Manchester United have recently developed the polar opposite of the Midas Touch –rather than everything they touch becoming gold, it instead becomes coal.
With over £150 million spent on transfers alone in 2014, any reasonable person would have likely expected to see a high flying United challenging at the top of the table for silverware.
Instead, they have a shadow of a team, unorganised and underwhelming as ever. Even with three strikers in their ranks that any sane soccer enthusiast would name in their list of the world’s top 20 strikers, Manchester United just can’t seen to get firing on a consistent basis.
In the 2012-2013 season, Rooney, Falcao and Van Persie scored an incredible combined 102 goals. In other words, those three players together scored more goals than every other team in the Barclays Premier League by a significant margin. Why is it that since combining forces, they've only managed a measly 23?
Some would blame it on the departure of the infamous Sir Alex Ferguson. After all, no qualification is better than 26 years on the job. Then again, in Van Gaal, Manchester United have bought a manager who is arguably as experienced as was Fergie. So why then have United failed so miserably to rise like a phoenix from the ashes as so many predicted?
The answer lies in Manchester United’s miserable transfer policy. 2014 heralded the arrival of Juan Mata, Radamel Falcao, Luke Shaw, Daley Blind, Ander Herrera, and Angel Di Maria among others.
Three of these five were at the time of purchase, considered among the best players on the planet. Ever since joining Manchester United however, the story has been disappointingly different. Mata came to United the supposed hero – the savior who would lift them from the much maligned Europa League positions into the glamorous Champions League.
Instead, United sunk further down the table finishing an abysmal seventh place – unprecedented in the history of the Premier League. While the blame for this cannot be placed squarely on Mata’s petite shoulders, he failed to have any sort of the impact that would justify his obscene £37 million price tag. While on the basis of goals and assist statistics alone, he looks a decent player, his failure lies in his contribution, or lack there of, on the rest of the game.
Mata is practically anonymous for large sections of every match, struggling not only to maintain possession but also to create any chances. He only looked even half his price tag when Rooney found himself injured and Mata occupied his position. Modest scoring statistics don’t hide the fact that Mata has been a flop since joining Manchester United, and Van Gaal would do well to sell him for half the price Moyes paid.
Di Maria and Falcao have been the bigger disappointments. While Mata was considered a very good player, this pair was and still is, to some degree, considered among the very best in the world. Di Maria was even awarded a place in FIFPro’s team of the year – a massive honour to any player.
Since joining United however, both have looked out of shape and shadows of the players they once were. Falcao hasn’t even made it in to the team enough times to be considered a member of the starting eleven and Di Maria has failed miserably ever since taking his position on the wing, with three goals and six assists in 13 games.
While such figures may not seem too shabby, it is his overall play that has disappointed greatly. Against Southampton on January 11, he didn't manage to complete a single cross or key pass and completed just 60% of his passes, trailing Southampton keeper Fraser Forster in completed passes, who made eight against his six.
Forget the fact that he was purchased for almost £60 million – his performance against Southampton was one that would not be expected by a winger 1% the price. United need to start making smarter signings by actually considering the squad’s needs as opposed to the name and marketing appeal of the player.
In Januzaj and Valencia, United already had solid wings, not to mention benchwarmers Ashley Young. Potentially buying one of Mata and Di Maria wouldn’t have been a bad idea but neither provides the kind of player United needs on the wing – one who hugs the touchline and provides accurate crosses. Mata likes to come central and Di Maria inevitably will cut in and shoot.
Such players are useless when United have strikers like Van Persie and Rooney who are looking for crosses to pounce upon. Given the strikers’ presences in the squad, the arrival of Falcao is even more a mystery.
Why buy a third world class striker who commands an exorbitant wage when you already have two (not to mention Chicharito at the time)?
Manchester United should have purchased the kind of player they needed - a centre-back who could command from deep and instil confidence into the team when United need it most. Instead, Van Gaal finds himself with a top heavy squad struggling to find balance and a track record no better than that of David Moyes.