‘United to make third Fabregas bid.’
‘Cristiano Ronaldo spotted in Manchester.’
The Twittersphere has explode with rumours in the last couple of weeks regarding Manchester United’s transfer targets. In fact, rarely has a transfer window been and gone where United aren’t linked to most top players across Europe and beyond. Nevertheless it seems that the club has finally got the hint from both Barcelona and Cesc Fabregas that the Spaniard wasn’t interested in a return to England (how about one last bid Dave, just to be sure…). The other rumour however fills the majority of United fans with dejected hope. We know it won’t happen of course, but boy do we love to dream that the prodigal son could return to Old Trafford.
The issue with this fantasy world is glaringly simple though – Manchester United rarely sign superstars. Look through any “Best ever United XI” and tell me how many of the players United signed whilst they were at their peak. You would be hard pushed to find perhaps more than one, depending on your views.
Disclaimer: when I say we don’t sign world class players, I don’t necessarily see it as a negative.
The fact is simple, we don’t sign the best players; instead we shape them into becoming the best players. In recent seasons United supporters seem to be craving that marque signing, the one that will make all our rivals jealous. De Rossi, Sneijder (I was so convinced we’d sign him I even learnt to spell his name without Googling it), Alexis Sanchez, Edin Hazard, even Thiago Alcantara – we’ve been on the verge of signing all these players if you believe what you read and yet none have come to fruition – in fact four of the five have since moved to other clubs.
Take a moment to just think back – bar Robin Van Persie, who was the last genuinely world class player we signed? A quick scan over United’s signings since the turn of the millennium I came up with one, maybe two, who deserve a place on the list.
Fabien Barthez – bought by United in May 2000 from Monaco. Already a World Cup winner with France and two months later a European Championship winner too. At just 21 years old he won the Champions League with Marseille, beating Milan in the final – and by the time of signing for United Barthez was widely renowned as one of the best goalkeepers in the world. That said, having spent three reasonable seasons at United he lost the number one jersey to incoming (and unknown) Tim Howard. It would be fair to say he was at his peak when we signed him though.
Looking at some other United signings in the early 00’s there were certainly those who grew into being world class: Ruud Van Nistelrooy enjoyed two excellent seasons with PSV before injury hampered in final season at the club, but world class when he played there? Not for me, it was his 150 goals in 219 appearances at United that made him one of the best strikers in the world. Rio Ferdinand, bought as a 23 year old from Leeds, progressed into one of the best centre-backs of his generation, but hadn’t achieved a great deal with his previous clubs. Ronaldo…Rooney…both possessed excellent youngsters but certainly neither were anything more than probable potential at the time of their acquisitions. Berbatov? The guy certainly had skill and flair in equal measures but even when at United most couldn’t decide if he was world class or not. You see where I’m going with this…
The only other potential “world class” signings over the last 13 seasons? How about Seba Veron? He was very highly thought of in Italy and probably did come to United at his peak, although many would argue his two seasons with the club were poor (a debate for another day).
And then there is Robin Van Persie, signed perhaps as a thank you and goodbye for Sir Alex last summer. Purchased on the back of his most prolific time at Arsenal, a form he continued into last season scoring 30 goals and winning his first ever championship medal.
A marque signing isn’t the bee all and end all that some might lead you to believe. Sure, Fabregas would have been a nice addition to our well-criticised midfield and there aren’t many United supporters who wouldn’t welcome Ronaldo back with open arms, but it’s important not to fixate too much on it. United have always bought for the future, just look at signings over recent seasons: De Gea, Smalling, Rafael, Jones, Kagawa, Powell, Zaha, not to mention the bright looking youngsters who have impressed with both the Reserves and during pre-season.
Don’t get me wrong, a big name signing would be a nice boost, especially if our “want-away star” does end up leaving during the transfer window, but looking at the history books it simply doesn’t happen.
Perhaps in years we’ll be talking about how Fellaini was the heart of Moyes’ first United squad – a player who has split fan opinion even before a transfer has been secured. You never know…
written by Steph D