As the cliche goes, what a difference a year makes. 12 months ago David Moyes’ tenure at Manchester United was in its infancy and while the host of names linked with a move to Old Trafford had started to sound a little odd, not even the most pessimistic of us could have foreseen the shambles that unfolded between July and September, let alone the farce that followed until April.
Or, perhaps, some could and indeed had predicted the ordeal the club would face last season, which would explain the sense of excitement that has surrounded United since Louis Van Gaal was appointed as United manager just before the World Cup kicked off in Brazil.
The Dutchman might still not have set foot at Old Trafford but his influence looks to have already rubbed on to United, with Robin Van Persie looking revitalised in an Holland shirt, while Ed Woodward looks to have shed the pantomime villain’s costume he so proudly donned last season to act like a competent chief executive.
He might remain a largely unpopular figure among the fans, but Woodward’s strategy this summer has paid its dividends so far, with United moving quickly to seal the signings of Ander Herrera and Luke Shaw rather than dither over transfers like they did last year.
Great signings though Herrera and Shaw might be – particularly considering their young age both could establish themselves as crucial figures at United for years to come – if United are to banish last season’s demons they’ll need more players to come through the arrival gate this summer.
Mats Hummels and Arturo Vidal have both been repeatedly linked with a move to United this summer and while they’d both represent fantastic signings, it’s the latter who would restore United as a force to be reckoned with, after a season during which the club’s reputation took many a battering, off the pitch as much as on it.
Courtesy of Sir Alex Ferguson’s unparalleled ability to squeeze every drop of talent out of a good but not great squad, United coasted in relative quiet waters for even after key members of the Double-winning team of 2007-08 left without being appropriately replaced.
Robin Van Persie proved that there were, and indeed are, various reasons worth paying over £20m for a player but, unfortunately, United, for wanting or for needing, simply refused to flex their muscles in the transfer window.
There might not have been any reasons to fork out £17m on Ashley Young and the combined £42m spent on Phil Jones, Chris Smalling and Wilfried Zaha look an increasingly misguided investment, but the value in the transfer market has always been there, even though United refused to acknowledge it.
Nobody wants to see United emulating the likes of Chelsea, PSG, Monaco and Manchester City and splashing money around for the sake of it – which was largely what motivated Moyes to spend £37m for Juan Mata, a wonderful player but one whose best qualities would have never emerged under the former United manager – but, after last season’s debacle, United need to get off their moral perch and into the market, which leads us back to Vidal.
The Chilean is one of the best midfielders in the world, he’s a proven winner having lifted three Serie A titles in as many seasons at Juventus and, at just 27 years of age, is approaching his peak. While United’s midfielders seem to consider scoring and tackling as viral diseases, Vidal is proficient at both, having scored 31 goals in all competitions for Juventus in the last two seasons while his performances for Chile at the World Cup showed he’s not intimidated by the physical aspects of the game.
While Vidal’s impact on the pitch would be immense, the implications off it would be just as important. The Chilean’s a player United have monitored for over six months and one who’s always looked unlikely given Juventus have dominated Serie A over the last couple of seasons and will be able to offer Vidal Champions League football next season.
The expectation and buzz generated by Van Persie’s signing proved to be the tonic United needed to rebound from the disheartening end to the 2011-12 season and after their worst ever Premier League has left them out of Europe for the first time in two decades, Vidal’s arrival would only enhance the feel-good factor generated by the arrival of Van Gaal, Shaw and Herrera.
United have rarely signed world class players in the past, preferring instead to focus on developing potentials, but one feels they have to break the bank this summer. It would be a statement of intent, from Woodward, from Van Gaal and from the club itself.