Everybody loves early business. It makes a statement. It sends a message. It stops other clubs inconveniently deciding that they might want to stick their noses where they're not wanted. And it scratches that frustrating itch that almost everybody has: why can't these idiots see what's wrong with the squad the way I can see what's wrong with the squad? What are they waiting for?
Practically, though, there are three moments in the transfer window that matter. In reverse chronological order, they are:
3. the moment when the transfer window closes, obviously;
2. the first game of the season;
1. the beginning of pre-season.
Making transfers after (3) is impossible, because of those pesky (and really rather peculiar) regulations. Making them after (2) is problematic, because when Jose Mourinho arrived on England's shores for the first time, he noticed that every Premier League game matters when a club's trying to win the thing. The days of slow starts are long gone. Last season, Manchester United used 25 different players in their first four league games; four of those weren't at the club when the first was played, and five of them had gone by the time of the fourth. Even allowing for the injuries, that's some going. No wonder the team made no sense until the New Year.
As for (1), well, that's today. Though the players have been reporting back in dribs and drabs over the last week or so, this is the day when United jet off to the land of the free and the home of the brave. This is the time when Van Gaal gets to strut around with his whistle, indulging the PE teacher within parping his philosophy into the ears of his charges, unbothered by any pressure to get results. And given that the man himself says he needs time to get that message across, we can perhaps assume that his preseasons are more important than most.
So, then, as Manchester United get ready to sign innumerable autographs, shill for all manner of strange corporate partners and play a few games of football, how has the summer gone? It's an unusual feeling, but you kind of have to say: quite well. Maybe even: really quite well. Or, to stretch things to their absolute limit: actually really quite well.
Roll call, then. Memphis Depay, Matteo Darmian, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Morgan Schneiderlin. Or, more abstractly: one of the hottest prospects in Europe; a proper rightback; a many-times champion of vast experience and swagger who can play in that midfield position that the manager was banging on about towards the end of last season; and one of the Premier League's better midfielders who can also etc. and so on. Two of them are 25 and have their best years ahead of them; one is 30 and has won everything the game has to offer; and the other is 21 and quivering with potential. By way of an added bonus, two of them have worked with Louis van Gaal before and enjoyed the experience. And all done, just about, before the work begins. That's good.
As for the business currently undone, there's generally a reasonable explanation for the delay. If there is any chance of nabbing Sergio Ramos, then he's class enough that he's probably worth waiting for. Much the same goes for the rest of the more speculative links we've seen over the last few months, the Kariano Balvanis of this world. Early business is lovely and all, but sometimes players just aren't available until late.
When it comes to David de Gea, meanwhile, there are three excellent reasons to drag that out as long as possible. One, it's simply and straightforwardly pleasurable to annoy Real Madrid. Two, a swap deal with Ramos would be very amusing. And three, there's always the outside chance that something unpredictable might happen, that Madrid blink first and move on. There's probably something to be said about fees in there as well, but who cares; that's not our money.
As always, all transfers are risks, and it's not beyond the realms of possibility that Memphis comes to nothing, Schweinsteiger's a crock, and Schneiderlin and Darmian have been hopelessly overpromoted. But the transfer window isn't just about getting the right players in, it's about doing so and giving them the best possible chance to be a success. That means, among other things, giving them as much of preseason as possible. It might have been nice to have everything wrapped up in June, but it's only today that it's become an actual issue.
So, then: hooray! Well done, Manchester United; well done, Ed Woodward; well done, everybody. Three cheers for you all. High fives all around ... well, maybe not.
One thing must be remembered at all times, however things are going. Be the business good or the business bad, the business is still the business of larcenous arseholes whose only interest in Manchester United is how much money they can make for themselves. That includes Ed Woodward; however fun it might be to turn into a fuzzy-chinned cult hero, it must be recalled at all times that he is the Glazers' man, and the reason that United have an official noodles partner. Still — and with all due acknowledgement to the absolutely state of things — if the club is to be run by larcenous arseholes, it's best to be run by competent larcenous arseholes. Hooray for competence.
Could probably do with a striker, mind.