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United's quiet January is a calculated gamble that could seriously backfire

A goalkeeper in, plenty of dead wood out, but the same squad holes remain.

Pete Norton/Getty Images

So that was the transfer window that was. Here's tBB's wrap up of what we think of what happened (or, more accurately, what mostly didn't happen), along with a couple of other interesting subplots. Full list of arrivals and departures below.

You could, if you were so inclined, take Manchester United's minimal business in January as an extreme failure. After all, we know — or at least, it seems obvious and we are assured — that Louis van Gaal went into January wanting a world-class centreback and a first-choice rightback, along with perhaps a dynamic midfielder and another winger, yet came out the other side with an (admittedly excellent) back-up goalkeeper and a couple of future pub quiz answers. Targets achieved: nil.

Alternatively — and it's in this direction that tBB is leaning — we could read this quiet window as evidence of three things. One, that the players United want, the names that have cropped up in rumour after rumour over the last month or so, simply aren't available for one reason or another. Kevin Strootman's done his knee again, Mats Hummels has a relegation fight to be getting on with, Raphäel Varane and Marquinhos are waiting to see if they can break into their first teams ... those are mostly guesses, but they make sense.

Secondly, that United, given the above, aren't willing to bring in lower-grade alternatives just for the rest of the season. This is a change of tack, given that both Juan Mata and Marouane Fellaini can be understood as panic buys of varying sorts, and perhaps encouragingly sensible. The poor sod that Sky Sports News sent to stand outside Carrington yesterday ended up confessing as much, soberly informing the nation that United would not settle for "lite" versions of their targets and promising, with a note of quiet desperation in his voice, that "Manchester United will take centre stage during the summer transfer window".

Which means, thirdly, that the current squad is, in the eyes of the coaches and the manager, good enough to attain this season's targets. Presumably this amounts to a Champions League place, since there's no way this lot are winning the league, and while the notion of United effectively ruling themselves out of a title tilt isn't one that leaves a particularly pleasant taste in the mouth, it's understandable from both a corporate and managerial point of view. Add to this Van Gaal's reported attempts to limit next summer's pre-season jaunts, and it becomes clear that this has become a two-year plan.

But oh, there's a lot that could go wrong, of course. If United do collapse over the rest of the season, then the whole plan will come tumbling down: holding out for the very best is all well and good, but two years away from the top table will be problematic when it comes to negotiations. And even if United to finish in line with the plan, there's the constant suspicion that Ed Woodward is an dangerously ineffective presence in the transfer market. It's all very well United taking one window off, but it does mean that the next needs to be mastered. The groundwork for next summer's business should already have started. There is almost no margin for error.

As for what we can expect from the rest of this season, well, tBB suspects that we'll see a continuation of Van Gaal's pursuit of deliberate and careful pragmatism, shading to ugliness at times. He's playing for position; everybody else is playing for their places. This is a calculated risk, not an expression of faith, and there's a lot riding on it. From a fan's point of view, the rest of the season might well be something of a trudge. Let's at least hope that Luke Shaw's recent noises about targeting the FA Cup are true. It's been too long.

The oddity of Andy Kellett (or, the scouring of the U21s)

When Sky Sports News' Jim White mentioned, almost in passing, that Manchester United were moving for Bolton Wanderer's Andy Kellett, most of those watching assumed he'd made a comical mistake, and at least one journalist told Twitter that he'd meant to say Sheffield United instead. How wrong we all were.

Kellett joins, apparently, on the request of U21 manager Warren Joyce, who had been impressed with him earlier in the season. With United shedding plenty of reserve players in the window, Joyce was concerned that his squad might be left a little short, and so Kellett makes what must amount to the least likely loan move since Real Madrid borrowed West Ham's Julien Faubert. With Sadiq El Fitouri in the other fullback slot, the U21s certainly won't be lacking in interesting stories.

Now, we're not here to tell you how to spend your money, and we're aware that football shirts are expensive things to buy for reasons of a joke. But if anybody does feel the need to pick up a KELLETT replica, do send us a picture. If you can get them to put question marks instead of numbers, so much the better.

The faith in Adnan Januzaj

The two loan moves rumoured for Januzaj were quite different in character (even if both clubs would doubtless be targetting a permanent deal). PSG's was quite clearly a powerplay, a trailing of the coat from a club with designs. Everton, on the other hand, could quite easily have amounted to a decent developmental move: Martinez's plays tidy, technical, attacking football, and he's certainly good enough to see plenty of game time.

But it's moot now; he's not going anywhere. Perhaps those reports that Van Gaal didn't fancy him were false; perhaps it's just that United can't afford to be shedding first team players at this stage, particularly since he's arguably the club's best winger. Either way, his retention — and his start at the weekend against Leicester — offer encouragement that he is still on course to become the player that everybody wants him to be, and more importantly to do so at Old Trafford.

The curse of the MK Dons

Of the eleven players that started United's ill-fated League Cup game against the MK Dons, five have now left the club permanently — Marnick Vermijl, Anderson, Michael Keane, Shinji Kagawa, Danny Welbeck — while Saidy Janko and Javier Hernandez have left on loan, and Nick Powell is only back because Leicester couldn't find any use for him. David de Gea is probably safe (assuming he wants to stay, of course) but if we were Reece James, we'd be worried. And if we were Jonny Evans, we'd be terrified.

The surfeit of Spanish stoppers

Victor Valdes is many things — an excellent goalkeeper, a serial champion, a widely respected footballer, an U21 team-talk giver — but he is not, you suspect, a willing long-term No. 2. His decision to sign a permanent deal, therefore, certainly suggests that he believes he's in with a shot at United's No. 1 position over the next 18 months, which in turn suggests that he believes De Gea might well be leaving at some point.

This does not mean that the club have told him so; it's a perfectly reasonable calculation to make, given the circumstances. It does, though, kind of suggest that nobody at the club has told him conclusively otherwise. Either way, tBB is fairly sure that in 19 months' time, one way or another, United won't have the pleasing problem of two top-class Spanish goalkeepers.


Sadiq El Fitouri, Salford City, permanent
Andy Kellett, Bolton Wanderers, loan
Nick Powell, Leicester City, loan terminated
Victor Valdes, unattached, permanent


Ben Amos, Bolton Wanderers, one-month loan
Anderson, Internacional, permanent
Saidy Janko, Bolton Wanderers, end-of-season loan
Sam Johnstone, Preston North End, end-of-season loan
Michael Keane, Burnley, undisclosed fee
Will Keane, Sheffield Wednesday, end-of-season loan
Jesse Lingard, Derby County, end-of-season loan
Ben Pearson, Barnsley, one-month loan
Joe Rothwell, Blackpool, end-of-season loan
Marnick Vermijl, Sheffield Wednesday, permanent
Wilfried Zaha, Crystal Palace, permanent