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01st Sep 2015

Mark Chapman column: Man City have set an example for Man United to follow…

Mark Chapman

The text arrives from the editor: ‘Any chance you could explain what is happening at Manchester United this week?’ he asks.

He might as well have said ‘any chance you could explain how to split the atom?’

It is impossible to explain the goings-on at Old Trafford. Nobody really knows how it is all working, including – it would appear – those in the thick of it.


If you go back a year, Ed Woodward told the Daily Mirror: “There is no budget. We are in a very strong financial position. We can make big signings.”

The chief executive went on to add: “What we’re seeing with everything we’re doing from a commercial perspective, talking to agents, talking from a player’s perspective about wanting to come to us, is that we’re the biggest club in the world.”

Fast forward a year and the back page of the Daily Mail is ‘Madchester’. The quotes and the headline do not correlate.

The Madchester headline was in the main prompted by the David de Gea shambles and the confusion over the paperwork with Real Madrid.

Whilst the social media reaction was amusing and whiled a way a good hour while I was sat in a hotel bar on my own on Monday evening, what was lost in all the gifs, memes, lols and emojis was the actual deal itself.

Even before the collapse of the transfer – something which Real Madrid have put solely at the door of United – by merely allowing it to drag on so long the biggest club in the world (according to Woodward) had been done over again.

The value placed on the goalkeeper was £29m, but that included the Costa Rican number one, Keylor Navas, coming to Old Trafford. He was valued at around £11m. In effect, United were selling De Gea for £18m – which was roughly what they bought him for when he was a young keeper full of potential and not one one of the best in the world as he is now.

Now you may argue that £18m for a player with one year left on his contract is not bad business, but it is not the business United bragged they would do.

Real Madrid would have to break the transfer record for a keeper, we were told. 

He would have to cost more than Buffon.

Ramos/Bale/Varane would have to be thrown in.

It has taken all summer – and remember Woodward’s comments on big signings – to get to the stage where De Gea was set to leave for the same amount he cost originally with another keeper thrown in.DE GEA NAVASVan Gaal has spent the whole of August telling us De Gea’s head isn’t right. He couldn’t play because he wouldn’t be able to concentrate. Well now his head must be all over the place. Confusion reigns, and if you talk to the older, wiser United fans this is the major problem.

They accept that you don’t win trophies every year. They accept that some transfers come off and some don’t. They accept that the club pay over the odds for the majority of players that come in and that unless the prices of tickets are hiked ridiculously to pay for these players, those fees don’t make any difference to them. The latest noodle deal will probably cover it.

What they find hard to accept is that nobody in the club’s hierarchy gives the impression of knowing what they are doing.


The start of the summer had given supporters hope. Darmian, Schneiderlin and Depay were all needed. The right players, signed at the right time to strengthen positions that needed strengthening. But since then they have panicked.

There is no cohesion. Januzaj was back in the team and scored at Villa, was then criticised by Van Gaal afterwards, kept his place, and has ultimately been loaned to Dortmund.

Hernandez returned, made substitute appearances, missed a penalty and a sitter in Europe, was criticised by Van Gaal afterwards, and sold to Leverkusen.

Attacking options have been diminished. The position of centre-half – so much discussed in June with Hummels, Varane etc supposedly on the way – now sees departures rather than arrivals with Evans and Blackett out.

I’ve never been good at philosophy, having got 25% in a school exam and been called a disgrace by my teacher, but if there is one at United at the moment, I don’t understand it.

Seven years ago today, the red half of Manchester were laughing at the perceived chaos on the blue side when Manchester City spent £32m on Robinho on deadline day.

In this transfer window, City identified their weaknesses, homed in on where they needed to strengthen and went out and bought the right players. Sterling, Delph, De Bruyne and Otamendi have all arrived, with some taking more skilfull negotiation than others.

Not once during the signings of these players did we hear talk of what City could pay, of how good they were at doing deals, of their relationship with agents. Txiki Begiristain and Ferran Soriano kept their counsel.

I accept that having a lot of money to spend eases the process, but while Manchester City are incredibly rich, so, we are being told, are Manchester United. Being incredibly well run is something different entirely.