To be honest, I don’t remember much about Keane’s transfer to Manchester United other than the fee (£3.75m) being a record at the time. That figure looks measly compared to the sums paid nowadays and while in ways it’d be easy to marvel at the array of talent since domiciled in the upper echelons of English football, on another front you’d wonder is it such a good thing. But that’s a topic for another day.
The other significant transfer I can recall – hardly surprisingly – also revolves around Manchester United, namely that of Andy Cole from Newcastle. That one was highly noteworthy for a few reasons. Firstly as those were the days before the advent of the transfer window and secondly – perhaps more importantly – Newcastle were, at the time, the Old Trafford team’s chief rivals for the Premiership title.
All that came back to mind recently when – on the way home from the races in Gowran Park – an interview with John Giles cropped up on the radio. He was advocating that there shouldn’t be a transfer window at all. In other words, as with the Cole move, clubs should be able to acquire players whenever they please. Maybe up to a certain cut off date towards the end of the campaign.
Undoubtedly, what triggered the debate surrounding the mere existence of the curiously named window was the somewhat surprising decision by Chelsea to trade Juan Mata to the Old Trafford club. Now, the diminutive Spanish midfielder had certainly not been in favour with the Mourinho regime, but it still appears strange that they let him go to a rival. United didn’t let Wayne Rooney go the other way, after all.
Or maybe it’s a case that the Stamford Bridge outfit no longer consider the red half of Manchester as a place of genuine rivalry. Such might be the case this season but you’d imagine – or at least hope – that harbouring such notions on a long terms basis might constitute allowing normally superior standards slip to a degree too close to shoddy.
The notion that Mourinho might in some way feel sorry for the plight of the outgoing kingpins is hardly credible. Yet, David Moyes may finally believe that there is some higher power at work who either likes him or takes pity on his current plight. Here he has been bestowed with a supremely talented footballer, crying out for regular action and determined to force his way into what’s likely to be something akin to the Pamploma bull run as the great and gifted of Spanish football scramble for a berth in their World Cup squad.
Moyes must surely still be mindful, however, that one Mat(a) won’t cover all the cracks in the armoury at his disposal. The dearth of quality in the area the Spaniard has been brought in to shore up since the departures of Roy Keane and – in particular – Paul Scholes has been glaring. Liable to be causing perhaps more angst, though is the frailty and uncertainty surrounding the side’s defensive axis.
At the best of times – and they were a long time ago – Rio Ferdinand was never worth the money paid for him. Furthermore, both Nemanja Vidic and Patrice Evra continue to hurtle demonstrably towards the sunset of what, admittedly, have been admirable terms of service. David De Gea, meanwhile, does nothing to assuage fears that he is susceptible to recurring attacks of stage fright.
Whether Moyes has the nous, clout or – more pointedly – the financial wherewithal to attract those needed to plug the gaps is probably questionable. While it’s likely that, at a different time, Mata’s arrival would’ve been an altogether bigger deal, there’s no doubting that such an acquisition is bound to give the entire setup a shot of impetus.
Lamenting the travails of those who, remember, less than a year ago were careering away with top honours is a bit strange. That said, in the interim, the Red Devils have gone from being cock of the walk to cock shots for other teams. Multiple records have been usurped at Old Trafford this season – most of them at the residents expense.
Just why that’s so is the most puzzling conundrum. Could it really be down to the lack of Alex Ferguson? Could he really have instilled that much belief and/or fear into players that they appear bereft of knowhow or basic ability when shorn of the great Scot’s influence? If you believe that bad players don’t win titles it’d appear so.
Transitional periods are often somewhat fraught, even allowing for that though, the malaise afflicting United this season appears extreme for one of the great football institutions in the world. Still, in a football world too often consumed with fickleness, it might be prudent for Moyes doubters to recall that Ferguson was in situ for a while tangible benefits accrued.
Mata’s recruitment may not right all the wrongs, at least in the short term, but, his arrival may be the turning of a corner.