, the negotiations have been far more reasonable and resulted in United bagging the targets they wanted.
Well before the players return for pre-season training too. Don’t forget, the £30m fee the club has just paid for Luke Shaw is about the same amount that Woodward attempted to get both Baines and Fellaini for last summer. Shaw was expensive yes, but worth it for a player who could grace United’s first team for the next decade, and certainly worth it when you consider he will be at Old Trafford next season, rather than Stamford Bridge, the Etihad or Anfield. The Herrera deal is another that draws parallels with last summer. Not only because United failed to get him last year, but also because had we not got him as early as we have this summer, then he’d have cost a lot more due to an increased buy-out clause.
Something that stung Woodward and his cheque book last year when buying Marouane Fellaini. Spanish football reporter Graham Hunter explained the nuances of the deal for ESPN FC, particularly that Herrera’s buy-out clause would increase by €6million to €42m on July 1st. Hunter continues to say that when celebrating the Herrera deal United fans must acknowledge the role both Woodward and David Moyes, believe it or not, played in bringing him to the club. It was Moyes who took Hunter’s warning about the release clause and informed Woodward about the importance of concluding the deal so quickly. So this summer United have been swift, informed and decisive in bringing a man to the club who they wanted last year. It was Woodward’s own incompetence that brought that deal to its knees last September, and its fitting that the same player moving to Old Trafford now can represent Woodward’s redemption in the eyes of many associated with the club.
Before anyone gets too giddy though, it is only two signings. Woodward still has a long way to go to prove that he is able to handle the position he was promoted into last summer. The first team is still missing several vital cogs and the success in the transfer market has to last beyond one window. I am optimistic though. It takes serious cojones to turn down Roman Abramovich’s advances for your star player, and then six months later approach Chelsea asking for their reigning Player of the Year instead, yet in January we all watched Juan Mata sign for United in a club record deal. Woodward is clearly capable; his commercial activity over the past 12 months can attest to that. He has put United out in front of every other club in terms of global commercial revenue and his relationship with the Glazers is a strong one. Having brokered the deal that got them control of United in the first place, the Glazers trust Woodward. If anyone is going to spend their cash then it is gonna be Ed, and he’s done a pretty good job of it so far this summer.
As I have already mentioned, there are one or two vital cogs that need replacing before United are the well-oiled machine they once were. The time to really judge the man will be on the 1st September, and whether or not he is able to get Louis van Gaal the players he wants and needs. For the time being at least, he has done an excellent job and it feels as if United are going to be back where they want to be next season. Manchester United had to take a year off last season, but the slumber may be over. Woodward will be out to show the world he has what it takes to make United a giant of English football once more.
By Adem Berkay
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