Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Daniel James represent a radical rethink to Manchester United's transfer policy
Both signings represent a return to a longer-term strategy of player recruitment, shunning United's more recent approach of targeting supposed superstars
It works out at £1 million per start. Aaron Wan-Bissaka cost Manchester United an initial £45 million (Dh210m). He began 45 first-team matches for Crystal Palace.
Proof England’s richest club have found a new way to pay over the odds? Some may say so, especially as while Daniel James’ ratio of fee to senior starts (£15m after beginning 31 games for Swansea) was lesser, none of those appearances were in the top flight.
What it actually points to is a philosophical reboot. United are paying for potential, which has been compounded by the recent inflation in fees for both British players and defenders.
Two newcomers bring a comparatively small sample size of a solitary season of regular first-team football each. They provide an examination of United’s scouting and coaching, if they can first identify talent and then enable it to flourish.
But it is telling what they are not: the Galacticos, the supposed superstars who United have tended to pursue in recent years. The vocabulary deployed at Old Trafford has been instructive.
Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer cited Wan-Bissaka’s youth and hunger and said: “He fits exactly the type of player we are looking to bring into the squad.”
The Daily Telegraph quoted an internal email in which executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward spoke of footballers that suit United’s “long-term vision”. That vision has been conspicuous by its absence in recent years.
There was nothing long-termist about the recruitment of Bastian Schweinsteiger, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Alexis Sanchez. The Swede was a qualified success, the Chilean a crushing failure but each arrived in a search for instant gratification and immediate achievement.
That cannot be said of Wan-Bissaka and James. Solskjaer has presented them as signings in United’s truest tradition. He was scarcely a huge name when he arrived in 1996 and he turned out alright. Alex Ferguson’s purchases tended to be older than the two 21 year olds; equally, the majority of the best came in the first half of their careers. They were works in progress.
Wan-Bissaka and James amount to an acknowledgement that United are not in a position to target the final piece in the jigsaw; not when they finished 32 and 31 points behind Manchester City and Liverpool respectively.
They indicate that, much as United’s status dictates a return to the Uefa Champions League is imperative, that this may be a transitional year. That sense will be amplified if either Romelu Lukaku or Paul Pogba, their two costliest players ever, leaves.
Perhaps it is a policy that will buy Solskjaer time, a way to sustain him with the promise of a brighter tomorrow. The Norwegian can point to Scott McTominay, Mason Greenwood, Angel Gomes, Tahith Chong, Jimmy Garner, Axel Tuanzebe and Diogo Dalot to argue he is nurturing the next generation in a way his mentor Ferguson did in United’s last fallow period.
But managerial reigns tend to be a reaction to the previous one. Jose Mourinho was the byword for short-termism who ultimately failed to understand United. The Portuguese may argue that he, too, looked into the future with the recruitment of Dalot and Victor Lindelof, but Solskjaer has spent 2019 shedding experienced players.
Marouane Fellaini, Ander Herrera and Antonio Valencia have gone, with others potentially to follow. The right-back Wan-Bissaka is Valencia’s replacement; he should mean another Mourinho favourite, Ashley Young, is rebranded as a reserve.
In contrast, Marcus Rashford, either a winger or a substitute for Mourinho, has the potential to be the face of a regime; United’s next business should be to tie him to a lucrative contract. But their transfer dealings thus far show they have had a radical rethink.
Published: June 30, 2019 02:44 PM