Ronaldo, Zlatan, Lukaku: Ranking Man Utd's signings under Ed Woodward from worst to best

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The Ed Woodward era at Manchester United is coming to a close.

The Red Devils announced on Thursday that Richard Arnold would become the club’s new Chief Executive Officer on February 1 with Woodward relinquishing his current position on the same day.

While Woodward will remain on the club’s board until the end of the season, this week’s announcement finally brings down the curtain on his eight-year stint as Executive Vice-Chairman.

Woodward waves goodbye to Man Utd

Having inherited the reins from David Gill in 2013, Woodward has overseen an alarming fall from grace by the Red Devils with many placing the blame for the decline directly at his feet.

United have only won the FA Cup, League Cup and Europa League under Woodward’s stewardship with David Moyes, Louis van Gaal, Jose Mourinho and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer all biting the bullet. 

However, perhaps the most egregious facet of Woodward’s tenure in the eyes of many United fans has been the recruitment strategy with more than £1 billion spent on transfers across his reign.

While it would simply be incorrect to say that Woodward hasn’t executed some successful signings for the club, there have been more than a few major negatives to outweigh the positives.

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Rating Woodward’s signings

So, now that we’re just a few days away from Woodward waving goodbye to his role at Old Trafford, we wanted to take a closer look at the major transfers that he has overseen since 2013.

To do so, we’re calling upon our trusty medium of Tiermaker in order to rank those most notable of first-team signings into tiers ranging from ‘simply disastrous’ all the way up to ‘best of the bunch’.

The order will ultimately be decided by the opinion of your humble GIVEMESPORT writer, but rest assured that my outlook is informed by statistics, the eye test and the context of the transfer.

And it’s key to note that the definitions of each tier, which will be explained as we go along, are more important than how they are stacked in relation to one another.

In other words, Lee Grant being a tier above Angel Di Maria isn’t us losing the plot and suggesting that United’s number four goalkeeper is a better baller than a Champions League winner.

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Ronaldo won the 2008 Puskas Award for a goal against which club?

Ranking Man Utd signings under Woodward

However, enough with the disclaimers and housekeeping, because there are plenty of Woodward signings to rank and you can check out how we’ve ordered them in our full Tiermaker down below:

Simply disastrous

Angel Di Maria, Donny van de Beek, Radamel Falcao, Alexis Sanchez and Victor Valdes

Are these the worst players that United have signed under Woodward? By no means at all, but you can rest assured that they are the most catastrophic deals to have befallen the club since 2013.

Besides, while Di Maria wasn’t actually that bad on the pitch, selling your British-transfer-record signing for a loss after just one season couldn’t suit the definition of ‘simply disastrous’ any better.

And we’re just as baffled as everyone else as to why a midfielder that United signed for £35 million in Van de Beek has only started four Premier League games in one and a half seasons. Madness.

In terms of Falcao, Woodward must still be having nightmares about the £6-million loan fee that was reportedly paid for a striker who – though undoubtedly world-class – only ever bagged four goals.

Meanwhile, Sanchez might just be the most disastrous buy of the bunch because just three league goals from a forward purported to be on wages in excess of £500,000-a-week is simply horrendous.

As for Valdes, not only did he end up playing just two league games, but his United spell ended in a shocking exile where he was banished from the squad photo and couldn’t eat with his teammates.

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Not United standard

Daniel James, Lee Grant, Tom Heaton, Morgan Schneiderlin, Odion Ighalo and Timothy Fosu-Mensah

This is the tier where it’s less a case of the transfer being an unmitigated disaster, but more a case of the player never proving themselves to be up to the standards required at United.

That’s certainly the situation with James because despite being a top bloke with bundles of effort, he never really produced the consistent numbers required with just six leagues goals for the club.

God bless Grant, who must be living the dream, but we like to think that he won’t be too offended by us putting him alongside a past-his best Heaton due to their status as back-up shot-stoppers.

As for Schneiderlin, the only real thing holding him back from dropping into the lowest tier is that the money nor hype was never big enough for his eventual struggles to feel particularly world-ending. 

Ighalo is another player who will happily admit to deserving a place in this category because his arrival at Old Trafford was born more out of necessity than the club thinking he was top, top class.

And across the 30 appearances that Fosu-Mensah eventually amassed for United, we never really saw enough to suggest that he’s up to the Red Devils’ standards even if he’s certainly a solid player.

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Didn’t work out

Marouane Fellaini, Bastian Schweinsteiger, Matteo Darmian, Memphis Depay, Marcos Rojo and Henrikh Mkhitaryan

Ok, so, welcome to the section where players are less out-and-out flops and more ‘what could have been?’ propositions where the marriage of footballer and club simply didn’t work out at the time.

Many would argue that Fellaini is deserving of the previous tier, but the simple fact of the matter is that he actually proved to be a useful asset even if he didn’t mesh with the club’s brand of football.

As for Schweinsteiger, maybe we’re being a little too kind because he did look past his best in the Premier League, but his eventual United demise had more to do with Mourinho than his own form.

Darmian and Rojo occupy very similar existences in that they were good enough to be squad players at United, it’s just that they never really performed well enough to even be branded ‘solid’.

And who knows, maybe Depay does deserve to be called ‘disastrous’, but we’re just inclined to think that the Red Devils should have held on to him for a little longer given his subsequent success at Lyon.

Mkhitaryan then rounds off the category as a player who was never flat-out awful enough to take on ‘flop’ status, but nonetheless felt like the wrong transfer at the wrong time despite flashes of genius.

