Thursday 17 October 2019

James Ducker: 'Ole Gunnar Solskjaer must learn from Man United's bad buys'

Talking point

Manchester United's Norwegian coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: AFP/Getty Images
Manchester United's Norwegian coach Ole Gunnar Solskjaer. Photo: AFP/Getty Images

James Ducker

It will be 10 years in June since Manchester United sold Cristiano Ronaldo to Real Madrid and, when you take some time to jot down a list of the club's best signings over that period compared to their domestic and European rivals, it is little wonder fans are concerned about the summer ahead.

Manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer has talked about a "survival of the best" cull and his desire for a ruthless revamp will only have hardened in the wake of Sunday's pitiful 4-0 capitulation at Everton, a damning defeat that has raised the stakes ahead of tomorrow's Manchester derby.

But even if United chop much of the deadwood, there remains a big question mark over whether they will, first, successfully identify and, second, secure the calibre of targets required to help overhaul the team and rotten player culture.

With Mike Phelan, Solskjaer's No 2, in line to become technical director, there is at least likely to be a shared philosophy in the transfer market, unlike last summer when there was a clash of cultures between Jose Mourinho and the recruitment department, with executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward in the middle.

Whatever the structure, though, the bottom line is the quality of United's recruitment has to be so much better. A list of their 10 best signings since Ronaldo left makes for disconcerting reading, especially when contrasted with the players who have joined their rivals. It is one of the biggest reasons why Solskjaer is now facing such an enormous rebuild.

Compare, for example, Antonio Valencia, Javier Hernandez, David de Gea, Ashley Young, Robin van Persie, Sergio Romero, Luke Shaw, Ander Herrera, Zlatan Ibrahimovic and Victor Lindelof, arguably United's 10 most successful recruits in that period, to who City have signed over the same time. Yaya Toure, David Silva, Sergio Aguero, Fernandinho, Kevin De Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane, Bernardo Silva, Ederson and Aymeric Laporte.

Assembling a list of 10 United players was not easy. De Gea is comfortably the best of those recruits, but the contributions of most others have either been modest - good, loyal squad service - or eye-catching but short-lived, like Van Persie and Ibrahimovic.

With City, it was hard to narrow down a list to just 10, but the story is similar elsewhere. Tottenham, whose annual wage bill is half that of United's £296m and whose spending power is dwarfed by their Manchester counterparts, have illustrated where wise planning and scouting can get you.

It also proves that United's troubles are down to a lot more than simply "Glazernomics", the term fans coined for the perceived parsimony of the club's American owners, even if there is little doubt Alex Ferguson was operating under real financial restrictions during his final years in charge.

Kyle Walker, Hugo Lloris, Jan Vertonghen, Mousa Dembele, Christian Eriksen, Eric Dier, Dele Alli, Kieran Trippier, Toby Alderweireld and Son Heung-min were acquired for less than the £120m United blew in the summer of 2015 on Bastian Schweinsteiger, Matteo Darmian, Morgan Schneiderlin, Memphis Depay and Anthony Martial.

At Liverpool, the work of sporting director Michael Edwards and Jurgen Klopp has attracted envious glances at Old Trafford.

But even before the captures of Sadio Mane, Mohamed Salah, Andrew Robertson, Alisson and Virgil van Dijk, the Merseyside club made inspired signings in the shape of Philippe Coutinho (bought for £8.5m, sold for 17 times that) and Luis Suarez, a £23m recruit who almost drove them to the league title in 2014 before his £75m sale to Barcelona.


The picture is no different at Chelsea. Where are United's Eden Hazard, Diego Costa, Cesc Fabregas, Willian, N'Golo Kante? Only Arsenal of the Premier League's top six have been as wayward in the transfer market over the past decade.

As for the Continent, Ronaldo's arrival at Real preceded the signings of Karim Benzema, Xabi Alonso, Mesut Ozil, Raphael Varane, Luka Modric, Isco, Gareth Bale and Toni Kroos, several of whom would help to win four European Cups in five seasons. Barcelona? Try Javier Mascherano, David Villa, Alexis Sanchez, Fabregas, Jordi Alba, Neymar, Marc-Andre ter Stegen and Ivan Rakitic among others.

Following the exits of Paul Pogba, Arturo Vidal and Andrea Pirlo, Juventus reconfigured their midfield, through Miralem Pjanic, Rodrigo Bentancur, Blaise Matuidi, Sami Khedira and Emre Can, for the same cost (£52m) as Fred.

United's best deals have not stood comparison with those of their rivals for far too long. Will this summer be any different? The challenge facing Solskjaer and Phelan is obvious. (©Daily Telegraph, London)

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