Manchester United’s transfer window: £216m in the summer, only loans in January

Manchester United went into the transfer window needing to replace Cristiano Ronaldo and then found themselves having to target a new midfielder and goalkeeper, too.

Ronaldo’s acrimonious exit in November left Erik ten Hag a player short in attack, but the finances to add one of Europe’s elite players to the squad were not there.

United backed Ten Hag to the tune of £216million ($268m) in the summer, bringing in Tyrell Malacia (£12.9m), Christian Eriksen (free), Lisandro Martinez (£47m), Casemiro (£70m), Antony (£ 86.5m) and Martin Dubravka (loan).

This outlay led to John Murtough, the club’s football director, warning supporters in September that they were “slightly ahead of where we expected to be” in terms of player recruitment and to not “anticipate the same level of activity in future windows”.

A delegation from UEFA recently visited Old Trafford to discuss United’s financial fair play (FFP) position. Whether it was a welcome conversation with European football’s governing body or something to be more alarmed about, however, is open to interpretation.

Not long before Christmas, Joel Glazer, United’s executive co-chairman, outlined there was no more money to be found.

So, when it came to replace Ronaldo and Christian Eriksen, who suffered an ankle injury in Saturday’s FA Cup win over Reading, and needing to secure another goalkeeper following Dubravka’s return to Newcastle six months earlier than anticipated, United sought loan deals instead.

On deadline day, it emerged that 30-year-old Eriksen is expected to be out of action until April at the earliest.

Although Ten Hag said he is confident his squad could cope without a player who has already made 31 appearances for United this season, the club started scouring the loan market to secure a replacement.

Bayern Munich’s Marcel Sabitzer was quickly highlighted and the two clubs entered negotiations over a short-term deal on Tuesday afternoon.

Manchester United

Marcel Sabitzer joined United on deadline day (Photo: Maja Hitij/Getty Images)

The 28-year-old flew to Manchester in the evening to complete his six-month loan move, which is not thought to include an option to buy, and 12 hours after negotiations began, he was a United player.

It needed the Old Trafford club to take advantage of the extra hour’s grace for an international transfer and was announced after midnight, with the Austria international saying: “Sometimes in life, you have to make important and quick decisions.”

First through the door was Crystal Palace’s Jack Butland.

The 29-year-old was identified by United’s scouts as the club’s top backup goalkeeper option last summer and a move was imminent until he broke his hand saving an Anthony Martial shot while playing for Palace during pre-season in Melbourne. United do not have a permanent deal clause inserted into the six-month loan.

Jack Butland

Butland was the first of three loan deals for United in January (Photo: Warren Little/Getty Images)

If signing Butland was a necessity, then replacing Ronaldo, who finished last season as United’s top scorer with 18 Premier League goals, was even more pertinent.

Atletico Madrid’s Joao Felix was targeted but the sums involved were too high, with the Spanish club initially seeking a €21million (£18.6m; $22.5m) package, comprising a €15m loan fee plus €6m gross salary.

Joao Felix had fallen out with Diego Simeone and the 23-year-old, who scored 34 goals and provided 18 assists in 131 appearances for Atletico, appeared to offer genuine quality. Arsenal were also interested but Chelsea agreed a loan deal for a fee in the region of €11m.

United debated pursuing PSV Eindhoven’s Cody Gakpo, but the Glazer’s pre-Christmas message meant that was likely to be a non-starter and he joined Liverpool instead.

Memphis Depay, who only had six months remaining on his contract at Barcelona, ​​was also considered for an Old Trafford reunion but United were not prepared to offer the long-term deal he was seeking owing to financial constraints. Depay joined Atletico instead.

Midway through the window, United’s attention turned to Wout Weghorst, the Burnley forward on loan at Besiktas in Turkey. On December 21, United first spoke to his parent club, asking for information on the 30-year-old’s availability.

Like Sabitzer later on in January, United ended up signing a player on loan whom they had overlooked six months earlier.


Weghorst scored for United against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup (Photo: Shaun Botterill/Getty Images)

Weghorst had scored nine goals in 18 appearances for the Turkish side but a compromise was found between United, Besiktas and Burnley, paving the way for him to return to the Premier League.

United agreed to cover his wages but there is no agreed fee in the loan deal for a permanent move. They have also paid Burnley a loan fee of £2.6million, of which the Championship club had to pay £2.5m in compensation to Besiktas.

“It’s a massive club so I will do everything as good as I can,” Weghorst said after scoring his first goal for United against Nottingham Forest in the Carabao Cup.

“The club was looking for a target man. With Anthony Martial, there was only one real striker, more than a No 9. They just wanted to add one and then it’s up to me.”

Ten Hag was reluctant to let any first-team players leave.

Even though Harry Maguire has a battle on his hands to win back a starting place, a January exit was always unlikely.

United insisted throughout the window that Maguire would not be leaving, although his status as club captain, England international and the third-most expensive signing in the club’s history dictates there will be a reassessment of his future in the summer.

Newcastle United held conversations about a move for Scott McTominay, with their manager Eddie Howe an admirer of the midfielder’s ball-carrying ability. Given the Scotland international is behind Casemiro in Ten Hag’s line-up, Newcastle considered testing United’s resolve, but any move will have to wait for the summer, too.

Scott McTominay

McTominay was one of several United first-team players linked with a move away in January but will now stay to fight for his place (Photo: Clive Brunskill via Getty Images)

Anthony Elanga attracted interest from clubs including Everton, PSV and Borussia Dortmund but has stayed owing to Ten Hag’s relative shortage of attacking options.

The same applied to Facundo Pellistri, who was eager to earn regular playing time away from Old Trafford after finally making his senior debut this month, two and a half years after joining in a €10m deal from Penarol in Uruguay.


Ten Hag was keen to keep Pellistri on board and has gradually given the 21-year-old greater first-team exposure, with recent substitute appearances in domestic cup ties against Forest and Reading.

Departures were limited to loans for out-of-favour and academy players — Axel Tuanzebe, Charlie Savage, Di’Shon Bernard and Charlie McNeill joined Stoke City, Forest Green Rovers, Portsmouth and Newport County respectively until the end of the season.

McNeill attracted interest from Championship clubs but opted to move to Newport and League Two on the strength of their presentation to him and his family, and to have as many opportunities to play as possible.

(Top photos: Getty Images; design: Sam Richardson)


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