When Manchester United take to the field against Tottenham Hotspur in just under 3 weeks time, they will be counting the cost of a squad turnover of around fifty players at a cost of almost £300m. That’s a figure that is almost certain to change between now and the time the Reds kick off the 2015/16 Premier League season.
A look at Manchester United’s team-sheet that took to the field to defeat Aston Villa to win the club’s twentieth title – De Gea, Rafael, Evra, Jones, Evans, Valencia, Carrick, Giggs, Kagawa, Rooney, Van Persie and substitutes Lindegaard, Ferdinand, Buttner, Nani, Cleverley, Hernandez, Welbeck – shows that a staggering ten from that eighteen have already left Old Trafford, with the futures of De Gea, Rafael, Evans and Hernandez also in doubt.
You can add a few names to those. Players who have made contributions or had Old Trafford spells enough to be established as notable are Paul Scholes, Nemanja Vidic, Anderson, Federico Macheda, Darren Fletcher, Fabio and Wilfred Zaha. Add to those names that still may be familiar – Bebe, Michael Keane, Tom Lawrence, Tom Thorpe and Ben Amos.
That is 22 players from the first team squad, a couple of habitual reserves in Freddie Veseli and Marnick Vermijl and a handful of Youth Cup winners like Gyliano Van Velzen, Scott Wootton and Michele Fornasier – take into account the likely departures and you have a list of at least thirty players who barely brought in £50m between them.
Yet in Ferdinand (455), Vidic (300), Evra (379), and Giggs (963) alone, over 2000 top flight games of experience was lost in one fell swoop in the summer of 2014. When you hear talk of value extending beyond a transfer fee (comments made in the signing of Bastian Schweinsteiger) this is what is meant.
The team that lines up tonight against San Jose is: Johnstone, Darmian, Jones, Blind, Shaw, Mata, Carrick, Schneiderlin, Young, Memphis, Rooney. Five of those players are survivors from the Ferguson era but a likely, ‘strongest’ line up for the first day of the season could easily read (with the existing players) –
Valdes; Darmian, Smalling, Rojo, Shaw; Schweinsteiger, Schneiderlin, Herrera; Di Maria, Rooney, Memphis.
Just two of those would be survivors from Ferguson’s reign and, if we are to assume that De Gea would have departed, one could say that Sergio Ramos would conceivably have joined, meaning Chris Smalling would be out. That would leave Wayne Rooney as the sole survivor.
To give this some perspective, this was the Manchester City line up in their 3-1 home defeat to Chelsea after their takeover which saw the purchase of Robinho. Hart, Zabaleta, Richards, Dunne, Ball, Wright-Phillips, Hamann, Kompany, Ireland, Robinho, Jo. They have had a similarly expansive turnaround and still would likely field Hart, Zabaleta and Kompany in their strongest line up. But the City team that started the 2010/11 season (a similar two year period) still had Micah Richards and Shaun Wright-Phillips in it too, with Jo on the bench.
No top level team in the modern era has undergone such a transition but, as we’ve seen elsewhere, a financial injection does not necessary translate into instant success.
Is it reasonable to expect United to challenge for the title this season?
Is Louis van Gaal’s position untenable if they don’t?
These questions cannot be answered but then, the facts and figures reveal an extraordinary two year spell, the likes of which has never been seen before in British football.