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Each Manchester United Manager’s Best Signing Post-Sir Alex Ferguson

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Each Manchester United Manager’s Best Signing Post-Sir Alex Ferguson
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Henrikj Mkhitaryan all signed for Manchester United in the summer of 2016 (Alamy)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Henrikj Mkhitaryan all signed for Manchester United in the summer of 2016 (Alamy)

There has been horrible inconsistency, signings that made absolutely no sense, backward policy and a general sense that the money has been wasted.

Manchester United have reportedly spent £1.2 billion on transfers since 2013, and have just three trophies and one community shield to show for it. With no league titles and yet to pass the Champions League quarter finals, the club have failed in spectacular fashion to have a net-positive hit rate with transfers.

Despite the generally poor transfer policy, there have been some successes. Here, we rate which player has been the most positive and impactful signing at the club under each permanent manager since Sir Alex retired:

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David Moyes

David Moyes only got 10 months into his six year contract at Manchester United before he was sacked. After being recommended by Sir Alex himself to the club to take over, Moyes failed to live up to the insurmountable expectation laid on him by fans and media alike, as he took a job that was nigh on impossible to fulfill.

During the two transfer windows he had at the throne of Old Trafford, he made two signings - one in each window. The first was his trusted midfielder Marouane Fellaini, who was panic- signed on deadline day in 2013 after what can only be described as an utter failure of a first transfer window for the Scotsman.

In January 2014, the club attempted to make up for the previous window and splashed the cash on Chelsea’s Juan Mata, who at the time was in his mid-20s and had won back to back Player of the Year awards, however was not in Jose Mourinho’s plans.

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Juan Mata in training with Manchester United in 2014 (Alamy)
Juan Mata in training with Manchester United in 2014 (Alamy)

Out of these two players, despite Fellaini’s important goals for the club throughout the years, Mata was the more successful signing.

From scoring a crucial equaliser in the 2016 FA Cup final (funnily enough assisted by Fellaini) that set the club on the path to victory to the famous “Juanfield” goals, Mata offered the club sporadic life in what has felt like dark times.

The sad part about Mata’s time at United is how wasted he was. A man who operates best as a central attacking midfielder, he alongside Ashley Young was often shoved out to the wide right under Louis van Gaal’s 4-2-3-1 system due to a lack of sufficient options in that area.

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Louis van Gaal

Louis van Gaal’s time at Manchester United was one of both boredom and humour. Some of the most iconic moments in the club’s last decade have originated from this era, but far too often his football style was labelled as “boring” - the polar opposite to the style often attributed to the “DNA” of the club.

During his tenure, Van Gaal made 13 signings - some fairly successful, others very much the other end of the scale. The signings of Angel Di Maria and Memphis Depay are often looked back at with a case of what could have been had the players themselves adopted a different attitude, while his three most successful signings at the club have undoubtedly been Luke Shaw, Anthony Martial and Ander Herrera.

Martial’s Manchester United career is one that still baffles fans. A player who scored 17 goals for the club in his debut season as a 19-year-old, he went through phases of being a shadow of his normal self to becoming one of deadliest strikers in the game, then suddenly crumbling back to a shell of what he can be. After an unsuccessful loan spell at Sevilla, it remains to be seen if he still has much of a future under Ten Hag.

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Herrera was a complete fan favourite when he was at the club. Producing one of the single most famous midfield performances against Chelsea back in April 2017 is a performance still talked about to this day, where his goal and assist combined with an incredible man-marking job on the dazzling Eden Hazard.

However, although Herrera has a solid argument for best signing under Van Gaal, that title will go to Luke Shaw - not purely for what he’s done so far, but for what he can do for the club in the future, too.

Louis van Gaal instructs Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera against Yeovil Town (Alamy)
Louis van Gaal instructs Luke Shaw and Ander Herrera against Yeovil Town (Alamy)

Luke Shaw was signed as a talented 19-year-old left back, and had a blinding start to his Manchester United career until one horrible challenge by Hector Moreno against PSV in the 2014 Champions League group stage.

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This set back was the start of a series of recurring injuries, which whole scuppered his game-time as a young adult, and when Jose Mourinho signed for the club in 2016, Shaw became a target for the Portuguese legend, who regularly cited his injury and attitude problems, once famously claiming in one FA Cup tie "He was in front of me and I was making every decision for him. He has to change his football brain."

This all changed when Ole Gunnar Solskjær was appointed as permanent manager. Shaw found a new lease of life under the Norwegian, and had such a stellar season in 20/21 that he became a crucial part of England’s EURO 2020 (held in summer 2021) campaign, and even scored the opening goal in the final.

Luke Shaw is only 26 - there are so many years left in him. Despite being mostly 2nd choice under Ralf Rangnick due to a few minor injuries, there is more than enough evidence on display that Erik ten Hag can get Shaw back to his flying best.

Jose Mourinho

Jose Mourinho has, technically, been United’s most successful manager post-Sir Alex. In his opening season he won both the Europa League and EFL Cup, as well as the Community Shield in his opening game for the club.

His signings while at Old Trafford can often be described as “heavy-weight” - There were a lot of big names. The obvious one that stands out is Paul Pogba; however names such as Romelu Lukaku and Zlatan Ibrahimovic should not be discounted.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Henrikj Mkhitaryan all signed for Manchester United in the summer of 2016 (Alamy)
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Paul Pogba and Henrikj Mkhitaryan all signed for Manchester United in the summer of 2016 (Alamy)

Mourinho also purchased the likes of Fred, Diogo Dalot and Victor Lindelof, who still start for the club today, as well as the recently departed Nemanja Matic.