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Remains to be seen

Alex Telles, Diogo Dalot, Amad Diallo and Jadon Sancho

Nothing much to see here other than a quartet of players who are either young or neglected enough for them to deserve a little more time before we pass judgement too harshly.

While some might say that Telles and Dalot, like Van de Beek, should be called disasters, we don’t think their status nor fee were sizeable enough for their slow starts to be branded catastrophic yet.

Then, despite their comparatively hefty price tags, we’ve got to remember that Diallo and Sancho are still only 19 and 21 years old respectively, so the jury is still out on their performances for now.

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Solid business

Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Eric Bailly, Anthony Martial, Nemanja Matic, Daley Blind, Sergio Romero, Fred and Juan Mata 

‘Solid’ says it all really because we can’t say that these players have been bad signings with a straight face, but they’ve simply not done enough for us to call them undisputed successes.

Wan-Bissaka is perhaps the perfect example because his safe and sturdy displays across 120 games in red are negated by questions about his long-term suitability and attacking contributions.

As for Bailly, United’s cult hero occupies the middle ground on the basis that he often looks superb when he does play, but injuries and erratic moments have ensured that hasn’t been often enough.

There are similar frustrations with Martial, too, but we’re staying glass-half-full by allowing his 79 goals, which peaked by becoming United’s top scorer in 2019/20, as he edges towards an exit.

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Matic’s time at Old Trafford couldn’t have been more inconsistent with interweaving spells of looking like a top-class defensive midfielder and seeming past his sell-by date evening him out into mid-table.

Elsewhere, United fans justifiably have fond memories of the dynamic and adaptable Blind, but we don’t want to go overboard about a £13.8-million buy that – let’s face it – never set the world alight.

Moving on past Romero because his status as an incomparable back-up goalkeeper goes without saying and we want to take the inevitable flack that we’ll get for not calling Fred a ‘flop’ head-on.

While, yes, his debut season and recent months might have been poor, don’t let recency bias allow you to forget that the Brazilian was one of the star performers of Solskjaer’s full seasons in charge.

Then, finally, Mata has been a solid servant for United across no less than nine seasons and almost 300 appearances despite us never really seeing his Chelsea and Spain best in the famous red shirt.

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Good, but overpriced

Harry Maguire, Romelu Lukaku and Paul Pogba

At the end of the day, we think these three signings were more successful than not for United, but are happy to admit that they either didn’t or haven’t justified the huge transfer fee that was required.

The simple fact of the matter is that Maguire’s status as the most expensive defender in history hasn’t aged well, even if he has undoubtedly been world-class for sustained spells at Old Trafford.

While, yes, Lukaku’s time at United is hugely underrated with 42 goals in just 96 games, signing a striker that leaves ignominiously after just two seasons for £75 million is certainly disappointing.

And although Pogba has ultimately never reached the dizzying heights expected of a record signing, we’d be lying if we said that he hasn’t at least been ‘good’ since he returned to where it all started.

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Great signing

Cristiano Ronaldo, Edinson Cavani, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Ander Herrera, Raphael Varane and Luke Shaw

Now we’re into unabashedly positive territory where these signings are either certified successes or near-enough guaranteed to be. The only absentee is our number one pick for the Woodward era…

Starting with Ronaldo and no matter what some of the haters might say, signing one of the greatest goalscorers in history who has already found the net 14 times can only be a ‘great signing’.

And while Cavani has been frankly disrespected at times with a lack of minutes, the energetic striker has grabbed any opportunity he’s been given with both hands – bagging 19 goals in 50 outings.

As for Ibrahimovic, the data speaks for itself because 28 goals and two trophies in his only full season is ridiculous going despite his United spell ultimately being cut short by a major knee injury.

And boy would United fans love to have Herrera back at the club because the Paris Saint-Germain star was nothing short of heroic across his 189 appearances to look like a bargain at £29 million.

Perhaps we’ve been too generous to Varane when he’s only 12 games into an injury-blighted start to life at United, but we simply can’t see a world-class player of his stature do anything but succeed.

Meanwhile, Shaw’s time at Old Trafford has been hideously underrated and we can only hope that his status as the world’s best left-back last season rightly overwhelms some of the recent hyperbole.

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Best of the bunch

Bruno Fernandes

While Ronaldo might well go on to prove himself as the premier signing of Woodward era, that title currently goes to Fernandes regardless of what people might be saying about his recent displays.

Besides, we’re talking about a midfielder who boasts a frankly jaw-dropping record of 31 goals and 22 assists in his first 69 Premier League appearances to make his £46.6 million fee look like a snip.

Simply put, Fernandes has only played two full years at United: he was the Premier League’s second-top goalscorer in the first and he was Ballon d’Or nominated in the second. Enough said.

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A new era for Man Utd

So, there you have it, Woodward has dropped plenty of clangers during his time at the United helm, but there have also been plenty of success stories that we shouldn’t forget about in a hurry.

However, it’s clear to see that so many United fans are happy to see the back of an influential figure who ultimately oversaw the club’s decline on the back of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013.

Man Utd 0-1 Wolves Match Reaction (Football Terrace)

No doubt the Arnold era will also have a few Sanchez-like signings along the way, but the Old Trafford faithful will surely just be happy to see gradual improvements from one regime to the next.

For now, though, there’s plenty of work to do before United can truly kiss goodbye to what has been a tumultuous eight years with Woodward at the wheel.

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