Have United’s Summer Signings Ruined their Identity?

“We aren’t afraid of moving in the market in a way we perhaps haven’t seen in recent years”.

Back in February those were the words from Manchester United chief executive Ed Woodward, and he has most certainly stuck to his word. As the transfer window slammed shut on Monday night, few could question United had been the most successful. Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo and Daley Blind all came in, but most notably the signings of Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao will excite United fans the most.

In a summer where Manchester City had to worry about net profit and Chelsea stressed over quotas, United had the freedom to spend big. Whilst pundits and fans have shared their voices over United’s spending spree, there’s one man’s opinion that would intrigue me the most… Sir Alex Ferguson.

For years United fans could brag about two things over their rivals. They don’t sack managers and they don’t buy success. Within the space of 16 months that’s all changed. For years, success under Sir Alex was built on a foundation of developing youth players blended with a few experienced heads. Similar to Arsene Wenger at Arsenal, it was more rewarding to see potential in a youngster and develop them in to a world class talent, as opposed to going out and buying an overpriced galactico.

That’s not to say Sir Alex never spent big on proven talent. The transfers of Rio Ferdinand, Wayne Rooney and most recently Robin van Persie dictate otherwise. But he would never have spent £150m in a single transfer window.

Would he have spent £60m on a player in an ‘inflated market’? Would he have loaned a player for 12 months in a reported £20m deal? Would he have allowed a 23 year old England international who came through the Manchester United academy to leave? No. No wonder former player and coach Mike Phelan described United’s recent activity as ‘part of the club’s identity having been broken’.

However, Ferguson was a unique football manager in having the ability to take a good squad and make them great. He made players believe in their potential and could get the best out of them no matter what. It was a skill which David Moyes could not manage, and clearly having assessed the hand he was dealt with, Louis van Gaal decided he would not be able to either. Change was needed. Ferguson offered stability. Moyes offered evolution. Now van Gaal demands revolution.

Perhaps the word ‘revolution’ is an exaggeration; a more appropriate phrase would be ‘catching up’. In the summer of 2012 Eden Hazard was expected to make the move to Old Trafford but Ferguson deemed his price tag and wage demands too excessive. Instead, he went to Stamford Bridge and United opted for the £12m signing of Shinji Kagawa. In 2008, Cristiano Ronaldo’s inevitable move to Real Madrid went through as United lost their talisman. The £80m fee could have easily been spent on a big name signing. Instead, Antonio Valencia, Gabriel Obertan and Michael Owen came in. United have seen their rivals spend big in recent years and overtake them. Now, they’ve succumb to a similar approach.

What happens next will define whether or not their identity has gone. Was this summer’s transfer activity a one off or will January prove there’s more money for improvement?

United fans should not worry about Louis van Gaal’s views on developing youth talent, just look at his Ajax squad in the 90s. We’ve heard a lot about his philosophy and he is a proponent of developing young, upcoming stars to play a vital role in the long term. The Dutchman has started youngster Tyler Blackett in all 3 Premier League games so far this season and believes he is one for the future. Reece James is another van Gaal has spoken highly of. 18 year old James Wilson is now the 4th choice striker at Old Trafford, and broke all sorts of records whilst playing in various United youth teams last season. He scored twice on his debut against Hull towards the end of last season and should be given a few opportunities this campaign.

If United have momentarily lost their identity this summer, there’s no doubting that with time, developing young talent will bring back the traditional attitude to transfer policy. One thing’s for sure, the Louis van Gaal revolution is definitely underway.

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