Purely going off how successful each signing has been for the club, it’s hard to deny Zlatan Ibrahimovic the crown. Despite only being at the club for a season and a half, the legendary Swede has scored the most goals in a single season for the club since the days of Sir Alex (29), and this number could have been even higher had he not suffered a horrific knee injury late on in the campaign.

It was his two goals against Southampton in a 3-2 victory at Wembley that secured the EFL Cup, it was his winning goal that secured victory in the same stadium against Leicester City to win the Community Shield, and it was his general inspiration and presence that helped guide the club to their most successful season in the last 9 years.

He formed a formidable partnership with Pogba, who was able to assist his goals on several separate occasions; but had Ibrahimiovic been more clinical at times, this could have reached into double figures.

There is argument, however, that any of Fred, Lindelof or Dalot could yet eclypse Ibrahimovic’s achievements at the club, depending on their respective successes under Erik ten Hag.

Ole Gunnar Solskjær

After originally coming in as a caretaker manager following the sacking of Jose Mourinho, Solskjær was handed the full-time job after an incredible 3-1 Champions League comeback victory in Paris.

Solskjær, after the squad had been decimated of confidence from the previous manager, got star players such as Paul Pogba and Marcus Rashford once again firing, and although the tenure never produced any silverware, it did produce some fantastic moments and brilliant strings of form from many players.

Solskjær’s transfer policy mostly revolved around buying English, or at least English-speaking, players. This was in an attempt to create a more singular and unified environment within the squad as it encouraged open communication, however by the time his reign ended, there were many reports of cliques forming between those who could and could not speak English.

Despite this emphasis on home-grown talent, the two signings from Solskjær’s time at the club who have seen the most success so far are both Portuguese; Bruno Fernandes and Cristiano Ronaldo.

This is not to discount the work that players such as Edinson Cavani, Raphael Varane, Daniel James and others put in or have so far at the club, however the singular successes of these two players outweighs every other Solskjær with ease.

Bruno Fernandes’ impact when arriving at the club was nothing short of breathtaking. Combining with Anthony Martial and Marcus Rashford in attack like he had known them for years already, Fernandes scored 12 goals and provided 8 assists after signing for a fee of £47 million in the 2020 January window… statistics that most midfielders cannot reach in an entire campaign.

What came next in the 2020/21 season was just as spectacular. Spearheading the Red Devil’s attack, Fernandes scored an incredible 28 goals and registered 17 assists in 58 appearances, including breaking Frank Lampard’s record of most goals scored in a single season by a midfielder.


The 2021/22 campaign was one to forget for Fernandes, who found himself being called out by fans for becoming too erratic and playing “hero-ball” to too much of an extent, and has been cited as a detriment to the side on a number of occasions. However, should he rediscover his form under Erik ten Hag, Fernandes could very easily once again become the formidable juggernaut he was for Solskjær.

Cristiano Ronaldo’s resigning for Manchester United was one of the most incredible few hours on social media that any transfer has ever experienced. On the morning of Friday 27th August 2021, it looked like Ronaldo was headed to Manchester City to lead their line in a bid to once again retain their Premier League champions title.

At 4:50pm that same day, Manchester United announced an agreement between themselves and Juventus for the player. The few hours in between saw admins, writers and editors of news publications worldwide frantically running around to upload and write about the breaking news that seemed to be flying out of everywhere every 30 seconds.

Fast forward to the actual season, and it would be tempting to give Ronaldo the title of best signing under Solskjær for his second debut alone. Scoring twice in a thrilling 4-1 win over Newcastle, Ronaldo hit the ground running.

Ronaldo scored two goals against Newcastle on his second debut for Manchester United
Ronaldo scored two goals against Newcastle on his second debut for Manchester United

All of his first nine goals back in Red were either to put United in the lead or equalise, and he scored in five of United’s six Champions League group games - again, every single one of his goals was either a winner or equaliser.

Ronaldo had a lull during the middle of the season, and talk began that was was finally ‘finished’ - but in true Ronaldo style, he ended the season on 24 goals, collecting a handful of individual awards and finishing in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year ahead of the likes of Son Heung-min and Harry Kane.

And for this reason, with just how stellar he has been back at the club despite the absolute atrocity that was Manchester United’s 2021/22 campaign, Cristiano Ronaldo has been Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s most successful signing.

Much like the argument for Luke Shaw, the potential future that Ronaldo has at the club under Erik ten Hag too is a significant factor as to why he could yet bring more success to the club. Ten Hag will no doubt appreciate having the man with one of the greatest mentalities ever seen in sports history in his dressing room, and as a player who has scored over 800 career goals, there is no doubt that should the Dutchman create the right system, Ronaldo will be feasting in front of goal next season.


Featured Image Credit: Alamy

Topics: Manchester United, Cristiano Ronaldo, Bruno Fernandes, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, Jose Mourinho, Luke Shaw, Paul Pogba, Sir Alex Ferguson, Anthony Martial, Juan Mata, Marouane Fellaini, Angel Di Maria, Ander Herrera, Erik Ten Hag, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Romelu Lukaku, Nemanja Matic, Raphael Varane

Dylan Penketh
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