In Sir Alex Ferguson’s last 22 seasons at Manchester United, the club won 13 Premier League titles, 4 FA Cups, 4 League Cups, 2 Champions Leagues and didn’t finish lower than third once.
In the six seasons since Ferguson’s departure - or five, we are coming to the end of the sixth - United haven’t won a single Premier League title, they’ve won the FA Cup and the League Cup once, they’ve only had two top four finishes and have finished as low as 7th.
Everyone knew it would prove difficult to replace Ferguson, and so it has proved, but Manchester United have gone from a club built on a solid foundation with a very clear leader whose tentacles seemed to expand over the whole club, to one that has gone through four managers in roughly as many years and seems to lack any kind of real leadership or foresight in the transfer market.
Today we wanted to take a look at the club’s worst signings since Sir Alex Ferguson’s departure. To be clear, that isn’t necessarily the seven worst players the club has signed since Fergie left, it’s a little bit more complex than that, taking into account the finances of the deal, future repercussions, etc, but obviously ability and performances are a key factor as well.
Here are our views on Manchester United’s 7 worst post-Fergie signings:
7. Victor Valdes
Kicking us off in seventh place is Barcelona legend Victor Valdes. From start to finish, Valdes’ stay at Old Trafford was a bit of a shambles. During the 2013-14 season, Valdes made a pre-contract agreement to join Monaco on a free transfer in the summer. However, after Valdes tore his ACL in March 2014, Monaco pulled out of the deal.
Manchester United offered Valdes the chance to recover and rehabilitate at Old Trafford, before offering him an 18-month deal in January 2015. Valdes was picking up a reported £150,000 a week, albeit a portion of that was covered by Monaco due to pulling out of their agreement with the Spaniard.
Valdes played just two games for the club, before being transfer listed by Louis van Gaal who claimed the goalkeeper had refused to turn out for the reserves. Valdes subsequently went out on-loan to Standard Liege, where he struggled once more, before making a permanent move to Middlesbrough, with whom he was relegated before retiring. Valdes was only ever brought in as a backup to David De Gea, so his failure as a signing wasn’t calamitous, but the general shambles it entailed twinned with the fact he was on big money, we think 7th is a fair shout.
6. Bastian Schweinsteiger
Bastian Schweinsteiger #31 of Chicago Fire and Valentin Castellanos #11 of New York City FC fight for the ball in the first half at Yankee Stadium on April 24, 2019 in the Bronx borough of...
Incredibly, Bastian Scheinsteiger became the first German to play for Manchester United after signing for the club in 2015. The experienced central midfielder had been a remarkable servant to Bayern Munich, where he won 18 trophies, as well as the German national team, with whom he had won the World Cup just 12 months earlier.
Approaching the autumn of his career, Schweinsteiger only cost the club £6.5 million, but one suspects he signed a pretty lucrative three-year deal. He featured sporadically in his debut campaign under Louis van Gaal, which included a three match retrospective ban from the FA for elbowing Winston Reid in the throat.
Whilst Valdes fell out with van Gaal, it would be his replacement Jose Mourinho who Schweinsteiger fell out with. Schweinsteiger had physically ‘reached the end’ at Old Trafford according to van Gaal, and Mourinho clearly wanted rid. Schweinsteiger was made to train with the under 23’s and wasn’t included in United’s Europa League squad. It seemed like pretty shoddy treatment of a model pro who had a brilliant career in the game. To his credit, Schweinsteiger always conducted himself with class off the pitch, but through his own lack of fitness or ill-treatment from staff, he has to go down as a pretty poor signing for Manchester United.
Now, I had to think twice about including Fred in this seven. On the one hand, the 26-year-old cost the club a whopping £52 million and hasn’t looked anything like the dominant box-to-box midfield player many had expected, registering roughly the same number of appearances as Scott McTominay. On the other hand, it’s very early days with Fred in his debut campaign with the club, and prior to United’s humiliation at Everton, a game in which Fred was pulled off at half-time for McTominay, he had shown improved form and given United fans a glimmer of hope.
Ultimately, I’ve decided to include the Brazilian, whose transfer fee is so enormous and his impact so limited that it would seem unreasonable not to. Of course, there have been players like David de Gea who have had difficult starts to life at the Theatre of Dreams but have gone on to be roaring successes, and everyone at Manchester United will hope that is the case with Fred.
