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Staff Roundtable: Grading Manchester United’s 2021 Summer Window

Our staff weigh in on the strength of United’s 2021 Summer Transfer haul...

Manchester United Training Session Photo by Matthew Peters/Manchester United via Getty Images

Another Manchester United season is underway, and another exciting Summer of transfers and rumors is in the books. There were some big arrivals at Old Trafford, but did they address the biggest problem areas? Here’s how our staff of writers grade the window as a whole for the United squad.

Colin Damms: C+

This summer could accurately be described as “splashy,” yet perhaps the biggest need once again went neglected. Midfield remains a problem for Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s squad, and one which could derail the team. We’ve already seen how costly the necessity of playing Nemanja Matic is, and McFred is probably our safest option, which is bad. The strengthening in other areas is very positive, but is not enough to cover up such a vital position and problem area on the pitch for United.

One thing that this transfer window certainly does is add pressure to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. The arrival of a top centre back partner for Maguire in Varane and a star creator with bags of proven ability potential in Jadon Sancho would have been enough for many to say it’s time for silverware, but the return of Cristiano Ronaldo raises that bar to a new level. These are all talented players, but arguably only one addressed an urgent squad need.

Ronaldo brings a massive amount of attention and expectation. He is also costly in terms of wages, and if that isn’t matched with production and success questions will be asked. Juventus got worse by making him the focal point of their team, and it is a big test for Solskjaer to avoid that same trap. Ronaldo sells, whether he performs that way many imagine he will remains to be seen, but for now it’s hard not to see past the red flags on this one.

This window could be a big one even without the arrival of a midfielder, and Varane in particular is a lovely luxury addition. The midfield problem is big however, and it’s enough to keep this grade a low one for now.

Suwaid Fazal: C+

When Ole Gunnar Solskjaer got the permanent gig, I’d always envisioned him to have a complete squad by his third summer transfer window. United have more resources than most clubs and that should’ve help speed the process. I don’t think that’s been achieved this summer.

For this particular window, this is how I’d have liked the transfer committee and management staff to prioritize incomings:

(a) a holding midfielder

(b) Jadon Sancho

(c) a right-back that could challenge Aaron Wan-Bissaka for a first-team place

(d) a centre-back if the opportunity were to present itself

United did not get a holding midfielder that could help sustain attacks and disrupt the opposition. They didn’t even get someone on loan, which means the team will still rely heavily on the McFred double pivot.

They got Jadon Sancho. The Englishman is going to be a remarkable player for the club but doesn’t solve the issues on the right-wing without the help of a full-back who can threaten from the touchline.

Raphael Varane is one of the best centre backs in the world and he’ll be a big plus but I always felt like a centre-back should’ve been an opportunistic signing. To be fair to Varane, he’s used to squads that don’t always mesh. He’ll fit right in.

Tom Heaton just adds another number in a bloated goalkeeping department. Not sure what’s happening there.

The signing of Cristiano Ronaldo feels like a Faustian bargain. He will provide a massive lift to most fans and the players. He also puts United under a lot of pressure. There was an expectation that United should challenge for the big trophies despite a disjointed squad and those stakes just got higher.

Paul Pogba’s future still looks up in the air and Jesse Lingard is not signing a new contract. Why keep the latter?

The incomings are the type that could get you three points despite a poor away performance to a side like Wolves but they don’t really help improve those performances massively. Ole Gunnar Solskjaer knows that the luck will run out eventually. He needs to formulate a cohesive plan for these ceiling raisers to blow the roof.

It’s been three summer windows and the cake still isn't complete. The icing feels like it’s come a tad bit earlier than required. The cherry on top feels more saccharine than sweet. Let’s hope it doesn't spoil the cake.

Vince Rosetta: A+ in marketing

It was a very exciting transfer window this year with the likes of Jadon Sancho and Raphael Varane coming in. There is no doubt that these two additions will help on the field but on the marketing side, I give the window a B-

Sancho will sell jerseys considering how we have been hearing how great of a player he is for the past three years.

Varane, meh, an occasional jersey here and there.

As the window appeared to be closing, the teams marketing future rested on the Sancho jersey until! ..... the shocking return of Cristiano Ronaldo. Sales saved! A+ in the marketing dept.!

We all know this isn't the Ronaldo version one but version two Ronaldo has about 100 times more marketing appeal than the version one Ronaldo did. The United Instagram account got over 1 million new followers 24 hours after Ronaldo signed and the news crashed the official United site.

