Manchester United’s transfer window splurge has set the tongues wagging. Rival fans and journalists alike were quick to proclaim that it was not in accordance to United’s philosophy and ethos. Rahul Natarajan strongly disagrees and puts forth his view.
Even as the club closed in on the signing of Radamel Falcao on deadline day, critics of Manchester United were sharpening their axes. Within seconds of the Colombian’s confirmation as a Red Devil, countless articles went up around the world, with headlines to the tune of “Manchester United give up their traditions;” or “Manchester United lose their identity;” and “Manchester United are ruining football.” The reason for these claims are the departures of Danny Welbeck, and to a lesser extent Tom Cleverley, to different Premier League clubs. Both Welbeck and Cleverley are young, English, and had been with Manchester United all their lives; Welbeck was also born in Manchester and grew up supporting the club. According to the critics, by replacing youth products with proven, established stars such as Angel di Maria and Radamel Falcao, the club has let go of their age old tradition of giving youth a chance. Manchester United are no longer the club that produced the Busby Babes and then the Class of ’92; they have joined the likes of Manchester City, Chelsea, and PSG in spending outrageous sums to buy talent. But the critics are wrong, this transfer window did not see Manchester United forgo their traditions; instead the recently concluded window saw a reaffirmation of the United Way.
Regardless of what fans of other clubs would have you believe, Manchester United are still one of the biggest clubs in the world. However, in the last few years, the club has not acted in the transfer market with the attitude of a big club. The club has gotten by with shocking under-investment since the sale of Ronaldo solely due to the genius of Sir Alex Ferguson. His ability to motivate his team and squeeze every ounce of talent from his players allowed Manchester United to compete and win even with gaping holes in the squad. The short, unfortunate era of David Moyes highlighted the folly of such a transfer policy. As a result, investment was necessary, and Ed Woodward delivered. Even if the defense is still without a leader and the midfield lacks steel, world-class players were brought to Old Trafford. Finally, the club showed ambition befitting of their stature. Manchester United acted with arrogance, making a mockery of those who said the club would struggle to attract players without European football. The signing of Falcao on deadline day highlights this attitude; despite having two world-class strikers already, Manchester United swooped to bring in arguably the best pure number 9 in football. A move that borders on the absurd, considering the need for defensive reinforcements, yet a move that could become a masterstroke. Adding Falcao to a squad that now also features last season’s Champions League Final Man of the Match is a statement that reflects the arrogance of the Ferguson era and of the new manager himself.
At the same time, such spending is not alien to Manchester United. While the sheer amount spent for six different players is down to the size of the rebuilding task, the club have always competed for big names and spent money when necessary. Manchester United have broken the British transfer record with Denis Law, Bryan Robson, Andy Cole, and more recently, Juan Sebastian Veron and Rio Ferdinand. With the exception of Veron, all have played important parts in the club’s success. The club has spent when it needed to, supplementing youth with established names. It remains to be seen whether Angel di Maria, the newest record holder, will be as successful as Law, Robson, Cole, and Ferdinand, or go the way of his compatriot. However, both Falcao and he are superstars who will undoubtedly improve the team and inject attacking quality immediately.
Furthermore, the other new signings this summer have reflected perfectly the club’s ethos of youth. Aside from Falcao, every player brought in is 26 or younger. The club has targeted players who can jump into the first team and play week in week out but at the same time have the potential to improve and grow as player. Aside from Falcao and possibly di Maria, all of the new signings are yet to hit their peaks; they are far from the finished article. Manchester United have never solely relied on their academy for youth but have signed exciting prospects from other clubs for big money before. From Roy Keane, signed for £3.75 million as a 21 year old to the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling, and David de Gea, all signed for eight-digit figures. Like Luke Shaw, Cristiano Ronaldo and Wayne Rooney came to Manchester United as expensive teenagers and grew into world-class players at Old Trafford. For Ander Herrera, Marcos Rojo, and Daley Blind read Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra, relatively lesser known players who arrived in their mid-20s and left the club as established stars. Youth has always been trusted at Old Trafford, and this faith in youth is ingrained in the philosophy of the club. The notion that the exits of two youth players signal an end to these traditions is simply outrageous.
The criticism leveled at the club has come on the back of the departures of Welbeck and Cleverley. However, critics conveniently forget that neither player could be considered good enough to start at Manchester United. Danny Welbeck’s record reads as 37 goals from 178 appearances. While those number are not indicative of Welbeck’s talent, as he was often forced out to the wing, and do not reveal his blistering pace, determination, and ability to stretch defenses, his finishing is nowhere near good enough for a top team. The less said about Cleverley the better, a player who never fulfilled the potential seen briefly in the 2011/12 season. Welbeck’s replacement? A striker who has scored 155 goals in his last 200 games. If Ferguson was still the manager, Welbeck and Cleverley would both arguably still be at the club. But with Manchester United’s current predicament and a return to the Champions League being of the utmost importance, there is no place in the team for passengers. While Welbeck certainly could not be considered deadwood, Falcao is an upgrade in every imaginable way. The harsh reality is that the majority of youth graduates do not make it at a top club like Manchester United. For every member of the Class of ’92, there have been countless others who have been shipped out. Since 1991, Manchester United have made around 140 million pounds from the sales of academy players, many of whom still play in the Premier League. Despite the romance of a local lad playing for his team, football is still about results, and even Manchester United have let go of many a youth player.
Ultimately, Welbeck left because he was told he would be fifth-choice behind van Persie, Rooney, Falcao, and 18 year old James Wilson. This statement highlights the irony of the criticism: Wilson is from the same academy that Manchester United are supposedly ignoring. A look at the squad further quashes the criticism: out of the 25 players registered for the Premier League, 12 are homegrown (which is incidentally higher than other ‘big’ clubs). Of those, 12, seven graduated from the academy. Louis van Gaal has already handed debuts to five academy players in his four games in charge; Tyler Blackett has played all three Premier League games. Van Gaal, known for his faith in youth, is the perfect manager to carry on the traditions of Old Trafford. No matter what the critics say, Manchester United’s legacy and traditions are safe with the Dutchman; even if the short-term is currently prioritized, van Gaal will look to the academy at every opportunity, with hopes to bring in the new Busby Babes or Class of ’92. With the United Way restored off the pitch and in the academy, it is now up to van Gaal to return the club to their attacking traditions on the pitch.
Written by Rahul Natarajan
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