Manchester United have, since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson not only massive struggled on the pitch (and still coming to terms by the way) but also significantly off it. United have never really been known to make huge superstar signings blowing teams out of the water, under the Scot and more often it was the opposite, as the Red Devils normally ended up selling players of the highest quality to rivals in Europe – usually Real Madrid.
But this was largely overshadowed by Ferguson’s ability to build and rebuild teams that were consistently dominating the domestic competitions and generally over-performed in the Champions League with the best example being the 2011 campaign.
But the last three and a half years (or seven windows) have been a complete contrast – United broke their own transfer record about four times – broke the British record when they signed Angel Di Maria and also eventually the world record by their acquisition of 23-year old Paul Pogba.
But between Marouane Fellaini and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, there have been quite a few signings that have not only acclimatised themselves to the league and the club but also the fans and proved their worth to the team going forward – all in their own right.
This is my take on the top five signings post the halcyon days under Sir Alex Ferguson with a slight emphasis on price, current valuation/resale value and also their contribution so far significance to the team now and the near future.
(5) Juan Mata
Juan Mata is an incredible player – has been for Manchester United since the day he arrived on a helicopter. Not only is he comfortably the best dressed at Manchester United, he carries himself so well, with a reputation that he can never hurt so much as a fly, the 28-year old is one of the more universally loved players at Man United – which is quite an achievement in itself. But all that aside, Juan Mata has been a vital player for United in the last three years – with his prolific goal scoring record even last season (14 goals + assists in 42 starts) when United were far from a side built for playing free flowing attacking football.
Ironically, under Mourinho, he is probably having his best season at Old Trafford with 9 goals or assists in 19 starts in all competitions. His contribution to the FA Cup win in 2015/16 was important, most notably the equalizer he scored in the final in Wembley, also scored some memorable goals against Liverpool (Juanfield etc) which has made him a firm favourite in the terraces. He is still only 28, and currently valued at close to €31m (source: Transfermarkt).
(4) Ander Herrera
Another Spaniard in the list for many similar reasons – this time it is Ander Herrera. He came in the summer of 2014/15 when the team was undergoing a major overhaul, fought his way into the side many a time under Louis van Gaal for different reasons but now under Mourinho, Herrera has emerged as one of the key members of the squad with his ability to bring that balance in midfield acting as the perfect buffer between a proactive and forthright Paul Pogba and a steadier, more reactive Michael Carrick. His stock has been on the rise since the back end of 2015/16 anyway – which eventually earned him a national team call up in November last year.
He is valued at a higher sum than when he arrived in Manchester and at the ripe age of 27, there is plenty of football to come from another darling of the Stretford End not only for his fierce devotion in the middle of the park but also the human being that he is. He loves the club and understands what it represents as much as a match going fan does and in this day and age, that is something that should rarely go unnoticed.
(3) Eric Bailly
A ‘potentially’ world class, physically robust, no non-sense central defender who can pass the ball five yards, at the age of 22? That’s definitely a recipe for a successful transfer.
Ivory Coast international Eric Bailly came out of nowhere really, from plying his trade at Villareal in a less physically demanding La Liga to Manchester United in an atmosphere that is scrutinising and constantly in the public eye at the best of times. The ease at which he has settled into life at Manchester United has been positively surprising.
He has quickly become integral to United’s and Mourinho’s back four and being one of the first names on the team-sheet now, he is genuinely the best in his position and looks like he could be the one that the Red Devils build their squad around for the next six to seven years at the very minimum. As for his resale value, it could only improve as he does as a player, which according to the present evidence, he definitely will.
(2) Paul Pogba
As for Paul Pogba, being the most expensive player in the world (bought for €105m), it’s quite unrealistic to expect him to ‘justify’ in six months, that mammoth price tag, which he has absolutely no control over. But what Manchester United have in their hands, is arguably the best young midfielder in the world – and one of the most complete footballers right now. Pogba has played an integral role in the ascent of Juventus to the pinnacle of Italian football in the last four years – reached a major final with his international team, with him being one of the vital members in midfield.
At 23, as a modern midfielder, Pogba has the lot – tackling, scoring from long distance, passing range, aerial prowess, strength, stamina and a lot of flair to go with everything else.
His marketability is also one of the major assets that United have definitely factored in before making the biggest move of the window in the Summer. His being a product of United’s academy adds that extra glamour to the Paul Pogba story and there is no doubt in my mind that whatever success that United will have, if they do at all in the next five years, Paul Pogba would have made a sizeable contribution to it.
(1) Anthony Martial
Anthony Martial is quite simply the most gifted player Manchester United have purchased since they acquired a young and bouncing Wayne Rooney from Everton in 2004. Joining as an introverted teenager, Martial had a debut that was only less breathtaking than that of Rooney himself. Coming off the bench, slaloming his way past three defenders like he has played at Old Trafford for years and years, Martial dispatched Liverpool in front of the Stretford End in a season he would go on to exceed all expectations.
Scoring 17 goals in all competitions and the only forward at United to reach double figures in the league, Martial was also incredibly important to the successful run in the FA Cup. His stoppage time winner in the semi-final against Everton was arguably the best moment in the last three years for most United fans, and although that doesn’t say much about United in the said period, it does speak volumes about what this youngster can do in a team that is allowed to play with freedom with more focus on vertical movement.
Despite the fact that he has not hit the heights of last season yet, he has performed whenever he has been called up to by the Portuguese manager, more recently in the 2-0 win against Watford which was United’s 16th consecutive game in the league without a defeat. Manchester United are more direct and threatening with him bombing down that left flank and it will remain that way for the foreseeable future if he were allowed to grow as a player in the way Wayne Rooney has been.
At 21, scarily, he is only going to get better and is hence, my most significant signing that United have made which has the ability to transform the club into a European power again, post Sir Alex Ferguson.
Honourable mentions go to Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Henrikh Mkhitaryan.