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Sir Alex Ferguson isn’t just a legend of Manchester United, but also of world football. As a manager, he achieved so much and will be quoted for decades to come. One of the keys to his success was his ability to identify top-class players or players with the potential, while David Gill - who would go out and do the negotiating and signing - performing as the perfect chief executive.
But the end of an era came in 2013. After winning yet another Premier League trophy, both giants retired, bringing in the age of uncertainty with Ed Woodward performing all of the transfers as chief executive and managers like David Moyes, Louis van Gaal and Jose Mourinho struggling to achieve sustained success. Woodward discovered early on that making transfers was different to landing sponsorship deals and The Telegraph ruled his first transfer window a humiliation, after only bringing in unsightly midfielder Marouane Fellaini.
There have been bright spots despite the overwhelmingly bad slew of signings over these six seasons sans Ferguson and Gill. Let’s dig into the very best and very worst.
Over his tenure, Ferguson did manage to land some bizarre signings - David Bellion for £2 million from Sunderland being one such example - but those who failed to meet his expectations were dealt with fairly quickly so as not to hinder the first team. These three players signed by Ed Woodward may go down among the worst or most disappointing transfers made by the club ever.
As shown by the Manchester Evening News, Victor Valdes was brought in amidst worries that David de Gea was on his way. Even though Valdes’ stats and general performance had rarely been of a match-winning quality with Barcelona, he had the trophies to warrant some excitement. During his time at the club, the Spaniard fell out with the manager many times as he was the second-choice and totalled three first-team games and three goals against.
Immensely talented Dutch winger Memphis Depay warranted the excitement that was whipped up around his arrival. He was young, incredible on the ball, fast and had an eye for goal. However, he struggled to find playing time under Louis van Gaal and BBC Sport has since reported him admitting that his 53 appearances, seven goals and six assists did not amount to the quality that he needed to bring to the table.
Arsenal’s premier player came to Manchester United in exchange for the fleetingly-used Henrikh Mkhitaryan. It was a rare Premier League swap deal, mainly as a means of stopping Manchester City snapping him up. The real cost was later revealed to be a record-high salary of $350,000 per week. After scoring close to a goal every other game for the Gunners, plus a bucket load of assists, through 166 games, the Chilean has since turned in five goals and nine assists in 38 games for United, commonly seen to be walking, missing passes and unable to beat any defender in front of him. Forbes astutely points out that, if the winger keeps up his form of the last year and a bit, he may go down as one of the most disappointing players to join the club.
14 - Since Ole Gunnar Solksjaer took charge of Manchester United on December 19th 2018, the only Premier League player to have had a hand in more goals for his club side than Paul Pogba (14) is Son Heung-Min (16). Impact. #CHEMUN pic.twitter.com/jVSKlukcD0— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) February 18, 2019
Sir Alex Ferguson will be remembered not so much for bringing in the best players in the world, but certainly for forging his signings into becoming some of the best in the world - signing Eric Cantona from Leeds United for £1.2 million in 1992 was a prime example. Transfer business hasn’t gone smoothly for Ed Woodward, but he’s learned that if he throws enough money around, he can get most of the players that he thinks the team needs.
Breaking the world record for the highest fee paid for a teenager, in 2015/16 Manchester United swooped in for Martial for a rising fee of £36 million, after he’d impressed with 11 goals in 49 games for AS Monaco. Since then, his dribbling, speed on the ball and cold finishing have made him one of the team’s most exciting players. He’s been in and out of the team under different managers but, as of 22nd February, Betway was rating the team at 10/11 to get into the top-four and 7/2 to win the FA Cup - with 47 goals and 28 assists in 164 games, we believe the Frenchman has a lot to do with this improvement in the club's chances.
As recorded by Goal, Zlatan Ibrahimovic said that he would conquer England when he joined United as a free agent: a promise the towering Swede kept. In 46 games of his first season in England, Ibrahimovic scored 28 goals, teed up ten more, scored the winning goal in the Community Shield and the opening and winning goal in the EFL Cup Final, and featured heavily in the team’s Europa League win before picking up a cruciate ligament injury.
Joining for a world record fee of £94.5 million, former United youth academy product Paul Pogba stands as the team’s best signing in the post-Ferguson era. He was marginalised by the last manager, as shown by the Independent, but even in his limited pitch time, the now-World Cup winner showed flashes of his immense playmaking talent. Now, under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, he cannot be contained. In 32 games this season, Pogba is the team’s leading scorer, netting 14 times and setting up a further ten. The incredibly talented midfielder is sure to be a staple of the team for years to come.
Manchester United has finalised some truly dire transfers since Ferguson and Gill left their roles, but there have also been some strong signings, with Martial, Ibrahimovic and Pogba being the very best so far.