Since the transfer window was introduced eleven seasons ago in the 2002-03 term, United gaffer, Sir Alex Ferguson has made a number of signings be it huge statements or bargain loans – or the odd flop here and there.
Nearing his phenomenal 27th year in charge of the Red Devils, I take a look at the highs and lows of United’s signings and departures since the birth of the transfer window, which now spans over ten years.
I shall begin in 2002-03 where the transfer window was a brand new concept, gone were the deals in the middle of the season which could prise an in-form player from a lowly club, bringing him into the top table of European or English football in an attempt to prove his worth.
Ferguson had to adjust himself from his opening 15 years in charge of the club – he had to become tactical. A strong suit whilst on the field and on the negotiating table perhaps when there was more time.
However, the window allowed no errors for Ferguson and the summer of 2002 he wasn’t as clinical as he threw all of his money at a talented and a rapidly becoming world renowed centre half in Rio Ferdinand, signed for a huge 30 million fee – the biggest for any defender in the world at the time.
Ferdinand proved to be one of Fergie’s highs, providing a much needed backbone which was lacking in the 01-02 season and it brought United’s eighth Premier League title in eleven seasons. Ferdinand would be banned for eight months the following term after failing to attending a drugs test which would damage the side as a whole and puncture their aspirations for the upcoming two seasons both in the league and in Europe.
The following season was a period of activity at Old Trafford as the merry-go-round of transfers continued and threw up all kinds of surprises. A long-standing fan favourite in David Beckham was off to Real Madrid in a shocking 25 million move, his number seven succeeded by Cristiano Ronaldo, a young Portuguese winger who was snapped up when Ronaldinho couldn’t be prised from Barcelona’s expensive hands.
Ronaldo was a young starlet but after a couple of years of bedding into the Old Trafford fold, he hit his form and became one of the all-time greats at United and in his seven years at the club people watched in awe at the young kid’s talent.
Sales were a figure of both highs and lows for Ferguson as he finally flogged the overpriced flop of Juan Veron to Chelsea for a snip of his original 29.1 million fee. However, the signings of Eric Djemba-Djemba and World Cup winner Kleberson didn’t nothing to combat what was apparently a gaping hole in midfield, despite the presence of Giggs, Keane and Scholes – the trio who won a treble and numerous league titles.
Even more surprises followed the next season with the cult hero in Diego Forlan exchanging Manchester for Villarreal as he was reluctantly sold, but he would go onto achieve goalscoring success in Spain with his next club and Atletico Madrid, something which he didn’t manage at The Theatre of Dreams.
However, the high points were offloading the sometimes embarrassing World Cup winner Fabien Barthez, who was sold onto Marseille before the biggest excitement in English football since two major tournament semi-final penalty shootout defeats to Germany in the nineties – Wayne Rooney, some young 18-year old rascal from Merseyside – was purchased for a whopping 27 million.
Rooney would net a hat-trick on his debut against Fenerbahce in September 2004 and the rest, they say, is history.
A quartet signed in the 2005-06 season, which wouldn’t provide instant success and impact, would develop greatly at United and within a couple of years after the likes of Edwin Van Der Sar, Park Ji-Sung, Patrice Evra and Nemanja Vidic were all snapped up and would become etched in United folklore in many title winning and Champions League hunting years, which they all played in three finals in four years.
At the beginning, it wouldn’t be coasting for the double-swoop in January 2006 for Evra and Vidic – who are now United regulars, as they were thrown in at the deep end when they were faced with a Manchester derby away from home. Both looked like expensive flops, when in a certain newspaper they were both given two out of ten for their performance.
In years to come, though, they would provide stability to the United back line.
One of the major low points of Ferguson’s long-standing tenure at Old Trafford was the departure of Roy Keane in November 2005. After criticizing fellow players and the crowd in an interview with MUTV after a 4-1 loss to Middlesbrough where he scolded players such as Kieran Richardson, John O’Shea, Darren Fletcher, Alan Smith and even Rio Ferdinand, he was shown the door.
After a largely obscure activity in the 2006-07 season where Michael Carrick joined with talisman, Ruud van Nistelrooy leaving the club, the next season though, the signings of Anderson, Nani and Owen Hargreaves shook up the dressing room and although Hargreaves’ injury-laden United career saw him released in 2011, Anderson and Nani are currently plying their trade rather successfully at Old Trafford.
A big blow in the early stages of the 2007-08 season was Ole Gunnar Solskjaer retirement announcement prior to the match at home to Sunderland in September 2007 where the Norwegian who had suffered constant injuries late on in his career decided to take up a coaching role at the club, other retirements which left United seemingly irreplaceable were the likes of Gary Neville, Edwin van der Sar and Paul Scholes who had all left recently, ending their careers – bar one miraculous comeback from the latter.
In recent years, the signing of the Da Silva twins – Rafael and Fabio – has gone down a storm whilst Javier Hernandez provided an instant impact at the club, a mere season after Cristiano Ronaldo’s mind-boggling 80 million record transfer to Real Madrid – as he called time on his short but successful career at the club.
Robin van Persie is the latest product in a long line of successful transfers and big statements made by Fergie over the years. However, it has to be said that the perhaps one of the best transfers he has made in his career was coaxing Paul Scholes out of retirement in January and after nine months at the club he has provided the midfield backbone and passing distribution which are the reasons why he is one of the best midfielders Manchester United have ever fielded.