For Manchester United the last twelve months have been the worst in the club’s recent history.
The uninspiring appointment of David Moyes left many fans fearing the worst and a global humiliation of a transfer window last summer left the club’s reputation in tatters and an under-par squad finishing a shameful seventh place.
It was a window that promised so much with names such as Cesc Fabregas, Danielle De Rossi and Thiago Alcantara all heavily linked with a move to Old Trafford, however, United failed to mark their Premier League dominance with a marquee signing, only managing to bring in the clumsy Marouane Fellaini at the eleventh hour for an extortionate figure of £27 million.
It could be argued that there was inevitability to this failure from the moment Sir Alex Ferguson and David Gill stood down from their respective roles at the club, however, it is remarkable that United didn’t recognize this threat and failed to implement the necessary precautions.
United must act fast to ensure that they establish themselves as a force in the transfer market once again. No longer can the Old Trafford faithful listen to their manager declare that ‘there is no value in the market’ as Ferguson did for the last few years of his reign.
It is no surprise that a market might have become inflated after selling a player for £80 million, however, that was five years ago and the £37 million signing of Juan Mata in January is the only signing United have made for a fee in excess of £30 million since Ronaldo’s departure.
Manchester United’s shortcomings have been there for every one to see as the likes of City, Chelsea, Bayern, Real Madrid and Barcelona continue to acquire some of the world’s best talents.
It is imperative for both Van Gaal and the club’s global image that they bring in at least one world-class midfielder in addition to some proven defensive reinforcements.
There are a number of ways in which those clubs more dominant in the transfer market have managed to achieve their statuses as big spenders. Of course, money is the driving force behind the market’s big guns but a rise in United’s income over the last two years has not been reflected in the clubs ambitions in the transfer market and the Old Trafford outfit may have to pursue their options.
United’s failure to strengthen their squad with world-class talent could, for example, be helped by the employment of a director of football.
Manchester United have previously rebuffed any suggestion that a director of football role could be made available at the club with current Chief Vice-Chairman, Ed Woodward, stating, ‘we don’t have a director of football because we back our manager’.
Woodward, however, must understand that his reputation in the transfer market, whilst unknown last summer, is another poor window short of lying in tatters. The former commercial management director has undoubtedly struggled to adapt to his new role after replacing David Gill.
The huge billion-dollar kit deal with Adidas, the lucrative shirt sponsorship with Chevrolet and the training ground partnership with Aon are all evidence of a savvy marketing man but Wooward must progress his skills set if United are going to build a squad worthy of its global marketing appeal.
At his opening press conference Van Gaal described how his biggest challenge is, ‘to meet commercial and football expectations’ and despite being in Manchester for a matter of hours, the observation is a very accurate one.
It is hard to imagine with all the commercial deals the club have orchestrated in recent months that Woodward has been able to concentrate on bringing in United’s transfer targets.
Employing a director of football at the club would enable Woodward to oversee the club’s commercial activity whilst also liaising between the coach and the director of football’s demands.
Damien Comoli, the former Spurs and Liverpool director of football and the man responsible for signing Gareth Bale, Luka Modric and Luis Suarez to their respective clubs recently described how, ‘if there’s a club who needs a director of football then it’s United’.
Although Comoli may have ulterior motives in his statement he may well also be right.
It remains to be seen whether Van Gaal would be willing to work under a director of football at United, however, it is well known that Van Gaal values his time on the training pitch very highly and having a right hand man on transfers may pay dividends for the Dutchman.
It is also well known that the former Bayern and Barcelona boss is a bit of an authoritarian and it would be disastrous if United were to hire a director of football in charge of identifying targets for the squad.
If a director of football were to be hired it would have to be on the grounds that Van Gaal identified his targets and the director of football would set about attracting the players and negotiating with their respective clubs.
Franco Baldini’s role at Spurs allowed the club to sign their transfer targets with impressive efficiency last summer and whilst the players that were bought in varied in success, Baldini’s negotiating skills and football connections proved valuable in getting deals over the line.
United’s city rivals have also recently appointed a director of football. Txiki Begiristain director of football at Barcelona for seven years took over at City in 2012 and has orchestrated the transfers of Fernandinho, Jesus Navas and Alvara Negredo to name just a few.
The football world is ever evolving and Manchester United cannot afford to be left behind. Sir Alex Ferguson will always be remembered for his incredible years at the club; however, the Scot’s success was built on the foundations of traditional values.
Fergie’s retirement left the club in a state of limbo and it is now more imperative than ever that the club adapts to the modern football age.
Ed Woodward has promised signings at United even stating that money is not an object for the club and despite his confidence putting him in a slightly weak bargaining position this will undoubtedly provoke expectations amongst the United faithful.
Expectations, however, are the most likely cause of disappointment and if Woodward does fail to attract a marquee midfield signing in addition to strong defensive reinforcement then the Glazer family may be forced to consider appointing the club’s first ever director of football.