In a summer when, in the words of Sir Alex Ferguson, Manchester United were ready to “push the boat out” to attract the biggest stars to Old Trafford, the reality was that the new man at the helm could not even steer the ship out of Salford Quays.
As the transfer deadline passed at 11pm last night, Marouane Fellaini managed to sneak through the door to ensure that the sum total of United’s business since the end of last season was not merely the
20-year-old Uruguayan full-back Guillermo Varela. United made all the right noises about luring Cristiano Ronaldo back to the club from Real Madrid, pursued Barcelona midfielder Cesc Fabregas and toyed with the idea of moving for Robert Lewandowski.
But the transfer window closed with United suffering the humiliation of missing out on most of their leading targets following a disastrous first attempt at transfer business by chief executive Ed Woodward.
David Moyes had the funds and ambition to bolster his squad, but the word within the football industry was that Woodward was learning the hard way that buying players was a wholly different ball game to selling shirt space and sponsorship deals to companies across the globe.
Promoted from his role as the head of United’s commercial operation by the club’s owners, the Glazer family, Woodward has spent three months attempting to deliver new players for Moyes, yet he has failed to deliver one.
Woodward insisted that United were one of the most powerful clubs in the world and that there was no limit to Moyes’s budget, but he lacked the contacts book and credibility of his predecessor David Gill to come up with the goods.
When he cut short his stay on United’s summer tour of Australia to conduct “urgent transfer business” in Europe, expectations of a deal for Fabregas or even Ronaldo developed quickly, but as the days without news passed, the joke doing the rounds was that Woodward’s boat from Sydney had not yet arrived in Southampton.
Meanwhile, Moyes, having rejected the chance to sign Thiago Alcantara from Barcelona and been dissuaded from pursuing Luka Modric, protected his boss by insisting that progress was being made and deals would be done.
After being encouraged to pursue Fabregas, the player failed to push for the move, leaving United feeling let down, but the club then pursued their own bizarre tactic of bidding substantially below the market value for the likes of Leighton Baines and Fellaini, angering Everton in the process.
United failed to trigger Fellaini’s £23 million escape clause in July, only to offer substantially more on deadline day just to get the deal – any deal – done.
United’s approach smacked of arrogance, that their name was enough to make things happen, but it did not make Real or Barcelona blink and ultimately left Everton more determined to resist their attempts to sign Baines and Fellaini.
They managed to get Fellaini at the last minute, but it was more like diving on to a life raft in panic than sailing serenely back to port with expensive captures from overseas.