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Being one of the biggest clubs in the world naturally goes hand in hand with being one of the richest, and Manchester United have never been afraid to hide their status as either.
Despite a decline in recent years, Manchester United consistently remain amongst the top spenders in world football albeit often not spending as smartly a club the size of United should.
The club have developed a bad habit of spending big on top players but not allocating enough capital towards creating an environment for their stars to thrive. Of course the players themselves have to hold some blame for this, but it is hard to blame them all too much. With that said, UtdDistrict go through the five most expensive signings United have ever made and rate their United careers from 1 (abysmal) to 10 (club legend).
Signed for at the time a British transfer record fee of £67.5 million, Angel Di Maria joined Manchester United off the back of being Man of the Match in the UEFA Champions League final and being part of an Argentina squad that reached the World Cup final. A world-class superstar, United fans were excited and felt that they had the club’s next great figurehead there. Di Maria got off to an incredible start in Red, scoring three and assisting four in his first six matches (including THAT outrageous chip against Leicester City).
The problem was that Di Maria was never initially too keen on joining United, and his family struggled to settle into life in Manchester. A traumatic robbery at the family’s home in January only made this worse.
After his shining start, the Argentine winger fizzled out, never truly clicking with manager Louis Van Gaal. He went on to contribute three goals and ten assists in just 20 starts, which are more than respectable numbers. One of those assists was an assist for Juan Mata’s famed bicycle kick at ‘Juanfield’.
Angel would go on to depart for PSG that summer for £44 million, a loss that hurt for United but it was a necessary one, with the player far too unhappy at the club to remain. I give him a 3.5/10 as he did show moments of his undeniable world-class quality, but just never truly clicked here and probably kickstarted United’s recent era of buying stars and not accommodating them. One of the great regrets for players that didn’t work out.
Jadon Sancho, signed for £72 million last summer, has only been here one year so it doesn’t seem truly fair to give him a rating here to be honest.
He had a poor start in red, taking a few months to really break into the team and struggling to impress when he did. A lot of this was down to a mis-profiling of the player by coaches, although at times it did feel like Sancho could show far more than he was.
From around December time, he began to show far more of his quality though and in the second half of the season was a standout player for United.
For now, Sancho gets a 5/10 as it is a neutral rating. You do not pay such a fee for a 21 year old to judge him after a year, the winger has more than enough time and I have a lot of faith he will come good for United, particularly with Erik Ten Hag taking over.
When Lukaku signed for United for £75 million in the summer of 2017, it was a big signing. Zlatan Ibrahimović’s ACL injury a few months prior, coupled with his age, meant that a striker was a need for the club and United bought one of the best in the league.
The Belgian got off to a flying start for the club with 11 goals and an assist in his first 10 competitive matches for the club, including a goal against Real Madrid in the 2-1 UEFA Super Cup loss and a brace against West Ham on his debut as United rampaged their way to a 4-0 victory.
Lukaku’s early form was a large factor behind United being dubbed ‘4-0 FC’ at the start of the 2017/18 season. However, he tailed off and from the 30th September to the end of 2017 he would contribute just four goals and three assists in 20 games, going as long as seven without a goal at one point. Not good enough for a £75 million striker.
Lukaku’s form picked up after the turn of the year and remained relatively solid until the end of the season, ending with 27 goals and seven assists in 49 appearances. Whilst a strong record, his patch of bad form and less than impressive record against bigger sides left some doubts.
Lukaku shone at the 2018 World Cup for his country, with many having great hope for his second season in Manchester as a result. However, he had put on muscle to acclimatise to playing a different role for Belgium and was unable to lose this muscle for United. Whilst it was later discovered that he had an issue with his digestive system, at the time many felt Lukaku could be putting in far more effort.
His changed shape clearly had an impact on his club form, with the Belgian forward often looking somewhat sluggish. He was far less prolific in the 2018/19 season than previous too, as well as less available with injury and fitness issues.
Lukaku made 44 appearances, only five less than the previous season but far more from the bench than in 2017/18. In these 44 appearances he scored just 15 goals and laid on three assists, a major drop off from the previous season with his big game performances worsening.
Credit where it is due though, Lukaku’s two goals and effort in the second leg comeback win over Paris Saint Germain were admirable despite Marcus Rashford’s penalty taking the plaudits. That summer he departed, despite the efforts of Ole Gunnar Solskjær to keep him.
Lukaku was unhappy with having been played out on the right often under the Norwegian, despite it actually being a role that suited him quite well. Shortly before departing, he would leak club fitness data to try and prove a point about his speed - which had been criticised by many, however this left the club unhappy, and he would be sold to Inter Milan for £74 million.
I give Lukaku a 5.5 out of 10, as he was genuinely quite a good player for a fair amount of his United career, and being utilised as a target man striker by José Mourinho didn’t suit him well. However, he consistently failed to show up when it mattered the most and this was part of the reason why he left the club trophyless. Not good enough for a £75 million striker to justify a 6, yet not bad enough to justify a 5.
