Last summer’s transfer window was deemed a failure for United, a missed opportunity to build on the promising signs of the previous year – and then they went and improved anyway in the 2020/21 season.
While talk of progress without trophies is a bugbear for many United fans, there can be no denying that the team has been getting incrementally better, finishing one place higher in the Premier League and finally reaching the final of a major competition under Ole Gunnar Solskjaer.
Now the club are making the moves to go one step further in 2021/22, signing Sancho from Borussia Dortmund for £72.9 million, closing in on a deal for Real Madrid centre-back Raphael Varane, and contemplating a move for Eduardo Camavinga or Declan Rice to beef up their midfield.
Missing out on Sancho last year was construed as a blunder, and it certainly looked like a big one.
Dortmund’s deadline to get a deal done passed, but United figured they were bluffing, and waited for the German club’s stance on the £108m fee to weaken. It never did and the club ultimately looked foolish.
On deadline day they settled for their Plan B, free agent Edinson Cavani. A free transfer for a 33-year-old striker was a damp squib compared to what could have happened in the 2020 summer window, and it felt like the same kind of figure-it-out-as-we-go-along transfer strategy that has frustrated supporters for so long.
As we know now, things panned out pretty well for everyone involved. United didn’t get their man, but they didn’t exactly lose much either.
Solskjaer’s men were hardly lacking in attack, as they scored around 1.9 goals per game in the Premier League, even though Anthony Martial and Mason Greenwood were off the boil for large stretches of the season.
The Cavani deal turned out to be one of the club’s most popular free signings in years, with fans loving the long-haired sharpshooter and practically begging him to sign an extension.
Sancho, meanwhile, continued to develop while playing at a very high level and, importantly, develop a taste for success by playing a key role in Dortmund’s German Cup success.
And United have now managed to seal the deal while trimming the fee down by a cool £35.1m – and early enough in the window that he can be properly integrated into the squad in pre-season. And for other deals to be done.
The 21-year-old would doubtlessly have improved the attack last year, but the marginal difference is negligible considering the cost involved.
Greenwood managed nine goal involvements (7G, 2A) in the league from the right flank, while Sancho registered 19 (8G, 11A) in the Bundesliga. If, for argument’s sake, we treat those numbers as like-for-like, are the ten extra goal involvements you’re adding on worth the extra £35.1m?
Probably not, though for some this kind of talk is sacrilege; football is about constructing a team to win after all, not to save a few quid down the line.
But this is the reality of how the sport is run at the highest level, and that extra pocket change could easily fund a transfer in a key area for United this summer – and lead to future success.