No matter what they did, for some fans it was never going to be enough. Manchester United needed to rebuild this summer. Players needed to leave and new blood needed to be brought in. At the end of the day, only Romelu Lukaku was sold, and only three players arrived.
The lack of a complete overhaul has been enough for several fans to hit the panic button about the upcoming season but the reality is, Manchester United actually had a very successful summer.
Heading into the summer everyone knew a rebuild was necessary. The problem was United’s two best players (i.e., the two players you’d want to build around) — David de Gea and Paul Pogba — had massive questions about their futures.
That’s where everything starts. United held onto both of them. In fact, despite Pogba’s one comment about wanting a new challenge (and whatever his agent says) it’s never really looked like Pogba wanted to leave.
Pogba hasn’t looked distracted at all this preseason. He was consistently United’s best player on the pitch whenever he played, and was visibly taking on a position of leadership with the squad.
Pogba was never going to leave for Real Madrid. They can’t afford him. I truly believe that Solskjaer has sold Pogba on his plan to build this team around him. They were going to assemble a team of young and hungry players, and Pogba would be their leader.
I’ve been on the record many times saying I don’t trust Ed Woodward to get things right but Woodward deserves to be commended for the summer he had. He didn’t get bullied in the transfer market, he walked away from bad deals (Dybala), and didn’t get distracted by players who may sell the most shirts.
Woodward had a plan and he stuck to it. He signed Solskjaer’s no. 1 target, and addressed three out of United’s four main areas of need. This doesn’t mean that the club no longer need to sign a director of football; they do. But that doesn’t mean that Woodward didn’t get it right, he did.
United’s plan as you know, was to sign young British players. That plan was put in place not because British players are necessarily the best or have a particular style, but because of how they grew up.
When Daniel James, Harry Maguire, and Aaron Wan-Bissaka were growing up and at an impressionable age, Manchester United were the kings of England. Everywhere around the country young boys dreamed of getting called by Sir Alex Ferguson to come play for him. Welshman Daniel James idolized Ryan Giggs, of course he’d want the chance to emulate him.
To these players, the name Manchester United means something. It’s not just a chance to get a big payday. Over the past few seasons fans have loudly complained that United had too many players who were only here for the money and not the shirt. They didn’t do that this summer! You would think that would be what the fans wanted!
Entering the summer the rumors surrounding De Gea and Pogba focused on them not being sure of the direction United were going in. Did you ever think it was possible that this is the direction they were looking for?
They were tired of the throw tons of money at big names and hope it works strategy that the club had gone with the past few years. They wanted to see a long term plan. It will be much easier for Pogba to lead this team of hungry players eager to learn than a team where 10 goal Paulo Dybala is the team’s second highest paid player.
Everyone knew United needed a massive rebuild this summer. Massive rebuilds don’t happen overnight. They take 2-3 years to complete. No matter who the club signed they were never going to compete with Manchester City or Liverpool this year.
Would it have been nice for them to have signed a ball winning midfielder? Yes, but there’s still hope that Fred can grow into that role after having a year to settle in (if you want to give up on a player who moved to a new league after just one year - well there’s a long list of times that hasn’t been a good idea). This was just step one.
Their moves this summer will not only make them better two or three years from now, but they’ll make them better immediately. Not only are the Red Devils good enough to compete for the top four but they should finish at least fourth.
Look at the teams around them, Arsenal didn’t improve their defense, Chelsea have multiple unproven players and lost their best guy, and I’ve got a lot of questions about Tottenham’s midfield and defense. The door is wide open.
Since the sale of Lukaku, there’s been a lot of noise from the media and fans about the team lacking a “proven goalscorer.” That’s a load of hogwash.
Romelu Lukaku was a proven goalscorer. Alexis Sánchez was a proven goalscorer. Zlatan Ibrahimović was a proven goalscorer. None of them were the answer. Over the last three years those “proven goalscorers” combined to score 46 non-penalty goals in the Premier League (one of Alexis’ goals was him tapping in the rebound from his own missed penalty).
In that same time frame, operating mostly from the wing, Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford combined for 43. If Daniel James gets four goals and four assists this season he’ll have contributed more than Alexis ever has.
Clearly signing a “proven goalscorer” offers no guarantee that they’ll actually score goals. Instead, Solskjaer is showing his faith that Rashford and Martial will be ready to make the jump and carry the burden. It’s the same challenge Sir Alex Ferguson gave to Wayne Rooney and Cristiano Ronaldo when Ruud van Nistelrooy left, and to Wayne Rooney when Ronaldo and Carlos Tevez departed.
Fans may be concerned that the team lacks the firepower to turn those 1-1 draws into 2-1 wins, but by substantially improving the defense they can turn those same draws into 1-0 wins.
Again, it’s important to remember that this is a multi-year plan. Not signing an older striker gives a path for Solskjaer to play his kids and answer several questions. Can Martial and Rashford carry the load? Can Mason Greenwood, Tahith Chong, and Angel Gomes break into the team? The club can assess these questions over the next year and identify what they need to target next summer.
Too much of the post Sir Alex Ferguson era has been United looking for quick fixes to get them back to the top. Those fixes never worked and just left bigger problems down the road.
This summer United took a long term approach and stuck with it. They’ve improved in both the long term and immediately. For that, it’s unquestionably a successful summer.