Again, in fairness to Fred, I don’t see a lack of application. He always looks to be trying to rally those around him and can rarely be accused of failing to put a shift in, but his form has been patchy at best, albeit he has struggled to get a run of games. One has to ask though, in a midfield like Manchester United’s, which has hardly been dominant this season, why has Fred played so few games? Clearly a couple of managers haven’t been fully convinced by the Brazilian yet, and I can’t say I have been either, so at £52 million, I think fifth is fair right now.
4. Radamel Falcao
Layvin Kurzawa of PSG, Radamel Falcao of Monaco, Presnel Kimpembe of PSG during the French Ligue 1 match between Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) and AS Monaco (ASM) at Parc des Princes stadium...
Did I say loans count? No, oh, well, loans count, and in at fourth is Radamel Falcao. A brilliant centre-forward at his scintillating best, which we saw at both Porto and Atletico Madrid, Falcao was sharp, strong and instinctive. His left foot was so deadly from any range, and for a while it seemed like there was barely a game he didn’t score in.
Sadly for Manchester United, and indeed Chelsea, it wasn’t that Falcao that they saw at Old Trafford or Stamford Bridge. Following a surprise move from Atletico Madrid to Monaco, Falcao suffered a devastating ACL injury just 19 games into his Monaco career. He joined Manchester United on a season-long loan in September 2014, in a deal involving a reported £6 million loan fee, a £265,000 a week salary to Falcao and a £43.5 million option to buy the Colombian.
Manchester United never took Monaco up on that clause, and one suspects they wouldn’t even if it had been £435,000. Falcao looked a shadow of his former self. The sharpness had gone, in terms of his touch, movement and goal scoring instincts. He scored just 4 goals in 29 games, costing the club a reported £4 million per goal. Following an even more difficult spell for the forward at Chelsea the following season, Falcao did rediscover his goal scoring touch at Monaco, although he’s still never quite been the same animal that he was prior to that ACL blow.
3. Angel Di Maria
Angel Di Maria’s selection in third place is pretty easy to explain. He has to rank very highly on the basis that he was club’s record signing at the time for just under £60 million, so much was expected of him following his fine form at Real Madrid and Argentina and he really just never had the sort of influence he was brought in to exert over games on a regular basis. Conversely, the reason Di Maria isn’t any higher than third is because the club recouped £44 million on him from PSG, meaning they effectively only lost £14 million on the transfer, and the fact that Di Maria only stayed a single season, so he was out the system pretty quickly.
I have to be honest, I thought Di Maria was a really good signing for Manchester United. Not only had he just been a virtual ever-present and key man in a Champions League winning Real Madrid side, he had looked like the beating heart of the Argentine national team that reached the final of the 2014 World Cup, often playing through the middle and certainly ranking among their three most impressive performers.
However, Di Maria’s real talents lie in his pace and control when running at speed, and in a United side which tended to go for slower, more measured, and oftentimes more laborious build-up play, Di Maria struggled to exhibit his talents on a regular basis. A very good player, albeit probably not a great one, in a system which didn’t suit him. The result was a £59.7 million flop, and Di Maria deservedly takes bronze here.
2. Marouane Fellaini
Marouane Fellaini of Shangdong Luneng runs with the ball during the AFC Champions League Group E match between Johor Darul Ta'zim and Shandong Luneng at Larkin Stadium on April 24, 2019...
There’s really nothing to split the top two, who could both stake excellent claims to be Manchester United’s worst post-Ferguson signing, and I’ll explain why Fellaini deserves to feature so highly now. On the face of it, the big Belgian always put a shift in for United, he occasionally popped up with an important goal and he registered far more appearances for the club than any other player in this seven, so second place could seem somewhat harsh.
However, the number of games Fellaini played for Manchester United was in many ways part of the problem. Fellaini was the second signing of United’s post-Fergie era, and the first signed at David Moyes’ discretion. He had been a real handful for Moyes at Everton, with his long limbs and aggressive playing style causing headaches both through Fellaini’s dangerous hold-up play and the regular elbows to the face. And it is this, the type of footballer that Fellaini is, that made him such a poor signing.
It signalled a change at Manchester United, from a side that played exciting and expansive football, to one who played Marouane Fellaini. That may seem harsh on the Belgian, and it’s hardly like Ferguson only brought in world class players, but Fellaini was a marquee signing at £27.5 million. What’s more, it wasn’t a case of Juan Sebastian Veron, where Ferguson signed a classy player but things just didn’t work out. David Moyes knew what he was getting with Marouane Fellaini. He was no worse for Manchester United than Everton, just the setting, style and expectations had changed.
