According to reports in Italy, Manchester United have agreed a £12.7 million fee for Torino right back Matteo Darmian, in what would quite possibly be the club’s finest piece of business in the five transfer windows since Sir Alex Ferguson retired.
A look at who the [6.8] Premier League title hopefuls have signed in that period reveals that this isn’t as bold a claim as it may initially appear.
They were slow off the mark in 2013/14, with the only first-team signings being Marouane Fellaini (September) and Juan Mata (January) for a combined £64.3 million. Both finally began playing to their full potential in 2015, but even if this standard is maintained, they will be living up to their valuations rather than outperforming them.
Summer 2014 seemed to be part-vanity exercise (‘we still attract glamour names without Ferguson or Champions League football’) and part-restoration bid as executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward sought to swat the suspicion that he was too ponderous and cautious in his dealings a year earlier.
Ander Herrera, Luke Shaw, Marcos Rojo, Angel Di Maria, Daley Blind and Radamel Falcao all arrived for hefty sums and, though Herrera was fairly impressive, Blind showed promise in patches and Di Maria will surely recover form, none of them have truly justified their price tag, at least not yet.
The main issue though isn’t that the players haven’t delivered, it is that there wasn’t a clear strategy behind the purchases or obvious roles for the newcomers, either in the quiet first campaign or the more chaotic “be seen to do something” second.
This is where they are improving. January addition Victor Valdes was a free agent to act as a quality deputy to David de Gea and maybe emerge as number one if he exits. Memphis Depay is viewed as the guy to make Louis van Gaal’s favoured 4-3-3 formation viable after a season of tactical upheaval.
However, Darmian is the best post-Ferguson example to date of Man United entering the transfer market with a distinct plan, strengthening at right back where van Gaal doesn’t rate Rafael da Silva and Antonio Valencia probably isn’t a feasible long-term first choice.
The Italy international is costing an almost identical figure to what Liverpool have paid for Nathaniel Clyne – who is 16 months his junior – yet he has spent longer in the top flight, attended and played every minute for his country at a World Cup and has participated in continental club competitions.
The Serie A star possesses the versatility that van Gaal appreciates too, having featured at wing back, centre back and left back as well as at right back, and as he is a youthful 25 and an Azzurri regular, they should be able to make most of their money back even if the move doesn’t work out.