Post Ferguson Failings: Transfer Window Review - 2016/17

There were lots of changes following the 2015/16 that finished with United as FA Cup winners. Louis Van Gaal was given his marching orders and replaced by Jose Mourinho. Even if there was to be no Champions League football to look forward to, it felt like United were back in the big time. So how did the 2016/17 transfer windows go?

Blackburn Rovers v Manchester United - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round
Blackburn Rovers v Manchester United - The Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round / Chris Brunskill Ltd/GettyImages

Manchester United made four big signings in the summer of 2016. Former United midfielder Paul Pogba made his return to the club for a record fee and the extended Pogback situation heralded the start of United’s marketing department taking a greater role in the announcing of their new signings. In the 15/16 United won the FA Cup but failed to qualify for the Champions League, costing Louis Van Gael his job. He was replaced by Jose Mourinho who was given a sizeable transfer war-chest to rebuild a United team in his image. So how did United fare in the 2016/17 transfer windows? 

Who did United sign?

Manchester United v Middlesbrough - Premier League
Manchester United v Middlesbrough - Premier League / James Baylis - AMA/GettyImages

Paul Pogba
Bought: €105 million from Juventus (9/8/16)
Sold: Juventus Free Transfer (11/7/22)
Stats: 233 games; 39 goals 51 assists 

Paul Pogba returned to United in August of 2016 and was expected to be the player around which Jose Mourinho would build his team. Pogba was a player of supreme ability that Manchester United paid a high price to lure him back to the club. Pogba left the club for the first time upset at the lack of game time being afforded to him by Sir Alex Ferguson. He made his way to Turin to play for a dominant Juventus team that boasted the elegant, metronomic Andrea Pirlo, effervescent Claudio Marchisio and energetic dynamo Arturo Vidal. With Bianconeri, he won four of their nine Serie A titles in a row. It was always going to be a challenge to make the 16/17 United team into a title winning team. Of course, United didn’t become a title winning side with Paul Pogba in the midfield - nor have they looked like a title winning side without him. He did however enjoy a reasonably successful first season back in red. 

During his time at Old Trafford, Pogba became an incredibly polemic figure. He was criticised hugely for his attitude from many sources. It is important to note that none of these complaints ever came from his team mates, who all regarded Pogba as the consummate professional. 

When Paul Pogba was in form and fit he raised his team to new heights and was a truly delightful player to behold. Arguably the most gifted player to play for Manchester United in the last decade, he had many moments of sublime genius playing in the famous red. Unfortunately his career in Manchester was just that - moments. He never produced performances consistently enough and his disappointing United stay ended with a return to Turin on a free transfer. Pogba is currently banned from football after failing a drugs test. 

Manchester United v Middlesbrough - Premier League
Manchester United v Middlesbrough - Premier League / James Baylis - AMA/GettyImages

Zlatan Ibrahimovic
Bought: Free Transfer from PSG (1/7/16)
Sold: Free Transfer to LA Galaxy (23/3/18)
Stats: 53 gams; 29 goals, 10 assists

When the great Zlatan Ibrahimovic was brought in as a free transfer to Manchester United, there was much derision from football fans unsympathetic to the Manchester United cause. This was a player that was many years past his prime - four years older than the knackered Bastian Schweinsteiger who had been signed the previous year. Even amongst the most positive United fans, there was a cautiously optimistic view of their new number 9. He was a player with a great goal output but he had played the previous 4 seasons smashing in goals against the likes of Troyes and Clermont. 

Zlatan was fantastic at Manchester United. A winner, a leader and a big game player -  he finished the season with 28 goals in total. Unfortunately, he also finished the season with a very serious knee injury that meant he would never truly regain form or fitness to perform for United in the 2017/18 season and he was allowed to leave for the MLS on a free transfer in March of 2018. 

Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Manchester United v Sunderland - Premier League / Jan Kruger/GettyImages

Henrikh Mkhitaryan
Bought: €42 million from Borussia Dortmund (6/7/16)
Sold: Arsenal Part Exchange with Alexis Sanchez (22/1/18)
Stats: 63 games; 13 goals, 11 assists

For the second time in 5 seasons, Manchester United went to Borussia Dortmund in search of an attacking midfielder to add some spark to their side. They looked to the Armenian captain Henrikh Mkhitaryan to provide said spark. Like Shinji Kagawa, he would not sprinkle magic dust over the Premier League in the same fashion that he so effortlessly did in Germany. He was and is an undoubtedly talented player, perhaps not as suited to the English top flight as Germany or Italy. The following season, he would be part of a disastrous swap deal that saw Alexis Sanchez come and stink out Old Trafford for a brief time. He will probably be best remembered for his wonderful scorpion kick style goal against Sunderland and also one of the Old Trafford faithful’s best chants of modern times - to the tune of Englishman in New York “Whoo-oh, Mkhitaryan, Henrikh Mkhitaryan he’s our midfield Armenian!”

Eric Bailly
Chelsea v Manchester United - Premier League / Catherine Ivill - AMA/GettyImages

Eric Bailly
Bought: €38 million from Villareal (1/7/16)
Besiktas Free Transfer (4/9/23)
Stats: 113 games; 1 goal, 1 assist

Eric Bailly was signed for a hefty fee from Villarreal at the very start of the summer transfer window. Many fans were puzzled by his signing. Relatively unheard of, commanding a big fee, it was a surprising signing indeed. He needed time to bed in and was not given his chance in the team for a little while but once he was given that opportunity, he looked like a centre half oozing with potential. He was blessed with great pace and a gutsy determination to use any part of his anatomy to block goal bound shots. He was a raw diamond that, unfortunately due to injury and changes of management, was never truly polished. Bailly was loaned out to Marseille and later released on a free to Besiktas. He returned to Villarreal earlier this year. 

Who did United sell/let go?

Memphis Depay, Morgan Schneiderlin
Champions Cup 2015 - Manchester United v FC Barcelona / Kevork Djansezian/GettyImages

Memphis Depay
Sold: Sold: €16 million to Olympique Lyon (20/1/17)
Stats: 53 games; 7 goals, 6 assists

Paddy McNair
Sold: €5.25 million to Sunderland (11/8/16)
Stats: 27 games; 0 goals, 0 assists

Tyler Blackett
Sold €1.8 million to Reading (22/8/16)
Stats: 12 games; 0 goals, 0 assists

Will Keane
Sold: €1.2 million to Hull City (30/8/16)
Stats: 3 games; 0 goals, 0 assists

Bastian Schweinsteiger
Sold: Free Transfer to Chicago Fire (21/3/17) 
Stats: 35 games; 2 goals, 3 assists

Victor Valdes
Sold: Free to Middlesborough (7/1/16)
Stats: 2 games; 1 goal conceded, 1 clean sheet 

Nick Powell
Sold: Free to Wigan (12/7/16)
Stats: 9 games; 1 goal, 0 assists 

2016/17 Transfer Windows - Success or Failure?

Verdict - Success

On balance, the 2016/17 season’s pair of transfer windows should probably be considered successful. Some deadwood was ruthlessly removed from the squad in each of the two transfer windows and some important players were brought into the squad. The most impactful signing of the transfer window was the manager, Jose Mourinho. Bringing in “The Special One” was a signal of Manchester United’s intent to win and win quickly. When Mourinho became manager of Manchester United he could still boast a very impressive record in the Premier League. In roughly five and a half seasons across his two spells as Chelsea manager, he had won the league three times. His first Chelsea team still holds the record for fewest goals conceded in a Premier League season. He managed Inter Milan to a historic treble of Serie A, Coppa Italia and most prestigiously the Champions League. 

His Real Madrid team wrestled the La Liga title away from Pep Guardiola’s generational Barcelona, forcing Pep to walk away from his job at the Nou Camp. Truly, this was the biggest of big signings - no mean feat considering Zlatan Ibrahimovic also arrived at Old Trafford. Zlatan was wonderful in his one full season as a Red Devil. Pogba returned to United and made a decent impact in his first season, showing more than a few glimpses of the talent that he possessed. Bailly and Mkhitaryan at the time looked like they were good additions to the team and had decent first seasons. 

Manchester United would finish the season with two major trophies, including only their fifth European title. Sure, United finished outside the Champions League places but their Europa League win afforded them a place in the competition for the 17/18 season. The building blocks were now in place for United to mount a serious title charge the following season. United looked like winners again.