Thursday 14 December 2017

Ian Herbert: Chaos and failure mar new era at Old Trafford

Moyes in sharp learning curve as United get caught up in undignified transfer scramble

Marouane Fellaini gave up €4 million bonus to be re-united with David Moyes
Marouane Fellaini gave up €4 million bonus to be re-united with David Moyes

Ian Herbert

David Moyes must surely have thought he would not have to go through hell twice for Marouane Fellaini.

The full drama of how he and Everton club secretary Dave Harrison engaged in a deadline-night dash to Luton Airport in September 2008, where they literally sprinted down the runway to board Philip Green's private jet and sign Fellaini in Brussels, "papers flying everywhere", while the midfielder's two agents argued in French, is told in the autobiography of Mick Rathbone, a long-standing member of his backroom team.

Moyes must have expected things would be different with all the wealth and allure of Manchester United.

But the chaotic events of Monday night, when Fellaini's £27m signing was not announced until 2.0am, scrambled the notion of a smooth succession for Moyes and chief executive Ed Woodward from Alex Ferguson and David Gill respectively at the tiller of United.

Indeed, Fellaini spared David Moyes the embarrassment of ending the transfer window without a new signing by sacrificing £4m in bonuses to seal his move from Everton.

There was one element of pre-planning for this transfer window – Wilfried Zaha, the forgotten acquisition, signed in January and loaned back to Crystal Palace – but the club's entire transfer market work was essentially packed into the 64 days between Moyes taking over at United on July 1 and the deadline slamming shut. That was a recpipe for disaster – Manchester City started planning last October.

In retrospect, you wonder why Moyes didn't quit Everton the day he was appointed and get in six extra weeks of badly needed transfer work.

The summer was half over when he arrived, not knowing his new scouts, so not knowing the strengths and weaknesses of the targets – and certainly not knowing about the new top-level realm he was operating in.

In the excellent section on Moyes' Everton set-up within Michael Calvin's book 'The Nowhere Men', James Smith, Moyes' head of technical scouting, said Everton targets had to be good "but at the same time not so good that they don't want to play for Everton."

Moyes himself admitted a few weeks back that it is a new kind of market he is working in now.

If that was not challenging enough, United have a new chief executive, Woodward, finding his way in a different deal-making environment to the mergers and acquisitions world where he made a name with JP Morgan.

Gill was making the necessary introductions for him for months before Woodward took over, but it feels like the learning curve will be steep.

Evaporated

The result has been a humiliating, humbling summer by the standards of such a proud club, in which attempts to sign Cesc Fabregas, Leighton Baines and Ander Herrera went south, the noises about luring Cristiano Ronaldo back evaporated, a late loan bid failed for a left-back – Fabio Coentrao – whom Real Madrid are desperate to offload.

And Fellaini was signed for £4m more than his Everton release clause, which expired in July, as United engaged in an undignified scramble in the last-chance saloon.

The timing and negotiating of some targets has been different from the club's usual methods. The bid for Fabregas went in to Barcelona one day after Thiago Alcantara – whom Moyes didn't fancy – had gone to Bayern Munich, thus increasing the Catalans' need for the former Arsenal midfielder.

Herrera had been tracked for a while at Athletic Bilbao, with his performances in the club's 5-3 aggregate Europa League defeat of United last year key to their interest.

That was long enough for United to know that the Basque clubs always demand the full asking price for their players, because their Basque-only buying policy severely limits potential replacements. United did not raise the £26m bid they offered for Herrera late last week, leaving them £4m or so adrift.

Only when the dust settled on a night which lurched into absurdity did the full chaos become clear.

When a profoundly angered Everton dug their heels in, insulted by the size of the offer for Leighton Baines, United pursued Coentrao, whom Real had been touting all summer with Granada's Guilherme Siqueira lined up to replace him.

Siqueira waited and waited for Real, but when Coentrao could not be shifted, Granada packed him off to Benfica.

When United made their late move for Coentrao, agent Jorge Mendes went into overdrive, trying to bring Siqueira back from Benfica. Definitely not, said the Portuguese club. So Coentrao had to stay where he was.

The general rules of engagement in a market like this is that two, three or four active targets will be earmarked for the positions where reinforcements are required.

Clubs break rules to get all the groundwork done – medicals quietly completed, meetings held, terms agreed – so there are back-ups if the selling club cuts up rough.

United might have bought out of this mess by paying over the odds. Herrera could have been secured for another £5m and Baines for £20m, though it is part of Moyes' Everton character that he has always rejected poor value. "If Everton waste €20m we'll wait a long time to get anything like that again," Smith told Calvin. "David Moyes spends the money like it's his own."

Ferguson will be pleased his successor has stuck to that principle. Yet an extra £5m seems very little for a club of United's commercial might to pay for the box-to-box midfielder they need. Time will tell, but this might be very a long winter. (© Independent News Service)

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