Ten years ago, when Sir Alex Ferguson spent more than £10m on Championship winger Wilfried Zaha to take him from Crystal Palace to Old Trafford, Manchester United saw it as a statement of intent.
Many of the top teams in the Premier League were interested in signing Zaha, including Arsene Wenger. Still, Ferguson outscored them by a hefty sum, showing his confidence that the player could become a major talent.
And with a history of developing wingers, including the likes of Nani, Ryan Giggs, Andrei Kanchelskis, David Beckham and of course Cristiano Ronaldo, there was a clear expectation that this would be business as usual, even with Ferguson retiring and David Moyes he prepared to take the helm.
Zaha was the latest gift for the new manager, along with a carefully explored and developed deal for Barcelona’s Thiago Alcantara to act as a playmaker in midfield to accompany him, according to ESPN reports.
But of course, when Moyes came in, everything changed.
Firstly, Moyes vetoed Thiago’s deal, stating that he did not know enough about the player’s credentials. He then also completely restructured United’s backroom, removing the likes of Mike Phelan and Eric Steele from their roles, and due to the changes, Rene Meulensteen decided to leave a few weeks later.
Moyes later said in an interview with beIN Sports in 2019: “He had offered Rene the job and in the end, he decided not to stay. In hindsight, if he had known Rene wasn’t going to stay, it would have been better to keep Miguel?
“Those are decisions, but that’s what happens in football management. You make your decisions and you go with them. You see very often managers when they move clubs and they take all their staff with them, so you don’t It would be unusual for me to do that.”
But without that senior coaching staff, Zaha’s ceiling immediately collapsed and soon the next big star at Old Trafford was on loan at Cardiff City after Moyes deemed her not good enough. Of course, we all know how the Scottish manager’s brief tenure ended in the first season.
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And by the end of the 2014/15 season, he had returned to Palace, first on loan and then followed by a £3.42m permanent transfer – a promise broken. Zaha has had a decent career, but now that she’s 30, she’s a massive case of what-if instead of fulfilling potential.
And this is a problem United are currently facing under Ralf Rangnick. The German wants to add at least one midfielder in the January window, with RB Leipzig’s Amadou Haidara and Marseille’s Boubacar Kamara linked.
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But it is not yet clear who will be United’s next permanent manager, so it is risky to sign a player who may not fit the next manager’s vision.
United have the added benefit this time around, as Rangnick has a two-year consultant role at the end of his contract, where he will work alongside United’s existing structure to set up and guide the club’s project.
But football is a fast-paced, volatile business, so unless the perfect target emerges, perhaps United should think twice about signing with the future in mind this January.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.