Manchester United need to learn Man City lesson in the transfer market
As Bernardo Silva made his way to the away dressing room at Old Trafford at half-time of this Carabao Cup humiliation for Manchester United he couldn’t help but let out a laugh.
The Portuguese playmaker has struggled this season, but played himself back into form spectacularly to all but end this two-legged tie after a quarter of it had been played.
It was Bernardo who made the biggest difference on a night when virtually every United player was beaten in their individual battle, but it’s the way he joined City two-and-a-half years ago that should provide the biggest lesson to those watching this humiliation from the comfortable seats at Old Trafford.
Before the 2017 summer transfer window had even opened City had confirmed the signing of Bernardo from Monaco. Announced before the end of May, signed on a five-year deal for a bargain fee of £43.5million, it was the transfer business of a club acting quickly, efficiently and coherently. A club with a plan and the right people in place to execute it. United could learn a thing or two.
This defeat exposed the gulf in quality between these two squads and, not the first time this season, the gaping holes in Ole Gunnar Solskjaer’s team, but it’s been steady evolution rather than anything approaching a revolution.
Bernardo and Kevin De Bruyne ran rings around United’s midfield to prove that it remains the area most in need of an injection of quality. What United would give for a playmaker that even comes close to the ability those two have.
Yet United have consistently said this could be a quiet transfer window. January could come and go with no new arrivals. It’s a difficult market to do business in but these problems have been stacking up. They should have been dealt with by now.
For a long time it’s been obvious that this squad is in need of a rebuild, yet if January does pass without any new signings it will mean United have signed three players in the last three transfer windows. It’s no wonder this squad is suffering when injuries have hit.
United have defended the business done in the summer window and Aaron Wan-Bissaka, Harry Maguire and Daniel James have all added something to this squad, but three new faces were never going to be enough, especially when the departures were taken into account., especially in midfield, where Marouane Fellaini and Ander Herrera are still yet to be replaced.
To put United’s pace of change into context, in Pep Guardiola’s first season City signed six players in excess of £15million. In his second season they signed six players for £27million or more. In three transfer windows the rebuild for the Guardiola era was as good as complete and in that second season City broke a hatful of records in winning the title.
It helps having the resources of City, but let’s not paint United out to be paupers. They simply haven’t acted with the same ruthless efficiency in the transfer market and they’re being punished for it.
United are right not to press the panic button this month, but it’s difficult to believe there aren’t deals to be done that could improve a threadbare squad.
As this night threatened to turn into an embarrassment when City scored their third just before half-time the camera cut to Ed Woodward and Matt Judge sitting in the directors’ box. It is with those two that so much of United’s transfer business rests and they have to make sure they’re busy between now and August.
There were plenty of United luminaries in the directors’ box too. Wayne Rooney, Nicky Butt and Ryan Giggs all sat together. They could all offer prescient advice to this current regime. At City the manager can rely on a director of football he knows has a contacts book the equal of any in the game and a board that are capable of acting quickly and decisively.
If United do go through this transfer window without strengthening then they have to be bold and they have to be efficient in the summer. Another window where only three new players arrive simply won’t do.
City trusted they had the right man in Guardiola and then backed him handsomely. When he wanted full-backs to transform his squad they were provided, when he wanted Bernardo to add a little more magic he was in through the door, quickly.
These are the lesson that United must learn. As events on the pitch at Old Trafford showed they are a long way behind City at the moment, but that gap will only increase if United don’t begin to act with greater authority in the transfer market.
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