Man United changed transfer strategy after signing van de Beek

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At the time, the deal seemed like an opportunistic deal signifying that Manchester United were entering the transfer market, but the reality is quite different.

Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was United’s manager when Real Madrid were unable to find the money to proceed with Donny van de Beek’s deal with Ajax in the 2020 COVID-19 transfer window. He stepped in immediately to strengthen his midfield. The deal was going well but unremarkable and at £35m it looked like a bargain.

United have been interested in Van de Beek for some time. In January 2020, he was shortlisted as an attacking midfielder, but Bruno Fernandes was at the top of the list.

With budget issues plagued by the coronavirus pandemic, United tried to sign Jack Grealish, James Madison and Jadon Sancho for the summer of 2020, but none of them proved to be achievable. I settled on a deal with van de Beek. Borussia Dortmund demanded £108m from Sancho, but with Villa staying in the Premier League on the final day, Grealish’s transfer became even more difficult. Maddison signed a new contract with Leicester when United appeared to be looking elsewhere.

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In many respects, he seems happy with the departure of van de Beek. At £35m, he was considerably cheaper than the other three targets and at 23 he was a good age group for United’s recruiting campaign. He was also a recent Champions League semi-finalist.

Despite a home defeat to Crystal Palace, a goal from the bench on his debut raised expectations, but it didn’t take long for alarm bells to ring. Solskjaer didn’t know where to put van de Beek and coaches quickly realized he lacked the physicality to match the Premier League. It showed the danger of turning in the window.

When the transfer was announced on 2 September 2020, Solskjaer said Van de Beek “has all the technical qualities necessary to perform well for this team”. I feel like those words speak for themselves now. In the Premier League, especially at Solskjaer’s United, games tended to go too quickly for Dutch players. The midfielder, who got on the possession football diet, now almost always plays for teams that attack quickly and directly. He was out of sync with his teammates.

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