Man United continues to spend, but the team remains inadequate.

Man United continues to spend, but the team remains inadequate.

It could all change in the last few hours of the window, but Manchester United feels short and any late signings will likely be superficial.

You also question why.

ESPN and others planned to invest £120 million this summer. It felt acceptable between the £185m they spent in 2022, Erik ten Hag’s debut season, and the £95m in 2021. After two seasons of losses, the English game’s cash cow was struggling. Some of it was pandemic and Glazers-influenced.

 Remember that football finance blogger Swiss Ramble estimates that the club has paid more than £770m since the owners’ leveraged takeover in 2005 and more than £150m in dividends, largely to the Glazers. Poor performance and decision-making contributed to it.

The club (or parts of it) was for sale, but this was no time to cut investment. 

Not when you had a coach everybody liked, who led the team back to the Champions League, two domestic finals, and the league cup.

They’re close to their goal with 100 hours left in the transfer window. Transfermarkt estimates their net spend at £130m. 

They should be alright if they can sell goalkeeper Dean Henderson (likely) and senior defender Harry Maguire (less likely, but you never know) and find cheaper replacements, with room for one more addition. Altay Bayindir, a Turkish goalkeeper, is rumored to join United, along with several defenders.

That’s significant. According to Transfermarkt, only Arsenal have spent more (and that doesn’t include the money they’ll collect for striker Folarin Balogun, who is slated to join AS Monaco). 

Manchester City should top those figures when they sign Wolves midfielder Matheus Nunes, which is apparently near, although United will likely again be among the Premier League’s three largest spenders. 

To me, this still feels like an unfinished roster, far from a team that can compete with Manchester City (huge ask, I know) and the team Ten Hag desires.

I wrote about this before the FA Cup final last year, but one year later, it feels like they’ve taken small steps. They lack players in every department to maintain momentum.

Maguire is still the second-choice center-back off the bench (Victor Lindelöf is subpar). Maguire isn’t a walking disaster/Phil Jones-in-training, but Ten Hag can’t make it clearer that he’s done with him.

A reliable fourth-choice central defender—how important? If you’re lucky, he may rarely play. Because players get injured and suspended over an eight-month season, you’ll need more than an extra body at the core of your defense if you face even a tiny road block. Consider it insurance against catastrophic loss and a way to keep starters on their toes.

Midfield? With Fred gone, Scott McTominay and Kobbie Mainoo are the only realistic alternatives to Casemiro, who is 31 and will frequently fly to Brazil for international vacations. Critics claim McTominay’s injury and performance records are poor, and at 26, he’s unlikely to improve rapidly.

 Mainoo is a potential youngster, but he’s 18, injured in preseason, and has just played 11 Premier League minutes.

You have two alternatives up front unless you want to play Marcus Rashford there, which you probably don’t as he’s better cutting in from the left.

Rasmus Hojlund, a talented young striker, is hurt. Yes, his name sounds like Haaland, he’s Scandinavian, played in Austria, and is a year older than the Norwegian when he joined Borussia Dortmund, but that doesn’t mean his career will be the same

Letting Hojlund grow at his own speed is preferable. If that pace is slow, you need someone to fill the minutes.

 Anthony Martial is the alternative to Rashford, who should only be an emergency up front. 

Yeah, the man who’s scored 11 top-flight goals in three seasons, looks injured every other week, and has an expiring contract (suggesting Ten Hag and I don’t want to put our eggs in the Martial basket).

They may try to fix this by loaning Marcel Sabitzer and Wout Weghorst like they did last season. 

There’s no shame in hiring competent players without a long-term commitment than spending a lot of money on guys you can’t move. Before you scoff at Sabitzer and Weghorst, they made 49 appearances in half a season and contributed to the cup runs and third-place finish.

The United of old wouldn’t have considered this, but fans don’t need to be told that this is a different club. 

I envision someone upstairs thinking: “We’re set. Onana is better than De Gea, Mount better than Fred and Sabitzer, Hojlund better than Weghorst… we finished third last year, we can’t be worse.

“The summer changes at Chelsea and Liverpool will have an influence. Tottenham lost their decade-long leader. Dan Burn and Joelinton are still unfashionable Newcastle players. 

Mikel Arteta may be over-tinkering with Arsenal. United may not challenge City, but do we think three of these other clubs will beat us?”

There’s logic to that thought. Some reason. It may happen if they add depth before the window closes.

Things are progressing slowly, which is depressing. All is coming down to the final hours.

Man United continues to spend, but the team remains inadequate.