I’ve always seen Deadline Day of the transfer window as a day for other people. United fans could instead sit and reflect on the opening games of the season, look forward to a new Champions League campaign and lament the forthcoming suspension of activities that is the irritating international break knowing that the squad that we had was what we had. Invariably, Fergie would have already confirmed there’d be no further signings and, whether we agreed with it him or not, we trusted his judgement and we all knew where we were. If we were involved at all, it was usually because the pursuit of a long sought-after player had been dragged into the eleventh hour by a reluctant seller.
Meanwhile, Stoke would run around like a lot of headless chickens – their default position on and off the pitch – trying to snap up any number of journeymen, Spurs and/or Arsenal would look for a last minute marquee (or at least gazebo) signing to appease uncomfortable supporters and a dozen or more clubs would have their backs firmly planted against the walls in a too often futile attempt to fend off a shafting from the big boys.
This season, it’s all been a bit different. Not in terms of the snapping up or the shafting, which have been as plentiful as ever, but because United joined the feeding frenzy and allowed ourselves to drift into Deadline Day with urgent and unfinished business hanging over our heads as never before.
For others, the frenetic scurrying around that occurred on this day appeared no more than an act of desperation, the result of poor prior planning and organisation leading to hasty over-priced deals for players whose value to the purchasing club was dubious at best. Which is the crux of the matter, of course. While the arrival of a new manager and chief exec made it inevitable that business at United might be carried out less smoothly than we’d become accustomed to, the summer’s transfer pursuit has been far worse than that – a shambles from beginning to end.
Already disappointed that we’d left it this late to secure any deals, United fans sat in front of Sky Sports News, Twitter and any number of blogs and watched a drama unfold that quickly descended into farce and which had, to the club’s detriment, elements that would make a great film but which, for the watching Reds, only made deeply uncomfortable viewing. Fellaini, the unlikely hero, was forced to take matters into his own hands by handing in a transfer request before a high speed dash down the M62 delivered him to United and a deal was completed with seconds to spare. While he was on the road, the action cut to Spain where a group of imposters posing as United representatives fooled everyone that something was happening on the Herrera front before they were rumbled by bureaucrats while a brief cameo from Khedira added confusion and hope in unequal proportions. As the comic capers reached their close, Real Madrid almost allowed for a happy ending all round by apparently agreeing a deal for Fabio Coentrao but a fumbled altercation with the fax machine (I’m visualising Laurel & Hardy meets Dad’s Army) left the deal high and dry. The movie ends with a widening shot taking in a gasping Moyes and a red-faced Ed Woodward while Fellaini stands in the middle of it all, proudly holding the United shirt up that he’d wanted enough to fight his own way through the chaos and secure.
This is not, I would like to add, a pop at David Moyes, a new manager who has lacked the support from the wider United set-up, and particularly his chief executive, that he deserved and needed. The transition from Fergie to Moyes was never going to be seamless and the new boss admittedly made a mistake when going public on Fabregas, a player who we were simply never going to get and whose pursuit cranked up the media frenzy and led to unrealistic expectations among United supporters about what might be possible. Better always to take the age-old Fergie line of stating you’re happy with what you’ve got but, should the right player become available…
Better, in other words, to suppress expectations rather than build them up. Better to endure accusations of lack of ambition than to risk looking, to both your own supporters as well as the outside world, as an organisation that doesn’t know what it’s doing. That way, if you end the close season without a big name signing, you can at least make it appear like you meant it. And if you manage to pull something like RVP out of the hat, fans are all the happier for having such a nice surprise while rival clubs are given the impression of an already strong club getting even stronger.
This year, there’s been no RVP and no convincing attempt to disguise the need for a major addition to the squad, and the board at United need to be asking serious questions, perhaps more of Ed Woodward than of Moyes. Why did we allow it to be so widely publicised in July that Woodward had left our Far East tour to arrive home to carry out urgent transfer business? Why did we allow Fellaini’s release clause to lapse before moving for him? Why did we end up paying only slightly less for Fellaini than we’d originally offered for him and Baines? And what was Woodward actually doing during July and August? Why was the move for Herrera – a player identified in the Ferguson days as a potential target – left until the last days of August? Most importantly of all, having supposedly been so active in July, why did we allow the club to enter what was always going to be a difficult series of opening games with so much speculation hanging over our heads and so much time being spent on the pursuit of evident dead ends in the transfer market? Why, more than anything, did we leave it all so late?
As Baines, Herrera and Coentrao – all players who evidently wished to play for United – wake up this morning to find they’re exactly where they were yesterday, our club finds itself in a position it’s not been in for decades – surveying a landscape of disorganisation and failure. Some United fans are blaming the Glazers for all this for concentrating too much on recruiting sponsorship deals rather than players, but my guess is they’ll be as angry as anyone at the way the club has been made to look a laughing stock and I trust they’ll want answers and that searching questions, at least, will be asked at board level. The summer transfer window of 2013 has been one of panic, uncertainty and evident confusion, words that have rarely been connected with our club since the grim days of the eighties. We now need those at the very top of our club to take action to ensure they don’t become a familiar part of the United lexicon.