As though it were written in a script a long time ago Manchester United’s dreary fortunes continue to beleaguer supporters’ hopes of a post-Sir Alex Ferguson revival.
The latest authors were Swansea City, who netted either side of a Wayne Rooney bicycle kick to pen the most recent instalment of woe at Old Trafford and make it clear that though Louis van Gaal’s arrival may have put to bed most of United’s demons, they are far from sleeping soundly.
Of course talk of disaster and crisis at this point is every bit as premature as it is foolish. Van Gaal’s methods were always going to take time to efficiently implement, and the more seasoned football followers have been quick to point that the pre-season success could hardly be used to gauge the true capabilities of this United squad.
The worrying at Old Trafford
Nevertheless the 2-1 defeat at the hands of a Swansea side many are tipping to struggle to survive this season - and the consummate ease with which the visitors accrued their three points at the Theatre of Dreams - has served as a painful reminder that United have to adapt or fall. Improvement isn’t a preference, it’s a necessary measure.
Yet with such an obvious need for enhancement comes the danger that money can be carelessly spent without actually fixing any immediate problem. The so-called ‘panic buy’ options find themselves creeping more and more frequently into the rumour mill, and an overwhelming desire to sate the appetite of the fans with a blockbuster buy often wins the day.
The Di Maria decision
Such is the case with United’s recent decision concerning Angel di Maria. The long-running interest in the Argentina international is somewhat defended by the fact that his days as a Real Madrid Galactico look numbered, but the latest proposal to be supposedly placed on the table sees Van Gaal tarred with a brush that was until now reserved for David Moyes and Ed Woodward.
£50 million to Madrid, followed by £200,000-a-week in wages over five years - amounting to another £50 million. Such figures are usually bandied about only in the corridors of the Etihad, or, coincidentally at boardroom level in the Santiago Bernabeu.
£100 million altogether for a player who, despite his obvious quality, doesn’t fix any problems at United. Van Gaal’s squad is lacking defensive solidity to complement their attacking prowess, and the likes of Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Jonny Evans can only be relied upon to take the team so far with regards to their ambitions.
Who should be targeted
The mere fact that United were forced to start with Jones, Smalling and Tyler Blackett making up a three-man back line on Saturday tells those not familiar with such conundrums that Van Gaal has to focus his intentions on bringing in a proven leader in defence. As was proven last term it matters little that the Red Devils can boast a wealth of riches moving forward when they’re persistently being pegged back by deficiencies in front of their own goal.
Thus diverting the bulk of the transfer attention towards landing Di Maria - which is no doubt needed to push through a deal of such magnitude - makes little sense on Van Gaal’s part, and he would be wise to detail Woodward to prioritise the capture of a high-profile centre-half instead.
The Dutchman has made a name for himself over the years as being unerringly on point with his tactics and canny when it comes to getting the best out of his sides. He’ll need to re-think his transfer strategy if the next chapter of his United career is to be just as well received by his own fans as the past few have been by their title rivals though.