Nobody remembers the summer of 2020 fondly.
In life, we were all shut inside, sheltering from COVID-19, whilst placating ourselves with “Project Restart” in empty stadiums (ok, maybe Anthony Martial enjoyed it as he hasn’t been seen since). In football, Manchester United bought in Donny van de Beek, Alex Telles and Edinson Cavani, after a summer of flirting with Borussia Dortmund over Jadon Sancho. It was a disappointing yield, it inspired very little faith and left more questions than it did answers ahead of Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s second season at Old Trafford.
Of course, that summer, there was the usual media dartboard of United targets. Sancho was named as the man with the target on his back, and fans dared to dream that this window was the one the club would back the manager sensibly. Of course there was realism with COVID based budgetary issues, but even so, the project under Solskjaer was just beginning and needed funding. The days and months dragged on with no action, before September when Van de Beek finally signed. Then another month for Telles, and a last-ditch arrival of Cavani left us all frustrated. United had again flattered to deceive, Ed Woodward and Matt Judge had again let everyone down.
Fast forward to right now. A new manager, a new project to get behind, a new board structure and, quite importantly, no Woodward or Judge in charge of a discipline neither knew anything about. Rumours were aplenty in the run up to Erik ten Hag being announced as the new manager, that a clause was present should he not have the say in transfers, he could walk away. It reignited hope, it made us excited for a transfer window yet again, even after so many promises being made that we wouldn’t let it happen, United could be competent at signing players once more. How wrong we could all have been.
So far this summer, Manchester City have confirmed Erling Haaland and Aston Villa swooped for Boubacar Kamara on a free (once linked with United). Jurrien Timber has gone from top target to not interested, Frenkie de Jong is hurtling towards a saga, and Liverpool look to be poaching Darwin Nunez from before our eyes. The newspapers are, as normal, linking United with every Tom, Dick and Harry and being ignored, but the more reliable of sources seem quiet. People with ears to the ground don’t seem to be hearing many hoof beats, and with the volume of players who have exited this summer matched with the desperate need for Full Backs, Centre Halves and Midfielders (even before Paul Pogba and Jesse Lingard departed), grumbles and groans are growing amongst the fanbase. We have been set up to fail once more, it seems.
On the surface it is murky even at this early stage of proceedings, but look beneath that and perhaps the situation isn’t quite as bad as is believed. United don’t routinely announce deals before the opening of the transfer window, Wilfred Zaha is the only example I can think of off the top of my head, so the expectation shouldn’t really manifest itself even when other top sides are doing so. And then take a second to consider the lack of noise emanating from within the doldrums of Old Trafford; for so long now leaks have been rife, information releases left, right and centre about all things United.
From the dressing room to the board room, United have made a colander look watertight since the departure of Sir Alex Ferguson, but suddenly this season another manager who demands control is appointed and the silence is deafening – are the club really learning from the mistakes made by the previous regime?
The positive spin could all be pie-in-the-sky optimism from someone who seeks to see the bright side in everything, but similarly it could just as well be the case.
Richard Arnold seems to be content with his role commercially, John Murtough hasn’t always impressed but appears to have his focus on working on transfers, and Erik ten Hag doesn’t strike as the kind of man that would tolerate a club run as poorly as United have been for so long.
He could be the last roll of the dice for some time now, and maybe, just MAYBE, this is enough to inspire real change at the club. As it sits right now, I can’t help but worry this will be another period where improvements don’t come in the numbers they are needed to, but as they say, it is the hope that kills you.