Sixth place in the Premier League. Both European finals contested by hated league rivals. Manchester City celebrating a domestic treble and Liverpool hoisting the European Cup once again. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s red-hot start just a distant memory after a dismal run-in. Let’s be honest: the 2018/19 season was an utter shambles for Manchester United.
Now, the club embarks on a pivotal summer that could either reverse this slide into mediocrity or hasten the descent. The Reds return to Carrington on July 1 and, so far, only one new player has been added. That’s some ways off Solskjaer’s wish to have his summer transfer business done and dusted by the start of camp.
Let’s take a swing through the latest club news and see how this all-important summer is going... (Spoiler: Not well.)
Daniel James signs for £15 million
After a few weeks of back-and-forth with Swansea City — possibly prolonged by the tragic and untimely death of James’s father — United locked up the 21-year-old Welsh speedster on a five-year deal. James comes highly recommended by Wales boss Ryan Giggs (“I’ve probably not seen anyone as quick as him in my whole career”) and should provide stiff competition on the wings. He mainly played on the left in the Championship, so the underperforming Anthony Martial and Alexis Sánchez might be looking over their shoulders after this signing. Daniel James may not be the jaw-dropping transfer that some fans lust for, but it’s a sensible investment for the future much like Diogo Dalot a season ago.
The Aaron Wan-Bissaka saga rumbles on
Over the last few days, Crystal Palace reportedly knocked back two United bids for the England U21 defender. The London club seems to be holding out for an amount closer to the £60 million asking price, although it’s unlikely that Ed Woodward and company will go quite that high. This deal seems destined for a £50-55 million total (including add-ons). Still pretty steep, but not wildly out of line with this runaway market. Some rumors popped up over the weekend of United checking in on some backup options, but Wan-Bissaka remains the clear-cut top choice. He seemingly wants the move and Solskjaer obviously values him highly. Let’s get this one done, Ed.
Paul Pogba’s new challenge
Pogba had a polarizing season in 2018/19. Some fans see his gaudy stats as definitive proof of world-class production and believe that Ole should build the entire team around his prodigious talent. Others, though, point out that his goal tally was somewhat inflated by penalties and the many poor performances outweighed the good. Opinion is similarly split over whether Pogba was a victim of José Mourinho’s harsh methods or a “virus” that downed tools and undermined his manager and teammates.
Well, it’s all coming to a head now. While on a promotional tour in Japan, Pogba poured gasoline on the simmering fire by expressing his desire for a new challenge elsewhere. It’s hard not to see these comments as the opening gambit in a Mino Raiola-led scorched earth exit from United. This has Real Madrid’s fingerprints all over it.
Have the club and its star player reached the point of no return? Hard to say.
United are sticking with the party line that Pogba will not, under any circumstances, be sold this summer. Hopefully that’s more a shrewd negotiating tactic than a sign of the club living in denial. Pogba pretty much took matters into his own hands to oust Mourinho last year, so United should be wary of a repeat performance in the season ahead.
In a post-Neymar world, Pogba’s gotta be worth £130-150 million. Get Madrid up to the top end of that range and cash in. It’s time for everyone to move on.
Paying over the odds for Harry Maguire?
Everyone knows the story: Mourinho wanted Maguire last summer. Woodward balked at the £60 million price tag. The manager fumed, the defense suffered, and the season was lost. Whether Woodward felt Maguire overvalued after a strong World Cup or concerned by his age and speed, this was the moment when the Mourinho-United marriage irrevocably shattered.
A season later, United’s reportedly back in for Maguire. Only now he’s a year older and Leicester City want £80-90 million for their star center back. United flushed an entire season only to come crawling back for Maguire at a much higher price. Not the ideal way to conduct business.
Still, Maguire makes a lot of sense. He’s a strong physical presence to partner the classy Victor Lindelöf at the back and earned rave reviews at Hull, Leicester, and the England National Team. No, he’s not exactly fleet of foot — and it’s galling to shell out £80-90 million for a player that’s not quite world-class — but United desperately need help in the backline. Expect this potential transfer to drag out for much of the summer.
Contract crisis on the horizon
Ever since inking Alexis Sánchez to his massive contract, United have struggled to agree contract extensions with their best players. No surprise, as they enviously eye the windfall handed to Alexis for very little — and that’s being kind — on-field production. Exactly what Alexis makes each week seems to vary wildly from source to source, but it’s huge. Like wage structure-crushingly huge. That might be okay if Alexis didn’t resemble a walking corpse on the pitch, but alas.
David De Gea is dallying over a contract extension because he wants parity with Alexis’s outrageous wages. Marcus Rashford, too. Both contracts are winding down and United might have little recourse but to pay up and warp the club’s wage bill even more. For a calculating moneyman, Woodward did United no favors by handing Alexis that contract. This is one mistake that will cost the club for years to come.