It has been a case of “that’s much better” after three frustrating summers under David Moyes and Louis van Gaal. For once Ed Woodward got the business done, and mostly early in the summer as well. No more does the club over-spend on mediocrity as happened too often since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement. Indeed, in bringing in four high-quality signings Woodward has executed on a nine out of 10 summer. But how do each of the players bought, sold or loaned rate for quality and value for money? Rant has the answers…
Paul Pogba – acquired from Juventus for €105 / £88 million
The Frenchman is surely the difference between United simply reaching the Champions League and making a real fist of a Premier League title push this season. Pogba was imperious on début against Southampton at Old Trafford last month, and only a little quieter in United’s victory over Hull City. These are games United should win, of course, and it is in the really big matches – such as the post-international break game against Manchester City – where Pogba’s true value will shine through. United has captured one of the world’s finest number eights, and a player who will get better still under José Mourinho’s tutelage.
Value for money: 7/10 – should Pogba drive United towards successive Premier and Champions League titles over the next six-to-eight years then the £90 million fee and huge wages will be great value for money. After all, in football, success is bought, despite the distaste that this observation brings. For now, United has paid an astronomical fee, although the club will recoup much through Pogba’s global marketing value.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan – acquired from Borussia Dortmund for €42 / £35 million
Mkhitaryan has already demonstrated flashes of his brilliance in a number of substitute appearances this season. There’s plenty more to come from the Armenian. At Borussia, Mkhitaryan contributed both goals and assists with regularity – more than 25 in combination last season. The player’s close control, pace and ability to perform across the forward line is likely to be invaluable this season. Yet, Mourinho has also chosen to ease Mkhitaryan into the side. Is this a cause for concern? Probably not, but the best is certainly yet to come. The player’s record and performances in the Bundesliga suggest that United has captured a star at the height of his powers.
Value for money: 7/10 – for now value-for-money is only theoretical. Mkhitaryan doesn’t possess Pogba’s global appeal – the value is in the Armenian’s performances, which have been limited to date.
Eric Bailly – acquired from Villarreal for €38 / £32 million
A little bit Rio Ferdinand, a touch of Nemanja Vidic. Bailly has certainly made an impression in the short time that he has been at the club. The Ivorian is both comfortable on the ball, yet also a defender’s defender. True, there has been the odd mistake, but at 22 what central defender of note has ever demonstrated perfection? There are sterner tests to come than matches against Leicester City, Bournemouth, Southampton and Hull City, but for the moment Bailly has settled in best of the four major acquisitions United made this summer. Indeed, he will be missed when Ivory Coast take part in the African Cup of Nations in Gabon next January.
Value for money: 8/10 – as it stands it looks like United has picked up a comparative bargain, certainly in when measured against the £47 million City has spent on to John Stones this summer, or £42 million last June on Eliaquim Managala.
Zlatan Ibrahimovic – free transfer
Fears that the 34-year-old Swede might struggle in England have already proven to be unfounded, though whether he can replicate the 48 scored for Paris Saint Germain last season is another question. Ibrahimovic is mobile, scores a huge variety of goals, and provides United with a high-class focal point in the attack that has been missing for some time. Of course, the impact on Marcus Rashford and Anthony Martial is a concern, but United could hardly go into the new season without a new number nine. If Ibrahimovic scores more than 20 this season, he will prove to be one of the bargains of the summer.
Value for money: 10/10 – sure, Ibrahimovic’s wages are high, but no more than paid to Wayne Rooney, and with no transfer fee paid United cannot fail with this one.
Patrick McNair – sold to Sunderland for €5.25 / £4.5 million
Impressions of the Irishman vary depending on whether the player’s youth is taken into account. McNair has talent, is multi-functional, and initially did well in the United first team. Yet, that first impression, of an academy product breaking through to perform admirably with the senior team, can cloud a cold-hearted judgement. In the end United’s decision to sell and not loan the defender is a factor not of the club’s strength in central defence, but of McNair’s limitations. Good player, but probably not quite good enough.
Levy-ometer: 7/10 – In a market fuelled by a £5 billion television deal there are few bargains to be had and seven-figure transfers rarely register. Yet, £5 million is real money, and a good return on a player that is unproven at the highest level.