So it was really no fault of Fellaini’s, but he should never have been a Manchester United player. The club did bank a reported £10.5 million in January when Fellaini headed to China, and that probably helped to save him topping this seven.
0. Honourable Mentions
We don’t normally do honourable mentions on these kind of videos, but it’s to Manchester United’s credit that we need to… Joking aside, I just thought it was worth clarifying a few things. For example, a lot of people might have been expecting Memphis Depay to feature in this seven, and he did make my shortlist. In terms of the expectations upon his arrival in relation to his performances, the Dutchman was a major flop. But given that he was signed for £25 million and Manchester United have probably already received £22 million back from Lyon for him, obviously an overall loss of just £3 million, he just missed out.
Some may equally argue that at an initial £75 million and a potential £90 million, Romelu Lukaku ought to have featured. Manchester United have been spoilt for choice when it comes to strikers during the Ferguson years, from Cole and Yorke to Sheringham, Rooney and van Nistelrooy. Lukaku may not belong in that class, but he has scored 42 goals in 92 games for the club to date, which really isn’t a bad record, and is certainly too good to warrant featuring here in my book.
Lastly, the likes of Paul Pogba as a world record signing at the time who has enjoyed mixed form and Eric Bailly who cost the club £30 million will be thrown into the hat by some. Pogba is a funny one, since there will be a large number of people who feel he ought to be right up there, and an equally large if not greater number who think he’s brilliant and that it wasn’t even bad business. Personally, I think the Frenchman is far too talented and even blowing hot and cold has been too impressive to feature. Above all else, the fact that if United were to sell Pogba to a Real Madrid or Barcelona they would probably get their money back and potentially more surely means he has no place here.
As for Bailly, I thought he looked pretty impressive prior to injury in his debut campaign. Since then, he has suffered numerous setbacks and hasn’t really put together a string of impressive performances. One could still make a good case for LIndelof and Bailly being United’s strongest centre-back partnership though, and it would seem harsh to include Bailly primarily due to injury struggles.
Right, that’s it for our honourable mentions, feel free to subscribe and turn on notifications if you enjoyed the video, and here is our top spot...
1. Alexis Sanchez
Alexis Sanchez of Manchester United talks with Romelu Lukaku prior to the Premier League match between Manchester United and Manchester City at Old Trafford on April 24, 2019 in Manchester,...
I gave a pretty damning indictment of my views on the signing of Maroane Fellaini, and it would take a pretty spectacularly terrible signing to beat that. Thankfully, in the form of Alexis Sanchez, we have one. Unlike with Fellaini, however, United haven’t got what they paid for in Sanchez. At Arsenal, he was tireless, tenacious, brilliant on the ball, a real live wire and a constant threat to the oppositions goal. In fact, he was consistently among the three best players in the Premier League.
He joined United who looked to have seen off competition from Man City in January 2018, as it was said City had balked at Sanchez’s and his agents demands. That looks to have been a shrewd move by United’s near neighbours, as Sanchez has been utterly dreadful at Old Trafford. Good players don’t just become bad ones overnight, but Sanchez is approaching 18 months with the Red Devils, and fans and coaches are still waiting for him to show anything like the form he enjoyed at Arsenal.
What’s more, when transfer, wages, agents and sign-on fees are all taken into account, Sanchez will reportedly cost Manchester United £180 million for the duration of his four-and-a-half year deal with the club, if he sees it out that is. It seems hard to see anyone taking Sanchez off United’s hands on current form and on that kind of money.
The real reason Sanchez tops this seven over Fellaini though is more of a double-whammy effect. The enormous salary that the club handed Sanchez hasn’t just backfired because the player himself has been rubbish, but also because it has harboured discontent among the rest of the United ranks. Other players see Sanchez sat on the bench whilst they are contributing and ask ‘why am I earning less than him?’, or indeed, ‘why am I earning half what he is?’. The same goes for new signings. Every agent knows how much United are paying Sanchez, so when Ed Woodward comes calling for their player, they can use his huge paypacket as a bargaining chip.
Sanchez’s signing has produced no goods on the pitch, it’s supposedly and plausibly caused current players to question their futures and demand pay rises, and it could seriously hamper the club in their pursuit of new players in the transfer market at a time when they so desperately need new recruits. For all those reasons, we think Sanchez has to go down as Manchester United’s worst signing of the post-Ferguson era.
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