Manchester United’s Ed Woodward needs to focus on fundamentals rather than fan-pleasers 2

Manchester United have work to do in the transfer-market, that much was obvious even before they lost to Swansea on Saturday.  There is a difference, however, in addressing a team’s immediate flaws and garnishing it with unnecessary flourishes, and United would do well to stay on the right side of that line.

Ed Woodward has very quickly become a much-maligned figure at Old Trafford, and his transfer-record over the past twelve months has created a perception of him which he now has to battle.  Marouane Fellaini’s transfer was poorly negotiated, Juan Mata and Luke Shaw were probably overpaid for, and the signing of Ander Herrera has corrected just one of the side’s myriad midfield issues.  He’s created a reputation for himself as a blunderer and a blusterer, and that must be something he is desperately eager to correct - the recent revelations, from ESPN’s Miguel Delaney, that Thomas Vermaelen’s transfer to United stalled on account of his dithering will have only intensified that desire.

Woodward has to find a balance here, though, between rehabilitating his reputation and doing what is actually right for the club in the long-term.  He’s working against some rather poorly thought-out remarks he made to MUTV in July and to justify his ‘watch this space’ bravado the temptation must be for him to conclude as big a deal as he possibly can before the end of August just for the sake of its PR value.  If anybody needed a big, self-congratulatory press-conference with a big-name player, then it’s Ed Woodward - but that’s an urge he needs to resist for the time-being.

That’s why the rumours about Angel Di Maria are a concern.

All the transfer-rumours that currently exist about Manchester United can be split neatly into two categories: players they need, and players their fans would want.  There is some crossover and someone like Arturo Vidal clearly straddles both categories, but for every Mats Hummels there seems to be an Edinson Cavani.

Big club-spending is hardly new and every Summer brings substantial reinvestment at Stamford Bridge, The Etihad and Old Trafford.  It is rare, however, for a club of United’s size to find themselves with so much to do in such a short space of time.  Ed Woodward isn’t so much in position to embellish upon what he already has, as he is at the start of a wholesale reconstruction.  When was the last time, for example, a top-tier English team had to build an entirely new defence within eight weeks?  It’s very rare.

Team-building usually works in phases, and around the same principles as any other construction project.  The foundations come first, then the super structure, and finally the fittings and general aesthetics.  Within the realms of that analogy, Manchester United are busy painting the outside of their house with a lovely shade of ‘Di Maria’ before the plumbing has gone in.

Marcos Rojo will, by all accounts, soon be completing his move from Sporting Lisbon, but there are still more transfers of that nature to be completed before Woodward can turn his hand to attention-grabbing moves for Real Madrid players.  Manchester United are already top-heavy and, if no other offensive players arrived between now and the end of the window that wouldn’t be a problem, so their focus has to be on the two remaining centre-back positions and on right wing-back.  It’s not as exciting and the right players for those roles aren’t going to be the ones whose arrival in England changes the way Woodward is perceived, but they are still absolutely fundamental parts of this process.

Manchester United have a lot to do, but completing their objectives is secondary to doing so in the right order.  Woodward needs to forget about immediately satiating the supporters’ demands for players who look good on billboards and address the more run-of-the-mill flaws in the team - and Angel Di Maria doesn’t fit with that philosophy.

The only thing worse than not spending money is spending it in the wrong way.

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