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How Manchester United have rebooted their transfer strategy


As they fine-tuned their recruitment reboot, Manchester United staff agreed the perfect age to sign a player is 23. It just so happens long-term targets James Maddison and Ben Chilwell turn 23 this season.

High-level sources at United concede recruitment has been ‘the biggest problem’ at the club in the wake of Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement in 2013. “If you don’t get the recruitment right you’re f****d,” a source said.

United are so self-critical in their analysis they view their rating in the transfer market to be ‘under 5/10’. The intention is to rise to 7/10, whereby seven out of 10 players are a success.

Head of corporate development Matt Judge is tasked with sounding out agents and gauging whether players want to join United before negotiating deals. Executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward is no longer involved in recruitment other than signing off transfers.

Those involved with the recruitment process are adamant United’s ability to target players has improved, encouraged by the respectable starts by summer additions Daniel James, Aaron Wan-Bissaka and Harry Maguire. United maintain the difficulty is in executing the deals.

 

“You get screwed in the market,” a United insider said, referring to the premium they are often levied with. “We don’t have a magic wand like 10 years ago.” United’s preference was to sign six players in the summer.

United have invested in a bespoke database that has been enhanced since the Ferguson era to allow external data to flow into it. Numerous resources are dedicated to it and more scouting reports are required. United now have around 60 scouts.

United to reduce a long list down to around 15 players that is passed onto the data team and video analysts, led by technical chief scout Mick Court. That is trimmed again and passed on to head of global scouting Marcel Bout and the senior scouts, who meet with manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and assistant Mike Phelan every four weeks.

 

United have quickly discovered Solskjaer will only settle for second-best options in a worst-case scenario. When United whittled their shortlist of right-backs down to three, Solskjaer discounted the third-choice and United managed to line up a deal for the fall-back option before they bought Wan-Bissaka for £45million rising to £50m from Crystal Palace.

Although United concede the squad is ‘thin’ in midfield and attack, come January they are adamant they will have their targets lined up for the summer. The aim is to recruit between three and five players and United will not hesitate to spend in the winter window if a preferred target is attainable, but describe that mid-season market as ‘fool’s gold’.

 

United are still on the lookout for a director of football but are conscious they would be ‘annihilated’ if installed amid the current climate, conscious supporters would view them as the saviour. Three figures from the football department currently report to Woodward.

Club sources admit the structure David Moyes inherited was unsuitable in that most of the staff were in thrall to Ferguson and ‘followed him like the Pied Piper’.

United belatedly realised they could not survive on Ferguson’s ‘phenomenal network’ and close confidants, such as his brother Martin, and Moyes vented his fury at dormant scouts during a meeting midway through his 10-month tenure.

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Judge (far right) negotiates deals

When the Spanish scout was singled out by Moyes, he voiced his appreciation for Saul Niguez, so United first-team coach Phil Neville flew to Spain to watch a 19-year-old Niguez during his season on loan at Rayo Vallecano.

Errors continued on Louis van Gaal’s watch as he was allowed to sign 13 players across three windows that club scouts at the time felt were not United players. Daley Blind and Morgan Schneiderlin were viewed as ‘un-United players’ and it is a source of regret among the United hierarchy Van Gaal was backed over the club scouts.

United were so burnt by Van Gaal’s poor hit-rate they took the decision not to back the manager in the future if the recruitment department advised them against signing his suggestions. United vetoed Jose Mourinho‘s targets last summer to sound the death knell for his reign.



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