There is no doubt the combination of Ronaldo and Sancho will fund the teams marketing efforts this year and might actually work well on the pitch too.

United also signed Tom Heaton and I'm sure his parents will buy his jersey, so he will sell two this year.

Pauly Kwestel: B-

This was a window of opportunity for Manchester United. Even though they already had solid present day options and up and coming for tomorrow options at the position, they had a chance to bring back a homegrown talent to finish out his career and should thus be applauded for how swiftly they moved to bring back Tom Heaton.

From there United moved pretty quickly to finally address their right wing issue in bringing in Jadon Sancho. That moved checked all the boxes at every level for United. Sancho is a young star who is insanely marketable (for the commercial side). Not only is he already a superstar but given his age, United will have him for the best years of his career. His signing gives United enough world class talent that they could focus on filling out the rest of the holes in the squad.

That’s when things took a turn. Next up was centerback Raphael Varane. At 28 years old Varane is on the older side but that can be overlooked a bit because central defenders primes last longer than the prime’s of attacking players. Considering Varane was signed for an extremely team friendly £36 million and with only about £6 million of that being paid this season that left plenty of money to go and fill the other holes.

Except that didn’t happen. United made it clear there was no money left unless they raised some funds through player sales. That made the Varane deal a little less good but again, opportunity for world class player. It’s an understandable situation but also insanely difficult when you’re dealing with such bloated wages and your most sellable asset told the team that was most interested in him that he wasn’t interested in leaving. The lack of outgoings wasn’t so much a failure of this summer as it was a failure years ago when these contracts were handed out.

Then United suddenly found money in the couch cushions when Cristiano Ronaldo agree to sign with Manchester City because apparently it’s the clubs responsibility to protect the players Manchester United legacy. A legacy the player cared so much about that he agreed to sign for City even though City were only half interested in signing him.

The Ronaldo transfer is very unique and interesting in that United are getting a player who still scores goals at an elite level but doesn’t do much else or necessarily make the team any better. After all, there’s only so many goals a player can score if United can’t get him the ball in dangerous areas on the pitch. That’s the area that they needed to address and they just... didn’t.

Sure there’s “justifications” and “narratives” about him changing the attitude or making the young players better but those are all just things people like to say. The same things were said about “guaranteed goal scorer” Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Ibrahimovic brought some goals to United but not wins. Nor did he make the players around him much better. Young forwards Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial had the worst years of their careers playing next to him (with Martial again faltering when Edinson Cavani was brought in).

Ronaldo’s arrival brings about very valid questions to how all the pieces will fit together. Zlatan was a square peg in a round hole and his strong personality mandated that United played his style, even though he was surrounded by talented players who would all be better off playing differently. Ronaldo is much better than Ibrahimovic but the same principal applies. He plays differently than the rest of United’s younger talented players, and given his personality it’s hard to imagine him just falling in rather than demanding United play his style.

The big question is how will Ronaldo fit with his countryman Bruno Fernandes? Over the past few years, Ronaldo has primarily played in one or two striker systems with three man midfields to accommodate his lack of industry. In other words, no number 10. United are a team built around a number 10. Will this work, or will something have to give?

The two co-exist together when playing for Portugal, sort of. Bruno only has three goals and three assists for country when on the pitch at the same time as Ronaldo. For as creative a player as Bruno is and as good a goal scorer as Ronaldo is, you would expect that number to be higher. Portugal aren’t getting the best version of Bruno whereas United are built around that. Obviously if Ronaldo is Robin van Persie-ing United to a title, neither Bruno nor any of the players will care if they’re playing more reserved roles (though how much that helps them for life after Ronaldo is a different question). The problem arises if “what if Ronaldo doesn’t” and with United failing to address their midfield, there’s a very realistic chance of that happening!

In the middle of the last decade United began their own ‘galacticos’ recruitment policy where names trumped fit. “Players like this don’t come along all the time and you need to take advantage.” The policy didn’t work and it looked like United had turned a page with much more targeted recruitment. Then this summer opportunities came up that were ‘too good to pass up’ and suddenly United’s window looks like a galactico window once again.

United have now put all their eggs into this basket. The names of the signings look really good, but the unaddressed systemic cracks within United will make it hard for these guys to fire on all cylinders.