In the 2020 summer transfer window, Manchester United surpassed £1bn spent on players since Sir Alex Ferguson retired in 2013.
The honours they have to show for it? An FA Cup, a League Cup, and a Europa League. So why hasn’t money spent translated into more success?
On this Pitch to Post Podcast special, we take an in-depth look at Manchester United AD - that’s After Dominance - and dissect their transfer business post Fergie.
Four managers. 36 signings. From Moyes to Ole, Fellaini to Cavani.
Host Jasper Taylor is joined by Sky Sports News' north-west reporter James Cooper and Sky Sports digital journalists Gerard Brand and Jack Wilkinson for the ultimate analysis of seven eventful years...
David Moyes (2013-2014)
"The recruitment was not great. There were holes within the squad he inherited - Sir Alex left, David Gill left, and Ed Woodward came in for his first transfer window. They tried to get Toni Kroos, they tried to get Cesc Fabregas, they tried to get Gareth Bale. What did they end up with? Marouane Fellaini. And that tells you everything.
"That was symptomatic of the next seven years, they were not going to be Galacticos; it was graft, grit and grinding out results.
"Moyes was undone by his recruitment. Mata came in January, and was a very good signing and is still there, but Moyes was not the right man for the job, was not the right person to be given stability, and United were right to pull the trigger, but he was not helped by his recruitment. You had people there coming to a party they were not used to attending."
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Louis van Gaal (2014-2016)
|Angel Di Maria||£67.5m|
"Van Gaal was appointed before the World Cup, so there was a lot of excitement in watching his Netherlands side in Brazil in 2014.
"He brought in a few players who performed well at that World Cup - Daley Blind, Marcos Rojo, Bastian Schweinsteiger a year later - but there were three big, expensive flops, notably (Angel) Di Maria for £67.5m, (Memphis) Depay for £30.6m and Morgan Schneiderlin for £31.5m.
"United finished fourth in 2014/15, getting back into the Champions League, but then finished fifth the next season, and despite winning the FA Cup, it paved the way for Jose.
"Interestingly, Van Gaal was recently scathing about United's transfer policy during his two years there - he said he inherited an ageing squad - which he did address in signing the likes of Luke Shaw, Martial.
"There was some sympathy for Van Gaal when he got sacked, we all knew it was coming before the FA Cup final win over Palace in 2016, as he sort of rolled out the red carpet for Jose Mourinho, but the £250m he spent did not bring the hierarchy what they needed. Di Maria and Depay were really the two that let him down in a transfer sense."
Jose Mourinho (2016-2018)
|Alexis Sanchez||£30m (Swap)|
"It was like: boom! Here comes the guy we all wanted, the antidote to Pep Guardiola, the guy that is going to grab United by the coattails and make them into title challengers again.
"What does he do? He breaks the world transfer record for Paul Pogba. He then brings in Henrikh Mkhitaryan, then Victor Lindelof, and it looks as though things are changing.
"But again, it's a bit like quicksand at United, you think you are getting somewhere and it sucks you down. Jose will tell you about the second-place finish, the Europa League, the League Cup, that is the majority of their success over the last seven years.
"His transfers were OK - there are a few grenades he has left in terms of the likes of Diogo Dalot, Eric Bailly, and maybe the fact that Lindelof is not the linchpin centre-back you would want at United. But there was a lot of excitement, a lot of money spent, and you wonder: what was it all about?
"In the second window, there was not quite as much thought put into transfers, similar to Ole's first and second year."
Ole Gunnar Solskjaer (2018-present)
|Donny van de Beek||£39m|
"It's hard to deny that Ole has not been given money to spend at Old Trafford, before this season in particular. £80m on Harry Maguire, £50m on Wan-Bissaka, £67m on Bruno Fernandes - these are not sums to be sniffed at.
"Of course, he was not as fortunate in the last summer window - but before then the transfer policy seemed clear and functional. Young players with character were brought in, they seemingly got their targets last year, but the plot seems to have been lost this year.
"They missed out on Erling Haaland, then Jadon Sancho, and they do not sign a defensive partner for Harry Maguire. Odion Ighalo worked well during what I would call a novelty period last season, where United were battling on several fronts, but it's been a stint of two halves transfer-wise for Ole, the second not quite as fruitful as the first.
"I wonder whether Ole, more than the managers that went before him, will actually be judged on the young players he has brought through. Yes it was Van Gaal that brought in Marcus Rashford, and Jose brought in Scott McTominay, but he has made them both better players, and brought in Mason Greenwood and Brandon Williams - so I wonder if that is where he will also be judged."
Which manager navigated transfers the best?
"Pound for pound you might even say Moyes! United got six years out of Fellaini and Mata is still going!
"But in all seriousness, all have had their expensive flops - but I will actually go with Ole. It is clear the fact they did not sign Sancho is not necessarily his fault - he has utilised Bruno in a fantastic way, Maguire was looking a good purchase as skipper before this season at least, and I think he can return to that form - and the jury's out on the rest. Wan-Bissaka's form has been questionable in recent weeks but before that, he looked a good signing.
