Manchester United a harder sell while not at top table
Without Champions League, David Moyes’s recruitment of elite players may prove difficult
Manchester United is expected to be given £150 million to recruit players this summer. Photograph: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
To tempt an elite player into joining next season’s rebuilding at Manchester United, the prospect of the Europa League (or no European football at all) is not the greatest card David Moyes could hold.
“We’re looking to spend the right money on players who are available and it’s not anything to do with the Champions League, ” he said after United’s quarter-final defeat to Bayern Munich. “Any players we’ve quietly discussed it with are more than happy to join Manchester United. They know it’s not a long-term thing. My focus is on getting a side together to get back in the Champions League.”
Moyes could hardly have said anything else. Part of his remit is putting on a brave face as he starts the greatest overhaul of a United squad since Alex Ferguson broke up the drinking culture at the club in the 1980s.
Moyes must replace Nemanja Vidic, who will leave in the close season, plus Rio Ferdinand (probably) and Patrice Evra – a big void to fill. He has also to add at least one European-class, game-shaping midfielder. Bayern’s Toni Kroos would be a good start but how to prise him from the runaway Bundesliga title-winners and a club that could become the first to retain the European Cup during the Champions League era?
It would be a huge challenge for a man of Ferguson’s experience. For Moyes, still a novice United manager, and the executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward, still a novice transfer-market operator, the task appears Sisyphean.
Any stellar footballer would need to be convinced that Moyes is the man to lead United back into another gilded age of Premier League and Champions League domination. At the moment, the club executive remains unyielding in its belief. As the summer draws nearer Moyes will be trusted with the best part of £150m.
Barring a near-miracle, the earliest United will next take part in the Champions League is the 2015/’16 campaign. Putting aside how a season can feel an age to a footballer whose sense of self is bolstered by performing against top continental sides, will Moyes really be able to attract what is needed?
Moyes and Woodward have seen this coming from virtually the moment the 50-year-old took over from Ferguson. The manager’s use of “hope” rather than “will” when talking of United’s prospects has been a public hint of the prevailing view inside the club that the squad are not up to it. In part, this is what has bought Moyes time but after last summer’s farrago in the transfer market he and Woodward have had a full season to ensure those mistakes are rectified.
To do so, Moyes and Woodward are trying to adopt the European model of closing deals six months in advance. This is to avoid engaging in another summer of horse-trading like that which embarrassed the club last year when Cesc Fabregas, Leighton Baines, Fabio Coentrao and Ander Herrera all failed to join.
The word is that one or two deals are well on the way to completion. So for proof of the strategy’s success expect new faces to be smiling for the cameras sooner rather than later.
The big conundrum is what happens to the hope of regaining Champions League status at the first attempt if the new players are not of the requisite quality. How will this affect the balance of power in English football? And how will this impact on the future of Moyes himself?