Manchester United and overpaying has become a running meme in the transfer market ever since Ed Woodward became the chief decision-maker at the club. Since Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement, the club has been laughably bad at selling players, and equally as bad at buying them at a sensible price. There have been a couple of bargains here and there, but largely, Man United’s transfer history can be used as an example of what not to do for clubs.
Woodward is gone, but the first window under John Murtough and Richard Arnold didn’t inspire confidence that things will be any different.
As the club again gets dragged into a similar situation with Mason Mount, here are five times Manchester United got rinsed in the transfer market, meaning, they overpaid for a player relative to the quality, and conditions at the time.
NOTE: Players who were bought for huge amounts but the net outlay on them was salvaged by selling them on less of a financial hit are not included. Example – Romelu Lukaku bought for £75 million and sold for £73 million.
Marouane Fellaini (£27.5 million)
Warning signs were there from the beginning. David Moyes’ first window as manager was an unmitigated disaster. Ed Woodward was learning on the job, Moyes had just been told to take up world football’s heaviest crown from Sir Alex Ferguson, and the squad was in need of refreshments.
Understandably, Moyes went for the tried and tested, signing Fellaini from Everton. However, the way this deal was done was a failure, to put it politely.
The Belgian had a £23.5 million release clause in his contract till 31st July 2013. Man United were aware of it but were busy chasing other targets aimlessly.
Ultimately, they failed to land any, and in embarrassing fashion, had to negotiate with Everton after the expiration of the release clause, signing Fellaini for four million more.
He was shipped out for just £6.5 million after four years of a loveless marriage with the club.
Paul Pogba (£89 million)
Paul Pogba was a very good player when he was targeted by Manchester United for a “homecoming” in 2016. He was pegged as a future Ballon d’Or winner, someone who would lead the legacy of the next great football midfield crop.
Six years later, he was leaving Man United on a free transfer (AGAIN), and barely any fan batted an eyelid in worry. Those six years were riddled with false dawns, injuries, controversies, and all-around frustration of talent not realising his potential.
However, this transfer fee is not just bad with the benefit of hindsight. It was bad then, and with hindsight, it has become worse.
Juventus absolutely took Manchester to the cleaners for a player they felt pressured to sign due to Mourinho’s wishes and being seen as a laughing stock after years of failure.
The desperation ultimately ended up making Pogba the world’s costliest player at the time. Was Pogba a good player, with the potential to even be elite? Absolutely.
Was he worth the highest transfer fee ever paid in football up to that point? Absolutely not.
Fred (£47 million)
Yet another example of Man United signing a player without knowing what to do with them/how to use them. Fred was a highly-rated prospect at Shakhtar at the time, even catching the eye of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City. However, when he came to Manchester United, he was coming to a club on the brink of exploding under Jose Mourinho.
He became the symbol of friction between the manager and the board, rarely getting a look in as Mourinho made clear that he was not ready to be a regular first-teamer.
Nearly £50 million was spent on a player who the manager didn’t fancy.
Ultimately, Fred has been a serviceable backup for United but never really became an elite player. “Serviceable backup” should not be a word used for a £50 million player. Now, he looks to be on his way out of the club, and with just a year remaining on his contract, it will be another financial hit taken by United to offload an unneeded asset.
Harry Maguire (£80 million)
This deal raised eyebrows when it was completed, and now it looks like daylight robbery by Leicester City.
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer wanted a leader for his team in his first window as permanent manager. Again, United went in all guns blazing for one player, not having any plan B, and lacking the negotiating nous as a result.
Leicester extracted a world-record fee for Maguire, all paid upfront, a feat practically unheard of in the world of transfers, as instalments are the norm.
A good but limited player, Maguire was handed the pressure of captaincy just six months after arriving.
Ultimately, his limitations were exposed in a more expansive United side. He got stuck in a vicious cycle of low morale->bad performances->targeted for those performances->low morale, and so on.
The club is now looking for suitors to offload his £200k/week contract and are sure to take a massive loss on his sale.
Antony (£81 million)
It is far too early to make judgement on Antony’s qualities as a player. In fact, the first season was promising for the youngster who made the big jump from Eredevisie. However, his signing, and the way it was handled, absolutely deserves to be slated.
John Murtough’s first transfer window as Director of Football was on its way to becoming a disaster until a 0-4 loss to Brentford woke the board up.
Off they went splashing the cash from a desperate position, near the end of the window, paying what they were quoted without a second thought.
Antony was thought to be available for close to £60 million had United been proactive and pursued him at the start of the window. However, their propensity to work on just one deal at a time led them nowhere as Frenkie de Jong left them hanging.
Ultimately, Antony, who had one breakout season at Ajax, was bought for near United record amount while a 30-year-old Casemiro arrived for £60 million.
Fellaini deja vu was back. One should only hope that his career at the club doesn’t trend the way of the Belgian.