Despite Maguire’s extremely polarising nature, both in his performances and in public opinion of him, he ironically falls bang in the middle here. Maguire was signed for £80 million - a world record fee for a defender - in the summer of 2019. This was a heavily criticised move at the time with many feeling Maguire was not worth the money, and sadly this has gone against him from the very start with people stubbornly making their minds up on him and refusing to budge due to his fee.
Maguire had an inconsistent first season for the club, he won Man of the Match on his debut and had some truly excellent performances, but also had a number of very shaky moments. In January 2020, following Ashley Young’s departure, he was made club captain in a move which turned his critics even further against him, with many feeling he was undeserving of it. Before the lockdown, He had been putting together a solid run of performances, but came back from it in poor form, making multiple errors.
Over the summer Maguire got in trouble after an altercation with some men and then the police officers in Greece, and this clearly had a great mental effect on him. Maguire came back for 2020/21 looking a shell of himself, and his first few months were error-ridden.
Maguire did, however, bounce back, putting together the best run of form of his career in the second half of the season and a lot of the time looking like one of the best centre backs in the league. When he got injured towards the end of the season, United looked a significantly weaker team both defensively and in their ability to play out from the back, with Maguire being absolutely crucial to the side’s build-up. Many fans still believe that had Maguire been fit, United would have beaten Villareal in the Europa League final that season.
He returned to action in England’s third and final group game of EURO 2020, instantly transforming an England side that had failed to impress. The defender was arguably England’s best player at the competition as they reached the final, with Maguire scoring an extremely impressive penalty in the shootout loss to Italy.
Many were now convinced that Maguire was a world-class centre back. However, he came back to United with poor form, with some suspecting burnout from having played the vast majority of minutes for club and country for a few years.
His 2021/22 season only seemed to get worse as time went on, with hate for the player reaching an all-time high as he was booed for both club and country, the latter being particularly unwarranted given his excellent record for the national team and Gareth Southgate, along with many of his teammates, have called this out.
Many have called for a change of captaincy at Manchester United, with even some of the players reportedly questioning Maguire’s suitability for the role.
It often feels as though Maguire is surrounded by extremes, with some going to one extreme to defend him and some going to the other to criticise him. The reality is that the answer lies somewhere in the middle, which influences my decision to give Harry a 5 out of 10.
I feel as though he can genuinely be a very good centre back and has shown this many times, but is plagued by inconsistencies. United’s defensive system has always been poor whilst Maguire has been here too, under Erik Ten Hag next season he has a final chance to prove himself. If he does so, he could completely turn around the current trajectory of his United career, but if not then United may have to face reality and cut their losses. Regardless of what happens, next year is huge for the club captain.
Last, yet anything but least, Paul Pogba. The club’s record signing at £89 million - at the time a world record transfer fee - who is now departing once again on a free.
Pogba feels like the biggest example of all the issues touched upon throughout this piece. Pogba is a genuine superstar, a truly world class footballer admired all throughout the sport for his ability that few others in his position can match. When he was actually used in the correct position for United, he shone. But for the majority of his career at United, Pogba hasn’t been used correctly.
The Frenchman has mostly been used in a double pivot for the club, where whilst he is good his quality is nowhere near maximised and his weaknesses are amplified. Pogba is not a midfielder who you want receiving the ball from the centre backs in the first phase in possession and being forced to constantly track runners out of it, he's a player who’s damage is best done higher up the pitch and is at his most effective defensively when facing the play.
Rarely has his role consisted of this though, with Pogba being forced to do a lot of the things he is not so adept at due to United’s inconsistent tactical frame working and neglect of the defensive midfield position.
Whilst Pogba himself should most certainly have shown a lot more effort at times, and not fed into the uncertainty surrounding his future with continuous comments from his agent and family, it feels as though he has often been very unfairly scapegoated.
The midfielder played a key part in the two trophies he won in his first season as United, being Player of the Tournament in the 2016/17 Europa League and scoring the opening goal in the final.
He showed his quality more often than not for the club, with them almost always looking like a much weaker side without him than with him, yet similarly to Maguire, the 29-year-old has been blamed and abused by fans and media in England, and a lot of the time it was uncalled for.
Criticism of the player is more than fair but often times it gets taken too far, with a massive deal being made out of things as meaningless as expressive haircuts and dancing celebrations (yes, you read that right). Those who work with him have consistently held Pogba in the highest regard, with him being one of the most highly-respected players at the club both by his teammates and coaches.
He was viewed as a key leader and character in the dressing room by everyone. Whatever you think of Pogba, he has been treated horrendously in England and even opened up to facing depression at points ,which is an important step for football with a name as big as Pogba speaking up about it, hopefully inciting not only more footballers but more people in general to speak up about struggling with mental health issues as it is hidden far too often.
Towards the end of his time at the club, Pogba's relationship with fans seemed to break down completely with the French midfielder cupping his ears to fans booing and launching expletives at him after a home game against Norwich, despite a solid performance as a lone defensive midfielder.
I give Pogba a 6 out of 10, given the expectations around the transfer and how it has ended it is hard to go much higher. However, he has certainly been one of if not our best player across these six years at the club, winning thee trophies, and hopefully a signing this big not working out will finally be a wake up call to the club to do better to accommodate their top talent, because we had here one of our most talented players ever in his position and failed to capitalise.