Now that the final whistle has been blown on the most tumultuous and insanity-inducing Premier League season in many a year, an insanity of a different sort is preying upon our football mad-minds: transfer season. As fans we become transfigured from mere enjoyers of sport to seekers of truth amongst a tumult of lies and spin.
The Eden Hazard transfer saga, while being relatively short, offered further proof that our collective standards for reporting and accountability have dropped even lower than in summer’s past. While I was not pleased that Hazard signed for Chelsea instead of a potential move to United, all of the resultant fuss over the decision has caused me greater disquiet. Suddenly the discussion becomes about what a 21 year-old money hungry Belgian from an inferior league thinks of United and how his snub of England’s most successful club is any sort of credible indictment.
This season has become one in which the very soul of the club has been tested. Many assume that because their crosstown rivals won the league for the first time in 44 years by spending over a billion pounds and one player chose to join a team that has no wingers instead of one that has three world class internationals United is a shadow of the club it once was. Well I will be happy to tell you that notion is certainly not the case.
Moderately credible reports are now surfacing of United signing the super talented central attacking midfielder Shinji Kagawa from German champions Borussia Dortmund. Unlike the Hazard speculation, there appears to be much greater cause for optimism on the part of United fans in this case. Sir Alex Ferguson and his assistant Mike Phelan have traveled to Germany to watch Kagawa, the manager has met with the player himself, a meeting that the player also confirmed. Officials at Dortmund understand that they will not be able to keep the player after next season and have admitted as much. The deal is close to being done with just the personal terms left to be negotiated. And this signing should be cause for cyber high fives across twitterland. But it has not been.
Jamie Jackson has written in The Guardian that United potentially signing Kagawa “typifies Manchester United’s new age of austerity.” All of the grumblings about the Glazers aside, I find it difficult to call the current United team a result of an imposition of austerity on Old Trafford. There are plenty of players in the current squad on six figures a week and when it came to keeping its most prized asset, Wayne Rooney, there was enough money in the accounts to get the deal done. The underlying doubt over whether or not the Glazers would be willing to spend 30+ million pounds on a proven player becomes moot considering the results of previous teams that were constructed without buying a player of that cost.
United’s most successful team in recent times, the 2007-2008 edition, featured zero players that cost north of 20 million pounds. The most expensive player brought in that summer was Anderson, who United is thought to have paid 18-20 million to FC Porto. Given how the Brazilian has done at United since that season, the argument can definitely be made that he has not been worth half of the money United paid for his services. That same summer United signed Nani (19m), Owen Hargreaves (17m), and brought in Carlos Tevez (on a two year loan). That side went on to win an historic double.
Before we all start thinking that United’s continued success is threatened in an existential manner by the ludicrous spending of its competitors, let us first think about it in this way: the silly money invested by United’s rivals is the biggest act of desperation imaginable. That City would have to spend its way to the worst financial loss in football history to win one league trophy in a 44 year span that saw United win the league twelve times ought to feel more flattering than it may now. Chelsea will inevitably spend in excess of 70 million pounds this summer alone to erase the 25 point gap between themselves and the two Manchester clubs. Sounds like desperation to me.
After City won the league this season it became a rather fashionable opinion to decry the return of the greatest central midfielder the Premier League has ever seen as an act of desperation by a strapped-for-cash manager. And yet the inconvenient truth in all of that is the simple fact that Scholes wanted to return, United still had a use for him, and only lost one game in which he started. Had United won the league this season many instead would look at Scholes’ return for the masterstroke that it was.
The simple fact that United is owned by a bunch of thieving idiots who have since taking over been the most fortunate of bystanders to success, should not justify the prevailing opinion that the club and especially the players who fight for it on a weekly basis all over England and Europe is in any state of impending doom. Yes, City did win the league, and yes, Hazard chose Chelsea (allegedly) over United. But after the club’s greatest existential crisis in its history surely all of this pales in comparison. With the pending signing of Kagawa and hopefully another midfielder, Nemanja Vidic’s return to full fitness, and the progression of stellar young players like Tom Cleverley, Phil Jones, and Jonny Evans, United will bounce back like they always have to further glory. It’s just in our DNA.