Should United fans be worried at the lack of transfers?

Dean Mouhtaropoulos

It's nearly time for the World Cup, and Manchester United, despite possessing a squad in need of major reinforcement, have yet to sign anybody. Should the fans be panicking?

So, the season's been over for nearly two weeks, the transfer window has been open for ... *checks watch* ... er, will open in nearly a month, and so far Manchester United have signed nobody. Well, they did announce that they'd signed a 6'7" 17-year-old Serbian goalkeeper, but they might even have botched that.

Meanwhile, other clubs are gleefully snapping up players like hungry hippos chasing marbles. Diego Costa and Cesc Fabregas teeter on the verge of joining Chelsea. Rickie Lambert is already a Liverpool player, while Emre Can is a doctor's cough and a lawyer's scribble from joining him. Philippe Senderos has signed for Aston Villa. And still, Ed Woodward watched.

Are United fans panicking? Yes. Well, some of them. It's not too hard to understand why: this is a squad in need of deep and major surgery, and which over the last two years has been reinforced by two major signings, one theoretically ideal but so far hilariously inadequate, the other gloriously talented but some distance from the priority. And Guillermo Varela, whoever he is.

But understandable as this panic might be, it's exceptionally premature. It would be nice to have signings confirmed by this point in the summer, but it's not necessary. There are three important dates which should signal the beginning of any concern, and we're some way from those.

The first is whenever Louis van Gaal takes over. This is dependent on the Dutch progress through the World Cup; the earlier they depart, the earlier he'll rock up to Manchester. Perhaps it might be best to hope that the Netherlands crash out in the group stage, to ensure that he comes as early as possible. On the other hand, having a World Cup winning manager would be quite fun. (It worked so well for Chelsea ...) Either way, the earliest the Dutch can go out is June 23, and so, on the assumption that United will allow him a few days off, the earliest he'll be in post is the beginning of July.

The second important date is the return of the non-World Cup players to United. TBB hasn't been able to locate a precise date for this, but the first match of the pre-season tour is July 23 so it'll likely be shortly before that. Essentially, if United sign a player who hasn't been at the World Cup after this date, then that player will have missed the early stages of being a United player. The conditioning, the training, the trotting around America signing things and smiling. So if United are going after Zlatan Ibrahimovic, this is the date to watch.

(United are not going after Zlatan Ibrahimovic.)

Third is the date that the World Cup players return. Generally, tournament players tend to get permission to rejoin their clubs a week or so after everybody else, because footballers die if a year passes and they haven't spent some time in a Dubai swimming pool. Any signing who's been out at the World Cup, then, needs to be attached to the club by this point, for the same reasons as above.

There are other, softer concerns, such as whether a big signing would act as a statement, whether one might nudge others, domino-like, and whether fees might rise after the World Cup. But from a practical, United's-football-next-season point of view, those dates are more or less it. Obviously, since transfers are hilariously complex things that take weeks and weeks of rumour, counter-rumour, nudge, counter-nudge, offer, counter-offer, and so on, then things need to be moving well before then. But United fans know that Van Gaal's told the club who he wants, and sort of have to believe that those responsible for acting on his wishes are at the very least trying to get things done.

Yes, other clubs are doing business. But look at the business they're doing. Chelsea's Diego Costa move has been in the pipeline for months, and Fabregas, should it happen, will be an almost-unopposed purchase of a player that Barcelona need to move on early. As for Liverpool, their one completed signing so far was an impulsive repatriation of a 32-year-old who was desperate to join the club. The Emre Can deal, meanwhile, involves the activation of a release clause, which means avoiding the whole tedious business of negotiation. The only comparable piece of business that Liverpool are embarking on is that of Adam Lallana, a transfer that the rumours and reports suggests is even less advanced than United's prolonged courtship of Luke Shaw.

It's important to remember, too, that exchanging Moyes for Van Gaal didn't just mean swapping coaches. It was a change of vision: out went most of Moyes's transfer targets, in came somebody else's. United don't have the kind of structure where coaches come and go and transfer business takes place regardless (though there have been rumours that a director of football-type appointment might not be too far away). Whether United were right to abandon, as has been reported, the purchases of Toni Kroos and Bill Carvalho is a matter for debate. But since United abandoning David Moyes for Van Gaal isn't, the consequences sort of have to be sucked up. We've got rid of the bloke who wasn't good enough but we're still going to buy all the players he wanted ... it's an odd look.

To be clear, this is not to say that things aren't going to go either terribly wrong or terribly nowhere. There is still no evidence that Woodward has any idea what he's doing, that he is in any way qualified to do his job, and that he's going to be able to get anything on Louis van Gaal's list beyond eggs, bread, cigs, milk. Perhaps he's being laughed out of boardrooms from Southampton to Turin, from Lisbon to Madrid. It's entirely possible that United will start next season with a midfield of Carrick and Cleverley, a defence of Jones and Smalling, and a fanbase blood pressure somewhere around the moon.

But it's not certain, and the fact that United haven't yet made a signing is not any kind of confirmation. If nothing's happened by the middle of July, then yes, by all means panic. In the meantime, there's a World Cup a week away. Adnan Januzaj's going to be there. The sun's out. Relax. Just a little bit.

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