"On balance, looking at all the managers, that's probably as good as you're going to get."
"Jose would tell you it was Jose. If it is 'show us your medals' time, with your resources, Jose would say he has achieved more than anyone else. But if you are talking about transfers who worked, you would probably say Ole. But it is also a kind of 'wait and see'."
Should Man Utd sell Pogba?
Four-and-a-half years after his record-breaking move to Old Trafford, the jury still seems to be out on Paul Pogba. Going forward, do United sell the France midfielder? Or hold out for him to recreate his best form?
"It has been four-and-a-half years now, and we are still waiting for Pogba to sustain form for more than a handful of games.
"When United have been blistering, he's been good. He's looked world class, in fact. But that's the sort of environment Pogba thrives in. When it is backs to the wall, when discipline is needed, he is not the cream that rises to the top. I am thinking that Steven Gerrard, that Yaya Toure.
"We always seem to be weighing this up: yes we know Pogba is not great positionally, so why not play two defensive midfielders behind him and build a team around him? But football has changed, you cannot have any passengers now - because every opposition presses in some way.
"I feel selling him would ease pressure on Solskjaer, or whoever the manager is, because he is such a talking point, Solskjaer has had to field so many questions about him, Jose did too.
"In terms of what he is worth: United triggered his contract to add an extra year to 2022, but if he is sold next summer, the fact he has a year left does take a chunk off the transfer fee. I would think he would be sold for around £50-60m, but of course, it is not always as simple as the fee - it is a) who can afford the wages and b) who wants to take a risk."
"I think he has almost been a victim of the hype around his arrival. He was supposed to mark the dawn of a new era, alongside Jose and the raft of signings. But I can probably count on one hand how many times he has made a difference, and we have turned off watching United and thought: 'Wow, Paul Pogba was the difference today.'
"I think there has always been a reluctance to sell him, and that may have something to do with him not wanting to bulk under the pressure of his agent Mino Raiola more than anything.
"There is always be an argument against selling Pogba and strengthening a direct rival like a Real Madrid or back to Juventus, but until this year United have hardly been rivals to these teams because they have only just qualified for the Champions League again, so that does not wash.
"The longer these issues of compatibility persist, keeping a player you are not longer getting the best out of does not wash either. So while there is the opportunity, sometimes it is best for teams and players to go their separate ways."
What is the Man Utd way?
So much has been spoken about a return to the 'Man Utd way' since Fergie retired, but what exactly is it, and how does it translate to the transfer market?
"One of the biggest frustrations in the post-Fergie era has been the indecision in the transfer market. From Marouane Fellaini, who ended up being a good servant, but it was all panicked and last-minute, and it has run right up to Edinson Cavani.
"I think United fans want to get back that respect they had in the transfer market, and the way they dealt under Ferguson and Gill. They need to identify targets early, I believe that is what has held them back. I know the price just doubles whenever United are interested, so they really need to get a grip of that and use their financial clout to their advantage rather than be held to ransom over it.
"There has been shoots of positivity; I know Donny van de Beek has hit the headlines in the way he has been left out of the team, but if you look at the how that transfer was handled, it was conducted away from the public gaze, and was like a transfer of old. It just happened, which was refreshing to see.
"In terms of the profile of player, I think we have seen a real shift in United targeting young players with proven talent but with scope to develop. I know United signed Cavani, but him aside, if you look at the last couple of years, there has been a real change of transfer strategy for the better, but there is still a way to go."
Does pressure get to signings?
At the time of signing, United's recruits were often recognised world-class players. So why have so few recreated the form that got them to Old Trafford in the first place?
"If we look at the list of players signed, these are a list of world-class footballers. They were world class when they signed them, at least. But more often than not these players have not reproduced form. So then you ask: is it fear? Is it pressure of wearing that Man Utd shirt? Is it expectancy?
"Is it easier for a player to walk into a club who have had little success in recent years, because expectation is low? Where it is more of a project? Potentially it is easier."
"This is not Football Manager. This is real life. You do not sign a bunch of statistics. You sign a human being whose quality and performance has come not just from talent but their character. When you change clubs that character is always at risk of resetting - new surroundings, new team, maybe you are not the big fish any more, maybe you are going for titles and not top six or fighting off relegation any more, maybe you are the 10th best player in training and not the best - and I really feel that so many of Manchester United's signings saw their character reset at Old Trafford."
5, 4, 3, 2, 1... United's transfers since 2013
Asked for their five worst signings, four best, three that got away, the two legends they would have back and the one signing needed now, both Jack and Gerard agreed on the following:
Angel Di Maria, Alexis Sanchez, Morgan Schneiderlin, Matteo Darmian and Diogo Dalot
Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Bruno Fernandes, Juan Mata and Ander Herrera
3 that got away
Memphis Depay, Wilfried Zaha and Jonny Evans
2 legends Man Utd need now
Roy Keane and Rio Ferdinand
1 signing needed now