Tyler Blackett – sold to Reading for €1.8 / £1.5 million
When Blackett broke into Louis van Gaal’s team during the 2014/15 season it appeared the Dutchman had unearthed a gem. Comfortable on the ball, mature in defence, and able to operate both at left-back and in central areas, Blackett seemingly had much to offer. Yet, those early impressions were misleading. Blackett was soon dropped and then rarely seen in Van Gaal’s team over the second half of the season. Blackett’s loan at Celtic last season brought only mixed reviews and in the end a move to the Championship seems to be about the right level for the Manchester-born defender.
Levy-ometer: 5/10 – Blackett has the talent to make it at a higher level than the Championship, even if a step down is the right path for the youngster at this moment. The Englishman could prove to be Reading’s bargain capture of the summer.
Will Keane – sold to Hull City for €1.2 / £1 million
Once a fabulously talented youngster, Keane has suffered a career disrupted by serious injury. The talent is strong enough that Sir Alex Ferguson offered the striker his Premier League début in December 2011. Five years on and loan spells at Wigan Athletic, Queens Park Rangers, Sheffield Wednesday and Preston North End brought just five goals in 52 games – a very poor return. He has done well to secure a Premier League move.
Levy-ometer: 6/10 – Keane should have progressed more and at 23 desperately needs games in a stable team. He might not get that at Hull. Ill-luck has struck the player to down too often, but United could not reasonably have extracted more from the transfer.
Víctor Valdés – free transfer to Middlesbrough
Blink and you might have missed it. The former Barcelona ‘keeper made just two appearances for the Reds after joining the club on a free transfer. The falling out with Van Gaal was total and Valdes spent much of his final season with the club training with the reserves and then wasting time on loan at Standard Liege. He will look at it as two lost years; United as around €8 million blown on his wages.
Levy-ometer: 1/10 – Well, United couldn’t extract a transfer fee, although Standard did pay around €500k for last season’s loan – he played five games. If ever a player stole a living…
Nick Powell – free transfer to Wigan Athletic
Poor luck with injuries, poor attitude, poor performances? Take your pick of excuses for Powell’s failure at United having joined the cub as one of the most impressive young players to come out of the lower leagues. Powell is part midfielder, part striker – sometimes wasteful with the ball, but with an eye for the spectacular goal. He should have done better and now is the time for the 22-year-old to make something of his career. He’ll always have that substitute appearance against Wolfsburg in the Champions League last season!
Levy-ometer: 1/10 – In the end United lost around £3 million on the transfer, but could not expect to have recouped anything given the player’s status.
Adnan Januzaj – loaned to Sunderland
Last chance saloon under the one manager to have shown real faith in the Belgian winger. Januzaj enjoyed his breakthrough season during Moyes’ disastrous 10-month tenure at Old Trafford. So positive were Januzaj’s performances that the terraces sang of a “boy who could do anything.” What followed has been two wasted years of intermittent appearances and very few starring performances. The natural talent is there to succeed at United, but the penny absolutely most drop. Too many managers – Van Gaal, Thomas Tuchel, Marc Wilmots, and now Mourinho have questioned the player’s application.
Cameron Borthwick-Jackson – loaned to Wolverhampton Wanderers
Borthwick-Jackson might have secured a Premier League loan given the quality and composure of his performances for United last season. He played 14 times for the first team under Van Gaal, winning the under-21 Player of the Year at the club’s end-of-season awards. Still, Borthwick-Jackson should become a fixture in the Wolves side this season. If not and it will prove to be a failed move; if the loan works out, Borthwick-Jackson could grow into a long-term future at Old Trafford.
Andreas Pereira loaned to Granada CF
Will Pereira ever make it at United? It is now doubtful. The player oozes natural talent and ability; demonstrated in scoring a stupendous free-kick from 25-yards against Ipswich Town in the Capital One Cup last season. Yet, a loan to a relatively obscure outpost at Granada does not bode well. Talent is not always enough to make it at Old Trafford.
Guillermo Varela loaned to Eintracht Frankfurt
Van Gaal offered the Uruguayan a path into the first team and at times Varela surpassed expectations in making 10 starts last season. The attacking intent is clear even if the defensive nous was not always evident. In the end, the Dutchman turned to a part-time defender in Antonio Valencia, dropping Varela back into the reserves. Still, the defender should learn much if he plays regularly in the Bundesliga this season.
James Wilson loaned to Derby Country
Another season, another loan. Wilson will never make it at United and the only surprise in the striker heading out of Old Trafford is that the club did not find a permanent home for the youngster.
* All transfer fees Transfermarkt